Overcome the Distance With This Helpful How-To Guide
There’s been an explosion in long-distance relationships in recent years, owing to two big changes in modern life: people travel around a lot more, both for fun and for work, and more and more couples today meet on the Internet, rather than in person, so it’s not uncommon for two people living in two different countries or even the same country but different cities to strike up a romance.
Luckily for today’s LDR couples, there are countless ways to stay connected to your partner when you’re navigating a long-distance relationship. From tagging each other in funny memes on Instagram to sending photos, texts and FaceTiming, there’s no shortage of platforms and opportunities to be in touch.
However, even with all of the apps and technology available, maintaining a successful long-distance relationship is still no walk in the park. There’s the financial cost of visiting one another — and depending on the distance, it can add up quickly. And if your paid time-off policies are less than generous, finding the time to see each other while balancing out work demands can also be draining.
You might wonder why people even consider long-distance relationships. Does it ever work out? Are there ways to make it feel easier? Here’s a look at everything you need to know about being in a long-distance relationship, and how to make it work.
Why Do People Do Long-Distance?
Rarely do people get themselves into long-distance relationships on purpose. Typically, couples become victims of circumstance, where one partner finds themselves needing to relocate.
“An accidental long-distance relationship example might be a situation where two people are dating early on and out of the blue one of them gets a job promotion requiring him or her to relocate,” explains author Kevin Darné. “Or someone is in the military at a local base and suddenly is notified that she or he will be deployed. Up until that moment things have been going very well between the couple and neither person has a desire to call it quits, so they strive to make a long-distance relationship work. It’s not what they signed up for but they’ll give it a shot.”
Another way that long-distance relationships get facilitated? When one person ends up spending a lot of time in a different state or city for either work or leisure, and forms a connection with someone there.
“A spontaneous long-distance relationship could occur when one person is visiting another town, state, or country and ends up spending a great deal of time with a native,” explains Darné.
“Oftentimes there is romance and sex which contribute to them having a wonderful time together. As the end of the vacation draws near, they spontaneously decide to remain in touch and see where things go.”
However, there are cases where both parties know that distance will be a factor they have to deal with before starting the relationship.
“In a planned long-distance relationship, one example might be high school sweethearts who, upon graduation have plans to go to different colleges, but vow to maintain their relationship until they get their degrees,” says Darné. “Another example might be two people who met online fully aware they live fairly far from one another where it’s impractical to see each other on a regular basis, but nevertheless decide to romantically move forward.”
As for how these situations differ in the way these relationships are carried out, that it has to do with how long the distance is set to last.
“In both the accidental and the spontaneous long-distance relationship scenarios, couples view their distance as a romantic obstacle they’re determined to find a way to overcome,” says Darné. “In their eyes fate simply dealt them a ‘bad hand.’ The biggest difference between the planned long-distance relationship and the other two is usually there is an end date set for when the couple plans to reunite permanently. Anything beyond one and a half years is usually too long for most couples.”
What Real Women Say: “We met on a dating site, so when you don’t set an amount of miles, you’re bound to meet someone long distance,” says Eileen, 41. “He was from Maine, an eight hour (or more!) car ride away. Emails turned to chatting, to texts, to phone calls. There was a connection. We met in person and decided we could give it a go. We didn’t really discuss what would have to be done, and that was a mistake.”
“We only lasted a year … the first time,” she continues. “The distance was too much and too expensive to maintain. About a year and a half later, we tried it again. This time we were more conscious of what’s involved. There is a whole lot of insecurity that arises in long-distance relationships. Staying consistent helps — set phone calls or FaceTime times.”
“Have dates over the phone, watching the same movie together,” she suggests. “See each other as often as you can. Texts throughout the day just to stay connected help. We now play Words With Friends together, and it just keeps us connected and lets each other know we are there. Surprising each other with a card or something in the mail or flowers at work is a great way to keep the romance.”
Can Your Relationship Handle Long-Distance?
Long-distance relationships have a shelf life, and the key factor that makes this type of arrangement work is having an end goal or date in mind.
Whether that means one of you eventually leaves the company you’re at to look for work closer to your partner, one of you finishes school or whatever circumstance is the main disruptor that’s keeping you apart, you need a time when it will be possible to be in the same place together.
“Long-distance relationships were meant to be temporary,” says Darné. “The goal is to be with the person you love. Therefore, in order to maintain a long-distance relationship there has to be a ‘light at the end of the tunnel,'” he says. “In other words, there must be a date established for when someone will be relocating to have a shot at lasting together. Without a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s only natural for couples to drift apart. It’s the counting down of the months, weeks and days until one is finally done with the inconvenience of being in a long-distance relationship that keeps it strong.”
According to Grant Langston, CEO of eHarmony, another factor that has a tremendous impact on whether or not a relationship will be able to handle long distance is the maturity of both parties involved.
“There is a certain amount of maturity that’s needed to even attempt a long-distance relationship,” he says. “For example, high school sweethearts that go to different colleges and promise to keep the relationship going almost never keep that promise. The more mature you are, the more you can delay gratification and put in the maintenance you need to stay in touch over the months [when you don’t see each other].”
Langston also notes that you must be “strong enough to resist temptation, which is typically more difficult that people think.”
“You’re going to have to believe whatever your partner tells you about their habits and social life, and some people have a hard time doing that.” he says.
What Real Women Say: “In the beginning, the hardest part was just missing each other,” says Helena, 31. “As time went on, what became hard for me was him making new friends and becoming a part of a new clique that I didn’t quite fit into. I started to become jealous and snarky. That was new territory for me because I was always the ‘cool girlfriend’. I was angry with myself and he became annoyed with me (understandably). That eventually led to several ‘breaks’ and eventually the final break-up.”
How to Handle the Long-Distance Talk
Whether it’s accidental, spontaneous or planned, approaching the conversation about committing to a long-distance relationship with your partner requires a hard talk where you lay everything out on the table.
“The best practice is to simply be honest and straightforward,” says certified counselor Jonathan Bennett. “Some people won’t be able to handle a long-distance relationship, and they deserve to know quickly and bluntly so they can plan for the future. If they are content with long distance love, then they still need to organize practical matters like how often they plan to visit, how to keep connected, dividing up shared assets and so on.”
Matchmaker Susan Trombetti says that this also requires embracing the possibility that the feelings won’t be mutual in your desire to continue the relationship over long distance.
“No hard feelings if this isn’t for the other person,” she says. “You are sparing yourself the hurt and pain, so don’t try to talk someone into having a long-distance relationship if it isn’t in the cards for you. There are emotions that are hard to put aside to think what is best. Sure, you will miss each other if it doesn’t work, but you will hate each other if one winds up cheating.”
What Real Women Say: “I honestly can’t remember exactly how the conversation went when I chose my college,” says Elyse, 31. “I think I do remember my awkward, insecure, teen self asking him if he would stay with me if I went away in our first conversation about my college choice. By the time I was actually leaving, several months later, it wasn’t even a question,” Elyse adds. “We were both all in. We talked about it and expressed to each other that we were both willing to do whatever it took to make it work. We actually even sought outside counseling to prepare us for this big change.”
What to Do to Make Long-Distance Manageable
Don’t Let the Distance Make It Abnormal
“When attempting a long-distance relationship, the most important thing is to try to make the relationship as ‘normal’ as possible,” says Bennett.
“This means trying to share special moments, like holidays, birthdays and the general daily joys and sorrows that couples who are together in person take for granted. Fortunately, technology makes sharing life moments easier than ever. However, it still takes effort since the distance can make feeling truly included in another person’s life difficult.”
Set Expectations and Guidelines
April Davis, relationship expert and founder of LUMA Luxury Matchmaking, says working with your partner to set expectations can also help set couples up for success in a long-distance relationship.
“First and foremost, you and your partner need to set some guidelines,” she says. “What is acceptable, what isn’t. Long-distance relationships fail because of a lack of trust and invasion of space (even if it’s just virtual space). You don’t need to be in constant communication. Keep some of the mystery alive!”
Keep Things Playful
Despite the challenges, keeping things fun and light will make it feel less stressful.
“One thing I advise is to always keep the relationship romantic and playful,” says Bennett. “This means not just sticking to facts and intellectual conversations, but being flirty, fun and even a little naughty. This keeps the romantic spark alive and makes a naturally stressful relationship more fun.”
Work on Your Sexting
As for how to get your sexual needs met in a long-distance relationship, Bennett recommends trying your hand at sexting.
“In a long-distance relationship, regular sexual intimacy is obviously difficult,” he notes. “Those rare moments of physical contact are extremely essential for physical and sexual bonding. Couples in a long-distance relationship must find a way to regularly express their sexuality with each other in a way that doesn’t involve physical contact. They can’t be afraid to embrace sexting and other ways of creating a virtual sexual connection.”
Do More Than Update Each Other
When you’re dating someone who lives in the same place as you, your conversations have the luxury of time. Meaning, you can drift off on tangents, discuss the most recent series you’ve binged watched at length and take your significant other through what happened at each and every point of your day.
But according to sexologist Dr. Jess O’Reilly, that conversation with your long distance partner should be more targeted and meaningful in order to get both your needs met.
“Don’t fall into the bad habit of making all of your phone calls about updates and agendas. You don’t need to fill your partner in on every single detail of your day,” she says. “Instead, talk about your most intense feelings, concerns, dreams and celebrations. Take turns initiating calls/chats; one of you may have more time, but you should both make an effort to be the initiator.”
Use All the Technology at Your Disposal
When you’re in a relationship with someone who lives close by, you get the best of human intimacy: Seeing someone in real life. But in long-distance relationships, you have to make do with facsimiles.
For Connell Barrett, a dating coach for The League and founder of DatingTransformation.com, the best way to make it work is by using lots of different forms of communication.
“With today’s technology, there are countless ways to do this: texting, sexting, Facetime, video and audio clips,” he says. “Send at least one message daily, even if it’s just a ‘good morning’ wake-up text.”
As well, using video chat to be more present can allow you to simulate some of the best parts of dating.
“Schedule a video date weekly, and simulate the ‘date night’ activities you would do if you were physically together,” he adds. “You can hop on the phone and watch a Netflix movie at the same time. Or you can play video games at the same time even if you’re thousands of miles apart.”
Mail Each Other Things
Just because digital-age technology can go a long way towards making you feel less far apart, that doesn’t mean you should do away with less high-tech approaches altogether.
According to Barrett, using plain old-fashioned mail delivery is a great idea to keep some classic romantic flavor in the mix.
“Send old-school, snail-mail gifts to each other: cards, letters, and personal mementos,” he advises.
That kind of tactile presence in each other’s lives can go a long way towards making you both feel more real than just texts and FaceTime calls.
Use Your Calendar
One of the best tricks for handling long-distance? The momentum of moving towards your next in-person moment together.
“Get a date on the calendar for your next in-person rendezvous. It will give you both something to look forward to,” Barrett advises.
Dr. Janet Brito — a sex therapist based in Hawaii — agrees, noting that tracking things that are important to each of you is another great use for a shared couple calendar.
“Creating a calendar might be useful to arrange when you will see each other again or to celebrate big events in person,” she says.
Whether it’s a digital one or something you keep separately, knowing what’s coming up and when will help not just with planning, but also can give you a palpable sense of excitement as the days until your next meeting go by.
What Real Women Say: “My husband and I were actually long distance all through college and part of law school,” says Julianna, 30. “There is no gadget that can help sustain a healthy, long-distance relationship other than constant communication, but the one thing that helped us specifically was that we scheduled time each week to have a ‘date’ on the phone, or FaceTime. We usually ate dinner or lunch at the same time, creating an opportunity to fill that void of missing each other. Long distance isn’t for everyone and it isn’t something people just ‘set out’ to do, because it’s usually caused by something other than wanting to be apart.”
How to Handle Trust in a Long-Distance Relationship
One thing that can make long-distance tricky is learning to trust each other. When you’re in a relationship with someone in close range, you’re seeing them on a very regular basis, and you what they’re up to a lot of the time.
Introduce long-distance into the equation and that can alter how easy it is to trust each other along with it. Being long-distance can (in theory) provide cover for getting up to no good, and that can make the whole thing more daunting, regardless of how faithful you’re being.
For Barrett, that means being open and honest about your feelings.
“If you’re feeling insecure or jealous, talk about it,” he says. “Hiding your feelings only makes it worse, but talking about fears or frustrations that arise can bring you closer together.”
That being said, it doesn’t mean you should start letting baseless accusations fly.
“If you suspect that your partner has violated your trust, instead of yelling, stay grounded,” says Brito. “Find a time to share your concerns. Stick to the facts, use ‘I’ statements and share how their behavior impacted your feelings. End by stating what you need, and asking them if they are able to meet your requests. Listen carefully to what they are saying, and don’t force anyone to do something they are not willing or ready to do.”
It’s easy to let our insecurities and jealous imaginations get the best of us, but jumping to conclusions won’t fix things if there’s a problem. In fact, it might just ruin things when there’s not any actual cheating going on. That’s why Brito suggests basing your approach around whether they’re capable of making you feel better rather than attempting to find proof of cheating, and breaking any trust you have in the process.
“If your partner is saying one thing but doing another, that is a red flag,” she says. “Trust yourself if you are feeling uneasy and worried about your partner crossing boundaries. If they are unable to meet your needs, it is best to thank them for their time and start the healing process of letting go. Listen to your gut, trust your intuition instead.”
Of course, trust is a two-way street. While it may be easier to imagine a partner cheating than ourselves, that’s not always how it goes down.
“If you’re in a monogamous long-distance relationship, avoid ‘danger zones’ where temptation lies — a night at the club, being alone with someone who has a crush on you,” says Barrett. “Trust isn’t just about your partner. It’s about being a trustworthy [partner].”
Best Tools to Help Couples Connect While Long-Distance
Keeping the spark alive in your relationship when you and your partner are living in two separate places is essential to making it work. Luckily, there are a few products on the market that can help you both feel more connected, and make the miles seem less daunting. Here are a few products that go the distance.
LDR couples can’t take it for granted that they’ll see one another every day. In fact, they often have to go days at a time without a face-to-face conversation. That’s where Couplete comes in: think of it like a private social media app, just for the two of you. Your “feed” is just photos, memories, shared notes and mementos. It’s a much-needed way to cut through the silence and the distance to remind yourselves why you’re doing the long-distance thing in the first place.
One of the great difficulties of a long-distance relationship is coordinating schedules, especially if you’re in different time zones. The Raft Calendar app connects you and your partner’s calendar, allowing you to see at a glance where you’re both busy and find that much-needed free time in your schedules to help you connect.
Harness your competitive instincts using the Desire app, which sets up challenges, dares, and simple reminders for fun tasks to help you both stay connected and engaged. Keeping the spark going across large distances can be difficult, but there’s a flirty and fun component to Dare that helps keep the romance alive.
With additional reporting by Alex Manley