Long-distance relationships can be quite fragile, for apparent reasons. But they don’t have to be. Interviews with several relationship experts and long-distance relationship therapists have now revealed some straightforward but important steps that long-distance couples can take to strengthen the bond and make sure their long-distance relationship ‘lasts the distance’, in a manner of speaking.
So, what are these things that therapists say you should do? Let’s analyze each one to see how you can apply it to your own long-distance love situation.
But before we begin, let’s make a mental note of the fact that these tips and tidbits need to be put into action for any of them to work. Reading about them helps, but unless you’re able to weave them into your relationship, from both sides, it will be purely ‘for entertainment purposes only.’
To get the best out of this advice, don’t focus on doing everything at once. Take two points and work on them for a week or as long as you need to. Once you feel confident that it’s been ingrained and imbibed and has become second nature to both of you, move on to the next pair. For that matter, even focus on one point at a time to make sure you thoroughly understand what you need to do, then implement it for a week to see how it’s working for you.
If you do these things with an open mind and a sincere heart, magical things will happen as a result of relatively simple steps that you take, one day at a time.
#1: Communicate Just the Right Amount
That’s a hard pill to swallow because who knows what the right amount of communication in any relationship really is? How much is too much and how much is not enough? To understand the logic behind that advice, we spoke to several relationship experts who regularly counsel couples in a long-distance relationship. Here’s the gist of what they said: Talk as often as it feels right. The moment it feels like a chore for either one of you, cut back. And when you find yourself wishing you were on a call with your significant other, take it one notch up.
This is some sound advice, and it’s practical, too. Not only does this make the communication part dynamic but it also allows you to feel the pulse and adjust the frequency of your communication accordingly.
From a practical viewpoint, let’s say you begin by getting on a call once every two days. If either of you feels that it is impinging on your schedule, then dial it down to two times a week and see if that works. On the other hand, if you find yourself eagerly waiting for that call – too eagerly – then maybe it’s time to set up a daily schedule that works for both of you.
That’s the reason it’s dynamic as well. If, at any point in time, you or your partner feels that it’s getting a little too much for what you have to say to each other or too little to say it all, adjust the frequency to match the need.
Optionally, you can increase the frequency but make the calls shorter. That works better for some people who already have a lot on their plate on a daily basis.
The idea is to keep it fluid so both of you control the duration and neither feels that it’s a burden or that it’s not enough.
#2: Find a Common Area of Interest
People don’t always fall in love because they’re into the same things, but once you’re in love, you’ll see that you do share a lot of things in common. The idea here, therapists say, is to find something that both of you can engage in on a regular basis. It could be an activity you both participate in virtually, reading the same book separately and discussing it together, watching a movie in sync and then talking about it, and so on.
The purpose of this exercise is not to stay within your respective comfort zones but expand those comfort zones so they overlap. If the two of you have nothing much in common but you both love horses, find a way to bring that into your lives and engage in it actively. It could be as simple as watching horse videos for an hour each week or sharing your childhood horse-riding stories just before you go to bed.
Whatever you decide, make sure the topic is of interest to you both and not a case of one person’s hobby being forcibly thrust on the other. Be honest. If you don’t like something the other person suggests, say it.
Over time, you can look for new things to connect you together, constantly strengthening your relationship in the process.
#3: Appreciate Why You’re Apart in the First Place
A lot of long-distance couples tend to focus on the ‘being separated’ part instead of understanding the reason for their separation. It could be that you go to different colleges or work in different countries even. It could be that one of you is unable to move due to financial challenges or family commitments.
In every case, there will be at least one reason why you’re in a long-distance relationship. If you can recognize that reason and truly respect the decision you made around it, it will be a lot easier to handle the separation. It might also give you a firm timeline for when you can finally be together again physically.
In most cases, it’s education or finances or work or health that’s keeping you at a distance from each other. Many of these reasons have finite lifetimes. In other words, you can predict when those situations will eventually end. Focus on that as the ‘time remaining’ on your long-distance relationship and stick it out, because whatever is keeping you apart is really important or you wouldn’t have decided on a long-distance relationship in the first place.
Of course, it doesn’t always work that way. For instance, if one of you had to stay back home because of a bedridden parent and the other took a job in a different city, you don’t necessarily know when you’ll be able to join each other.
For the most part, however, these situations are predictable and will allow you to make plans for the future.
And that brings us to actually making those plans.
#4: Fix a Firm Date for the Ultimate Reunion if Possible
We often just leave this to chance and destiny but, if we do, then we’re only allowing other things to come in the way of our being together again. Things happen: new jobs come along, new education opportunities pop up, and life generally happens whether we’re watching closely or not.
During this time, if you’re not vigilant, other things will creep in that will prolong your separation. That’s why you need to have a firm date to get back together again. If that means making travel plans two years ahead, so be it. That plane ticket will be your motivation to stick it out through whatever the reason was for the separation.
The obvious benefit of doing this is that it gives you the mental stamina to undergo the separation period, but there’s also another benefit you might not have thought of. That’s the benefit of being able to focus better on what you’re doing now. Everything you do between now and then will take you a step closer to that much-anticipated future. That means you’ll do a better job at work or school, you’ll appreciate what you have in your hand right now rather than pine away thinking of your far-away love.
#5: Focus More on the Positives
Are there any positives in a long-distance relationship? Absolutely! Experts say that long-distance couples are actually more productive in their lives because they don’t have “love” as a constant distraction. Having time to yourself means you can focus better on what you’re doing now. In a way, that carries over from the previous point of having a firm date to be together again.
Whether that’s focusing on your studies or having more time to spend with family and friends, it frees you from the obligations of being in a full-time relationship. Of course, don’t think that a long-distance relationship isn’t full-time, but recognize the fact that a lot of your time is your own.
Another positive is that the separation will reveal how much you love and miss each other. Having your partner by your side at all times is great but it tends to make you take things for granted. Even their presence is taken for granted and, therefore, less appreciated. Being in a long-distance relationship changes all that, and you learn to truly value whatever time you’re able to spend with each other, even virtual time.
#6: Don’t Ignore the Elephant in the Room
A lot of couples take the easy way out and just avoid topics that are touchy for either or both of them. Big mistake, whether it’s in a long-distance relationship (LDR) or a geographically-close relationship (GCR). But it’s even worse in an LDR because of the absence of proximal non-verbal cues like eye contact and body language. Sure, you can get that from a video call but it’s not the same thing.
And because of this, it’s often easier to avoid the tough subjects like doubts that either of you may have or something a mutual friend told you. Learning to air it out makes a relationship infinitely healthier.
It’s not easy, and I’m not trying to tell you that it is. It’s definitely a hard task. However, as you start addressing these issues, you’ll realize that it gradually brings you closer to each other than anything that’s all positive and feel-good. Those are important, too, but there’s really nothing like going through a crisis situation to help with bonding.
Sometimes, that’s all you need to put out the smoldering embers in your relationship before they flare up into uncontrollable conflagrations. If you don’t do this, things might blow up in a disproportionate way, affecting you in the long run and maybe even ruining the chances of a healthy long-distance relationship.
#7: Be Interested in Each Other’s Careers or Main Interests
It’s great to have hobbies or activities that you can share with your long-distance partner but, sometimes, that’s not enough. It’s also very important that you take an interest in the other person’s mainstay activity, such as their job, their education, or whatever it is.
Why is this important?
The main reason this is crucial to any relationship is that it gives you anchors in each other’s lives. A doctor can be married to a dancer and they can still be interested in what each of them does for a living. In fact, it will expand your own mind when you try and appreciate their point of view. This anchoring is crucial to any relationship. That’s why we become friends with someone – because we often share the same interests and can talk about common topics without getting bored.
Aside from helping you drop these mutual anchors, it also helps you understand where they’re coming from. In conversations, they’ll often bring up analogies to their work or their studies. If you don’t have a clue what they’re saying, you can’t appreciate their intent. You’ll simply be nodding your head without getting the real meaning of what they’re trying to say.
So, how do you go about taking an interest in someone else’s career or education without knowing anything about it? Ah, but that’s the easy part!
Begin by asking a lot of questions. If you know nothing about that topic, that’s even better. Start with basic – and what you might think are stupid – questions. They’ll love to answer your questions because it puts them squarely in their comfort zone; apart from that, you’ll be making them feel like an expert on the topic. In a relative way, they are, but you’re bringing that aspect to the forefront.
Reading up on the topic is another way to get into their lives. You don’t have to study what they did to become who they are now, but it helps if you read a few articles or journals and see if you can get the hang of the terminology used in their profession. That way, when they talk about it, you can respond intelligently because you actually know what they’re saying!
One thing to keep in mind, though, is not to become so much of an expert in their area of expertise that they start seeing you as a threat. For instance, just because you’ve read articles on the latest surgical techniques used in heart transplants, you don’t have to throw that in your heart surgeon wife’s face every chance you get. Even if they’re not threatened by it, they’re going to be put off because it sounds like you’re challenging their own knowledge. “What? You’re a heart surgeon and you’ve never performed a robotically-assisted surgery?” That sort of thing will tick anyone off, wouldn’t you agree?
So, get familiar with their main area of interest, but only so much as to be able to have a meaningful conversation with them about it.
#8: Keep Reminding Each Other Why You’re in this Relationship
What do you love about each other? What do you respect about the other’s behavior or characteristics or ethics? Have you told each other this recently? Maybe you need to do it more often.
Everyone loves being told why they’re great and why someone admires them, so why are you not doling out the good stuff when it comes to what is probably the most important relationship in your life?
Constantly reminding each other of the reasons you decided to start your relationship is important because it represents what is called mutual edification. It’s not the same as flattery because that’s shallow and has ulterior motives. Mutual edification is about uplifting each other in your own eyes as well as the eyes of the world. With respect to other people around you, it’s about ‘talking each other up’ in their absence. Within your relationship, it’s about telling each other what you value about them and the relationship you’re in.
These 8 things are recommended by couples therapists and relationship experts as the most effective way to strengthen and fortify a long-distance relationship. But it works in any relationship, whether it’s with a lover, a friend, a sibling, a parent, a grandparent, or even a close colleague. Think of them as tools to polish your relationship chops and use them wisely because they will serve you as long as you have people in your life. And that’s basically forever!
Have you heard of Friendship Lamps yet?
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Here’s more about how they work.