A long-distance relationship can be a challenge for even the strongest love relationship. Many clients ask me what can be done to make them work?
There may be no simple answer, but there are things that can help or hinder love that is hampered by the tyranny of distance.
With the influence of technology on relationships by facilitating communication across the world in an instant, it’s no surprise that new relationships are forming across cultures and countries.
A common scenario is the holiday romance that flourishes into stronger feelings of love and devotion. When each party goes home to their respective countries, they stay in constant contact via SMS, Skype video calls and emails. It’s easy to continue to build on the initial feelings when communication is so fast, easy and relatively free.
Sometimes this kind of distance can be very helpful in the development of a relationship. It’s the logistics of living in different cities or countries, which slows down the ‘getting to know you’ process and facilitates an unfolding of getting to know someone, without suddenly seeing them every day of the week.
While this can be frustrating, some couples have told me it helped their relationship because they were able to slowly open up to one another over time.
However, what helps is that at some point, not too far in the future, they were able to live in the same city and have ongoing face-to-face contact and begin to share their lives with each other. There was a conclusion to the long-distance relationship.
When not enough distance is the problem
The opposite has its own problems.
Couples that live in the same city and go from being single to suddenly spending every waking moment together, or even moving in together within a matter of weeks or months often report later in their relationship that perhaps it didn’t really help them in the long run.
So it’s important to honour the gentle unfolding that needs to occur at the start of a relationship.
The ‘getting to know you’ phase then often leads to feelings of falling in love. It’s important that this phase of the love relationship is not rushed, because it does take time to get to know someone else and for you to open up and reveal your true self to another person.
Couples that rush this phase often feel anxious that they will lose the relationship if they don’t cling on tight. It’s this fear of not being able to sustain the relationship that can lead to a desire to spend so much time with their new partner that they can tend to ‘burn out’ on each other.
If this sounds like you, work on soothing your own anxiety and look at what is behind your sense of urgency to spend so much time with your new partner.
When long-distance relationships don’t work
There are a number of factors I’ve seen in my work with couples that can lead to long distance relationships not working.
Some of these include:
- spending long periods of time apart with very little ‘in-person’ time to break up the time away
- trying to discuss heavy or emotionally-laden topics on Facebook or email while in different countries
- too little contact while apart can lead to a sense of isolation or disconnection in one or both partners
- putting your life ‘on hold’ while your partner is away and not living your life fully or reaching out to friends or family
- having no plans in the immediate future to see each other again
- having no vision or long-term plan for the future of your relationship
- avoiding talking about the future when you do spend face-to-face time together
While this is not an exhaustive list, this is a flavour of some of the pertinent issues that can result in the fracturing of a long term relationship.
So, what can be done to support a long-distance relationship?
There are a few things you can be proactive about to give your long-distance relationship a fighting chance. Some of these include:
1. Break up the time apart with mini-escapes
If you live in different states or countries and there is going to be a long period of living apart, try to have regular breaks where you meet somewhere romantic or exotic or both!
Interrupting the long periods of time apart helps maintain your closeness and reduces your sense of loneliness and isolation. Meeting in a gorgeous location helps you create special and meaningful memories that you can treasure and expands the positive experiences you are creating together.
2. Hold off on talking about the big issues until you’re together
If there are major issues arising between you, try to hold off on discussing them until you are face-to-face and can speak assertively about the big issues.
Even with all the free video calling available, there is still too much information missing when you talk about emotionally volatile issues.
Facing each other and dealing with them head-on and in-person can dramatically increase your ability to hear each other, problem solve and find workable solutions.
3. Live your life fully, even when you’re not together
You are a whole person by yourself, no matter how much you love your partner. And you need to honour this by living your life in a full and complete way, even when you’re alone.
When you can do this, you feel alive, happy, and content. This has a positive effect on your self-worth and self-esteem, which then flows into your relationship.
Putting your life on hold until you see your partner again does not work and often leads to additional pressure on your relationship that can harm it.
4. Create a vision for your relationship’s future
Once you know that your long-distance relationship is solid and has a promising future, you need to talk about your vision for the future.
Even if it may be months or years away, it’s important that together you start to create a vision for your relationship that includes living and sharing a life together.
It’s through creating your relationship vision that you create hope and optimism. This is especially powerful for the long periods of time that you are apart.
What’s more, it solidifies your sense of the relationship and your common purpose, so that you can feel safe and secure that you are heading in the same direction together.
Long-distance relationships are not easy and many people will tell you that they can’t work. But with the right frame of mind and a mutual working towards the future, you can create a rewarding relationship where you eventually share and create a mutually satisfying life together.
Have you had a long-distance relationship? What’s been your experience of what worked and what didn’t work? Leave your comments below.
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Photo credit: ‘Airport Lanterns’ by Jim Epler via Flickr
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.