No longer long-distance with your S.O.? Hate to break it to you, but there’s a whole new set of challenges you’ll likely face. (Photo: iStock)
Ah, the infamous LDR. (Or long-distance relationship, for the uninitiated.)
Doomed. Terrible. Painful. “I don’t know how you do it.”
To some extent, such assessments are accurate. Most research on the topic suggests geographically challenged couples are more likely to idealize their partners than couples who live close to each other, leading to unrealistic expectations. And the longer you go without seeing someone, the greater your chances of winding up in Splitsville.
A lot of us are in these kinds of relationships: The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 3 percent of married couples live apart for reasons other than separation. Some research estimates up to 75 percent of college-aged students report having done long distance at some point, too. (And while that U.S. Census number may seem small, it’s more than doubled since 1990.)
To be fair, research shows that LDRs aren’t all bad — long-distance couples experience just as much positivity and trust as geographically close couples, not to mention better communication and intimacy. But it’s hard to argue that if you’re not living in the same city (or even state) as your beau, you’re probably hoping to — at least, eventually — end up together geographically at some point.
So when a couple actually manages to survive long distance to end up in the same spot, it’s natural for them to think they’ve finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel. Close-proximity dating? Piece of cake!
Except, not really. Reuniting after an LDR comes with its own set of relationship challenges. “Coming together after a period of long distance is a major turning point,” Andy Merolla, PhD, an associate professor at Baldwin Wallace University who researches LDRs, tells Yahoo Health. Some relationships prosper, while others don’t — in fact, the majority don’t. One 2007 study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that upon reuniting, 82 percent of LDR couples broke up. Other research in that same journal showed that one-third of unions end in the first three months of reuniting.
So how can you reunite with your formerly long-distance S.O. without things ending in a breakup? Yahoo Health asked the experts for the most common problems experienced by couples who have just closed the distance gap — and how to solve them.
The issue: Your S.O. has a bunch of really annoying behaviors you didn’t realize he/she had before — and it’s driving you crazy.
Why it happens: The particular sources of disappointment or conflict post-reunion aren’t always what you’d expect, Merolla says. That’s because many people simply aren’t aware of their habits and routines until someone’s there to point them out, he says.
Nip it in the bud: “Be willing to learn from one another,” says Merolla. “It’s perfectly normal for two people to have different perspectives on household chores, pets, and the appropriate place to store the peanut butter. Plus: Reunited partners — particularly those who have never lived together before — need to keep in mind that different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong.
The issue: You feel like you went from 0 to 60 in no time at all — and it’s a lot to handle mentally.
Why it happens: “Moving in together after being apart can be stressful,” Galena Rhoades, PhD, a research associate professor in the psychology department at the University of Denver, tells Yahoo Health. How come? When a couple is living together, but not married, they have all of the stressors dating couples face (What’s our future? Do we like each other’s friends?) plus all of the stressors of marriage (How do we split up household chores? How do we manage money?). “It’s a double whammy because you have stressors from different stages all happening at once — and that may be especially hard if you’ve been living apart,” Rhoades says.
Nip it in the bud: You don’t have to say “no” to cohabitation (it doesn’t lead to divorce, research confirms) — but take baby steps. For example: Try living separately in the same city before moving in with each other so that you can adapt to your new surroundings, suggests Rhoades. “This might help you adjust to the new stage of your relationship without having to adjust to all the circumstances and constraints that come up when you’re sharing a place.”
The issue: Your old social life seems to disappear.
Why it happens: “When partners live apart, distinctions between personal time and relationship time are relatively clear,” says Merolla. After all, you have your Skype time and your time for dinner with friends. In real life? The lines are much blurrier. “The increased time partners spend together can make them feel like they have less time for work and hobbies than they used to,” Merolla says.
Nip it in the bud: Renegotiate the boundaries. If you’re worried you’re spending less time with friends or missing work events, be upfront, Merolla suggests. Then, set aside time for both by working with each other’s calendars. Dedicate one night a week, for example, to spend time together — and keep your plans with friends for another night.
The issue: You feel like the spark is gone.
Why it happens: “Long-distance partners often work really hard to make their limited time together feel special,” says Merolla. “Upon reunion, though, face-to-face communication becomes more common, and therefore less exciting.”
Nip it in the bud: Focus on all of the new good. Sure, it felt more like a honeymoon when all you had was 48 hours to enjoy each other’s company — but it can also be exciting to now spend Tuesday mornings together, something you were unable to do when you were in the LDR. Keeping plans that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have (Sunday night dinners, for example) on the calendar — just like you did with your trips to visit one another — can also help to maintain excitement in a relationship.
The issue: One (or both) of you is learning a new city — it’s putting stress on the relationship.
Why it happens: Aside from the stress that rears up from a new relationship dynamic, there’s also stress that comes from the normal challenges of moving, says Merolla. “New jobs, new streets, new friends, the list goes on — reunions involve stress that is internal and external to the relationship.”
Nip it in the bud: Get out of the house, says Merolla. Making new friends and finding new places to frequent can reduce some of the pressure that comes from spending so much time together, he says. If only one of you is new the city? Seek out new restaurants, museums, or coffee shops that neither of you has been to before. “This enables you both to explore new aspects of an otherwise familiar place,” Merolla says.
The issue: There’s a lot of pressure to make the relationship work.
Why it happens: In her research, Rhoades has identified two kinds of commitment: dedication (or your desire to be with someone) and constraint commitment (or all of the things that might keep you together, like a lease or a child). “When you move to be with someone, there’s sort of that extra pressure for the relationship to work out,” she says. “To some extent, it’s a constraint. It can feel like there’s a spotlight on you.”
Nip it in the bud: Make sure you’re on the same page. Having a similar shared view of the future (i.e. is moving to the same city a step toward marriage or just a chance to give your relationship a real go?) can help ease stress, says Rhoades. And acknowledge that reunions can be happy and stressful at the same time — this can help normalize the experience, she says. And make sure to focus on creating a new life for yourself outside of a partner: Hobbies and work keep you busy, and help take the focus off of the relationship.
The issue: Your sex schedule gets thrown for a loop.
Why it happens: “Couples that have had more limited opportunities to experience physical intimacy may be used to a schedule of weekends together and sex during those weekends,” says Rhoades. “That’s going to feel different when you’re more available to one another.”
Nip it in the bud: There’s no great prescription, but it helps to talk about what feels more reasonable than sex once every three weeks, for example, and to experiment to see what works best for you, says Rhoades. And know this: Taking the boundaries away from when you can have sex can be liberating — but can also reveal differences (in libido, timing preference, etc.) that you’ve never been forced to deal with before. So expect some bumps along the way before you get into a groove.
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