Relationships can be tricky to maintain under the best of circumstances. Long distance relationships, on the other hand, are even harder. When you and your partner are hundreds or thousands of miles apart then you’re dealing with new levels of difficulty. Long distance relationships are increasingly common these days as jobs and school make us increasingly nomadic. Advances in communication technology has become a big part of bridging the distance and keeping love alive. But just because you’re spending hours on Skype with your honeybunny doesn’t mean that you’re keeping your relationship alive and healthy.
However, “difficult” doesn’t mean “impossible” and the challenge of making a relationship work doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it in the end. A long distance relationship can be incredibly rewarding and the skills needed to help it survive will also help when you’re in person again.
Here’s how you can make sure your relationship can go the distance.
Words Are All You Have, So Use Them Wisely
The first key to making long distance relationships work is much like making in-person relationships work: you need to communicate, communicate, communicate. While this is important in any relationship, in a long-distance relationship, your words are all you have. In long-distance relationships, we end up cutting out 90% of the way couples connect and express themselves. Losing the micro-gestures of body language is bad enough; even Facetime can’t make up for that. But the most critical loss is the inability to communicate through physical contact. Touch is such a seemingly small thing, but it’s a vital part of how we bond with others. The casual touches, playful shoulder checks, hand-squeezes and casual affection make a difference in how we connect with our loved ones.
Touch boosts our oxytocin production, which helps cement our bond. Touching our partner and being touched helps us relax in times of stress and reassures us in times of trouble. A touch during a conversation or argument can shift the tone from “conflict” to “resolution”. A warm hand on our cheek or shoulder or back can make us feel confident in our connection at a time when we may question it the most.
When you’re in a long-distance relationship, you don’t have any of those. You don’t have the reassuring body heat of your partner’s presence or the simple physical connection to convey meaning. All you have are your words… so you need to use them to make up the difference.
This goes further than just not using lazy language, however. As great as it is to compose poetry to show how much you care, that’s not the point. The problem isn’t word choice, it’s content. You need to be willing to express yourself in ways you may not feel comfortable doing otherwise. This means being willing to advocate for yourself and ask – not imply, not hint, not suggest, ask – for what you need. If you feel things are dropping off, you have to speak up. You have to be willing to say “Hey, I miss you and I’m feeling a little insecure about us right now and I could use some reassurance.” You have to tell your partner when you’re feeling a little jealous of the people she’s spending time with.
At the same time, you need to tell them what you miss about them, what you appreciate about them. Do you love the way she make you laugh? Do you miss the sparkle in their eyes? The way your pillow smells like them in the morning? Then you need to say that too. You have to fill in those gaps that would otherwise be filled by touching one another – all those little affections and sweet moments that you can’t do over a Skype connection.
Speaking of which:
Make Regular Dates – In Person And Online
One of the most important aspects of making a relationship last long term is to keep the excitement going. However, in a long-distance relationship, this gets tricky; after all, living in different cities cuts down on your opportunities to get to ether and do something crazy. As a result: you have to adapt to the circumstance. Since your options are limited, you need to substitute in-person excitement for two things that help you make it through the tough times: anticipation and regularity.
To use an awkward metaphor, think of a diet. One of the keys to being able to stick to a diet plan is to schedule a regular cheat day. Not only does that day off from your normal eating pattern let you fulfill your desires for foods that are otherwise off-limits, but being knowing cheat day is coming gives you something to look forward to each week. So it is with long-distance dating: having regular dates each week gives you something solid that you can use to ward off those feelings of loneliness and separation. However, as with dating in person, you don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. Yes, those Skype sessions are important, but variety, novelty and challenge keep your interest going.
One date idea that can help a long-distance couple stay connected is to game together – especially co-op games. Scientists have found that one of the secrets to making relationships last is to reinforce the feeling of “we’re in this together” – that is, for couples to face challenges as a team and overcome them. By working together in co-op situations, whether it be playing complementary roles in Overwatch, navigating puzzles in Portal 2 or grouping up in World of Warcraft, you’re reaffirming how the two of you compliment one another and work together , as well as taking on new and different situations. The variety offered by games helps keep the novelty alive as well, pushing you both in new and exciting directions.
This doesn’t mean that every date needs to start with you both logging into your Steam accounts. You can have steamy chat-sessions, see a movie at the same time and talk after or have low-key dates where you simply open Skype and both go about your day as though you were in the room together too. The important part is to change it up. It’s that novelty that keeps things fresh and interesting.
But as important as it is to have those online dates, it’s also have regular in-person visits. No matter how much you may chat online, there’s no real substitute for in-person, skin-to-skin contact. Having those frequent visits can refresh you both and reaffirm the ties you have to one another that long distance can strain. Regularity here is better in many ways than the sheer number. Knowing that you’re going to see each other once every three months, for example, can make it easier to get through those times when you just have to white-knuckle your way through the pain of separation. And as the days when you’ll see each other grow nearer, you’ll find that it’s anticipation that makes the heart grow fonder, not distance.
And a pro-tip: dress up for your dates, even if you’re just going to be blasting McCree off the sides of mountains. Treating your Internet dates like dates means you’re still putting an effort in to please your partner, which is key to keeping the spark alive.
Have A Life
Part of what can make a long-distance relationship more tolerable is simple: have a life. This doesn’t mean just living – going through a daily routine of waking up, eating, going to work, going to bed – but actively engaging in your life. Have hobbies that you pursue and passions you explore. Build up your social circle and spend time with your friends. See movies, go to shows, take long walks. Be an active participant in the world around you.
This is important for a number of reasons. For starters: it keeps you from stagnating and living only for your relationship.
Being engaged in your own life makes you grow and develop as an individual and discover new things about yourself that you might have never known before. As much as relationships are about growing together, you both also need to be able to grow separately. Your own personal development, the new memories and experiences you have all become part of what you’ll have to share and bring to the table with your partner.
The other important part of having your own life outside the relationship that this gives you a base of support to rely on during the hard times… and there will be hard times. Relying on your partner as your only source of emotional intimacy puts immense pressure on them. Putting that pressure on them when they’re also hundreds of miles away only makes it worse. By having your own circle of friends, you’ll have people to turn to, to lean on and to break you out of your isolation.
Every relationship, no matter how happy, is going to have it’s ups and downs. Long distance relationships are no exception; in fact, in many cases, it’s worse. When most forms of communication are cut off, minor conflicts can turn into great fissures in your relationship without warning. If you’re going to make a long distance relationship work, you have to anticipate this. This means that when you do talk to one another, you need to make sure that issues don’t go unresolved. Fighting may be inevitable, but the sooner you can address any concerns, the happier you will both be in the long run. And the biggest concern will be other people.
Straight talk: part of what makes long distance relationships difficult is temptation. No matter how strong your emotional connection may be, other people will catch your eye. As I’ve said many times: monogamy just means that you’ve chosen not to sleep with other people. You and your partner will both want to. And when you’re in a long distance relationship, those temptations are magnified a hundredfold.
You and your partner will be going for months without seeing one another. Meanwhile, that hot co-worker or classmate is right there. You’ll both be spending time with people you find attractive, without the release valve of your partner. It is going to be incredibly difficult to not slip up… on both your parts. This is a reality that you’ll both need to face – and to handle together. It may be that you’ll both double up on the sexy Skype sessions or invest in some sex toys to help fill those physical needs. It may be that you’ll institute a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy as long as any indiscretions don’t go past a certain point. But it’s something you will both need to decide on in advance.
Notice very carefully how I keep hitting that “togetherness” theme? That’s because it’s by treating this as something you work on together that you’ll be getting through it. Couples who view adversity as something they overcome together rather than as signs of a chaotic or troubled relationship are more likely to survive. Preparing for trouble and treating it as something you both work on makes all the difference. It becomes the fire in which your relationship is tempered, instead of the stress that breaks you apart.
Long Distance Relationships Work Best When There’s An End In Sight
The last and most important factor in a long distance relationship’s success is simple: there needs to be an end-point. While there are couples who are content with a long distance relationship that will always be long distance, they’re rare on the ground. For most people, what makes long distance bearable is knowing that eventually it will come to an end. Knowing that at some point in the future, you two will be together again is important. That future, even if it’s years down the line, becomes the lodestone guiding you through the roughest waters. It’s the rock that you two will cling to when the separation feels interminable. That anticipation of your permanent reunion will sustain you and energize you the closer it gets.
You may not know at first when your separation will end… but the sooner you can arrange it, the better off you will be. Yes, it can be difficult to predict the future. Often our lives go in directions we could never have anticipated. But finding the path that leads to you coming back together can make your long distance relationship all the sweeter when it’s finally over.