Why your online relationship isn't working and what you can do to save and improve it

Author: Elly Prior | First published: 06-04-2014 | Modified: 24-10-2017

How do you make a success of an online relationship? Advice is at hand!

Looking for advice on your relationship in the physical world?

If you need help with a relationship that is not online, but in the physical world CLICK HERE for a list of relationship advice articles.

If you’re looking for online relationship advice, I’m going to assume that you’re currently dating someone online. And that you're in love and hoping for a long-term relationship, but that you're struggling right now.

So, I hope to help you here with advice on how to deal with the most common problems with cyber dating and online relationships. And, of course, I'll give you some healthy relationship tips too.

Online relationships can start after meeting someone in forums, game-rooms, dating or social media sites. Your intentions at the start of your relationship matter, so - how and why did you meet? Perhaps...

  1. You have a common interest, you became friends and then fell in love
  2. You were looking for an online relationship with the hope of finding a long-term partner
  3. You set out to get into an online relationship whilst already having a committed close couple ‘in person’ relationship. In this case - hop over to my page on surviving infidelity.

(The search engine could have misinterpreted your search. If so, Click Here to connect with an online, licensed counsellor for online advice on your relationship.

Can an online relationship be happy and fulfilling?

There’s no reason why not! Our lives become more and more online as technology continues to advance. We can now fulfill so many of our needs (and wants) on the internet. And if it’s something that appeals to you, that includes finding a partner - and having a relationship - too.

When it comes to the ins and outs of your relationship, it will of course be different if it takes place solely online. For one thing, you won’t have the regular physical presence or contact that you would with a partner who you met up with often, or who you lived with. But there are plenty of opportunities to build strong emotional connections. And, of course, plenty of options to explore if you want to include physical intimacy in the relationship too.

But, as with any relationship, there can be difficulties and upsets along the way...

10 Common problems with online and long distance relationships

As your relationship progresses, here are the kinds of thoughts and questions you may be troubled by. I’ll expand on each point with my online relationship advice further down:

  1. You're beginning to be suspicious and unsure if you can really trust this man or woman
  2. You're wondering if long distance online relationships can ever work
  3. You're deeply in love with your online partner, but there's no chance you'll ever meet in real life
  4. You're in love, but your online partner is becoming increasingly distant
  5. You were in love, but now you don't know how to end this relationship
  6. You're beginning to wonder if this is truly a mutual loving relationship, or if it was just in your imagination
  7. You're being accused of being obsessed or infatuated
  8. You're dating online, but are wondering if you're truly compatible
  9. You'd like to think it's a platonic relationship, but deep down you know you're really having an affair
  10. You've been dishonest and now feel trapped by your own lies

Read on for online relationship advice, guidance and tips on each point...

1.  Not sure you can trust your online friend or partner?

What you're being told doesn't 'add-up'? You keep having some niggling doubts? Trust your intuition! Read my articles on being catfishedonline dating scams and infidelity.

2.  Can long distance online relationships ever work?

It doesn't really matter if other people can make their online relationship work. You need to know if yours can work long-term.

So, you've fallen in love, and you’re totally absorbed by your relationship. Naturally you're wondering if dating long distance can work out and lead to marriage.

Here's my take on it...

As human beings, we’re born with certain essential emotional needs. These have to be met in balance for us to become or remain mentally and emotionally (and physically!) healthy.

These innate needs include:

  • in-person friendships, fun and laughter
  • in-person intimacy with close physical and/or sexual contact
  • being part of a wider community with people who can be there for you in person when you're in need of practical and emotional support, and to share the joys of your achievements.

Of course, you can have people around online who can offer all kinds of support. But they can't put their arm around you in such a way that you can feel their physical warmth.

In addition, an in-person close couple relationship involves intimacy that includes...

  • seeing and observing someone in their everyday life, away from any screens
  • hearing them speak - not through a speaker
  • the ability to touch and hold them

So, online relationships can absolutely work, but if you're having a long-distance relationship, read on for my online relationship advice...

Expert advice on your online relationship

Your online long-distance relationship may offer you bundles of one of the most important emotional needs: the need to give and receive attention. That's seductive for sure! But can this need be met in balance when dating long distance?

I’m afraid, if I’m being honest, I don't think so!

The seductive nature of having all of your attention needs met makes it all too easy for you to ignore the fact that the relationship may not have a long-term future.

Here’s what may scupper your chances:

7 Point reality check

  1. You both live too far away to meet up often enough to build a viable relationship 
  2. There isn't enough time in your schedule to make it possible to meet
  3. You don't have the means to travel
  4. You may not want to permanently leave behind your family, friends, community, work, etc
  5. You may not want to carry part of the responsibility of requiring your partner to leave everything behind
  6. You've concluded that you're not compatible
  7. You're already in a committed relationship

Ultimately, when you’re looking for a long-term relationship, it’s because you want to meet someone you could imagine spending the rest of your life with. And I’m afraid to say that there most likely will come a point where one or other of you feels frustrated at the lack of in-person time you can spend together. 

But this doesn’t mean you have to end your online relationship right now! There’s plenty to be gained from it - as long as you have realistic expectations about its longevity, and what you really want from the relationship. Be honest with yourself, and make sure you’re choosing the right path for you, whatever you decide.

3.  5 Tips and online relationship advice for when you're unlikely to meet

My advice probably won't come as a surprise and you may not like it!

First off, though, I have no doubt you'll have gained much with this relationship, learnt a ton and had your attention needs met. It's therefore a really valuable experience regardless of what happens next.

However, I hope you see the value in my lovingly spelling out my online relationship advice:

  1. All the while you're investing in dating long-distance, you're diminishing your chances of meeting someone closer to home
  2. A long distance online relationship makes it hard for you to meet all, or a good majority, of your inborn emotional needs (see above)
  3. You're spending valuable resources - your time, energy and maybe money - with a limited return
  4. Don't fool yourself by thinking you could remain friends after it ends, when you're deeply in love. You would so pain yourself and diminish your chances of getting over it
  5. Don't draw out the ending - be brave and bold - your future happiness is at stake

If you don’t mind the thought of never meeting your other half in real life, as long as the other person feels the same, there’s no harm in that. (Be aware, though, that if you're having an affair, you are harming your primary relationship.) Just be sure to help yourself meet all of your essential emotional needs in balance in different ways - and don’t expect your online relationship to give you everything you need.

4.  8 Potential reasons why your partner is becoming distant

Here are some potential reasons from my perspective. Click on the links for more online relationship advice to deal with your particular situation:

  1. Perhaps you’ve been arguing lately and you're unable to resolve your differences?
  2. Maybe one of you has been or is abusive
  3. One of you has been using any of the communication spoilers on this page
  4. Maybe your online partner perceives you as too 'high maintenance' - too demanding of his or her attention. See my article on how to 'make' your partner love you.
  5. Or, you're in a long distance relationship with no hope ever of getting married (see above)
  6. Perhaps he or she has met someone closer to home
  7. Or maybe they have several online relationships and someone else has become more important than you
  8. Maybe they’re simply not getting out of the relationship what they were looking for - don't take it personally

Whatever’s happened, if you’re experiencing any of the above, your relationship is likely to end - but your partner may find it difficult to be direct. That could be because they fear your reaction, lack the confidence or they just don't know how to do it. No excuse, I know, but the only control you can exercise over this is by ending the relationship yourself.

5.  How do you end an online relationship?

I have a number of articles on ending relationships - Click Here and scroll down to find articles with tips, strategies and advice on how to end a relationship.

6. Is it a truly loving relationship or could you be fooling yourself?

Image and text: Online dating, good odds and odd goodsAnd yet, there are some real stars!

Even if you're not actually being catfished, here’s what your online partner may not have told you about (without judgement!):

Real age, body modifications, unemployment, debts, abject poverty or great wealth, long-term or terminal illness, a never talked about spouse or partner, children that weren't mentioned, etc. 

None of these are inherently 'wrong' of course. The lies are though.

The problem is that when you're in love, you're wearing rose-tinted glasses. You have a vested interest in being able to believe what you're told: you may want it all to be true. You can be - I'm very sorry to say - an easy target, in particular when you have little experience in online dating relationships. And we haven't even talked about online scams with disastrous financial consequences for the victims.

My advice for an online relationship is to talk it over with a good friend who can spot when you’re 'projecting' onto the other person what you really want.

In other words, when you're assuming he or she has certain - for you, personally desirable - characteristics, beliefs and attitudes.

Talk it over with someone you trust

My advice for an online relationship is to talk it over with a good friend who can spot when you’re 'projecting' onto the other person what you really want. In other words, when you're assuming he or she has certain - for you, personally desirable - characteristics, beliefs and attitudes.

Even better: connect with an online, licensed counsellor! See my page on online relationship advice.

7.  Is it love or an infatuation and obsession?

Well, that's a bit mean! It's totally normal to, at least in the initial stages, be totally infatuated and obsessed by the object of your affection. But...

  • Have you stopped doing much of what you usually do in terms of entertaining yourself with hobbies, studies and interests in 'real' life?
  • Are you neglecting your in-person relationships? You may do this too when you've fallen in love with someone who is physically nearby, but if all is well you're also likely to meet new people. Not so with a cyber relationship.
  • Are you stalking the other person? Are you hacking into their accounts? Or are you being stalked?
  • This is where the real danger lies. Have a look at my article on the signs of an abusive relationship.

If the relationship’s in its early stages, it’s natural if it’s taking up much of your time and attention. Gradually, you’ll focus outwards again and devote time and energy to other interests and people alongside the relationship.

But, if you begin to focus only on the relationship to the exclusion of everything else in your life, you do need to take a step back. Ask yourself what’s driving your obsession - what are you getting out of it? And should you be meeting that need some other way?

8. How do you know if you're truly compatible when dating online

You won't know, I'm sorry to say, if you do not have sufficient opportunities to meet - simple. Consider getting my relationship compatibility test to become clear of what information you might want to get from your potential long-term partner.

9. Is it a friendship, a platonic relationship or an affair

Only you know the answer!

It can be so easy to initially feel comfortable with the idea that you're developing a 'special friendship'. Whilst that may indeed be the case, at least initially, there comes a point at which you overstep the boundary and you are in fact cheating on your partner.

10 Signs your online relationship is highly unlikely 'just' a friendship

  1. Are you using a secret email account?
  2. Are you using a different app than you normally would with your partner?
  3. If your partner was to ask, would you show them what you're writing?
  4. Have you stopped leaving your phone where your partner could see it?
  5. Have you changed the security code on your phone?
  6. Are you using different passwords than you and your partner normally use (if indeed you share passwords)?
  7. Do you talk about your partner in derogatory terms? (Yes, I know this isn't necessarily a sign, but look at it in context...)
  8. Would you feel embarrassed if your children came across your conversations with this 'friend'?
  9. Have you been 'sexting' or had cybersex? Does your spouse or partner find you 'turned on' when they might not normally expect to?
  10. Have you been keeping your phone with you, rather than leaving it on the table?

Don't be hard on yourself - it can be easy to fall into that trap, particularly when your primary relationship is not as satisfying as it used to be. You'll have to take action and address it tough. Have a look at my page on Surviving Infidelity.

10. You have lied to your online mate

Whatever the reason you lied, you're going have to own up for your own sake. If you’ve read this far, I know you care about building a solid, deep and rewarding relationship. So don't let a lie stand in the way of that. Don't damage your own self-worth by continuing to lie. Be bold and courageous - tell the truth.

My advice for a healthy online relationship

I used to write down the following sentence for my clients and asked them what it meant:

"Where were you last night?"

What does it mean to you? Try putting the emphasis on different words. Have you noticed that it has at least 5 different meanings? 

You have every chance of building a really strong and rewarding online relationship - when there's a realistic expectation of being able to be together in person. Many of my clients had met online. These days it's a normal way of starting a relationship, despite the inherent difficulties.

Here are some tips to help you make it work:

10 Dating tips to start and maintain a healthy online relationship

  1. Write clearly making sure that your message can't be misinterpreted (see box above)
  2. Make good use of emoticons, but don't overdo it. If you start off by using three hearts your partner may not be ready and you may misinterpret their one heart.
  3. Don't fret immediately when your partner doesn't get back to you. You both need to 'have a life' outside of your relationship!
  4. Don't immediately take it personally if you perceive their response to be hurtful. Always check first that you've understood what was meant, because you may have totally misinterpreted.
  5. Be positive in your writing - if there is a problem, instead of complaining talk about possible solutions
  6. Read How to Stop Arguing, How to Be Romantic and The Secrets to a Happy Relationship.
  7. Spend more time 'listening' and asking questions, showing an interest in the other person than 'talking' about yourself
  8. Avoid gossiping at all cost. You online partner will only conclude that if you diss others, than at some point you'll do the same to him or her
  9. Be suspicious if your partner appears to continuingly elicit supportive responses just to get some sympathy. You may feel flattered and needed, but it may not make for a healthy relationship.
  10. Meet with friends and family living close by. Don't rely on the online relationship to meet the majority your essential emotional needs

Finally…

All relationships - online or otherwise - have their ups and downs. There can be problems galore, but there can also be an abundance of happiness and love. If you’re having problems with your cyber partner, there’s just as much chance you can fix the issues as with an in-person partner… if you decide that fixing is the right way forward.

If it’s time for the relationship to end, my online relationship advice is near enough the same as for any other breakup.

If you’re not sure of the best way forward, don’t be afraid to reach out for help - either to a friend, or a professional (see the blue box further down for instant access to a qualified, online counsellor). Online relationships are just as valid as those in real life. Whatever you decide to do, stay safe, and make sure you’re giving yourself every opportunity to meet all of your essential emotional needs.

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Related articles

Facebook Problems
Nonverbal communication
Interpreting body language
Do Long-Distance Relationships Work?
Have You Been Catfished?
How to Avoid Internet Dating Scams
Common Relationship Problems

Other helpful links

Online dating and relationships facts and figures

References

"Catfish, the TV Show." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2014.

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Elly Prior

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It's me - Elly Prior, I'm the Founder and Author of this site. I'm a 'real' person! I'm hoping to make a positive difference, small or large, to every person who visits my site.

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