One piece of advice that is totally unhelpful for couples in a long-distance relationship (or LDR): “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Being miles apart can really test the strength of a relationship, and you need something more than an old adage like that to get you through. We’ve interviewed couples in long-time LDRs, as well as relationship experts, in hopes of giving your across-the-miles partnership an inspirational boost.
Get on the same page about communication.
Certainly communication is key, but often, couples assume they’ll just “talk” daily as it fits into their schedules. But “talking” could mean wildly different things to each person. Is this texting? Actual conversations? Video chat? Email?
“Take some time with your partner and negotiate how often and what modality you want to use to connect,” says Catalina Lawsin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in California. “The key word here is negotiate. You each may have different needs around how often you’re connecting. Each partner needs to identify their needs, and the two need to come to a compromise that’s realistic and they can stick to.”
Schedule date nights.
While most of the week may be filled with texts and quick phone calls, having a standing Skype date in place will help you feel closer to your partner, no matter where the two of you are located.
“A virtual date is just as important as a physical date,” says Sahra Sajasi, who lives in Los Angeles, while her boyfriend resides in London. “If you don’t set a day and time, sometimes life will get away from you and you’ll keep postponing that FaceTime call.”
So, what are you going to do on your weekly date? Some couples have found success in spending their virtual time doing seemingly mundane things that other couples do in person. This could be cooking a meal at the same time (same recipe or not), watching a movie together, or discussing a book you’ve both been reading. Maybe you’ll even relax in a bath at the same time. Meg Connolly, who was in a long-distance relationship for three years before marrying, recalls her husband ordering food and sending it to her apartment while he called in the same take-out for himself 1,500 miles away.
Put travel plans on the calendar.
Regular visits are a given in LDR. Alternating who hops on a plane or makes the drive is important, but Annie Hsueh, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist at Hope and Sage Therapy in Torrance, California suggests meeting up somewhere in the middle. Not only is it a fair compromise, she says, it also allows a couple to explore a new place together. Pairing the excitement of a new city with the thrill of being reunited is a win-win.
Fall in love with snail mail.
Instant gratification is easily met with an emoji exchange or a selfie swap, but taking the time to pen a note or send a care package adds an element of surprise and a bit of romance to the relationship. “If they’re in a country or city away from home and feeling home sick, you can send their favorite snack or another piece of ‘home,’” Dr. Hsueh says. DIY gifts are a big hit, too, since they come from your own hands and time.
Do emotional health check-ins.
Every human being, whether they’re in an LDR or not, has good days and bad. But for those in a relationship where they live with or see their partner daily, there’s a level of comfort that is met with the physical presence of their loved one. It’s important to share openly about all aspects of life, whether it’s celebrations or stressors.
“Check in with one another about how your decision as a couple to be long-distance is affecting you individually,” Lawsin says. “Integrate these occasionally so that these conversations aren’t seen as threatening or a sign that something’s wrong, but that instead your checking on how the other is coping with the distance and what may need to be adjusted to maintain and grow the relationship.”
Just because you may not be physically together, doesn’t mean you can’t establish intimacy. “Keep sex alive, no matter how you do it,” Lawsin says. “Appreciate that you both have sexual needs, and be open to talking about these to negotiate how each partner’s needs can be met.” We’ll let you take it from there.
Create a bucket list.
Along with counting down the days until the next time you see each other, Sajasi and her boyfriend also recommend keeping a bucket list of sorts, so you and your partner are planning the future together. “We are constantly sending each other restaurants we want to go to or places we want to visit together,” she says. She suggests keeping some sort of digital document that you can both add to as ideas arise. Then, find a fun way to commemorate the “list” as you complete it. This could be a scrapbook detailing the fun things you’ve done together, or a Flickr or other shared account where you can store your photos digitally.
Work toward an individual goal.
Sometimes it may feel like your end goal is sharing a home (or at least a zip code) with your significant other, but keep your personal goals at the forefront as well. Share these desires with your partner, so they can help cheer you on, and make sure you’re headed in the same direction.
Turn to a community.
There is an online group for everything, including those in long distance relationships. After spending 18 months in a LDR, Nate and Lolo Hockley created a blog called Lasting the Distance to exchange advice with other couples. Nine years later, they live together in Canada, where they’re raising a son, but they say the community they found through the site was kept them going through the highs and lows of their LDR. Whether it’s a Facebook group or a local Meetup, seek out a support system that can really relate to what you’re going through.
Engage in friendly competition.
The Hockleys say that online games are one of the most popular bonding activities in their LDR community — there’s nothing like a little head-to-head action to get the blood pumping. But even if you’re not into video games, you can try something like placing bets on who can clock the best individual 5k time, or who can get the best record on an online trivia app like Learned League. Keeping up an ongoing a competition is just another little way to stay connected.
Crib ideas from other people.
Sam Laliberte and her boyfriend, Jared, have been living three time zones apart for a couple of years. They interviewed a slew of couples and psychologists to create The #LDR Activity Book, which has chapters that are to be completed together as well as individual questions to fill in. There are personality tests, crosswords, and even games and other resources for things like conflict resolution. It might sound cheesy, but there’s a lot of wisdom gained from LDR experience packed into those pages.
Define a move date — or at least a general plan.
After it’s clear that both parties are in this for the long-haul, begin to make plans of uniting for good. Of course, this is going to look very different for every couple, but knowing your LDR isn’t forever makes the hard days worth it.
“It’s very hard to have an indefinite long-distance relationship,” said Jacob Brown, marriage and family therapist in California. “It works best if you establish from the beginning that if you’re still in love in six months or a year one of you will move. The sense that there is a defined time limit makes it much easier to endure the separation.” The ideal timeframe is different for every couple, but it’s good to make sure you’re working off the same general life plan.
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