You can’t help who you fall in love (or like) with. It just happens. Similarly, you can’t just flip a switch and decide to turn those feelings off, not even if you get the perfect job halfway across the country.
No one goes into a relationship hoping it will be long-distance (if you do, we should probably talk). But, if you find yourself in one, you'll just have to make the most of a fundamentally crappy situation in order to make the relationship work.
Long-distance relationships are especially tough because you have to almost exclusively rely on communication to keep your bond strong, and that may require more work than the average relationship, says Randy Schroeder, PhD, author of Simple Habits for Marital Happiness. “The goal of every gratifying relationship is to have a strong ‘oneness.’ Long distance relationship couples must understand that it will require more work to stay connected in order to prevent even small cracks in their [relationship's] foundation."
Look at it this way: The upside of the distance is both you and your partner will feel inspired to strengthen other parts of the relationship, like trust and communication. LDRs provide the perfect opportunity to use open communication to establish and keep to your relationship goals since you basically have to plan for everything—video call dates, vacations, etc., Schroeder adds. In the long run, you may well end up with a more specific vision for your relationship than couples who live in the same place and can take their closeness that for granted.
Of course, being long-distance isn’t easy by any means, and there are a ton of challenges you face that other couples don’t even have to think about, like how long it’ll be until you see each other again and how often you should talk.
That doesn’t mean it’s not doable—plenty of couples have done the distance thing and successfully come out the other side. But it does mean you need to make a game plan to keep your connection intact. Ahead, 18 tips for how to make a long distance relationship work.
1. Lay down some ground rules.
This isn’t exactly sexy, but really, it’s got to be done, says Jocelyn Charnas, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan. Otherwise, you’re operating in a grey zone.
“It’s extremely important to set realistic and healthy expectations,” she says. That means covering how often you expect to be in touch, when you’ll try to see each other (once a month? every six weeks?), whether you’ll see other people and, if you do date other people, if you’ll have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.
“There’s no right or wrong answer, but problems ensue when these things aren’t discussed,” Charnas says.
2. Make sure you have common goals...beyond living in the same place.
Though you shouldn't lose your sense of independence, if you really see longevity in your long-distance relationship, you should be working toward long-term goals with your partner (other than just deciding that you want to live near each other in the future). Maybe it's starting a new project together or saving up to invest in a timeshare together. "Agreeing on three to five major goals can strengthen a couple as they work together to achieve those important objectives," says Schroeder.
Make sure you jot them down, too, as that will make those goals feel more tangible, adds Schroeder. "Having specific, written goals also sets in motion an action plan that will build a positive foundation for the present connection, as well as the future."
3. Plan creative dates.
Distance is clearly an issue when planning dates. I mean, you just can't plan to meet at a restaurant at 7:00 p.m. But that doesn't mean your dates can't be exciting. It's all about coming up with out-of-the-box ways to keep you both engaged and connected, says Schroeder.
Maybe you can both play UNO online as you video chat with each other, or you can ask your partner for help buying some new home décor, as you chat and browse the web. There are so many creative ways to take typically physical dates and pivot them so that they're doable by phone or video.
4. Take time to travel together.
These don't always have to be week-long vacations across the world. Instead, you can plan shorter weekend vacations and explore a new city that's a fair meeting point between the both of you.
"Enjoyable, exciting communication occurs when partners discuss future travel plans and eventually on the vacation communicate affection through tender touch, caring eye contact, and warm words, leading to a much more gratifying, happier relationship," Schroeder says. These do require smart planning on both of your parts though, so keep in mind how these mini-vacays can also serve as bonding sessions for you and bae.
5. Create a relationship bucket list.
"Even from a distance, LDRs can share desires about what they want to enjoy together throughout their life. Creating a dream blueprint of bucket list goals will unite a couple for a lifetime. " says Schroeder. Working on a bucket list together is essentially cooking up ideas for future dates you want to do someday. Your bucket list doesn't have to be full of big, long-term plans, but instead more simple ideas like attending a Broadway show together one day, or running a 5K together. The list will be full of ideas you're genuinely both interested in. It'll keep your relationship fun and keep you from getting too hung up on the more serious relationship objectives.
6. Lean on your support system of family and friends.
There's no sugar-coating this: Long-distance relationships are hard, especially when you see other couples living their best lives and you fall into wishing your S.O. lived closer to you.
But turning to family, friends, or online communities for support can make that stress a little more bearable. Whether it's for advice or just a shoulder to learn on, Schroeder says connecting with your support system can help you feel better about the more difficult parts of being in a LDR.
You might just find that, like the people who participated in this survey, the distance makes face-to-face time even more special:
7. Send voice recordings.
It’s so, so easy to misinterpret a text and even how long it takes to get a response. Like, you could easily assume your partner is blowing you off while they’re actually stuck in a meeting. (This actually applies for any relationship, but the potential for miscommunication is even greater when there's physical distance involved).
The fix? Try sending each other voice recordings via text message. “Just hearing the voice of a loved one, even if it isn't saying much, is soothing,” says licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?.
And, when you can, use FaceTime or video chats instead of calls. “Being able to see each other gives you the entire range of communication,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Lesli Doares, author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage. “It also helps prevent being distracted by other things during your limited time.” (P.S. Multitasking while you chat is a big no-no).
8. Talk only when you have something to say.
There's no real reason you need to talk to your partner 24/7 just because you can't see them.
Think of it this way: If you lived together or just spent loads of time together, you’d have plenty of quiet moments. A long-distance relationship doesn't really have those built in, Durvasula says, but you want them in order to make the times you do talk (and see each other) more valuable.
Plus, it can feel like a total chore if you feel like you have to call or text a few times a day. So, save those chats for when you actually want to talk. You'll enjoy them much more.
9. Jot down little details after you talk.
This one's a biggie. When you’re talking or texting, take a mental note when your S.O. tells you they have something coming up, like a doctor’s appointment, meeting with a boss, or visit from their parents. Then, put it in your phone calendar and follow up.
For example, if they have a big meeting, send a simple "Good luck today!" text beforehand, and then ask how it went afterward. “In successful relationships, partners generally do not have an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach,” says psychologist Paul Coleman, PsyD. (Something that can be harder to come by when you're both literally out of each other's sight).
Of course, you’re going to forget some stuff (you're human!), but following up on things shows that your partner is on your mind—and that matters.
10. Have “your” show.
Maybe you both geek out to The Bachelor or want to work your way through The Office for the zillionth time. Whatever it is, make a weekly date to watch it together.
“Watching a show or movie together creates that shared opportunity that helps bond you together,” says Doares. “It also can give a bit of structure to the relationship because it’s a standing date.” You can text or talk/FaceTime on the phone while you watch—the next best thing to being cuddled up on the couch.
11. Video chat for sex.
Moment of silence for the invention of video chat. Now, using video for phone sex depends on your level of comfort, but you both have, uh, needs that need meeting. So, call your partner up for a sexy late-night session, or invest in a couples’ sex toy that you can control from anywhere. “Video make this even better because you can see each other and that will make you feel more connected,” Doares says.
12. Schedule meet-ups way in advance.
There are a lot of moving parts in both of your lives, and it can be tough to figure out how you’re going to see each other next.
So schedule out at least a few dates in advance so that you never leave each other not knowing when you’ll meet up again. “Getting these dates in the calendar is critical to give both of you something to look forward to,” Durvasula says.
13. Swap belongings.
Physical stuff is tricky when you live so far apart, so get a T-shirt or sweatshirt that you can each take turns wearing and mail it back and forth (ya know, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants–style), or maybe a book that you can both take turns reading. The idea is to experience sharing each others' things as you would if you both lived in the same area.
These things will elevate your relationship since they demonstrate effort, can give you something to chat about, or may even give you something to cuddle up to that smells just like them, too. Another perk: You can send along little additional treats, like chocolate, or reminders of you in the package, too, Durvasula says.
14. Hide gifts at their place.
It’s a huge bummer when you have to leave each other after a visit, which is why Durvasula recommends drawing out the experience by leaving something behind. The gift can be anything, really. Maybe it’s a book you think they’d like, a note recapping what you loved from your visit, or chocolates on their pillow.
Whatever it is, leaving behind a memento helps “keep you present,” Durvasula says.
15. Remind yourself why you trust them.
When you don’t see each other on the regular, it’s easy for your mind to run wild when you can’t reach them. “Any feelings of uncertainty can be magnified in a long-distance relationship because you can’t just ‘drop by,’” Doares says.
So, when you’re feeling super secure in your relationship, take some time to write down why your partner is so great and trustworthy. Then, read what you’ve written when you’re having a freakout.
Keep in mind: “Recognize your feelings [if you're feeling insecure], but be aware that they are your perceptions, not necessarily the truth,” says Doares. Preach!
16. Talk about why you’re in this.
Remember, being in a LDR is a choice you’re both making—it’s not something that you have to do.
“The way a person thinks or feels about a situation influences their satisfaction with it,” Doares says. It’s easy to wallow over the fact that you’re stuck in a less-than-ideal situation, but try to focus on the positives and actually voice them to your partner. Like, you won’t be in this situation forever, you love them for a reason, and being together—even if means being apart for now—is better than not having each other at all.
The point here is not to ignore the challenges, but to put them in perspective instead, says Doares. And no heavy conversation necessary either, just a simple, “Hey, I just want to let you know that I love you, and you’re so worth all of this” can go a long way.
17. Have an end date in sight.
Honestly? You’re going to have times where you’re super frustrated by the whole long-distance thing. But knowing that this will all end at a certain point can really help, Charnas says.
Maybe you’ll finish school in a year, or you’ve agreed to move in together by a set time. “It’s helpful to know that if you can muddle through it for a period of time, there will be an end,” Charnas says. "It’s significantly more difficult when this is just the nature of your relationship.”
18. Do your own thing.
You could sit at home, being pissed off that a long-distance relationship is your reality, especially if it's something you tried to avoid. Or you could get out and live your life. “It’s important to do your own thing,” Charnas says. “It’s something that’s important in all relationships—having togetherness and separateness.”
Independence is all-caps necessary in an LDR, she says. And while it may seem automatically built into your situation, it's actually not. “If you put all of your energy into a long-distance partner, you may be more likely to feel a sense of loneliness and isolation,” Charnas explains. So sign up for a new class at the gym, or take a backpacking weekend with your friends.
Getting out there and experiencing new things will ultimately make you—and your relationship—more balanced. And every couple, even a physically separated one, needs that.
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