Whoever said long-distance relationships aren’t hard has undoubtedly never been in one.
Long-distance relationships are becoming more common for many couples due to ‘fly in, fly out’ (FIFO) work, the massive increase in people travelling overseas, and the globalisation of today’s world where living and working in another state or country is easier to achieve than ever before.
But with a long-distance relationship comes lots of unique challenges for a couple. Some couples survive, and other couples don’t last the distance. So why is this?
I recently spoke on the ABC Radio show, The Hookup, to share some of my best advice for long-distance relationships and to discuss if they can work.
In this interview with Nat Tencic, we discussed:
- why long-distance relationships can be so hard and how to know if it’s worth having one
- the big mistakes couples make when in a long-distance relationship
- how to prepare for a long-distance relationship
- the difference between a long-distance relationship in the same country vs. an international separation
- whether an open relationship is a smart move when you’re in a long-distance relationship
- how to manage the need for physical closeness in an open relationship
- the value of quality communication and avoiding over-communication
- how to prepare for a partner living with you again after a long period apart
We had some interesting callers that shared their long-distance relationship stories, and I shared tips for helping couples navigate this challenging area.
You can listen to the audio of the interview or read a copy of the transcript below.
Click the player below to listen to the interview of Clinton on ABC radio:
Read the transcript of this interview below:
Nat Tencic Hey it’s Nat Tencic with you.
If you’ve had to be away from your partner for any amount of time. You know it’s pretty hard but what do you do when you’re at a long distance for the long haul? I want to help you with long distance relationships tonight and making the wrong distance go all right.
Are you finding long distance really tough right now? And that’s what we’re talking about right now long-distance relationships.
I’m currently in a state of long distance and thankfully it’s about to end but it sucks and I wish we’d been better prepared for how difficult it would be.
Some of your questions and comments coming in – Tilly says the timing of this show tonight is either terrible or amazing because me and my boyfriend have been in a long-distance relationship for about a year and a half since he joined the army. He’s in Brisbane. I’m in Wollongong. I’m on my way home now from visiting him this weekend to wish him well on his deployment for the next eight months. I’m already feeling incredibly heart sore and scared about the whole thing but I’m hopeful it’ll go quickly and he’ll get home safe.
Heart goes out to you Tilly. And Lucy says, “shout out to my long-distance boyfriend Morgan from Perth. He’s going to be in Melbourne next week. I miss you and I can’t wait to see you.”
Oh, it’s making me really, really want to see my partner again and we’re talking about it now. Yeah, because I’m going through it. You’re going through it and to help us out a bit with this pretty crappy time honestly, is our relationship counsellor and friend of the show Clinton Power. Clinton welcome to The Hook Up.
Clinton Power G’day, Nat. Great to be here.
Nat Tencic Yeah, it’s really great to be with you. Now as we know they say long distance is the wrong distance. I mean I could tell you why it sucks so much but from your standpoint as a professional why does it suck so much?
Clinton Power Well, look, inherently there are so many challenges even as some of those people calling in and contacting the show are saying because the normal progression of a relationship is disrupted.
You know when you meet someone in the same city you start to date, you see each other on a regular basis, you get to know each other and then suddenly when you’ve got a huge distance between you and your new love everything in a way the breaks go on.
So all those things are those routines and rituals of connection suddenly get interrupted and you have to kind of find creative ways to continue the development of your relationship.
But the good news is technology is your friend today. I remember I had a love interest back in the 80s – I was in London and my love interest was in Sydney and we had to send letters and you’d wait seven or ten days for them to write back and it was just absolutely so painful. But now with technology it is so much easier to stay in touch. And there are pros and cons for that.
Nat Tencic Yeah, you saying that made me think long distance is nothing new. Like wartime letters being written to each other and all that sort of thing but it’s so much easier now at least you can see someone’s face when you’re talking to each other.
What are some of the big mistakes you can make get getting into a long-distance situation but there’s a few mistakes you can make?
Clinton Power I think one of them is not making plans to visit because the research shows that relationship quality is actually affected by how certain the partners are that they’re going to reunite.
So, if you go to long periods of time and you don’t have plans to visit or you don’t have that next trip booked in, it can really affect your relationship satisfaction.
And the other thing that happens over time is you idealise your partner but we also know the partners who sees each other less frequently they actually idealise each other more and and the interesting thing here is that that actually can leads to greater likelihood of breakup. So you kind of want some idealisation like thinking of your partner in a really positive way. But if there’s too much you can actually be dangerous for the relationship.
Nat Tencic Yeah right. There’s a question that’s coming in for you on the text line. This one says similar to Dan who called in a little earlier, “I’m considering moving to the UK for a couple of years when my girlfriend’s visa is up but I have a really good job here in Sydney that might be hard for me to transfer over there. I’d be sacrificing a bit of the progression I’ve made with my career here. What should I do?”.
Clinton Power That’s a tough one isn’t it, Nat? The question is is that a deal-breaker? And sometimes there are deal breakers that no matter which way you go the relationship just can’t survive you know. And other issues can be negotiated and work through. So, it’s very much on an individual basis when it comes to those big life decisions.
Nat Tencic Rob had gotten in touch with us during the week and he’s got a question for you. Here’s Rob.
Rob Hi I’m Rob. My fiancée’s moving away. Most likely this ends this year for work which is stressful on its own but we’re also in an open relationship and just wondering how best to prepare for that.
Nat Tencic What do you think, Clinton?
Clinton Power Okay. That can be a tricky combination. I think open relationships had the best of times can be challenging. And you know you need to have great communication, really clear boundaries, and I think when it comes to long distance relationships this is even more amplified. You have to be really clear about how is this going to work. And and you need to communicate what the boundaries are. So essentially you can keep the primacy of your your main relationship at the forefront.
And I think sometimes when there’s distance it can be more problematic when it comes to negotiating an open relationship, only because you know the threat of jealousy is is much higher.
Nat Tencic So just keeping things really open and saying this is exactly what I’ve done. And this is what we’re doing. What can I do?
Clinton Power Yeah, every couple needs to develop really their own ground rules. A mutual understanding of how it’s going to work but communication is really essential and even the best couples, the strongest couples that have open relationships still run into problems sometimes.
Nat Tencic Do you think it’s like if you have the open relationship tack here that it can help in a way because you’re satisfying like that need for physical closeness that you’re not getting from your partner or does it just throw more spanners in the works?
Clinton Power Well it can do. And for some couples that are really robust and maybe you know the foundations are really solid, they can negotiate that and be okay with that. A.
And then there are other couples, maybe even one partner in the couple that may feel very threatened by that and actually having an open relationship may not be the best way to go because the safety and security of the relationship is undermined.
Nat Tencic It’s the Hookup on triple j. I’m Nat Tencic, and we’re with relationship counsellor Clinton Power. We’re talking all about long distance relationships and how to make the wrong distance just a little bit better. And some people are asking and Riley has a question for you, Clinton, and a few people mentioned this whether you just you go ahead with it or not.
Riley says I’m going away to America for six months in May and my girlfriend is still studying while I’m away. Should I keep a relationship or let it go? What would be best? I mean the question essentially is like is long distance worth it?
Clinton Power These are just kind of make or break questions are they. It really depends on the strength of the relationship. I mean if you have a really strong robust relationship now and and then you’re going to be apart for a period of then it’s very possible to do.
I mean look at FIFO workers – lots of people who are married and suddenly one partner becomes a FIFO worker and you know every month they’re away for three weeks or even longer. So, you can you can negotiate. But what we do know is the really essential thing is you need to have relationship certainty. So even if you’re going to be away for six months like Riley, you need to know when will you next be seeing each other. Because one of the worst things that can happen is just not having any plans, not having a definite time to meet, and the relationships that don’t tend to make the long-distance ones are the ones where they’re open ended. There are just no plans. There’s no long-term plans and a plan for an end. And so, I think that’s essential.
Nat Tencic Contact us if you have a question right now on the Hookup about long distance relationships. Jeremy from Ballarat you’ve called in and you were talking about being away for work. That’s kind of your situation, Right?
Jeremy It’s not as much now as it was but when I first got married to my wife I was in the army and we only spent three months of our first 12 months of marriage together, if that.
Nat Tencic Yeah and how did you make it through? What were your some of your strategies?
Jeremy We communicated a lot. So, we had at times three different lines of communication. So, we would send each other letters or packages in the mail. We emailed and we also had phone calls and instant messages. I think we spent too much time doing that because we run out of things to talk about.
So, if I was to go away again, I think we would actually leave it to maybe one phone call a week just because we would sit on the phone for ages there’s nothing to say.
Nat Tencic Yeah. I feel that pretty hard actually because I’ve had a few calls with my partner where we’ve sort of been like. All right well, what’s going on? Still on the phone now. So, Clinton, what do you think about maybe giving yourself more to talk about and creating more distance.
Clinton Power I think that’s important – your first caller Dan, alluded to this as well – is that even though with all the technology and it’s so easy to instantly communicate now I think there is a danger that you can actually over-communicate and this is this is what some of your callers are saying is that because it’s so easy to contact each other and you start to have so much communication.
One, you run out of things to say. But also, the quality of the communication it may not be as good because maybe you’re washing the dishes, or you’re kind of half watching TV and you’re half communicating and so that the quality of that connection is really disrupted.
You might be better off just setting aside a certain time where you could be 100 percent present really connected and the quality is improved. Ot the other alternative is you can do mutual things like you know games or quizzes, playing Words with Friends. That’s one way you can maintain the contact maybe you’re chatting at the same time but you’re not having all of this white noise going on because you don’t know what to say.
Nat Tencic I’m Nat Tencic and I’m joined by relationship counsellor Clinton Power and we’re trying to help you with your long-distance woes.
A shout out to this one, who says my girlfriend just left three days ago to work rurally for three months and it’s already pretty hard.
She’s in Australia from the UK on a working holiday and I miss the cuddling, the watching Netflix together on the couch, and seeing each other when we’ve had a shit day. She left me a bunch a little present hidden in my in my apartment which makes me miss him more but it reassures me that she loves me and is thinking of me.
That’s really cute. If you have a story like that to get in touch. Clinton, there is a question or a comment here rather from Megan and I’d like to put it to you.
She says, “I found my sex drive has really diminished from my boyfriend frequently being away for months at a time.” One of the big problems with long distance relationships is the lack of physicality and the sexual frustration that’s in it. How can you keep things alive and sexually happening while your super far apart?
Clinton Power Yeah this is a challenge, Nat. Look again I think this is where technology is definitely your friend because of that instant communication.
What I recommend to couples in this kind of situation is create a private channel that’s just for the two of you to really support your erotic life. So, you don’t use this for anything else. You can choose what the channel is.
It might be just one dedicated e-mail address you both have access to; it could be a WhatsApp channel. But the really important thing is that nothing else is in this channel except the two of you connecting erotically, emotionally, really making this a special place.
So you know you’re not you’re not going to say, “oh the credit card bill just came in” in this channel. You can do that in other channels. But I think that’s important because I’d recommend this to couples who live in the same city as well because this is the upside of a really difficult situation.
You can reconnect with the lost art of writing love letters or even sexy letters – it doesn’t matter – but you can build anticipation, you can you know you can share your innermost thoughts and fantasies. There’s a real opportunity here to to open up in a way that if you’re sitting on the sofa with your partner and watching Netflix you’re probably not going to be talking about these things.
Nat Tencic I know that there’s also some really good devices you can invest in they can be operated via the Internet or long distance. Which is worth thinking about really.
Clinton Power It’s amazing how far we’ve come.
Nat Tencic It’s crazy. Call me if you have a question for Clinton Power. He’s a relationship counsellor helping you with your long-distance woes.
Lucy from Newcastle, what’s your question for Clinton?
Lucy I just was wondering – I’ve been doing long distance about two years now and it’s about time I’m moving back with my partner and I’m a bit worried about the fact that we’re doing long distance so well and the change is going to come with being back in the same place with him. And maybe things I’ve learned to do on my own I’m going to have to share and adapt now. And some coping tips to deal with and manage that.
Nat Tencic Clinton, what do you reckon?
Clinton Power That’s a great issue that you raised there Lucy because I’ve seen so many couples fall into this trap.
Even again with the FIFO work. You know if you’ve really got into the routine or if you might have a partner who’s who flies and you can really get into the enjoyment of having your space and your time and as you say Lucy not sharing as well.
And suddenly if your partner’s work changes and they’re living in the house and in your space, it can be a bit of a shock to the system.
So, I would say expect that it’s going to be difficult it’s going to be challenging and there will be a transition period. And the important thing is just to talk to each other about how we’re going to manage this transition because this is a big change. You’ve gone from having so much space and time to yourself and doing whatever you want whenever you want and suddenly you’ve got to start negotiating and talking things through with a partner. So, I think communication is the way to go here.
Nat Tencic Hope that helps a little bit Lucy.
Lucy Yeah. Thanks for that. Yeah.
Nat Tencic Yeah. Talk it out. And I guess making sure that whatever you’ve learned or whatever sort of routine you’ve gotten into while you guys have been apart just say how important it is to maintain some of those things that keep you independent. I suppose if that’s what you really value. Thanks for calling Lucy.
It’s the Hookup on triple j. If you have a question about long distance relationships here’s one on the text line it says, “my boyfriend and I got together after I left Canada and we’ve been doing long distance. We both have our own lives and jobs on separate sides of the world. And I just don’t know how it’s all going to end. How do you know when or if it’s worth packing up your life and moving halfway across the world for someone?”
Clinton Power That’s a really tough one isn’t it? I mean again it comes back to how much time have you actually spent together; she doesn’t say it does she?
Nat Tencic No she doesn’t say no.
Clinton Power I mean this is one of the challenges I think within international. Because there’s a big difference to an international long-distance relationship and a local.
Obviously local it is so much easier because even if they’re in another city maybe you’re in Sydney they’re in Adelaide you really are a few hours away there’s a flight there’s less pressure you can spend more time with each other and you can surprise each other which is a really nice thing to do when you’re in a long distance relationship is just create little surprises and you can turn up on their doorstep.
But when you’re on opposite sides of the globe logistically it’s a lot more challenging. Of course, there’s the expense of just travelling and when you do have the time together it can feel really pressured because you think, oh my god I’ve only got a week or two weeks I’m not going to see them again for six months. So, it does put a lot of stress on the relationship.
Nat Tencic Yeah absolutely. And I mean there’s time difference as well which is really difficult if you’re trying to get it on a good talking routine together. What are some of the ways to deal with that particularly the international ones that can keep you maybe from having to just you know make the move
Clinton Power It can be really helpful to have what I call rituals of connection. So like you were saying Nat, maybe you work out what is the kind of ideal time that when I’m in a good space and you’re in a good space and it might you know depending on where your partner is a might only be a window of like an hour or 30 minutes in a day. But it’s important to find that because one of the challenges a lot of people have internationally is that you know one partner is going to bed as the other partners waking up, so one partner is always tired, the other partner is always refreshed and it can really colour your interactions.
So just talking about how can we find a time that works for us and that can be our ritual so we’re going to we’re going to connect with each other each day this time and you look forward to it.
But if you’re able to even have a little ritual around going to sleep that can be helpful that maybe you even have a quick video call before one of you goes to sleep. Going to go to bed is a vulnerable time so that can be helpful just to have that little connection before you go to sleep as well. But there are a lot of challenges with the international long-distance relationship.
Nat Tencic Yeah absolutely. I mean yeah, I know. I mean you those long those in-person visits especially in an international sense, but even when you’re doing it locally, they’re so important. Really. How do you make the most of those visits?
Clinton Power Look I think there’s two things you need to do. The first is that you plan for something fun including novelty and mystery. You can create anticipation you can kind of you know tell your partner got a surprise for you and you know kind of you build up the excitement. That’s a great thing because it helps each of you look forward to the next in-person visit, getting excited about it and when you have that time you really maximizing the time together. So maybe you do something adventurous or you do something you wouldn’t normally do.
But I also say there’s a balance here because if you’re only doing something amazing or something fun or novel, that’s not really real life. So, it can be helpful to actually do some ordinary stuff as well so I can. So, let’s go to the shops and get the groceries and stay in and cook a meal and we’ll sit on the sofa and watch a movie tonight. Because that’s what real life is like when you do live together. And you’re not skydiving every day the week when you live in the same city as your partner. So just try and find a balance between the two.
Nat Tencic It’s the Hookup on triple j, Nat Tencic with you and I’m joined by relationship counselor Clinton Power. We’re talking about doing long distance and how tricky it can be and a lot of people are going through it. Bit of a shout out to Josh, he says it’s funny you should mention long distance. My mate Andy and I are just driving home from Canberra after a weekend of visiting our long-distance girlfriends or maybe having a friend who’s also going through it can be can be a little bit of a galvanizing thing for you.
Paul from Melbourne, you’re looking for some help on a really difficult decision around a long-distance relationship. What’s going on.
Paul Yeah pretty much. I’ve been dating this girl for about a year and she’s oved to Thailand to work in the Elephant sanctuary. And I’ve started seeing someone while she’s been overseas. And she’s moving back in about a month and I just really don’t know what to do right.
Nat Tencic Is this a consensual extra relationship?
Paul No, no.
Nat Tencic And are you guys are still together?
Paul We’re still together. But I don’t want to hurt her, but do I tell her or just pretend it never happened?
Nat Tencic Clinton what do you think?
Clinton Power Which relationship are you leaning towards, Paul?
Paul Well I love my girlfriend so much, but I’ve definitely enjoyed the other one.
Clinton Power So it sounds like you are kind of torn between the two, is that the case?
Paul Yeah, definitely.
Clinton Power Well this is this is a really sticky situation you’ve got yourself in. I guess the big issue here is that, as Nat said, it wasn’t consensual and not something you agreed. So whichever way you go if you decide to be honest to your partner who’s coming back from Thailand that’s going to potentially cause a lot of pain and grief for you and for her.
It’s the Hookup on triple j. Jack from Geelong has a question for you, Clinton.
Jack says, “Me and my boyfriend have a different type of long-distance relationship. I’m a rotating shift worker on the railways. We find it hard to find time with each other. It really takes a toll on our relationship. How can we combat this for a more fulfilling relationship for us both?”
Clinton Power This is hard. I’ve worked with a lot of couples with what I think is almost like a modern disease, Nat. People struggle to find time for their relationship – time together. And they don’t necessarily have to be shift workers or having a long-distance relationship.
And the consequences are really quite severe because what happens over time is you start to feel that you’re not the most important person in your partner’s life. That kind of sense of primacy and priority really dissipates and it does have a negative impact on the relationship.
I’m not sure what the solution is for Jack but I would encourage him to sit down with his partner and just really brainstorm and talk about how they can start to find some more quality time because no relationship can operate in a vacuum. You do need to spend time together you need to have fun. You need to do novel and interesting things. There are probably also times where you need to just talk about the logistics of life and the practicalities.
You know, who’s paying the bill where we up to with this? And then there’s a check in, how are we going how’s our relationship going? That’s an important conversation to have every now and then. And I think if you’re even struggling to have a date night you know every once every couple of weeks that can really be problematic.
Nat Tencic Yeah so just like making sure that you can make time for those sorts of date nights and yeah, I mean I wonder what if Jack and his boyfriend are living together as well because at least if you’re even physically in the same room most nights then that helps a bit. But yeah, it’s a tricky thing to deal with.
Clinton Power It is and sometimes you know it can be about quality not quantity. So, I often encourage couples to have problem free time just 30 minutes a week that’s all you – need minimum 30 minutes – put it in the diary so it’s scheduled and it happens. The only reason it wouldn’t happen is an absolute medical emergency. And you just do something that’s fun or enjoyable or you can take turns in deciding what to do.
But it can be as simple as going for a walk in the park. But the idea is during this time you don’t all talk about problems, you don’t talk about issues, you just enjoy each other’s company and even that 30 minutes a week to people that are incredibly busy can make a big difference.
Nat Tencic Lauren from the Gold Coast, how did your long-distance story work out?
Lauren So I met my ex while I was travelling Ireland. So, I was there for the last two weeks that was over. He came and he joins me and was doing all the touristy things.
That two weeks went up; I came back to Australia and a week later he booked tickets to come and see me. And he got a working visa and a month later he actually joined me and he came and he stayed with me. I think for about nine months of the year and then we did long distance again. I went over there for Christmas and then yet again it was just long distance. So probably about two years of our relationship, the majority of it was long distance.
Nat Tencic Yeah. Did you decide to. Did you decide to call it or did he what happened?
Lauren By the end of it it just kind of got to the point where both of us didn’t really feel like we were in a relationship anymore. It became more platonic than romantic. So, it was a mutual thing.
Nat Tencic Was there anything in particular you would have wanted to change that would have kept you guys together or do you think it was just kind of an inevitable part of being long distance?
Lauren Towards the end I think it was just becoming kind of an inevitable because they’re both uni students and then obviously the time difference between Australia and Ireland just got too much. So, he was kind of waking up that they were going to bed. And yeah just the communication towards the end definitely reduced itself quite a bit.
Nat Tencic I’m sorry to hear that. Clinton is there anything else you can do to keep that to keep that from happening keep yourselves from growing apart with the distance?
Clinton Power One of the important things is that I think is critical is you have to develop a long-term plan. So if you get through the honeymoon stage and you know this relationship really has legs that you’re both serious about it, it can be incredibly valuable just to discuss your future and maybe it doesn’t have to be set in stone but just to talk about, where do you want to be in a year or two years or five years, or is marriage on the cards? Do you want to have kids? Because those long-term plans can really help you have a sense of purpose as a couple. And I think this is an important thing in a long-distance relationship is feeling that you are aligned and you’re heading in the same direction.
It can help you get through the tough times and those times when you do feel lonely or sad or you’re really missing your partner. And I find that when couples don’t have something to look forward to or they’re not making plans for the future, the relationship sometimes can start to dissipate and people just drift apart because they don’t have that sense of motivation and purpose.
Nat Tencic Hey Lauren, thanks so much for calling in and sharing your story. We appreciate it.
It’s the Hookup. Thanks so much for all your calls and texts on this topic. And thank you so much to Clinton Power for joining us tonight.
Clinton Power My pleasure.
Do you need relationship help?
If you need help with your relationship, contact Clinton Power + Associates on (02) 8968 9323 to discuss your situation and find out how we can help.