Staying Connected With Family And Friends When You Live Far Away

Lisa McKay Advice, Communication & Conflict, Family & Marriage 11 Comments

In this day and age, many of us aren’t just in long distance relationships with our romantic partners. In an era of moving to attend college or find work, many of us live in a different state (or even country) than close friends and family. When this happens, it’s vital to maintain important relationships “back home” even while we’re working to integrate into a “new home” and make new friends.

Given that I’ll be leaving Australia and going back to Laos next week after six months of living with my parents over Alex’s birth, this topic is on my mind. So, this Monday and next, we’ll be taking a brief break from romance to focus on maintaining platonic long distance relationships.

It can be tough to stay meaningfully connected to family and friends back home when you’re living far apart. There’s no doubt that Skype and other technological wonders have made things easier in recent years, but myriad tricky questions remain surrounding the issue of how to stay in touch with parents and siblings, and how to help children (if you have any) grow up feeling meaningfully connected to distant relatives.

2jQuestions like: What are my parents/relatives expectations and hopes about the frequency, type, and duration of contact we’ll have? What are mine? What friends am I hoping to stay in contact with? How? If I live overseas, how can I help my children feel connected to my home culture and their overseas relatives? How can we share parts of our life overseas with those back home in ways that they’ll understand and appreciate? How can we demonstrate sincere interest in their lives when our daily realities often differ dramatically?

I have a lot of experience trying to answer these questions. However, if you were hoping for a definitive how-to manual on this topic, I’m sorry. One thing that all that experience has taught me is that – just as with long distance romance – there is no one-size fits all on this topic. There is no one “right” set of answers. And what might work well for you in one phase of life may not work at all well five years later.

Figuring out how you want to (and can) stay connected with your family and friends long distance is a continual process of reflection, dialogue, and adjustment. It’s also, often, learning to live with the feeling that nothing you’re doing on this front is working perfectly.

With that disclaimer, here are some thoughts on ways to stay connected with family and friends.

1.  Realize and accept that many of your friends (and even your family) back home will not be proactive about staying in touch with you when you move far away.

Many people, especially those who moved away themselves, are not good at reaching out to distant friends. Some of your closest friends won’t email or call you regularly, read your blog, or keep up with all of your newsletters. Try not to take this too personally or get too hurt. Just accept that if you want to stay in contact with key family and friends you will have to initiate most of the contact and make the lion’s share of the effort to keep these relationships going.

2.  Help those back home “see” your life

When your friends and family back home talk about their lives, you’ll largely be able to imagine what they’re discussing. When you move away (especially when you move overseas) your friends and family won’t have that luxury.

Try to help them “see” your life by through photos, stories, and short videos. Consider starting a blog. This will allow people to dip into your story when they have time and energy and will save you from sending lots of individual “update” emails. If you’re worried about privacy you can always program your blog so that only approved viewers can log in.

If you’re not a blogger, think about sending out a monthly newsletter to a mailing list of friends and family. (Hint, keep these newsletters to 1000 words or less and include one or two stories and some photos.)

3.  Talk

Emails, blogs, newsletters and the like are great, but actually talking to someone is important too. When it comes to family or others you want to stay closely connected to, you might find that it works to catch up via Skype or phone “when you have time”. If, however, you find that you never “have time” and months are slipping past between calls, think about how often you would ideally like to talk to various family members or important friends. Then try to work out a rough schedule

For example, you may want to plan to talk to your parents weekly or twice a month. As a side benefit, setting up a routine like this can also help manage your family’s expectations about how often and when you’ll get to talk. Finally, don’t forget to give close friends the occasional call. You might only talk once every four to six months, but those infrequent chats can go a long way towards maintaining your relationship in between visits.

4.  Visit

Nothing beats face-to-face time for building relationships. Travelling back and forth from many places in this world is still a time-consuming and expensive prospect. However, if you live somewhere else and relationships back home are important to you, budgeting time and money to go home regularly is a must.

Also, encourage family and friends to visit you if they can. You’ll be able to spend more relaxed quality time with them when you’re “at home” and in your own routine without all the distractions that come with vacations or home leave. They’ll also leave feeling much more connected to your life overseas.

I know I’ve just scratched the surface with this topic, but I don’t want to drown you with a 50-page post. Instead, I’d love to hear from you about this.

What do you do to stay connected with family and friends? Get specific – we’d all love to learn from your tips, tricks, and stories.

And, join us back here next Monday for a post on helping children stay connected with distant relative.

Comments 11

  1. Moving away can also reveal who are your TRUE friends and family! You say in the article that the person moving away has to do the ‘lion’s share’ of making an effort to communicate – why?
    It’s true – the person who moves makes an effort to keep all friends and family in the loop of their lives – yet the responsibility to maintain a ‘relationship’ is defined by the effort of BOTH people.

    I find myself, having moved not far away 10yrs ago – in the situation now of completely disowning my ‘family’. Those who i helped for decades, always the one they ran to for help….i gave them my all. I was always the ‘fixer’ of their issues and problems.
    Since moving away they can barely manage to reply to emails. In 10 yrs we’ve skyped a handful of times.
    If the other people don’t make an effort to respond to your efforts to maintain the relationship, then the relationship no longer exists by default.
    It’s amazing that some people who consider ‘family’ to be so important cannot make the effort to keep in touch with their family.

    Like i said initially, move away to truly find out who your ‘real’ family and friends are. You’ll be very surprised how many, if any, are left! It’s surprising how little effort people put into maintaining relationships if your are the one who is the ‘energy’ of the relationship. When you’re a ‘giver’ personality you attract energy vampires and narcissists, and shockingly, these turn out to be members of your own family!

    Always make an effort – life IS too , too short.

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      Hey there, thanks for sharing your own experience and perspective. Always good to have more food for thought on these topics!! I offered the advice that the people who move have to “do the ‘lion’s share’ of making an effort to communicate” and you asked why I said that, pointing out that the responsibility lies with both parties. You are right. It does. But I offered that advice because I have come to believe that just because something SHOULD be a particular way (e.g., family and friend we move away from SHOULD make more of an effort) doesn’t meant that IS what will happen. Most people you move away from will not be proactive about staying in touch, even if they love you deeply. There are many reasons for this–habit, busyness, laziness, whatever. But the sad fact is that if you value those relationships and want to keep them, don’t be so worried about whether it’s FAIR that you have to do most of the work, just do it. By all means let the energy vampires and narcissists fade out of your life, but if there are people you really love that you don’t want to lose, YOU do the work of hanging onto to them even if they can’t (or won’t) reach out to you.

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  4. The sad reality is that unless you’re independently wealthy and able to visit family on a regular basis, you will grow apart from your family and friends, and your children will grow up and view these people, their family, as virtual strangers. Life goes fast and none of us are guaranteed long or healthy lives. Think about it.

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  5. My mom and I have a long distance relationship and it is so hard.I cry every time she leaves.I just feel like a part of me is ripped out.She has tried to help me move to her town a couple of times.I am disabled and have become attached to the town I live in.I could not leave.So there is constant guilt; and she has just turned 80.We just talk on the phone alot,and have been going back and forth more lately.The stress gives me panic attacks.I wish she’d just stay up here permanently, but she has a nice place down south and hates the winters here.I have not had a family, so I guess I lean on my mother too much.I am deathly afraid of what I will do when she passes.I have no friends and feel very lonely alot of the time,especially after she leaves.

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  7. Thanks for the advice. I and my husband are from Memphis, but live in Nebraska. Most of our families are still in Memphis or the south, so it’s good to see how others manage to keep up relationships with distant relatives.


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