How to build a healthy long-distance relationship

Long-distance relationships absolutely can work! :-) But, you do need to know a few essentials to survive the separation and avoid some common pitfalls!

Therefore, I’m going to help you get an insight into the dynamics of a long-distance relationship (LDR). I’m also going to give you some tips and advice to help you build and maintain a flourishing relationship, regardless of your circumstances. I am rooting for the two of you!

Let’s begin by unpicking why the two of you are living at a distance…

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What is your reason for having a long-distance relationship?

Here are some of the reasons why you can find yourself in a long-distance relationship:

  1. You’ve met on the internet, have an online relationship and live too far apart to meet regularly
  2. You’ve been together and work requirements or career progression – imposed or chosen – result in you living apart
  3. One or both of you is/are in the services or has another job which requires extended periods away from home
  4. A holiday romance has blossomed into a longer-term long-distance relationship
  5. One of you has had to leave home due to war, political unrest or lack of opportunities – temporarily or in anticipation of you being reunited

Which one is it for you?

All of them have their own unique challenges, but I’m going to start with the most common issues and the best long-distance relationship advice that I can give you.

Handwritten letters and notes help LDRs to thrive!
There is nothing quite as fun as hoping for an ‘old-fashioned’ handwritten letter on your doormat

5 Challenges of a long-distance relationship

Long-distance relationship advice: what you need to know to survive

Which of the following common challenges apply to your situation? (Tips and advice for how to deal with them – further down.)

  • Feeling a sense of uncertainty and insecurity
    There tends to be a general belief that LDRs or online relationships don’t work. Your friends and family may increase your own doubts with their negative comments. As if you need that! (Particularly if you feel that the separation has been imposed on you.)
  • Fearing for the future
    Even if you’re deeply in love, excited and hopeful, fears about the future may lurk. These fears often relate to particular life stages, with choices and decisions to be made in terms of your next step in life.
  • Painful longing for close, physical contact
    It can feel lonely when you just can’t wrap your arms around the love of your life, even more so if you happen to go through a difficult time.
  • ‘Managing’ the goodbyes and hellos
    Of course. the goodbyes can be heartbreaking. The worst thing is that you know at the start of the visit that it will soon end. But that does depend on the state of your relationship… the departure can also bring relief, and the returns can be a cause of worries and unhappiness.
  • Managing conflict can be more challenging
    More on this further down.

BUT… they are not necessarily problems specific to LDRs!

As I’ve already mentioned – you’re bound to be confronted with nay-sayers. Therefore, I’m going to give you some ammunition – not only to counter their arguments but also to increase your confidence too

Relationship problems in a long-distance relationship aren’t all that different

  • Uncertainty and anxiety about the future exist just as much in relationships where couples are living together. I’ve seen hundreds of these relationships in my counselling room.
  • If I had a dollar for all the people I’ve counselled who felt lonely in their relationship I could feed myself for a year.
  • Too many couples I’ve seen weren’t even able to manage the daily hello’s and goodbye’s, due to conflict, lack of trust and/or insecurity.
  • Research shows that the breakup rate of LDRs isn’t any higher than in ‘ordinary’ relationships.
  • From my experience, there are sooo many other reasons which can lead couples to argue like toddlers!
  • Research has shown that partners in LDRs are no more likely to have affairs than those who are together.
  • LDRs are common – the two of you really aren’t the odd ones out!

There’s more…

8 advantages of long-distance relationships

  1. There can be a huge sense of anticipation and excitement in the build up to a reunion, just like there is for any other wished-for event. You’re just fortunate that it happens more often.
  2. Your reunions are doubly sweet (if all is well). Compare that with coming home from work every night!
  3. The two of you are likely to find it easier to share your feelings. You can get to know each other’s intimate life gently as you slowly grow closer.
  4. You have the time to develop your own interests, study, spend time on hobbies or just sit in the garden doing nothing at all but enjoying the sunshine without feeling guilty (well, maybe not if you have children! ;-)).
  5. You are free to share as much time with your friends as you like.
  6. You’re more likely to be made to feel ‘special’ by receiving more ‘keepsakes’, notes, apps, emails and letters than partners in ‘ordinary’ relationships.
  7. Practising self-reliance and successfully dealing with problems on your own can lead to increased self-esteem and resilience.
  8. Long-distance relationships are conducive to developing a healthy interdependence rather than an (often) unhealthy dependence on each other.

I personally was in a long-distance relationship and I can vouch for all of the above. In the first two years of that relationship, we only spent a total of a couple of months together. Nevertheless, it was a very exciting time!

You do need to be prepared to deal with any difficulties though – just like you would in any other relationship.

Let’s talk about one of the challenges that can make or break any relationship, but that needs particular attention in a long-distance relationship.

Below follows my advice on getting it right as much as you can…

Expert long distance relationship advice

The best tips to prepare yourself for the inevitable struggles

Typical LDR problems are caused by arguments over, for example:

  • who’s doing more than the other to help the relationship
  • issues of trust
  • who should travel to see the other
  • who should pay for what (do you, in fact, have sufficient funds for the extra travel expenses?)
  • how to spend your time together

No doubt, you can come up with your own reasons for feeling miffed with your partner. But…

  • How good are you each when it comes to managing uncertainty, disagreements and feelings of anger?
  • What do you do when you want to confront your partner? Do you write? Do you call?
  • Or would you rather not admit to feeling miffed for fear of spoiling the little time you have together?
  • How long do you wait until you ‘spit it out’?
  • When you do take the risk, do you expect to sort it all out immediately?

My Complete Guide to Building a Happy Relationship has a ton of information, advice, tips and great tools which you can use for a long-distance relationship too, particularly when you appear to run out of things to say.

There is much you can do for yourself to help your relationship flourish…

7 Conflict management tips for a long-distance relationship

1. You are responsible for managing your own feelings!
Yes, I know that may sound harsh. But, just for a moment, imagine 3 very different people you know. Imagine each one of them dealing with the same problem. You’ll find that most of them would be very likely to respond differently.
Your partner isn’t responsible for how you manage your feelings. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have the right to feel the way you do, of course!
If you’re feeling insecure or you’re having some personal issues, I recommend self-hypnosis. To go to my page Hypnosis FAQ CLICK HERE

2. Calm down first
Before you write, email, app or call, take some time to calm down. As human beings, we can do or say some pretty stupid things when we’re highly emotional.

3. Don’t break off the call
Phone calls or video sessions can be easily broken off when one of you is hurt or angry. Instead, say you need a 30-minute break to think things over (and calm down).

4. Don’t app any negative stuff either
It’s the very worst way of managing your battles. I’m sure you can think of the reasons.

5. Take your time to write a decent letter or email
Sleep on it for a night and have a friend read it out loud to you. Only when you sound ‘together’, reasonable and not too emotional – send it. Oh, and the letter should also contain genuinely loving stuff too. See my article on how to write really personal Valentine’s Day card messages.
You each then have an opportunity to read and reread it.

6. Don’t make any assumptions
Your imagination can run riot with you and it is ever so easy to jump to conclusions without you having any evidence other than what you’ve imagined or ‘interpreted’ from what you’ve heard or seen.
Don’t! Calmly explain how you feel, without accusations.

7. Focus on the positives
It’s easy to get stuck in a negative cycle when you focus your attention on what isn’t working. It can make you forget that there’s so much to be grateful for. So, try writing down a list of all there is to be grateful for, to remind you when you forget.
(The tools in Loving Communication Kit for Couples will help too)

Loving Communication Kit for Couples ecover

There’s more…

  • Don’t surreptitiously threaten your partner with things like, for example, not having time to visit you or coming home
  • Don’t ‘hint’ at having other people you’d like to spend time with as a way to deliberately make your partner feel uncomfortable or jealous

And we haven’t even talked about the silences yet!

  • Don’t ‘punish’ your partner by not returning their calls
  • Don’t ‘not answer’ because you want to teach them a lesson
  • Don’t just stay silent when you need time to think things through – say you need a minute

“The silence is the worst part of any fight, because it’s made up of all the things we wish we could say, if only we had the guts.”

Pete Wentz, Gray

Typical for LDRs

Long distant relationships take time to build

A new relationship takes more time to build and an existing one needs time to settle into the new reality.

Be patient, don’t second guess – stay in the moment and make sure you enjoy each baby-step forward.

In a new relationship, you’re more likely to idealise your (potential) partner for longer, because you’re less likely to be confronted with the ‘real’ person. Both of you also have more opportunities to ‘sanitise’ yourself and present the ‘ideal’ you. You could each be sorely disappointed of course when you do get to spend more time with each other!

Be as honest as you can, carefully reveal more of the real you bit-by-bit as you build trust. Don’t be tempted to reveal too much personal detail too early on just to make conversation.

In an existing long-term relationship or marriage, where partners need to live apart, the dynamics inevitably go through a period of transition. Both of you (and your children) have to adopt different roles to adapt to the new situation.

Allow yourselves to ‘mess up’ without giving yourselves or each other a hard time. As human beings we feel and behave differently during times of stress – we aren’t quite ourselves. So cut each other some slack.

Breaking up is often a slow breaking off

Breaking up tends to happen more slowly with LDRs
The relationship often ‘peters out’, before one or other of the partners realises how far the relationship has deteriorated. It’s often easier just to carry on as you are and not face up to the problems. In the meantime, one or both partners increasingly fill in their time and life with other concerns, interests and perhaps even other relationships.

It’s easy to feel like you’re ‘being taken for granted’

You’ll want your relationship not just to survive but also to thrive – without either of you feeling that you’re making all the effort.

  • Creativity is needed to come up with great ways to keep each other feeling loved, cared for and interested.
  • Determination is needed to get you through (temporary) hitches, troubled times and low moods.
  • Commitment to the effort is needed to prevent feelings of being taken for granted. 

The filling in of time together

Deciding how you spend the time together
And how much of it. There’s often an expectation from family and friends too. When time together is at such a premium and there’s so much to gain and to lose, it’s obvious that these things can’t be left to chance (see further down).

5 tips for spending your time meaningfully while you’re apart

Long-distance relationship advice cannot be complete without us looking at your responsibilities as an individual. After all, you have no control over what your partner does or doesn’t feel or do.

There’s much you can do yourself to prevent every parting’s heartbreak from stopping you living life to the full whilst you’re on your own:

1. Be willing to develop yourself

It’s just too painful and unhelpful to sit around and wait. So, choose a hobby, do a course, study and spend time with friends. Decide to really commit to whatever it is that you want to do. 

The ‘sitting together in silence’ isn’t necessarily a part of your relationship. Therefore, as well as needing to keep yourself entertained, you need things to talk about together too.

You won’t want to be completely dependent on your partner for meeting your essential emotional needs. Instead, many of those needs can be met through your connections with other people and through finding meaning by stretching yourself in some way.

2. Unplug yourself

My best long distance relationship advice is: focus away from apps and social media!

You become a complete bore to yourself and other people if you can’t disconnect yourself from your mobile phone. You’re also likely to be distracted with thoughts about why he or she hasn’t texted, hasn’t answered, hasn’t looked at messages, etc. This can only increase any sense of insecurity and anxiety you may already have.

3. Get it off your chest

Avoiding conflict may seem reasonable and manageable when you’re so far apart, and your time together is so precious., but it potentially leads to long-term trouble.

Become a master in managing conflict! Visit my other relationship advice pages because much of what I offer applies to you and your relationship problems (see Related articles below). You’ll get stuck if you attribute the problems in your relationship to the distance. You can’t change the distance, but you can do something about your relationship problems.

4. Deal with your own ‘hang-ups’

If you’re feeling insecure and have low self-esteem, you may find the ‘demands’ of this type of relationship particularly challenging.

If you’re feeling jealous – talk about it with your partner, but most certainly have a conversation with yourself. Ask questions:
Where does the jealousy come from?
Have I been plagued by those feelings before?
If so, why was that?
Do I generally quickly feel ‘short-changed’?
Is there any hard evidence that your partner is unfaithful or your husband or wife is cheating?

I would hate for you to find that you’re feeling worse rather than better by being in a relationship. Whatever is at the bottom of those feelings – do something about it. Your partner might be able to soothe and comfort you, but they won’t be able to heal you. And you deserve to be healed! Only you can really do something about it.

Also, if you’re the one left behind and you happen to feel that you had little choice then, as harsh as it might sound, my best advice to you is: really deal with it – get some help with it if necessary.

  • Don’t let any feelings of resentment stop you from doing all you can to develop the relationship in the new direction.
    Talk to an expert to help you come to terms with the situation
  • Don’t undermine your partner’s efforts in working on the relationship.
  • Don’t be tempted to ‘punish’ your partner in any way, by having an affair, not talking, not answering calls, etc. (see further down)

5. Look for support

There is no better way to deal with life’s ups and downs than to share them with someone. You won’t always be able to do that with your partner (no different in any other type of relationship), so be on the lookout for people you can talk to in confidence.

Received by email

“I’m in a long-distance relationship. I have feelings of insecurities, stress, worried, etc. It’s like a sickness every time I don’t hear from my boyfriend I feel depressed and stressed out. It’s so hard to let him go. I’m worried his feelings are slowly fading away because I’ve been too clingy, obsessive and suspicious about his whereabouts.”

– Jenny

Picture quote:
No big presents are needed, ‘just’ loving attention

Long-distance relationship tips 

Tips for preparing to part

The biggest tip I can give you is to accept that it is what it is! I know that’s easily said, but there are some things you just can’t change, and it’s a waste of your energy to fret about it.

But then – there’s much you can do to prepare yourself for it.

By talking about the things in the box below you’ll be preventing unnecessary arguments. The discussions might not all apply to you, so here’s how you can make it work:

Make a list of the ones that apply to you.

Visit my article on communication.

Set time aside well in advance of the start of your separation, and have these important discussions again on a couple of occasions after you’ve had time to think things through.

10 discussions you must have to make a success of a long-distance relationship

  1. Discuss how you will part. Make it a ritual. If you have children, that ritual will help them to manage the goodbye as well.
  2. Discuss who pays for what – travel, food, calls, etc.
  3. Discuss how you will decide each time who does the travelling.
  4. Discuss whether or not you’re happy for each to date others (it depends a little on what ‘dating’ precisely means to you).
  5. Discuss each other’s preferences and needs. For example, one of you may be ‘touchy-feely’ and not so good with words, whilst the other may be a wordsmith. Both of you can bridge the gap in individual ways. It just needs to be acknowledged.
  6. Discuss your physical relationship and expectations in terms of both of your behaviour whilst you’re apart (see further down).
  7. Discuss the cost of sending presents – set a maximum.
  8. Discuss how you will get together, be together and spend your time together (see below).
  9. Discuss also on a continuing basis how family dynamics are changing after the goodbyes and on re-entry.
  10. Discuss what kind of emergencies and/or family crises you’ll share and when. It’s likely that the one staying behind will want to share, but he/she will need to be careful not to unnecessarily burden the one who is unable to take part in resolving the crisis. Also, remember that what we imagine can be so much worse than the reality!

What to expect from the comings and goings

  • It’s normal to feel sad and somewhat anxious. It will settle – if you allow it to, and bring your focus back to leading a fulfilling and meaningful life.
  • Be aware of how family dynamics change – you and your children are likely to adopt a slightly different role whilst your partner isn’t there. That’s to be expected, but do be sure that they are healthy adaptations.
  • Be prepared for that to change each time, with the comings and goings. Talk about it, and make an effort to adjust based on experience and feedback. Many families, particularly in the services, get accustomed to the fact that the parent or carer left behind behaves differently when the other comes home. Unfortunately, there may even be a different set of rules for each occasion.
  • Expect disappointments. Not everything will work out as you’d hoped – that’s not necessarily a big deal, depending on how you handle it.
  • Expect ‘life’ – with all its ups and downs – to happen on top of having to deal with the separation. In the meantime…

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

John Lennon

12 tips for when you’re apart

  1. Hide little notes in underwear, pinned to clothes, tucked in corners
  2. Write ‘old-fashioned’ letters and send by ‘snail-mail’ instead email. They carry a fragrance and the knowledge that they require focussed attention by the receiver. They are a tangible part of the other – great for ‘touchy-feely’ receivers in particular. You can give stamped addressed envelopes to your partner to help make this happen.
  3. Plan ahead dates for watching the same film or TV programme whilst Skyping, Facetiming or using another video app. Be sure it’s something you both want to watch though!
  4. Meet for regular Skype lunches and drinks. Share your ups and downs and your feelings. Use these occasions to take a risk by revealing something of yourself that you’d normally find difficult to share
  5. Work on a project together – be it an online family photo album, a journal etc.
  6. Build a website instead of a photo album (so easy to do and great for all the family – see Weebly or SBI). Use it to collect ‘notes’, anecdotes, events, photos, videos, etc. Great fun!
  7. Download my free fun relationship quizzes and make use of them on or for ‘special occasions’.
  8. Meet spontaneously or ‘by appointment’ for a virtual physical relationship (see further down)
  9. Create a ton of ‘special occasions’ (put them in your diary) – just invent them or make other people’s celebrations your own. Make each an occasion with food, dressing up, chatting and love-making.
  10. Create your family trees and tell each other the stories of your families, with all the ups and downs. 
  11. Build an online business together
  12. Play online games together

5 tips for making reunions a success

  1. Have a ‘boardroom meeting’ with an agenda for when you reunite
  2. Don’t avoid conflict.
  3. Compromise, compromise, compromise
  4. Have fun. Make a conscious effort to not allow sadness to spoil the joy of being together. There’s enough time for heartbreak when you part and in the initial days that follow on from that
  5. Don’t let the time together be all about your needs

What about your physical intimate relationship?

Yep! Needless to say – your physical relationship requires special attention with a good degree of imagination and creativity.

Here are my tips:

5 tips for a satisfying physical relationship

  1. Make sure you’re each comfortable with talking about physical intimacy. You can help each other of course, but you’re each responsible for dealing with your own insecurities.
  2. Decide when you’d want to make love. Would you each be comfortable and is it realistic immediately after the reunion to give way to passion? Or is there something else you need first?
  3. Of course, your physical relationship can include all or some of the following: (s)texting, self-pleasuring, fantasy games, videos, books, etc
  4. Be sure to arrange visits around the menstrual cycle if necessary!
  5. Dress up for Skype meets – make it a surprise!

One of the great advantages of a long-distance relationship is that you have a much longer time to enjoy that sense of excitement in anticipation of holding your loved one, smelling and tasting them, and being with them again.

It’s not always the distance

Long-distance relationships really can work! But they do also have the same problems as ‘ordinary’ relationships.

Therefore, there may also be a time that there simply is no other way forward than to break up. There’s no shame in making that decision if the relationship is no longer working (or has never really worked). If you’re not sure whether the two of you are truly compatible, then get my Relationship Test to help you make that decision.

Don’t give up too soon though. It takes time to adjust to each other and the new situation if you haven’t been apart before.

But… the problems are very unlikely to be caused by the distance only. Be sure to look critically at went wrong and learn from your experience.

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Images courtesy of: Amy Wagleardo