Thanks to modern technology, long distance relationships aren’t as, well, distant as they used to be. We don’t have to wait weeks to read snail mail anymore. Instead, with a few clicks of a button on our phones or a couple of mouse clicks on our computers, we can be communicating within seconds. When I was in a long distance relationship with Joseph (who’s now my husband), we loved how the distance between us felt a little smaller after a phone call where we could hear each other’s voice.
But even with modern conveniences, long distance relationships still can be challenging. Although any relationship requires commitment and time, long distance romantic relationships add another level of required intentionality. To help keep your long distance relationship, here are five practical tips:
1. Take time to share your expectations with each other
Sharing expectations about the relationship is an important activity to do together, regardless if you’re long distance or next door neighbors. After all, even if you know each other well, neither you or your significant other can read minds. “It takes courage, self-reflection and self-awareness to cultivate and maintain more realistic expectations of ourselves and a partner in our most loving relationships. And, yet, only by doing so can we experience a more meaningful and fulfilling relationship.” explains clinical psychologist Dr. Bernard Golden.
Expectations are discovered through discussion. When your significant other expresses expectations about the relationship, their profession, how they spend their free time, or their spiritual life, take time to listen and ask clarifying questions. As you dig deeper with your partner about their expectations, consider what expectations will impact your relationship with him or her.
2. Be authentic with your emotions
When Joseph and I were in a long distance dating relationship, it was easy for me to shut him out of how I processed my emotions. Because he didn’t see me in the heat of a frustrating moment, the idea that I even had a fiery temper shocked him. When I realized Joseph had never seen me frustrated (or any other passionate emotions I went through!), I knew I needed to be more honest with my emotions. Instead of processing through frustrating incidents at work by myself and giving Joseph the cliff notes version after I’d calmed down, I asked him to help me work through the issues together. I loved hearing his balanced input, and he appreciated seeing me at my best and my worst.
If you’re miles apart, it can be tempting to mask the emotions you’re experiencing. Resist the urge to paint over what you’re going through with the broad brush of ‘it’s fine’, and invite your partner into your daily life. This may mean giving him or her a call in the middle of a tough situation (like Joseph and I did!), or it could mean calling your partner first when you have exciting news to share. Our emotions are a gift, not a burden, so don’t be afraid to be honest with your significant other when it comes to sharing how you process things.
3. Be realistic with your communication
Communication can be challenging when you’re in a long distance relationship (especially when you have time zones to contend with!). How often will you and your long distance partner communicate? When Joseph and I first started dating long distance, we had a few phone calls a week and dates on the weekend. As we got to know each other more and became more committed, we talked on the phone more and made an effort to see each other during the week, too.
Whenever Joseph or I would want to change how often we communicated, we’d bring it up in conversation. Sometimes the desired amount of communication was realistic, and other time it wasn’t possible. For example, Joseph and I dated throughout our last years of college. During summer breaks, we would call each other nightly to see how jobs and internships were going. During finals week, we knew that limited communication wasn’t because we were angry or didn’t want to talk – instead, it just meant we were swamped with deadlines and buried under papers.
Each relationship is different, and each couple has a unique communication style. What works for one couple certainly won’t work for all couples. Take time to discuss expectations for communication with each other so you can avoid resentment over expectations that weren’t communicated.
4. Have a shared goals
The distance between you and your partner can feel a little smaller if you share common goals. When it comes to setting goals for your relationship, make sure to choose goals that you’re both motivated by and goals that are attainable and realistic. “Make sure your goals are specific, attainable and realistic,” advises Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist. “I believe in the old saying that, ‘If you shoot for the stars, maybe you’ll hit the moon,’ but it makes more sense to keep the majority of your goals a little more earthbound.
Your shared goals as a couple can range from large life goals to the things on your weekend to-do list. Even something as simple as reading the same book together can help you feel connected when you’re apart. Having shared goals allows you to hold each other accountable as you strive towards dreams that you’re both excited for.
5. Be honest with each other
Honesty is vital in making your long distance relationship work. There are a variety of ways you can build trust despite the distance. Make your relationship a priority, even though you don’t see each other regularly. Just because your significant other doesn’t live in the same zip code as you do, don’t take this as an excuse to still live your daily life like you’re single. Knowing that you’re a priority in each other’s lives helps build confidence that both of you have the best interest of the relationship in mind.
If you’re struggling with trusting each other but can’t really put your finger on why, don’t be afraid to ask each other questions. If things aren’t adding up in stories they share with you, dig deeper into the conversation. But you shouldn’t feel like you have to keep tabs on each other every few minutes, or enable GPS coordinate tracking for when your partner has a night out on the town. Worries about trust should fade as your relationship gets serious. If you’re still worried that you can’t trust your partner after conversation with them, this may be a good signal that you need to work on trust issues (or maybe this relationship isn’t good for either of you right now).