It appears that long distance relationships are on the rise. I haven’t done any scholarly research on this (yet) but just from speaking with people in my life in addition to hearing from people in their lives, L-D is a growing and often undesirable reality.
L-D can have positive and negative aspects. The positive: autonomy, focus on self, career, friends, improving communication skills (because that’s all you have) between you and your partner, traveling (if you like to travel), the excitement of seeing each other again after distance has (hopefully) made your heart fonder. The negative: affection and sex are inaccessible, you are glued to your smartphone and/or laptop (because you use facebook, chat, email, skype to k.i.t.), you give up time that could be spent with the real world for hours on skype, you struggle with losing the feeling of being connected to your partner, arguments and fights can be more difficult to resolve especially if both of you are challenged in the communication department. I’m sure you all can add to this list if you’ve had experience with L-D.
The good news is that L-D can help you work on parts of your relationship that are core. For example, communication. With L-D, you don’t have the luxury of “hugging it out” or sharing a meal together to talk things over. You cannot be spontaneous and meet after work, which can be crucial if you’ve had a rough day or bad week. If you don’t communicate well, arguments can explode out of proportion, days can go by before you find a convenient time to settle on skype for a resolution conversation (especially if you’re battling international time zones), and jealousy may arise if you or your partner is spending more time with others than working on maintaining your connection. And support can be difficult because even with their best intentions, unless your friends have been in an L-D or are currently in one, they really can’t understand. This is why if you are ever faced with the challenge of L-D, communication and sharing are your saviors. These things may help:
- Designate a shared calendar (google calendar is one option) so you both can view events happening in each others’ lives. You can also see when the other is free to schedule “skype dates” or other communications
- Do things together: play a game online or ipad/iphone (i.e. words with friends), save the new Modern Family episode to watch together on skype, cook a meal at the same time and have breakfast, lunch, or dinner together. Click here for more ideas
- How often do we forget what we want to tell our partner even when living together? Keep a list of important points that you don’t want to forget to share with your partner (share a google document so both partners can edit/add to the document easily).
- Ask for what you need. This is a difficult thing to do period. However, in L-D, you don’t have the luxury of physical presence which can sometimes alleviate the sting of commonplace tiffs that occur in relationships. Discuss this with your partner and practice identifying your needs and verbalizing them to your partner. Practice granting your partner his/her requests.
- Come up with a “get out of jail” word or phrase that can only be used during a roadblock moment that could mean the end of your relationship. The word or phrase may be associated to a place or time where the two of you shared great. memories and positive feelings (e.g. a vacation, favorite date, first kiss). This word can only be used once by each partner to prevent overuse.
- Make time for long conversations where you can talk about things beyond the superficial “how was your day?” While it’s nice to know about their day, don’t forget that relationships are about learning one another.
- Learn something together. Part of what makes relationships fun are when you discover things you never knew about your partner. Try reading a book together so you can discuss it together on your next skype date.
- Surprise each other. A surprise visit, gift, card. This brings an exciting energy to any relationship.
- Avoid growing too attached to expectations. Life happens and perhaps your partner can’t visit you when you originally planned because of a family, work or other urgent issue. Disappointment is especially difficult in L-D. This is a great time to practice #4.
- Communicate. If you’re feeling jealous, disappointed, insecure, sad – don’t hide it. These feelings are ammunition for passive aggressive behavior which are extremely damaging in relationships. Even if you resolve your feelings on your own, consider letting your partner know what was going on. Chances are, if you care about each other to try L-D, you are probably emotionally connected and your partner may be able to feel when things are “off.” Discuss your feelings and your resolution so your partner can be in the know about you. And if you haven’t resolved it, give your relationship and opportunity to deepen by sharing difficult emotions. And again, practice #4.
- After reuniting, parting again really pulls on the heart strings. Expect that anticipation of parting again may stir up emotions. So when you find your blood pressure rising because s/he used the last of the milk and you find yourself starting to doubt the relationship, consider that the feelings and argument may be more about dealing with the pain of being apart again, not necessarily about milk.
By no means is this an exhaustive list. And I welcome any tips and comments you may have. This was put together by a combination of online research, friends’ disclosures and experience. The bottom line is that L-D can be extremely difficult, but not impossible. If you are both committed to making it work, with communication, patience, care and attention, it can work.