Every relationship has a mix of physical, emotional, and psychological connections that are unique and need to be nurtured by the players in the game.
And each relationship has its grueling and rewarding moments in different measures, depending on the dynamic. But when you add in the dynamic of distance, it’s an entirely new challenge.
My wife and I had a relationship that spanned the distance from her apartment in Brooklyn, NY to mine in Brighton — as far south in the United Kingdom as you can go.
As a couple lucky enough to be together during a time of free video messaging, we managed to keep our connection alive long enough to enter each other’s daily orbit. It still took an awful lot of time, money, energy, sacrifice, and dedication to pull it off.
If you’re struggling with your significant other being miles and miles away, look no further. This is the ultimate guide to long-distance relationships, from someone who’s done it.
Before pressing “play” on your long-distance relationship, you need to decide if it has a shot to last — at least determine if it justifies the effort and longing in which you’re about to immerse yourself.
One study found that couples who traveled for longer than 1 hour to see each other were more likely to separate than those who traveled less than an hour. Likewise, the couples that traveled further were also less likely to move in together.
No matter your initial intentions, the distance can do a number on your level of investment over time, especially if you’re going through a life-changing event.
A study on college students who stayed in long-distance relationships from high school found that doing so affected their connections to both their partners and their colleges.
Sometimes, it’s just not in your best interest to give energy to a relationship — whether long-distance or not. The difficulty can be knowing when those times are and when it actually is worth it to put the effort into making it work.
Questions to ask before you commit to dating from a distance
- Will this actively draw time and energy from your daily obligations without giving anything back?
- Does it make you feel good or bad?
- Are you feeling distracted, or is your mind drifting to other potential partners?
- Do you resent your partner for time spent away from what you view as an important investment you both are part of?
It’s important that you be honest with yourself when answering. If you feel that the investment is worth it, here’s what the experts say about making your relationship sustainable.
Everyone’s different, and there’s no fixed formula that guarantees success. But if you want to have a real go at making your long-distance relationship work, you’re going to need to develop a healthy mindset.
Reframe the relationship
Long-distance relationships by nature are highly physical for shorter periods and have longer stretches of purely emotional connection.
It helps to frame the relationship around prominent emotional and psychological connection, with the physical playing a less prominent role (even though it’s still there).
Of course, you have physical needs. And webcam fun can be nice. It’s obviously not an apples-to-apples replacement for physical intimacy with your partner, but you can still find alternative methods of connecting.
If you’re celibate, long-distance relationships may be less physically triggering, though it can still be tough. Learn more about celibacy here.
Work on yourself outside of couple time
I will take cuddles any day of the week. But I want to make sure I’m balancing it with some productive individual maintainance time.
Long-distance relationships are actually a positive in this regard. If you need to put in extra time at work or school, want to try something new out of sheer curiosity, or yearn simply to get some space and quiet, you have the bandwidth.
You can have access to the emotional benefits of a relationship without much of the accompanying logistical baggage. Make the most of it. It’s good for both you and the relationship.
We’ve got the lowdown on looking after yourself.
Try to speak every day — but allow yourselves space
Chatting with each other every day, even if it isn’t for long, keeps your partner as a constant in your life.
Relationships aren’t just about recounting big events, funny stories, and personal victories. The ‘between talk’ in-jokes and small moments are also key. Long-distance love can deprive you of many conversations like this.
Messaging and video calls are almost always available on free platforms. And a sizeable chunk of dating post-COVID is taking place through screens and without physical contact, so you’re not alone.
If the concept of sexual contact during long-distance dating seems weird to you, look no further.
Be prepared to facilitate a *big* sacrifice
This is true for most relationships, but sacrifices will certainly have an impact on the long-distance ones. My wife packed up everything she owned and moved from Brooklyn to Brighton. Six years on, we’re still dealing with the visa paperwork (and the attached fees).
We’ve watched many of our friends and family buy property, build a platform, have children, and progress in their lives.
Contrastingly, we spent so much money on traveling to see each other, and then on staying together when we finally could, that we often only get to sample stability in the taste of the slipstreams left by people we love.
No matter what plans you make ahead of time, both of you will have to make sacrifices — some may be really painful. Then, however, you can rebuild — but together, for real, this time.
If you’re the one who’s had to move away from home, or if you both decided to start fresh, here’s how to make friends in a new city.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourselves
Seeing your significant other at irregular intervals can have the feeling of attending a wedding or bar mitzvah — a huge, momentous deal that requires a heap of focus and has to be absolutely perfect.
Here’s the thing, though: It doesn’t. You should have been connecting often enough that being together should feel special but not out of the ordinary. The best relationships simply pick up where they left off.
Remember that friend from school who you only see every few years, but with whom you effortlessly pick up conversation after all this time? It should feel like that, only with awesome sex and intimate cuddles.
And if the sex isn’t awesome, you needn’t worry about that either. Chances are you’ve got some performance anxiety going on, and you’ll be a little out of practice with it (providing that you’ve been faithful).
Don’t duck the important emotional lifting
Long-distance relationships are especially hard if you’re emotionally unavailable. Physical distance isn’t an excuse for emotional distance. You’ve got to make time for each other’s needs and feelings as you would if you lived together.
While the emotional responsibility of a relationship will become more intense as it progresses, it’s important not to shy away from opening up to your partner just because you aren’t around each other regularly.
This may seem pretty heavy if you don’t get to have fun in the same room or physically blow off steam. But you’ll have to break that barrier at some point before living near each other.
Make romantic gestures routine
Love is as much about the small moments as the huge presents and surprise visits.
But when you could be apart for weeks at a time, a gesture here and there lets your partner know that you’re thinking of them and would do more if you could.
Whether it’s flowers, a handwritten letter, a book or movie they’ve talked about, or even a surprise visit, it doesn’t have to be expensive. It should just be a thoughtful indication that you value your significant other regardless of where they are.
This goes without saying, but you still need to act appropriately within the bounds of your established relationship.
Some people have more open arrangements that allow for sexual contact outside the relationship. But you need to stick to the rules of engagement that have been mutually set. And if you’re in doubt, communicate about what’s expected.
Trust is 100 percent fundamental to making any relationship work, but especially one in which you can’t always hang out. If you’re constantly worrying about what the other person is up to, you’ll never feel totally comfortable.
A relationship should never feel bad. And if you can’t trust your partner, it’s going to start eating away at your happiness.
Here are 20 bad relationship habits to avoid that can diminish trust.
If you’re moving in together, be ready for hardcore change
Eventually, a long-distance relationship will come to an end. You’ll either go your separate ways permanently or move closer to each other (such as into the same living room). And the latter is a phenomenal amount of change.
Your quality time being physically present goes from a Christmas-esque treat to the status quo. Annoying habits you thought you’d be able to hide from your partner become not quite so concealable.
You start having to deal with boring, expensive shit, like housework, work-work, and Visa paperwork (if you, like myself, are in an international relationship, the latter will wreak absolute havoc on your life and bank account).
Plus, you’ll have to deal with the emotional fallout of the extreme changes both of you will have had to make.
You’ll dream of being near each other for the duration of your time spent pining over Skype. But switching over to a closer relationship in physical proximity generates a whole different spatial dynamic. And you have to be ready for that.
(All relationships change over time, and you have to learn how to adapt in even the most convenient circumstances.)
Long-distance relationships are certainly tough to sustain, but they are navigable. They can also provide opportunities for flexible self-improvement while you build a connection with someone.
If you find the right person, putting in the effort to make it work is definitely worth it. And with trust, communication, the occasional sexy video chat, and a willingness to adapt, you’re most of the way there.
Adam Felman is an Editor for Medical News Today and Greatist. Outside of work, he is a hearing-impaired musician, producer, and rapper who gigs globally. Adam also owns (almost) every Nic Cage movie and has a one-eyed hedgehog called Philip K. Prick.