Expert tips and advice to help you make a success of your 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...
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:
- You've met on the internet, have an online relationship and live too far apart to meet regularly
- You've been together and work requirements or career progression - imposed or chosen - result in you living apart
- One or both of you is/are in the services or has another job which requires extended periods away from home
- A holiday romance has blossomed into a longer-term long-distance relationship
- 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.
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.)
1. 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.)
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. '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.
5. 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!
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 each of you 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 long-distance relationship too, particularly when you appear to run out of things to say.
Here is some more advice...
There is much you can do for yourself to help your relationship flourish...
6 Conflict management tips
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 be 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)
- 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 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 look out for people you can talk to in confidence.
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.
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 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.
What about your sexual relationship?
Yep! Needless to say - your physical relationship requires special attention with a good degree of imagination and creativity.
Here are my tips:
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 relationship 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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