I realize that long distance relationship advice is not a topic you were expecting to see from me today. How to store muffins? Sure. But how to survive a long distance relationship? Stay with me here.
My experience in a long distance relationship isn’t something I mention often on my blog, but it’s topic I’m asked about frequently outside of it, because Ben and I—a happily married couple of four years—spent almost two years living in separate countries. To this day, I still receive questions and emails from friends (and friends of friends) facing long distance relationships of their own. Though each situation is unique, for the most part, every person who contacts me wants to know the same thing:
How’d you do it?
Over the weekend, I received a request for long distance relationship advice from a reader who spotted in an old post that Ben and I had spent a significant time apart while we were dating. When I found myself copy/pasting a reply about our long distance experience that I’d sent to a different reader a few weeks prior, I decided it was time to write a blog post sharing what we learned, with the hope that it might be helpful to others too.
If long distance relationship survival doesn’t interest you, feel free to grab a stash of peanut butter chocolate crinkle cookies and be on your way.
If tips for making a long distance relationship work does interest you, take a cookie anyway, and let’s chat!
How our long distance relationship came to be: A year after we started dating, Ben began service in the Peace Corps and was placed in the Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, I lived in Minneapolis, working as an analyst for a Fortune 500 company. Our lives could not have been more different, but we managed to keep our relationship going despite living in what often felt like separate worlds.
Was it worth it? Yes, undoubtably.
What I can’t tell you: Whether or not you should stay in your long distance relationship. Every situation is different, and ultimately, only you and your partner you can decide if the relationship merits the difficulty, heartache, and financial sacrifice that come with making a long distance relationship work.
What I can tell you: Key tips that were critical to helping Ben and me make our long distance relationship (forgive me) go the distance.
9 Tips to Make a Long Distance Relationship Work
#1. Be Your Own Book Club (or participate in a similar, specific activity in each of your respective locations).
Ben and my day-to-days looked nothing alike. While he was teaching entrepreneurial classes in rural communities, I was negotiating production costs with international companies. Reading the same book gave us a relateable connection as we debated themes and empathized with characters. Watching the same TV series, listening to the same podcasts, and reading the same news articles are also excellent activities to share and discuss.
#2. Don’t Feel Pressured to Talk on the Phone for Hours Every Day.
Every day does not need to include an epic, heart-wrenching phone call in which you each feel a Nicholas Sparks-level connection to the other, and sometimes an excess of communication can be a bad thing. Feel confidant if you only have a few minutes to chat on light topics, or if you don’t chat at all. A simple text is an excellent option for those who are in the same country (a “thinking of you” or “miss you” can mean the world). Talking for a longer period a few times a week, versus every day, naturally leaves room for meaningful conversations that go beyond “So, what did you eat for lunch?”
#3. Bring Back Snail Mail.
Sure, texts and phone calls are nice, but a good, old-fashioned card or letter is a better way to demonstrate caring. It takes time to send, and that time will not go unnoticed or unappreciated by your partner. Plus, it’s nice for your partner to be able to pick up and reread a physical card or letter when he or she is missing you.
#4. Always Have Your Next Visit Planned.
I learned this one from my aunt who at one point weathered a long distance relationship from Texas to England. Although cards and a mutual Game of Thrones watch can be helpful, nothing replaces quality, in-person time. Invest weekends (and finances) in visiting each other. When you leave, have the next date on the calendar. That way when you part, instead of tearfully sighing “See you…soon,” you can confidently state, “See you in three weeks.”
#5. Don’t Give In To Jealousy.
It’s a reality of long distance that your partner will be spending more time with other people than he or she does with you. Don’t resent him or her for it. It’s important for both you and your partner to build strong, healthy relationships with friends and co-workers in your immediate vicinities. Long distance is difficult, and you will both benefit from having a strong support network to help you through it. Make an effort to get to know your partner’s friends as well. This way, when he or she tells you stories that begin, “Last night when Jim and I went out,” you’ll know exactly who Jim is and have a clearer picture of your partner’s daily life.
This idea becomes trickier when your partner is friends with someone of your same sex. Ben was close with several girls from the Peace Corps, and at times, I couldn’t help but feel jealous. What made a difference was a) my getting to know these girls and b) being committed to being honest about where our feelings lay. Ultimately, long distance requires trust, and if you are not willing to give it, then a long distance relationship might not be right for you.
#6. Stay Busy.
Don’t let a Skype date with your partner be the only thing you have to look forward to in the evenings. Long distance relationships are much easier to manage when you have a vibrant life outside of them. Join a new club, take an art class, or enroll in French 101 at a local community college. Enjoy your time with family and friends and with yourself too. Just because you are alone doesn’t mean you need to be lonely.
Staying busy is also important because it keeps your expectations for your partner reasonable. If you have commitments of your own, you will be less tempted to feel resentful when your partner needs to cut a phone call short to join friends for drinks.
#7. Video Call Whenever Possible.
Seeing someone’s face, even on screen, has a power that I can’t explain but that was critical for Ben’s and my long distance relationship survival. At two points, we nearly called things off, first him, then me. Both times, we had the discussion over Skype. For me, seeing his face and looking into his eyes while we spoke reminded me of why we were doing this crazy thing in the first place, and we decided to stick with it.
#8. Ask the Big Questions.
i.e. “Where is this going?” I don’t think you need to be 100% positive (0r even 80%) that a relationship is destined for eternity to try long distance, but I do think it’s important to have regular, clear, and honest conversations about what each of your relationship goals are. Can you reasonably see the other person as someone you could spend your life with, if life partnership is something you want? If not, it begs a different big question: “Why are we doing this?”
#9. Have an End Game.
A long distance relationship is not a permanent lifestyle choice. Eventually, you need an end date. This part is difficult. Eventually one (or both) of you will likely need to leave a job, network, and/or preferred city to be with the other. If that conversation feels like too much to tackle, consider setting a deadline for yourselves a few months down the line to have a serious discussion about your next steps, then stick to that deadline. As difficult as long distance relationships are, they are even more difficult when no end date is in sight.
What do you think? Have you ever been in a long distance relationship? If yes, what tips have been helpful for you?