As I mentioned earlier, I’m currently in a long, long, long-distance relationship. Until mid-March 2015, Neil will be teaching English in South Korea. That means a 7,000-mile separation and a 14-hour time difference. Though it could be worse, we’re definitely talking about a less-than-ideal situation.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they could never do a LDR. I feel you. I thought that, too. (If we’re being honest, I sometimes still feel that way.) But I’m here to tell you that it can work! Neil and I are a little over five months in, and despite some rough patches—which are to be expected—we’re making it work.
A long-distance relationship is like one giant, never-ending refining process. When nothing can be hidden in date nights and happy hours and make-out sessions, you’re bound to learn a lot of new things about yourself, your partner, and your relationship. But you have to be willing to learn and improve. Recognize your own areas of weakness and cultivate growth there. If there’s one thing long-distance is good for, it’s helping you realize if your relationship is worth the work or not.
To be clear, I don’t mean that loving each other is work—that’s the easy part. I’m talking about everything else. You have to work to talk to each other; you have to work to include your partner in your life; you have to work to stay connected. It’s okay if you find that you simply don’t want to work that hard (which probably means it’s time for the relationship to end). But, if you do, I have some tips to help make an LDR easier on both of you.
1. Get on the Same Page.
To start, you both need to understand why the transition to long-distance is necessary. Is it unavoidable or is it voluntary? If it’s voluntary, discuss why you or your significant other feels it needs to happen. Everyone knows that LDRs are challenging; that’s why it’s so important to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. For us, there are myriad personal reasons—from finances to personal growth to the pursuit of adventure. Keeping those motives in mind can make a world of difference in your perspective and perseverance.
2. Establish Your Expectations.
The time before someone leaves can be chaotic—especially if it’s an overseas move. But despite all that, prioritize sitting down and discussing each person’s expectations of the upcoming situation. Obviously things will be different than they have been; you’ll have to find a new normal. What do each of you envision that to be? What is most important to you? What are some areas in which you tend to struggle now? They will likely be amplified when you’re apart. How will you handle conflict when it inevitably comes? (If you’re not good at discussing your problems, now is the time to learn!)
3. Relax Your Expectations.
Chances are reality will be different than you expected. You both have to be willing to adjust. Before Neil left, we planned to talk for fifteen minutes every day. That worked for one week, but it turned out that it just wasn’t practical. I had to relax my expectations and learn to be more flexible. (It might have taken me a bit, but I think I’ve gotten the hang of it now!) Once I adjusted my expectations to fit what was realistic, I found myself more content with the whole situation.
Operating under unrealistic expectations sets up both of you for failure. Have grace and patience with your partner—assume the best of them. If you’re dealing with a major time difference, assume they want to talk to you as much as possible, but they also need sleep! It’s nothing personal; you’re just on different schedules.
Respect each other’s needs and you’ll find you’re both much happier (and healthier) individually and as a couple. Plus, everything that exceeds your base-level expectations will feel like such a treat!
4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
I realize that I’m saying something unheard of here, so I’ll give you a minute to let it sink in. . . . Really, though. It’s been said so often it’s ridiculous. But that’s because it’s true—and it can’t be overstated.
You might have guessed that I’m a words person (you’re so smart!). This means that I need to talk. It’s how I feel and express love. But in an LDR, communication goes beyond that—it’s your survival. When you no longer have the option to sit and watch a movie, to kiss, to hold hands, even to look in each other’s eyes, all that’s really left are your words.
Each person has to be willing to talk even—perhaps especially—when they don’t feel like it. If you’re mad, you have to talk about it. If you’re sad, you have to talk about it. There’s no other way for your person to know that you’re upset—and there’s no other way to air out the issue.
But it’s not just the “boring” stuff. You’ve also got to flirt! You’re still in a relationship, after all. Don’t stop showing your love. Pursue each other! Have fun. Compliment each other. Leave emails or text messages for the other to wake up to. Mail letters and care packages. Send each other silly pictures; send each other pictures when you feel like you’re lookin’ good!
When Neil left, he decided he wasn’t going to cut his hair the whole year he’s away. He’s been great at sending me hair-update photos that generally feature some truly impressive curls (even though we’re approaching mullet territory right now). It’s silly, but it’s things like that that keep you connected in everyday life—and that can make all the difference.
5. Appreciate, Appreciate, Appreciate.
This goes hand-in-hand with number 4, but it’s important enough for its own bullet point. When your partner does go above and beyond to show their love, remember to tell them how much you appreciate it. No one wants to feel underappreciated. Figure out what makes your significant other feel valued and appreciated. Then do it. Simple as that.
6. Keep Living Your Life.
Don’t let your aloneness translate into loneliness. Sure, there will be times when it can’t be helped, but don’t let loneliness become your dominant feeling. If you’ve moved abroad, you more than likely have an adventurous streak. Take advantage of that! Get out there and see your new world. Strive to meet new people and make friends. It may be easier than you realize. You are surrounded by opportunities you may never have again. Even if you’re not the one living abroad, life can—and should—still be an adventure.
When we found out Neil was leaving, I made a list of things that I wanted to make myself do while he was gone—even simple things like going to a movie alone or trying out three new coffee shops. Do whatever motivates you to get out of the house.
This is the time for each of you to get to know yourselves as individuals. Don’t miss out on that because you’re afraid.
Obviously, there is so much else that goes into making it through an LDR. But thus far, these six tips are what I’ve found most important. I’m sure that more will follow!