Relationships are difficult enough as it is, but long-distance relationships are a whole other matter. It’s no surprise that online dating is more challenging than seeing your special person face-to-face. For one, long-distance relationships demand a lot of maturity from each partner. For another, it requires an even deeper sense of commitment – one that can cross oceans.
Long-distance relationships have a bad reputation of being more trouble than they’re worth, but history has shown us that they work out fine all the time. They just require a little extra effort and tender loving care. If you’re thinking of starting a long-distance relationship or are already in one and have some long-distance dating questions, look no further. We asked some of our #Dating team members who’ve already successfully navigated long-distance for tips. Read on to see what Johanna, Jojo, Liliya and Rux recommend!
1. Talk about your expectations
Donald Baucom is a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and a relationship psychology expert. His research shows that people tend to get what they expect. That not only goes for relationships but also life in general. Basically, people with high expectations are more likely to be in relationships and situations where they are treated well.
Setting expectations creates an excellent foundation for all relationships, but it is particularly important for long-distance partnerships. After all, relationships are a lot easier to navigate when you and your partner are clear about what the other wants and needs.
As soon as you start considering going into a long-distance relationship, have a conversation with your partner. For example:
- How often do you expect to talk throughout the day?
- Do you expect phone calls? Video calls? And if yes, how often?
- What are you willing to bring to the table?
- What do you expect your partner to contribute in return?
Clear and compatible expectations are also an easy way to find out whether you and your partner can work towards the same goals.
Johanna asked her partner these very same questions when she first decided that she wanted to try going the distance. To this day, she believes that it has helped her and her partner avoid unnecessary conflict in the long run.
2. Make dating a routine (without letting it get routine)
The Roman poet Sextus had it right, absence can make the heart grow fonder. While dates are clearly harder to plan when you’re dating long-distance, you shouldn’t let that stop you. Set aside at least one night a week for quality time, and try to commit to that day as much as possible. Watch the same movie on Netflix at the same time. Cook dinner over video. Drop by Paris and take a virtual tour of the Louvre. Trust us when we say that the internet is your oyster. Your options are only as limited as your imagination.
And for the rest of the week? We recommend that you take note of the little things. Send your partner a quick snapshot of the puppy you saw on your way to work this morning. Or jot it down, so you don’t forget to mention it during your call later. Ask them about their morning coffee. When we try to form deeper connections with the people we love, we instinctively go for the deep and meaningful topics because they feel more significant. But the mundane is just as important in making a long-distance love feel more real.
Liliya and her boyfriend are both gamers. When they took their relationship long-distance, they started playing cooperative games like Portal, ibb & obb, and It Takes Two. Committing to game time helped them keep in touch despite their busy schedules. And playing two-player games made them feel like they were part of a team.
3. Prioritize maintenance over repair
Dan Wile, the founder of Collaborative Couple Therapy, famously said that “choosing a long-term partner [is like] choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems”. In fact, studies have shown that two-thirds of all relationship conflict is perpetual. Which is also to say that all couples fight, and often.
But how do you approach difficult but necessary conversations? One, you should begin from a place of curiosity. Start the conversation with a genuine desire to understand both yourself and your partner. Two, try to focus on what you’re hearing instead of what you’re trying to say. In a lot of cases, misunderstanding is the root of conflict. Listening to your partner and validating how they feel can go a long way in finding common ground. Three, be direct. Talking about important issues can be tricky. But having a frank and respectful discussion can make the experience more pleasant and productive. Fourth and most importantly, don’t put it off. While being in a long-distance relationship complicates the process, you shouldn’t delay it. Adar Cohen, a conflict resolution expert, suggests thinking of conflict as an opportunity. When handled properly, conflicts can become great stepping stones for improvement.
Liliya and JoJo agree. Liliya discusses everything with her partner “even if it feels weird in the beginning”, whereas JoJo has learned to talk about difficult topics like fidelity and cheating. Knowing that they can talk to their partners about anything has helped keep Liliya and JoJo feel more secure in their relationships. “Honesty is really important”, says JoJo, “especially in a long-distance relationship”. Speaking up about your emotions lets your significant other know where you stand and allows them to meet you halfway.
4. Make time for intimacy
Gigi Engle, an award-winning author and certified sex coach, insists that it’s all the more important to “stay sexually connected with your partner when you can’t touch them physically”. Sexual intimacy – in all its forms – is a good expression of love and affection, which form the backbone of healthy relationships. Send a flirty text. Go into straight-up sexting. Or dive into phone sex or video chat sex. It’s always nice to remind your partner that you’re attracted to them. And if technology isn’t enough, toys are always a great option.
Whenever JoJo’s partner visits, she makes sure to arrange a special night where they can be intimate. For the rest of the year, they use toys to help keep the spark alive.
Intimacy also isn’t only physical. In fact, intimacy can be emotional, intellectual, experiential, and spiritual depending on your communication style. These other types of intimacy are rooted in abstract concepts, such as trust, closeness, and openness. You can build on these types of intimacy by having meaningful, honest conversations and sharing common activities and values.
Rux tries to visit her partner as much as possible. But when their schedules don’t allow for this, she makes sure to invest in quality time in other ways. She would video call her partner on her morning commute, at the gym, or halfway through the latest episode of her favorite series. These little things remind her “why [they] stay together” and make difficult times feel a little easier.
5. Live your life
Interdependent relationships make for the best partnerships. These relationships are typically characterized by healthy boundaries, clear communication, and active listening. Most importantly, each person has more than adequate time for their personal pursuits. In an interdependent relationship, you are in sync with your partner even while you maintain your own identities as individuals.
Liliya enjoys spending as much time with her partner as possible, but she also understands that there is life outside of their relationship. To this point, she makes sure that she spends time with her friends or pursuing her own hobbies. Investing in herself helps her “focus less on the limits of a long-distance relationship” and more on “the possibility of building new memories together”.
Johanna also recommends sharing your calendar with your significant other. It can give your partner a good idea of what you’re up to throughout the week. A shared calendar is also an effective way to feel more connected to each other’s lives. Additionally, if you’re comfortable with it, you can also choose to share your location with your partner. Johanna says that “it helps, for example, when you’re out of reach”. Your partner can easily find out if a meeting is running late or if you’re already on your way home.
A long-distance relationship is a tough one. At the minimum, they require the same things that all other healthy relationships do. There should be open communication, a good dose of trust, a willingness to adapt, and a sense of self-assuredness. But unlike most relationships, long-distance ones require a little more conscious thought.
And while none of us enter into relationships thinking we would have to go the distance, a long-distance relationship may be the best opportunity to strengthen your commitment to your partner. So pick up that phone, send that racy email, and video call your way through the weekend. Few things will beat the feeling of finally seeing your partner at the end of your time apart. We’re all rooting for you.