The Definitive Guide to Long Distance Relationships
Long distance relationships are bad thing…right?
If you ask most people their opinion on long distance relationships, you’ll most likely hear something like “they never work out”, or “never again”, or “I’ve done it and it’s really hard to do”.
In fact, we ran a poll on our Facebook page and invited users to comment. Pretty much every comment expressed either skepticism that a long distance relationship could work, or some story of how a past relationship did not work out well.
What’s surprising, however, is that there seems to be a growing body of research that shows:
1) long distance relationships work out more than we originally thought, and
2) couples that go through a long distance relationship often have deeper, stronger relationships.
With that in mind, we put together this comprehensive guide for any couple who is either in, or facing, a long distance relationship.
In this guide, I’ll explore:
- Statistics. Some surprising statistics about long distance relationships
- Problems. The major problems with long distance relationships (and why they can actually make a relationship stronger)
- Dangerous Advice. Some of the dangerous secular advice for making an LDR work
- How to make a long distance relationship work. The keys to making long distance relationships work
- Testimonials from couples who managed an LDR. A few testimonials from marriages that are the results of long distance relationships.
Quick Disclaimer: We quote a lot of external resources in this blog post. Most are not Catholic sources. Some use coarse language. Our linking to these sources are not necessarily an endorsement of everything they say or recommend.
Let’s get to it!
Long Distance Relationships are Common and Far More Successful Than You Might Think
It is estimated that roughly 14 million people reported themselves as being in a long distance relationships.
Among engaged couples, 75% say that they went through a stretch where they had to survive a long distance relationship with their partner.
LDR’s are not limited to just the non-married, either. In the US there are nearly 4 million married couples who live apart.
The fact is, most people will have to deal with a long distance relationship for at least a portion of their relationship.
Do Long Distance Relationships Have a High Failure Rate?
Ask anyone who has been through a long distance relationship and they’ll tell you that they are tough.
The fact is, LDR’s require more work than couples who live close to each other.
But this hard work might actually have a significant benefit:
This actually plays out in the research from Dr. Guldner as well: Only 40% of long distance relationships end through a breakup.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that 60% of long distance relationships will end in marriage. Some couples may move close together only to break up later on as a couple tries to re-adjust to living near each other.
But within the first 3 months of a long distance relationship, they are no more likely to end in a break up than a geographically close relationship.
The fact is, long distance relationships can – and DO! – succeed. They are not the death knell that many people make them out to be.
So take heart if you are going through or about to go into a long distance relationship!
The Problems with Long Distance Relationships
(and How They Make Relationships Stronger)
Despite the facts above, and despite the fact that you probably know someone who was in a long distance relationship (that has now matured into a marriage), LDRs still have a really bad reputation.
This isn’t surprising, of course, since managing a relationship when you aren’t local to each other takes a lot more work than regular, close relationships.
But this work seems to have a positive side effect: the couples who put in that work tend to have stronger, healthier relationships.
The fact is, because long distance relationships are harder, couples who choose to work through the obvious problems often come out better for it.
Maybe it’s because their relationship is tested, or maybe it’s because living long distance forces them to focus on developing strong fundamentals to their relationship…whatever the reasons, there is a LOT of hope for LDRs.
Take a look at some of the common problems people report below.
Problem 1: Communication Needs to Be More Intentional
I’m not breaking any news when I say that communication is key to any successful relationship – evidently the American Psychological Association beat me to this non-revelation.
Learning to develop good communication skills is difficult for any couple, but when you are in a long distance relationship, the distance forces couples to be more intentional about their communication since you don’t have the benefit of visual cues and the distractions of events all around you.
Visual cues and body language is an essential part to any communication. We do this to figure out if our significant other is bored, happy, angry, or having doubts about the relationship.
In fact, according to a well cited study by Albert Mehrabian (who studied how people decide if they like each other), only 7% of our communication comes through words.
While body language is a key part to any relationship, it can be easy to misread body language.
Reading body language can be very difficult to do – especially in a new relationship. (Want to see how good you are at reading body language? Check out this quiz by Berkley)
In a new relationship, you haven’t developed the time and the synergy with your significant other to learn their little nuances and ticks.
This is where long distance relationships can actually benefit.
Because couples in a long distance relationship do not have the benefit of body language, communication needs to be more intentional and more deliberate.
This can help LDR couples often develop healthier communication habits as they don’t rely as much on hoping their significant other will pick up on their silent queues.
Problem 2: It Can Be Really Expensive
My wife and I spent nearly our entire dating and engaged lives over 400 miles apart.
Since I had a job while she was in school, I took on the cost of traveling back and forth and would even pay for plane tickets so she could come visit me.
It wasn’t cheap.
We weren’t alone, either. The New York Post projects that a long distance relationship would be roughly 84% more expensive than a geographically close relationship with a similar dating life.
But, as strange as it may sound, the ‘expensive’ relationship that my wife and I had also helped us develop a healthy attitude towards money in our relationship.
Money is a common problem for many relationships, and often money becomes one of the top conflicts in a couple’s relationship. In addition, conflicts about money tend to be more intense, more problematic, and more difficult to resolve than other issues.
But for a relationship to have a better chance to succeed, it’s important to recognize that money is not the most important part of any relationship: your significant other is.
CatholicCulture.org summarizes this very well in their arguments against cohabitation before marriage:
This can often become a source of frustration and disagreement among the spouses. Marital love and happiness are built upon a much deeper and stronger base than upon future financial security.
Even though this argument was made against couples who were trying to use finances as a reason to live together before they got married, it applies to long distance relationships as well.
Developing a healthy attitude towards money, especially when you are in a relationship that you hope could end in marriage, is absolutely essential.
A long distance couple, although not immune from money issues or concerns, does have the benefit of practicing a “couple first” mentality rather than getting obsessed with finances.
Problem 3: Different Social Circles Makes It Easier to Drift Apart or to Feel Trapped
One of the great tricks of making a long distance relationship work is finding a balance between your relationship and your social life.
Science has long held that, for better or worse, your network of friends influences your behavior and who you become. For example, finding strong-willed friends is proven to increase your own self control.
Of course, science doesn’t have the monopoly on the idea that friends influence our behavior. St. Theresa of Avila noted the importance of friends way before PhD’s were offering their opinions:
It is of the utmost importance for the beginner to associate with those who lead a spiritual life, and not only with those in the same mansion as herself, but with others who have travelled farther into the castle, who will aid her greatly and draw her to join them.
For couples who live near each other, they often have the benefit of being around the other person’s friends enough to know what is going on.
But for long distance partners, a significant other’s friends can almost seem like an entirely different life – one that you can’t share in.
This can lead to feelings of drifting apart as you live your life and your significant other leads theirs.
Of course, the natural reaction to this feeling of drifting apart is to work on the relationship harder which can have the unintended consequence of making your significant other (or yourself) feel trapped.
HerCampus.com interviewed a college sophomore who tried to manage a long distance relationship and ended up feeling trapped:
“When I was in my first LDR I made the mistake of halting everything the second my boyfriend wanted to talk,” says Courtney, a sophomore at the University of Michigan. “It wasn’t healthy and I really feel like I missed out on a lot of opportunities because I was always dropping things for him. I was also asking him to do the same for me, and I think it built up resentment between us because we were holding each other back from really experiencing school,” she says.
Healthy Relationships Respect Boundaries and Balance
Good, healthy relationships are marked by healthy boundaries, mutual respect, and – most importantly – the desire and willing the good of your significant other.
Couples in a long distance relationship are put in a situation where they need to practice having real boundaries, trust, and sacrifice for the good of the other person.
Marshall Seagal from desiringGod.org encourages people in a long distance dating relationship to ‘date’ each other’s friends as well:
Be creative, and “date” a few people in each other’s lives, too — not necessarily one-on-one, but work to get to know them, and to be known by them. Someone who loves you and Jesus should know you both (individually and as a couple) well enough to agree with you that you should get married. Prioritize and initiate this in your long-distance dating.
In addition to making more effort to stay involved in your partner’s life, you also need to work harder to make sacrifices for your significant other.
Maybe one night you make the sacrifice to stay home from friends in order to have a conversation with your significant other. Or, maybe your significant other has an opportunity to do something special, but it means you have to deal with their ‘other life’.
Whatever the sacrifice might be, being in a long distance relationship can be like boot camp when it comes to setting proper boundaries.
Problem 4: It Can Be Difficult to Trust the Other Person
HerCampus.com lists “jealousy” as the #1 problem in a long distance relationship.
So does SurviveLDR.com.
Nearly every post that’s been written on long distance relationships views trust and jealousy issues as a difficulty in a long distance relationship.
The problem of trust in a long distance relationship should be obvious: with partners so far apart, can you really trust your partner to be faithful?
Lack of Trust in Marriage is a Recipe for a Broken Marriage
Learning to trust your significant other can be a problem with any relationship – not just long distance relationships – and it is a problem that a couple needs to overcome if you want to have a successful marriage.
Unfortunately, trust issues are a major problem for relationships. A poll on PairedLife.com shows that 71% of people have trouble trusting their spouse and 23% believe that their spouse has trouble trusting them:
Relationships do not work without trust. Marriage definitely does not work without trust.
Being in a long distance relationship is not a cure-all for trust issues (especially if one partner has proven to be unfaithful in the past), but if there are underlying trust issues that you or your partner need to face, it will be almost impossible to hide from these issues in a long distance relationship.
Problem 5: You Don’t Get to Learn the Simple Stuff
One of the biggest benefits of being in a geographically close relationship is that you get the chance to be with your significant other during the mundane moments:
- Running errands together
- Having a simple meal together (as opposed to a romantic meal)
- Seeing each other when you are not 100%
For a couple that is in a long distance relationship, there is often a pressure to maximize each and every moment that you get to spend with your significant other.
For a couple that lives close to each other, they have the advantage of enjoying the little ‘in between’ moments of the mundane: those moments that aren’t necessarily heightened by the excitement to finally spend time with your significant other.
But these small moments matter…a lot.
‘That sounds really weird to people but if you think about it, a really happy 80-year-old couple that’s been together for 60 years, the reason that they’ve been together for 60 years, it isn’t because they took all these private jets and they had these crazy vacations…It’s because that they were able to be boring together.’
Problem 6: Staying Chaste Is Easy…Until It Isn’t
It might seem like it would be easy to set up physical boundaries in your relationship when you have the benefit of several hundred miles between you and your partner.
Well, it is…that is, it is until you visit each other in person.
Once you visit your significant other in person, it can actually be more difficult to remain chaste.
Distance does not remove sexual temptation. In fact, for many, the temptation will be much stronger when you are together. We foolishly try to make up for lost time physically, as if we owe each other something. Anticipate that, and talk before the trip about how you’ll avoid temptation and confront it when it comes. Also, beware of trying to experiment with sexual intimacy together through technology. Pictures and words can be just as dangerous to our hearts as touching.
This is, however, another opportunity where long distance relationships can actually help your relationship grow properly.
When you are in a long distance relationship, you know that moments together are going to be more intense than they would be if you saw your significant other every day.
Knowing this gives you the chance to:
- Show your significant other that you care for their good. Intimacy outside of marriage, while it may feel real at the moment, cheapens authentic love. Show your partner that you care for what is good for them.
- Work together for clarity in your relationship. Fulton Sheet wrote a book on the idea that it takes Three to get married (the third person is God). Being intentional helps you seek the clarity of Christ in your relationship first.
- Develop honesty and stronger communication. Addressing what you both know will be a temptation will help re-enforce honesty and strong communication in your relationship.
These Problems Can Actually Help Your Relationship
While there are definite problems to a long distance relationship, in a crazy way, the very things that are problems also seem to have the ability to help a relationship grow properly.
Maybe it’s the fact that our world has the idea of relationships so backwards, or maybe it’s simply because couples in a long distance relationship have to work harder at them.
Whatever the reason is, the problems that couples face in a long distance relationship are not insurmountable obstacles.
There’s Good Advice from the Secular World
(and one bit of really bad advice)
There’s really no shortage of information and advice online on how to make a long distance relationship work.
Unfortunately, amongst all of the good advice that’s been published, there’s one bit of bad advice that seems to permeate most secular articles on this topic: keeping the ‘spice’ alive.
Keeping the Spice Alive
It’s no surprise that most secular sites will advise long distance couples to find a way to keep sex involved in their relationship.
- Lifehack.org has “Talk Dirty with Each Other” as their #5 tip (out of 21) to help couples survive a long distance relationship.
- AskMen.com recommends learning how to sext (I still can’t believe that’s a word) with your partner.
- Even PsychologyToday.com lists the lack of intimacy as one of the key problems with long distance relationships.
I could go on with examples…but I won’t (there’s only so much research on this topic that I want to do).
Secular Society Still Thinks Sex Before Marriage Helps Relationships (Despite Overwhelming Opposing Evidence)
Secular society has long given into the idea that a couple should be sexually intimate with each other before marriage.
This, however, contradicts study after study that shows that sex before marriage leads to less fulfilling marriages and less fulfilling sexual lives.
Relationship experts who routinely come to the same conclusions are also routinely surprised.
Take a look at the chart below from the Institute for Family Studies which shows divorce rates for women based on the number of sexual partners they had before marriage:
This data (and a fair amount of other data) lead this reasearcher to the rather unsurprising conclusion that “The odds of divorce are lowest with zero or one premarital partners.”
Wow…you think so?
This, of course, has been the church’s teaching for over 2,000 years.
This teaching, like all of the church’s teachings, is rooted in a fundamental understanding of who we are as humans, why God created us, and the very purpose of love, sex, and marriage.
Given all of the problems that we reviewed above, keeping the “spice” alive in a long distance dating relationship might be the worst advice anyone can give.
Tips to Make a Long Distance Relationship Work
We’ve listed some of the surprising statistics.
We’ve examined some of the challenges with long distance relationships (and why they can actually make your relationship stronger).
We’ve also looked at one bit of bad advice that you’ll often hear.
But how do you make a long distance relationship work?
First, There Has to be a Goal in Mind
According to statistics blog FiveThirtyEight.com, the average length before a long distance relationship breaks up is just 4.5 months.
One of the most common reasons for a long distance relationship falling apart is that there is no end goal in mind.
For a couple who decides to try living long distance without a goal or a purpose for an eventual marriage, it doesn’t take too long to start asking: what am I doing?
That’s because dating shouldn’t be a permanent state of life. It should be preparation and discernment for something bigger.
Dating Should Not Be a Permanent State of Life, It Should Be a Transition
Allen Hebert from CatholicSistas.com made a simple observation on the state of dating in today’s world:
When we think of dating many may consider it to be an integral part of finding a spouse and for the most part that is what it used to be and perhaps our society has lost sight of that end goal in the past 20 years. Today it seems that dating has evolved into a purely recreational activity with no clear goal in mind. Maybe it could best be described as a game that two people play where they are both trying to figure out what the other person’s goals for the relationship are. I propose that dating needs an overhaul, a redirection of sorts back to the goal that each young Christian should be aiming for, the discovery of their vocation.
A lot of couples are willing to try a long distance relationship rather than breaking up, but if there is no end goal in mind – no hope for actually being back together – then there is nothing to work towards.
When we understand that marriage is first a vocation and a calling from God, dating takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes something that a couple is working towards and actively discerning.
Treat Your Long Distance Relationship Like Advent or Lent
As Catholics, we should be used to periods in our lives where God asks us to focus on denying ourselves certain things.
Before we have Christmas, we have advent which is marked in purple and marked in a time of anticipation.
And before we have Easter, we have 40 days of lent.
Your long distance relationship can serve to become a period of time where you and your significant other focus on preparing both yourself and your partner in a spiritual sense:
- Build and nurture a mature prayer life. A couple that prays together stays together. Seriously – less than 1% of couples that pray together end up in divorce. When you spend your time apart, focus on building your individual prayer life.
- Begin to pray together. Use Skype or another video chat and take the time to pray together.
- Offer your longing up as a sacrifice. There is a lot of virtue to be gained both for yourself and for your partner by offering your sufferings up as a living sacrifice.
- Meditate on Romans 12:1. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. “
The trick to making a long distance relationship ‘work’ is to find the proper in your life, and that starts with prayer.
Use Technology to Reduce the Distance
The world is a much smaller place today than it was even 100 years ago.
In today’s world, not only are we able to travel with significantly more ease, we can also communicate with each other in ways that make long distances seem like they are just next door.
Here are a few technology items that work for long distance relationships:
- Skype, iMessage, Google video chat, Zoom…there’s really no shortage of apps available to open up video chatting. Find one that works for both of you. If you don’t like how you look, consider getting a chat light to get more natural lighting.
- Watch Netflix together with Rabbi.it. Rabb.it is an app that was developed to allow people to watch Netflix or Youtube with your significant other at the same time. It also has advanced texting and messaging features. While it’s not quite the same as watching a movie physically together, it’s a great way to make that distance disappear.
- Download the “Without App” (iOS only). There is nothing like actually experiencing a long distance relationship to figure out how to make it just a bit less difficult. That’s what Jeremy Shoenherr did (and he wrote about it here)
- Stay up to date on best airfares with Hopper. Hopper (iOS, Google Play) notifies you if a flight deal to a location you are interested in visiting pops up. Definitely helpful for that surprise weekend!
These are just a few of the apps and technology devices designed to help long distance couples cope with the distance.
Don’t Rely on Just Technology
Technology is great for bringing people closer together and making communications easier, but it still isn’t able to replace something physical.
This is where sending each other mail (not e-mail) can add to your relationship.
- Letters. Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a hand written letter? A hand written letter is the product of time and thought.
- Flowers. Even if you aren’t present in person, you can still surprise your significant other with flowers.
- Random gifts. Don’t just go online and shop for something you think he or she would like – shop for something local, box it up, and send it in the mail!
It doesn’t matter (too much) what you send! Receiving something that you can touch and feel can help replace the sense of feeling disconnected.
Need More Proof that Long Distance Relationships Can Really Work?
I can quote statistics, studies, and research as much as I want, but sometimes it’s best to hear from couples who came from a long distance relationship.
Even on a site like CatholicSingles, many of our success stories started as long distance relationships.
Take a look at some of these quotes from real couples:
Joanie and I met on your website and experienced a turning point in our lives. I had given up on love long before that (sporting 5 years without a date). After long trials of loneliness, I resolved to set a message on your website calling out to the girl I didn’t believe could exist; and there on your website, she was listening. Joanie contacted me soon after that and we proved to each other that proper love was not out of reach. We met several times after that (Chicago, Omaha, Davenport), and grew in love for each other despite our homes being 635 miles apart.
– Andrew and Joanie
This couple started their relationship in different parts of the world!
I would like to thank CatholicSingles for giving me the opportunity to put my profile on line in June last year. HisMinstrall (Bill) sent me a smile across the world from America to Australia. I replied with offer to be an email pal as long distance relationship appears to be almost impossible. I was actually surprised when Bill responded positively.
We started off by exchanging photos and introducing ourselves. After months of regular emails, we decided to meet in person. Bill flew into Sydney Kingdford Smith Airport in October last year and i had no trouble recognising him. We got on fine in Australia. I knew at that time, Bill was the man of my dreams. I decided to accompany him back to America to spend more time with him.
To cut a long story short, Bill and I got engaged whilst we were in America. I returned to Australia and after another six months of emailing, we got married in South Lake tahoe…
Jason and Angelica didn’t think they’d work out because of the distance:
Jason & I met on Catholic Singles in June 2013. There were many differences between us, such as age and location, but there was a much stronger attraction and that was Christ…We are currently engaged and there is no one i would rather spend the rest of my life with than him. Through the site I was able to be extremely honest in regards to my faith and expectations in a relationship.
Long distance relationships are definitely difficult to manage, but they aren’t impossible.
In fact, couples who put in the effort often find that the distance can help the relationship deepen and mature in a ways that geographically close relationships do not.
But all long distance relationships need a goal. They need to be working towards clarity for both members of the couple. When a couple works towards this common goal, they increase the chances of success.
What are your thoughts on long distance relationships? Leave your thoughts below!