If you believe traditional wisdom, there’s nothing better than a little space in a relationship to make the heart grow fonder. If you’ve been in a long-distance relationship, however, you’re probably keenly aware of the difference between ‘a little space’ and ‘400+ kilometres only traversable through exhausting bus journeys or ruinously expensive plane tickets’, and the unique frustrations such ‘space’ can cause.
Here are a few tips for understanding and navigating both burgeoning and established long-distance romantic relationships, to help to make sense of the fairly shitty situation you can find yourself in.
Essential #1: Communication
The first and foremost element of establishing how your relationship is going to work is to be vulnerable. Scary, right? The thing is, in long distance relationships, there’s little room to be coy about your feelings. LDRs require a considered investment of time, effort, and eventually money – so both parties ought to be clear about their intentions with regard to the other person in order to proceed. Simply put: if you like them enough to make this crazy journey work, tell them – and if you don’t, let them down gently.
Whether you’ve been together for three months or three years, it’s key to earnestly discuss the practicalities of how you’ll both manage your newly proximity-challenged relationship. A good marker of this is to consider what’s been working for each of you in the relationship so far, and work from there. While considerations will vary between couples, several discussions will commonly crop up: do you like to check in with each other at least once a day, or more or less frequently? Do you have particular activities you really enjoy doing together, and is there a way to continue this while you’re separated? (Hint: digitally!) What role does sex play in your relationship, and how do you plan to sustain that while separated? (Hint: probably also digitally!)
If your relationship is relatively new, you’ve probably been taking things as they come, so you might find it pretty terrifying to spell out what you prefer and expect from a partner. However, you should definitely consider the possibilities beyond the panic: this is a fantastic opportunity to create or reshape a bond with intention and consideration, in order to have a more fulfilling and enjoyable relationship. If you can do this and establish an awesome connection while you’re apart, think how incredible the flow-on effects will be once you get to live in the same city!
Essential #2: Trust
It should go without saying that any serious relationship you’re engaged in – friendships, romantic, or familial – ought to be one with trust on both sides. However, trust is particularly important when it comes to long-distance relationships. No matter the precise conditions of your relationship – whether you’re monogamous or more open to other romantic or sexual partners – every partnership will have its boundaries. If you feel like you can’t trust your partner to stick to those established boundaries – whether these transgressions are actual or imagined – and are always questioning their behaviour when they’re not around you, long distance is going to be mentally and emotionally exhausting for you both. Don’t go there.
You don’t need to talk every day
While keeping in contact is super important, specifically talking every day just isn’t necessary. When you’re long distance, getting to hear their voice on the phone or see their face over video chat is an embarrassingly big rush. In fact, it’s probably the closest thing you’ll have to going out on a date most of the time.
Dates are fantastic – but going on dates every night? Firstly, that’s tiring, and secondly, you’ll probably run out of interesting things to talk about real fast. Unless you’re both the kind of people who take exquisite joy in detailing their supermarket shops and lists of chores, make your voice and video chats a little sacred. Keep the micro-updates on your strange lecturer and the sweet elderly cockatoo that lives in your backyard to messages and Snapchat.
Speak their language
I’m not referring here to your date’s mother tongue (although this may also be a good idea). Gary Chapman’s book 5 Love Languages suggests that people show affection towards others, and consequently prefer to have affection shown towards them, in five primary ways. There are simple ways to pick up which one a person identifies with most – even when you’re long distance.
Are they screenshotting your cute compliments on Snapchat? They’re probably into words of affirmation. If they call you up on Skype just to chat about your respective days, their love language is likely quality time. Have they ever mailed you drawings on post-it notes or other little tokens of appreciation, just to show they were thinking of you? Gifts are their thing. Those into acts of service will offer to proofread that essay you’ve been slaving over or might order you pizza at the end of a tiring day. And if they can’t stop cuddling you, or get a big silly grin on their face whenever you’re holding hands in public on the rare occasions you get to hang in person; they probably show affection through physical touch.
Showing your affection in one of these ways can be as easy as Googling ‘[specific love language] ideas’ and picking out options you like. There are plenty of unique love language influenced ways you can show your care for someone despite physical distance – the one glaring exception being physical touch. Which brings me to my next point…
Closing the distance – temporarily and permanently
While the prior tips can definitely help to ease the sense of separation and confusion and mediate any weird feelings while you are apart, they’re not intended to keep a relationship chuggin’ along on the smell of an oily rag and no actual human contact. The most important part of any long-distance relationship is having a plan to be together in person.
This is, admittedly, easier for some couples than others. When one or both of you are on uni exchange, for instance, there’s a clear end in sight, whereas if you met on exchange, it’s likely that thousands of kilometres and the significant cost of international airfares currently separate you. For other couples, the realities of both partners having serious commitments (work, study, family and the like) in separate cities can be a major consideration and is often challenging to deal with practically.
But the fact of the matter is this: if you’re keeping this relationship going despite the distance, you hopefully care deeply about this person and really enjoy their company. It should be natural for you both to have an inclination toward ‘closing the distance’: at first with visits and holidays, and eventually – if you’re both serious about each other – by living closer to each other. With some care and consideration, you can navigate long distance; but, by far, the best part of this journey is coming out the other side.