Sunday, August 29, 2010

Long Distance Relationships in a Nutshell

If you are planning on having a long distance relationhship, here are some things you should think about and plan for before you start.

The main and most obvious thing is that you will be alone.  Technology has changed what that means for the most part, but either way, there will be plenty of times that you will simply not be able to contact your significant other.  Period.  You will not be able to hold that person at all.  You will not be able to do the simple things together that you would otherwise take for granted.  I suspect that people struggle with that basically in one of two ways depending on personality type in regards to level of independence.  Other factors are how important physical affection is to you, the length of time you will be apart, and how much and what type of contact you will have.  Since all of these factors are important, I will examine them in combination.

1.  Business trip.  A few days to a month is what I call "business trip".  Wether or not you have a lot of contact, this is not the end of the world.  If you are co-dependent, this can still be very difficult because a month can feel like a long time when you're lonely.  If you are used to doing everything together and being together all the time, I strongly suggest spending a lot of time with your friends and family while your significant other is away.  If you are the one going away, I strongly suggest focusing on the reason you are leaving.  If you have time, go see local attractions and take a lot of pictures to show to the person you left at home.  This helps you deal with the inevitable thinking about your partner in a constructive way, and gives you something to share when you get home.

If you are a more independent person, you should not have all that difficult a time with this length of separation.  Consider it a vacation for catching up on some "me time".

2.  Short term.  Up to about six months I would consider short term.  This can be a trying time for co-dependent people because there is enough time to really feel lonely and continue feeling lonely.  The best thing I can offer you is to come up with a project that will take the about amount of time your partner will be gone to complete.  You can use that time specifically to be with that person in spirit and do something constructive or creative while they are gone.  Having spent a little time "with your partner" in this way, it will be easier for you to go about your day and focus on other things.  Counting down the days until they come back should be saved until you are no more than a month away or you will drive yourself crazy.  Instead, think about all of the things you have to do until they return.  That will help you stay busy and avoid depression.  You should also use this time to watch certain movies, eat certain foods, attend certain functions or do certain hobbies by yourself or with friends that your significant other does not enjoy.

If you are independent, this can be a trying time because you probably deal with separation by moving on.  It can by psychologically very difficult to get your mind around being alone but not being single.  You may find it helpful to think about your next appointment with your significant other so that you have something to look forward to together.  I suggest making plans for that time to keep your mind on being a couple.  They will go away and come back.  When they do, you can do all of those things you want to do.  If you are the one going away, this is an exercise in consideration.  Keep your partner on the backburner while you do your things.  Pick them up a souvenir.  Write a thoughtful email.  Send a picture.  These things keep you both in a "couple" mindset while you're apart.

3.  Long term.  Up to about a year to a year and a half is long term.  I honestly do not recommend this length of separation, but it's doable if you're really committed.  If you are co-dependent, my honest suggestion is that you become more independent if you wish for your relationship to survive the separation.  If it does work out, hopefully both you and your relationship will be stronger because of it.  You will have learned to be self-sufficient in the absense of your partner and that will help you in life either way.

For independent people, this can be difficult time because moving on starts to look more and more attractive.  It is up to choice wether you go this route.  Please remember that it will take some serious dedication on your part.  If you do not plan to marry this person, I would really factor that in to my decision.  If you are married, hang in there.  You already made your promise.  Keep them in your thoughts.  When you do miss them, just do something you enjoyed doing together when you were in the same place.

4.  Indefinite.  After about two years, I start to call it indefinite.  That's because anything can happen in those two years that turns it into to four years.  If you do not plan to marry, I really suggest letting the whole thing go.  It may sound unromantic of me, but you will find someone else.  If you are that committed, then I suggest finding some way to either follow your partner or have them follow you within six months to a year.  If not, move on.  Being apart that long is just really impractical because you remain in limbo of being alone but not single for way beyond what is reasonable.  It just doesn't make sense.  If you choose to just be friends until you can be together again, that's up to you.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but at least you aren't bound by commitment while you wait.

Other Factors

Faithfulness.  This is actually really simple.  First, accept that regardless of level of commitment in a relationship, there will always be other attractive people out there that you can be just as attracted to.  Having a little crush on someone does not mean that you no longer love the person you're with.  It is a common passing emotion provided you let it pass.  You know pretty quickly when you have a crush on someone.  The most important thing is that you do not feed it.  If that means you have to stay away from that person until the emotion goes away, fine.  Do not hang out with them.  Do not fantasize about them.  Do not flirt with them.  It's a slippery slope as that is how things would naturally develop into something more if you were single.  If you tend to view it as "resisting temptation", that just makes it more tempting.  It's also important to remember that the other person may not be as attractive as they seem.  It may be just misplaced loneliness or it may be that you're only seeing the attractive qualities.  You may be missing the not attractive traits that you would surely find if you knew that person as well as you know your partner.

On the other side, do not try to get other people to be attracted to you, either.  I understand that this is a difficult thing to address, because people who habitually do this are usually not that honest with themselves about it.  It may backfire and I really suggest staying away from such a practice in life.

Communication.  If it is available, I suggest regular visits on Skype by appointment.  It's free  for computer to computer video calls and easy to use.  MSN Messenger also has a free videophone service.  They both drop calls or freeze sometimes depending on traffic and internet service quality.  Seeing and hearing your partner in real time makes separation much more bearable by providing some "couple time".  It's best to have appointments so that you are neither smothering nor neglecting eachother.  You also avoid trying to contact one another while you are busy.  Being rushed off the phone or simply not answered can play tricks on your mind when you've been apart long enough, so a regular appointment is best.  Make that phone call a priority.  It's highly inconsiderate to leave the other person hanging, just wondering.  At the same time, if for some reason the other person cannot make it, try to be understanding in that they also have a life to attend.

My parents have Skype dinner dates with a glass of wine when they have to be apart.  I find this practice both adorable and wonderful.  It helps maintain the routine of having a meal together while being somewhat romantic.

Jealousy.  There is no room for jealousy in a long distance relationship.  If you are a jealous person, I suggest either dealing with that issue now, or abandoning the whole thing.  Jealousy is a sign of possesiveness and distrust.  If it is simply possesiveness, then you will not be able to handle a relationship in which the person is not with you.  I foresee a painful breakup.  If it is distrust, then you need to be honest with yourself about why.  If you can see that you are having an irrational emotional response to the fact that your partner is attractive and wandering around without you, there is hope for you.  If you truly believe that your partner is not trustworthy, you should not be with that person at all, at home or long distance.  Lack of trust is a serious thing.  Wether or not that person is truly untrustworthy is irrelevant.  Either way, you will not be happy.  There is simply no reason to be with someone when you're not happy.

Something to Carry.  For any personality type or distance apart, it is a good idea to have an object with you that belongs to or reminds you of the other person.  This helps you in times of loneliness.  Pictures of both of you doing a favorite activity or from right before the separation are nice.  Letters are nice.  A special keepsake is appropriate.  A favorite something or other that you don't mind giving up for the other person to carry with them until they come back is perfect.  Make sure it goes in the carry on in case the airline loses your luggage.

Light at the End of the Tunnel.  Nobody likes uncertainty in a committed relationship.  Try to establish a next time that you will actually be together in person.  Even if it's really far away, it helps emotionally to at least know when that time will be.  Wandering through life without a goal is not very motivating and wandering through a relationship in such a way can be similarly disappointing.

Arguments.  It is more important than ever to play fair when you argue at a distance.  If you have a problem with your temper, it will really backfire when you know that you cannot contact that person again unless they feel like answering.  Choose your words carefully.  Now is a good time to learn to apologize if it is difficult for you.  Also, make sure you are actually getting through whatever issue it is or it's not worth arguing over.  You can no longer cover up conflicts half way through with "make up sex".  If you use conflict as a way to control the other person or to get make up sex, it will all backfire at a distance.  Think about it thoroughly before you get mad and start saying anything that doesn't need to be said.

Physical Contact.  If your relationship is largely based on physical presense and contact, you are unlikely to be successful in a long distance relationship.  This sounds obvious but many people don't think about it.

Ability to Care for Oneself.  This is necessary.  Not only do you need to be able to care for yourself, but you need to trust your partner to care for themself as well.  If you have a need to baby that person and take care of them and worry about them, etc., you are going to need to let that go.  You may struggle with the idea of not being needed, but hopefully you will come to understand that your partner is with you because they love you, not because they need you.  You will probably also gain a new respect for that person as you see them coping with life on their own.

It is important to mention that long distance relationships are simply not for everyone.  You must be very honest with yourself and your partner about how you really feel.  If you are already having problems in your relationship, being long distance is probably going to bring those things out.  Aside from that, I say good luck.

My husband and I have been long distance three times now since we were engaged.  The first time was really difficult because I wasn't quite sure how things would be when we saw eachother again.  The first time we reunited, all of my uncertainties were calmed.  What was most important to me was that he was faithful and that we still had our spark.  I had been with multiple cheaters before, so I could easily feel the difference.  I could feel in his presence when we met at the airport that everything had gone well and that everything would be okay.  Armed with that knowledge, being apart has gotten much easier.  I no longer worry like I did the first time because I know that everything will be fine when we're together again.  It may not be too pleasant, but it's not too painful either.  We also allow eachother to change independently and apreciate those little changes in lifestyle and maturity (within reasonable boundaries).  That mutual respect and allowance for freedom helps us enjoy our time apart as well as our time together.  Point being, if you are planning to be apart on a somewhat regular basis, be aware that the first time is the most difficult and that it will get easier.

Awsomesome Tip of the Day:  Don't panic.


  1. My bf and I are long distance- it truly does get easier the longer it goes. When we first started dating we were seeing each other every other weekend. Now we usually go 5 weeks without seeing each other. Which I do think is too long, but circumstances restrict us to that.

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