No one goes into a relationship hoping it will be long-distance (if you do, we should probably talk). But LDRs happen to good couples, and sometimes you just have to make the most of a fundamentally crappy situation.
Of course, being long-distance isn’t easy, and there are a ton of challenges you face that couples in a “regular” relationship don’t even have to think of, like when you’re going to 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 done great. But it does mean you need to do very particular things to keep your bond strong.
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While these moves won’t magically make being in an LDR a piece of cake, experts swear they’ll make the experience easier on both of you.
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. Send voice texts.
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.)
Your fix? Try sending each other voice texts. “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 over 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.)
3. 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.
4. Jot down little details after you talk.
This one's a good one. 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 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.
5. 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.
6. Video chat for sex.
Thank g for the invention of video chat. Ultimately, using video for phone sex depends on your level of comfort, but you both have, uh, needs that need meeting.
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.
7. 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 when it gets down to it.
So schedule out at least a few dates in advance so 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.
8. Share a tee shirt.
Physical stuff is tricky when you live so far apart, so get a tee or sweatshirt that you can each take turns wearing and mail it back and forth (ya know, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants–style).
You’ll get to cuddle up to something that smells like them, and vice versa. (Just make sure you wash it at some point because...ick.) Another perk: You’ll each get stuff in the mail, which people love, Durvasula says. You can send along little additional treats or reminders of you in the package, too.
9. 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.
It 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.
10. Write down why you trust your partner, and read it during anxious moments.
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 feeling 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 in your phone or journal why your partner is so great and trustworthy. Then, read what you’ve written when you’re having a freakout.
Also, keep this in mind, per Doares: “Recognize your feelings, but be aware that they are your perceptions, not necessarily the truth.” Preach!
11. Talk about why you’re in this.
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.
“Don’t ignore the challenges, but they can be put in perspective,” Doares says. It doesn’t need to be a constant huge conversation-even 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.
12. 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.”
13. 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 girls.
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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