If you’ve ever been in a long-distance relationship or know someone who has, you’ll know it isn’t easy. That being said, there are unexpected life circumstances that separate people from their partners, or they meet someone when they least expect it while in a different place. Whatever the situation, we’ve consulted a relationship expert to find out what you can do to make a long-distance relationship work.
Why are long-distance relationships so complicated?
This may seem like an obvious answer, but many factors make this type of relationship hard. One of the biggest things is, of course the lack of physical intimacy, which is often an essential part of a relationship, says certified sex therapist and couples counselor Jessa Zimmerman. Beyond physical intimacy, not being in the same space as another person can make it easier to become busy with other parts of your life and more difficult to make staying involved in one another’s lives a priority, Zimmerman tells mbg.
What can people do to “make it work”?
“Making it work” looks different for every couple because of the vast amount of variety in partners’ needs and expectations. Some couples may find that both partners “have a higher tolerance for independence and doing their own thing and are very happy on independent tracks and connecting less often,” says Zimmerman, while some partners prefer more involvement or require that in their relationships. Neither is right or wrong. Whatever camp a couple finds themselves in, there are a few tips and tricks for smoother sailing:
1. Establish expectations.
How much communication do you personally need each day? What amount of communication satisfies your partner? As Zimmerman points out, people have different amounts of tolerance for separation and contact—so make sure you’re both on the same page about these expectations from the start. If you haven’t done so already, talk directly with your partner to create a routine that feels good for both of you.
2. Prioritize connecting with your partner.
Recognize that “talking” is different from “connecting.” While phones have made it easier to stay in touch with our loved ones each day, Zimmerman says it often requires more than just a good-night call to stay connected on a deeper level to our partners.
“Remember to really share and consult with each other, console each other, and keep the conversation going on in-depth,” she says. This could sound daunting when you don’t have your partner right next to you, but consider bringing up more meaningful conversations—goals, dreams, obstacles, and challenges. These types of conversations give your partner a chance to be there for you and share what comes up for them. If this feels too out of the blue or uncomfortable, you may try something like TableTopics for couples; these topics are often thought-provoking and could help you learn something new about each other or steer conversations into fresh territory.
3. Put time on your calendar.
It may sound odd to put time on the calendar to connect with your partner, but it’s especially crucial in a long-distance relationship because you don’t have the morning and evening touch-base time that many couples living together have.
The first thing you’ll want to schedule if you have the means is visits to see your partner; this way you can look forward to the next time you’ll be seeing them and plan how to make the most of that in-person quality time.
Between visits, “have a daily anchor that’s your time to connect (over the phone), so whether you’re sitting together over a cup of coffee, watching a TV show together, or checking in around lunch or before bed,” you’ll still be building a more meaningful connection over time, says Zimmerman. If you’re feeling bored of these options, she suggests thinking about your time together as a weekly date, where you and your partner watch a whole movie together, have a more extended conversation, or engage in phone sex or flirtation.
4. Develop trust.
Whether you and your partner were separated geographically after dating for some time in the same place or you began long-distance from the get-go, establishing trust and honesty is crucial. When you’re spending virtual time together each day, you’ll want to have the peace of mind that your partner is remaining loyal to you as you are to them. Having honest conversations about the expectations for your relationships and how things are progressing is an essential step in building this foundation, Zimmerman says.
It comes down to investing time in your relationship.
Just as a couple living together would do, you’ll want to put designated energy toward scheduling your time with your partner, planning how you’ll spend that time, and dedicating some conversations to the topic of trust. A long-distance relationship isn’t easy for many, but making time to connect with each other, both in person from time to time and over the phone, is really the most important step in making it work.