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Before Kathleen Adams and her boyfriend started dating, she was scared that it wouldn’t work out. He lived in Spain; she was studying in the U.S. “I always heard that long-distance relationships don’t work out,” she says. “When we fell in love, we considered dating—but I wasn’t sure it would work.” Eventually, they decided to try dating despite the distance. Four years later, they’re still in a committed relationship, and they’re planning on moving in together this year.
Adams, who recently graduated with an MFA, isn’t alone. Long-distance relationships—sometimes referred to as LDR—are becoming more and more common. According to recent U.S. statistics released by the International Communication Association, 3 million married couples live apart, and 75 percent of college students have engaged in a long-distance relationship at some point. These figures also include online-only relationships.
The increase in long-distance relationships could be because of the internet. Online dating apps make it easier to meet people who live far away from you. Technology has also changed the way we manage our relationships. Social media makes it easier to talk to your loved ones from a distance. Thanks to technology, the prospect of a long-distance relationship can seem less scary than it once did. “We wouldn’t have started dating if it weren’t for the fact that technology means we’re able to talk easily,” Adams tells HealthyWay.
Even so, the thought of being away from a partner alarms many people. It’s understandable that you’d feel scared if you fall for someone who lives far away, or if you have to move apart from your partner for practical reasons. Many people feel like they can’t fulfill their partners’ emotional, sexual, or tangible needs when they’re far away. Some believe this might lead to infidelity, conflict, and general unhappiness.
A recent study shows that long-distance relationships aren’t necessarily at greater risk than geographically-close relationships, though. The success of a relationship depends its individual characteristics, not on distance. In other words, there’s more hope for long-distance couples than most people realize.
Of course, those statistics might be of little comfort to someone who’s pining for their partner or struggling to maintain their relationship across the miles. Read on for practical tips that can help you address loneliness, communication, intimacy, idealization, and change in your unique LDR.
For many people, not having a partner around is difficult. In geographically-close relationships, you’re able to visit your partner to cuddle, talk, or simply sit in silence. Missing your partner’s company is understandably difficult, especially when you’re having a rough time and you need support.
Adams says her most successful way of dealing with the loneliness involved spending time with others. “Even when I missed him, I didn’t let myself get lonely because I had plenty of friends. I didn’t rely on him for all my emotional support,” she says. She feels that this benefitted the relationship because they both prioritized other important relationships. “We didn’t become consumed with one another. We had our own healthy, full support networks.”
Another factor that helped Adams was savoring the benefits of a long-distance relationship. “We both valued our independence. We had enough time to spend studying and working respectively, and I really value that,” she said.
Matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking, Susan Trombetti, says that independence is a fantastic perk of long-distance relationships. Since you can’t spend a lot of time with your partner, you have time to spend alone or with others. This allows you to pursue your own interests and grow independently.
“When you are in a long-distance relationship, you just have more time for yourself to do whatever you’d like,” Trombetti says. “You don’t need to worry about how late you work, about how many times you went out with your friends, and you can watch whatever you want on the TV.” You can also take classes, pursue hobbies, and socialize without having to consider another person’s schedule.
“Whenever I missed my boyfriend, I’d try to remind myself of these perks,” Adams says. “Reminding myself of the good, healthy aspects of distance kept me from feeling miserable.”
Means of Communication
Of course, frequent communication is the best ways to address and prevent loneliness. Relationship and sex coach Colby Marie Z says one of the most difficult parts of long-distance relationships is communication. “Technology is lovely as it lets us communicate quickly and often long-distance, but unfortunately the quality of that communication is often not as rich as face-to-face communication,” she says. “Additionally, physical touch has been shown to literally change our body chemistry and increase feelings of liking and attachment, and long-distance limits the amount of physical touch couples can give and receive.”
“For couples in long-distance relationships, I can’t recommend enough using channels of communication—whenever possible—that facilitate higher-quality communication. Talk rather than text. Video chat when you’re able.”
Colby Marie Z suggests scheduling virtual dates often, especially if you seldom get to go on dates in person. Skype dates—where you both get dressed up and eat a meal at the same time—can be fun. While you’re apart, you can watch movies at the same time while texting each other commentary. Playing online games together can also be enjoyable. If possible, try to send each other surprise gifts. This can include care packages, flowers, and handwritten letters.
Let’s be honest: Many people struggle to go without sex for long periods of time. If you’re in a monogamous LDR, chances are you won’t get to have sex as much as you’d like.
Fortunately, though, there are many exciting ways you can create intimacy in an LDR. If you’re both willing, you can create sexual intimacy using technology like Skype, FaceTime, and Snapchat. “When it comes to sex and intimacy, the first thing I usually do is challenge folks to reconsider their definition of sex,” says Colby Marie Z. “They can still ‘have sex’ with their partner, even from a distance.” she says.
While you can’t touch one another through your webcam, you can use visual and auditory stimuli to make things fun. In other words, sexy talk, nudity, and flirting can be great. “This type of sex encourages couples to be more creative around their sexual communication, as they may find it helpful to verbally express their thoughts, feelings, desires, and fantasies,” says Colby Marie Z.
Something else to look into? Sex toys that can be controlled remotely. “I often recommend We-Vibe toys, as many of them are compatible with the We-Connect App which allows them to be controlled by a lover from anywhere in the world!” Colby Marie Z says. Yup, the future is now!
A common pitfall when it comes to long-distance relationships is idealization. According to the International Communication Association’s report, long-distance partners often idealize each other. When you don’t see your partner every day, you might forget that they’re a human with flaws, which leads to idealization. This might make it hard to get to know your partner’s true personality—flaws and all. According to the report, idealization keeps LDRs going while the couple is apart, but it can lead to problems later down the line.
It’s easy to idealize your partner if you don’t see them in their natural environment, when they’re grumpy after a rough day at work, when they get sick, when they need alone time, or when they look a mess. Experiencing and accepting these realities may be key to ensuring your relationship is sustainable, especially if it’s your aim to be together in person long term.
“One difficulty with LDRs is that it can be tough to really connect with the other person when not physically together. Then each time they do get together, the first part of that is spent trying to relearn and reconnect since the last time they were together,” says Susan Golicic, PhD, a certified relationship coach. Golicic, who co-founded Uninhibited Wellness notes that this might affect your ability to see whether your partner is really suitable for you.
When you reunite with your partner later on, you might see their flaws and realize you can’t move past them. This could compromise the relationship. “It can take longer for people in an LDR to really determine if they are right for each other and want the relationship to progress to another level,” says Golicic.
How do we avoid this? The more you Skype, FaceTime, or meet up in person, the more “real” the other person becomes to you. It’s important to talk about mundane details of your day as you would in a geographically-close relationship.
We’re moving near each other—now what?
Sometimes a long-distance relationship becomes a geographically-close relationship. Perhaps you’ve decided to move for love. Maybe a career or educational opportunity brought you closer together. If something practical was keeping you apart—such as one partner being away at college or having military duties—that period of your life might end, allowing you to be together again.
Moving closer doesn’t mean your relationship problems will disappear, though it’s tempting to think close proximity will be an instant remedy. In fact, the transition can be difficult. “I see a lot of couples transition in this way without expecting the transition to be difficult, but all transitions take getting used to,” says Colby Marie Z. “Even if the transition is difficult, it doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed to fail. Expect some growing pains.”
Whether you’re living in the same town, house, or apartment as your previously long-distance partner, it can be hard to transition. Couples might find themselves struggling with a number of challenges, so it’s important to prepare yourself and discuss the transition before it happens.
“If one [partner] is giving up a job or career to move, then it is also important to discuss what that person needs to support that,” Golicic points out. “If the relationship doesn’t work out, the one that gave up the job or home could feel a great deal of resentment if they feel they weren’t supported in their decision.”
When you transition into a geographically-closer relationship, you’ll also change how much time you spend together. It can be tempting to spend all of your time together, but one or the other of you might feel smothered. “If the couple is going to transition, the biggest challenge they will likely face is spending too much time together,” Golicic says. “It is important to discuss what each needs and wants as far as time together versus alone time, whether living together or near each other. They are both used to having time apart, so if they desire this to continue, that needs to be agreed upon.”
The bottom line is to communicate and respect one another’s needs.
Is an LDR right for you?
For those who are considering entering a long-distance relationship, there are a few things that are imperative to think about.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that long-distance relationships, like all relationships, require a lot of work. “Relationships are hard even when there isn’t distance. LDRs increase the challenges you’ll have to overcome and work you’ll have to do to make it fulfilling,” says Colby Marie Z. “Long-distance relationships also aren’t for everyone. Some people feel content and satisfied having less constant physical nearness, others don’t and won’t no matter how much effort you put into trying to imitate those experiences from a distance.”
It’s important to be aware of yourself, your personality, and your needs, says Trombetti. “Before entering into a relationship with some sort of distance, you need to know what types of people you are first. Are you the jealous and insecure type? Do you like your independence? Is there a plan to be together with a stopping point to the long-distance part?”
Golicic agrees that self-awareness is key. “It is important for someone to know their love language and what deal breakers are for them in relationship,” she says. “If quality time and being together for all major holidays and events is needed by someone, then an LDR is going to be really difficult for them and may leave them feeling unfulfilled.”
Another factor to take into account is the practicality of the relationship. How far apart are you? How expensive will it be to see one another? Can you afford it? If you can’t afford to see one another often, will you be okay with that? Golicic says that thinking about your own finances is really important.
Maintaining a long-distance relationship can require a lot of effort, but the sacrifice and strategizing can be worth it. “The world is your playground, so why limit yourself to only someone that can get a pizza and watch reruns with you on the couch because they are close?” Trombetti asks. “If you find the perfect person for you, distance shouldn’t be the issue it once was in this digital age.”
Although long-distance relationships can be tough, they aren’t necessarily doomed. They can still be fulfilling, and even preferable, for many people. Ultimately, long-distance relationships rely on the same values as all relationships: communication, respect, and honesty.