Can long-distance relationships work? They sure can.
But they require certain relationship skills to make them work. These relationships, though they may seem inferior to some, have the opportunity to be just as meaningful, life-changing, and significant as any of their closer-proximity peers- and they also fall victim to the same kinds of challenges that ‘next-door’ couples face.
Long-distance relationships, or LDRs, come with a set of unique challenges that can be overcome if you’re prepared.
So lets review the top 3 challenges and how to overcome them:
Intimacy is a multi-faceted concept. In the bigger picture, it’s the word for how ‘close’ you feel with your partner: how much they feel like a part of your life, and how much you feel like a part of theirs. When you break it down into subcategories, you can find a plethora of ‘types’ of intimacy, but the top 4 are: physical, emotional, intellectual, and sexual intimacy. In LDRs, couples are tasked with fostering, maintaining, and nourishing intimacy while one of the usual key elements is missing: actual physical closeness. For each of these, you can find a way to encourage your relationship’s intimacy to grow by using a bit of imagination and determination.
Physical intimacy (holding hands, cuddling): If you are apart from your partner, but still wish to feel like they are close to you, set up a Skype or Facetime call and plan on getting some snuggly pillows, or soft blankets to surround yourself. You can even stop by the store and pick up a small bottle of your partner’s scent to enhance your experience (many department stores will offer samples of perfume / cologne for free if you ask). A plush teddy bear or body pillow can also help your body ‘feel’ like your partner is really there. If you’re feeling crafty, you can make a ‘boyfriend pillow’ using a dress shirt to feel more like you’re cuddling your significant other.
Emotional intimacy (understanding, affirmation, and caring): If you don’t already, create space with your partner at least once per week to have an “emotional debrief”. During this time, practice allowing 3, 5, or 10 minutes for your partner to safely express how they’re doing and feeling. Ask about work, school, family, or friends, and let them tell you how they feel about the day-to-day events in their life. While you listen to them, be careful not to interrupt, speak over them, or butt into the conversation to speak about yourself. When they have finished sharing, affirm their feelings, and if needed, ask if they want your help with solving or approaching any issues that they disclose during their ‘turn’. Then, repeat the process and share how your week is going. Give your partner an opportunity to affirm and support you.
While you listen to them, be careful not to interrupt, speak over them, or butt into the conversation to speak about yourself.
Intellectual intimacy (sharing ideas and thoughts): Another healthy routine for LDR couples to adopt is to make a habit of making time to discuss the bigger ideas, beliefs, and thoughts that unite the two of you. Approach conversations each week with intention. During the day, if you see something that provokes thought, or something you think your partner would appreciate, share it with them. Pose a question or challenge the headline of an article that crosses your newsfeed. Forward a video that inspires you and ask your partner to give their feedback. Read a book with your partner and discuss each chapter together. Write your own book together!
Sexual intimacy (no need for an explanation here): In the past, LDR couples were limited to phone sex or writing dirty letters to one another. Nowadays, there are several other options for LDR couples, including instant messaging, voice memos, photo sharing apps, video calling, and for the more technologically inclined, long distance remote-controlled sex toys. Yes, you read that properly. The fact that these toys exist should be proof to you that you’re not alone - and you should not feel any qualms about using whatever is necessary to meet your healthy need for sex in a relationship. LDR couples looking to spice up their sex life can check out sites like Lovense.com or Kiiroo.com.
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Jealousy is not uncommon in LDRs. Both halves of the couple get to see their significant other far less than they would prefer and far less than they would be able to in a ‘normal’ relationship. Where a standard couple may be able to spend time together once a week or more, LDR couples may be lucky to see each other a few times a month, or even a few times a year. In the time that you are apart from your partner, you’ll probably hear about them making plans, spending time with friends or family, or going to events in their local area that you wish you could be a part of. Sometimes, this longing for quality time in-real-life can develop into a major pain point for the relationship - and when that pain point becomes projected toward another individual (usually a close friend or coworker), the pangs of jealousy you might feel can have very real impacts on your relationship.
Scheduling regular ‘couple time’, balancing both of your schedules to include active periods with other friends, and agreements about how much to text, call, or chat
When you think that jealousy may have entered your relationship, it’s important to comprehend what jealousy actually is. Jealousy is a feeling of fear or concern that stems from a worry that another person or thing may take away something that’s important to you- in this case your relationship with your partner or even your partner themselves. What jealousy ISN’T, however, is the feeling of wishing that we could have what others have - like wishing that you had the opportunity to hang out with your partner every day, as their coworkers might. That feeling is better defined as envy, and while it can be a stumbling block in a relationship, it won’t be in the focus of this article. Both feelings (envy and jealousy) are related to a deep concern and care for our partner, and because of that, they should be easy to discuss openly- but often, that isn’t the case. After you feel a pang of jealousy, you might be compelled to put it out of your mind and ‘push through it’ - but ignoring the roots of your concern is more likely to make the jealous feelings worse, not better.
Opening the lines of communication with your long distance partner is one of the first crucial steps in conquering jealousy. With an understanding of what the feeling means, you can explain yourself more truthfully and your partner should be able to offer the emotional support you require. After you let them know your concerns and your needs, be ready to talk as a team about ways to approach the concern. Scheduling regular ‘couple time’, balancing both of your schedules to include active periods with other friends, and agreements about how much to text, call, or chat when you’re ‘AFK’ can all help you feel better about any concerns you might have. If a particular person or activity is especially concerning for you, ask to make a “relationship appointment” to talk with your partner about your concerns in a time that neither of you will be distracted, tired, or busy.
Some of the most challenging times of LDRs are the moments when you miss your partner and long to be with them. In certain cases, couples never need to be apart for more than a few weeks. In other cases, couples have been waiting patiently (maybe for years) for their opportunity to connect face to face and solidify their relationship in real life. We crave to be near our partner, to share small moments with them over coffee or talk with them in line at the grocery store. In many LDRs, these ‘little things’ add up to a looming feeling of sadness, frustration, or isolation. But fear not - the longing feeling that comes from physical distance can be countered with the right balance of planning, hope, and patience.
When you know where you would like to be with your partner in, say, 3 years’ time, you can work backwards and plan how to get there together.
As you enter your LDR, think about what your relationship ‘goal’ is. Is this a person that you want to stay connected to for a few months? 5 years? A lifetime? Is a shared home, a marriage or a family something that you desire? Are these things that your partner wants as well? Perhaps most importantly, are either of you flexible or able to relocate for the other? Would you both like to be in an entirely different location altogether? You may find that you have many possibilities- or, you could find that work, school, or family obligations prevent the relationship from moving out of LDR and into ‘normal’ distance for a period of time. When you know these details, you can do the next step: making a relationship map. A relationship map provides you a general sense of where you’d like the relationship to ‘go’ in a certain amount of time. When you know where you would like to be with your partner in, say, 3 years’ time, you can work backwards and plan how to get there together. Here’s an example.
Based off of this relationship map, Brittany and Jesse may begin by looking at the cost of a flight to England in July. They can look for the prices of apartments, if Jesse doesn’t already have one, and they can also think about how long Brittany will stay - and if she needs to arrange for any visa or residence permit. They can also think about employment opportunities for Brittany, or determine how they will operate financially as a couple - all of these discussions will bring them closer to their goal of living together AND closer as a couple while they work as a team.
Regardless of what some may say, long distance relationships (when they flourish) can be some of the most rewarding, compelling, and enriching relationships that we experience. The unique challenges that an LDR couple encounter require expert relationship skills in certain areas, including: honesty, communication, and clarity on their goals and desires. With these things, your long distance relationship may be just one step along the most beautiful journey of all.