Many people come to therapy wondering if their relationship is going to survive geographical separation. They may ask questions like:
- “I have to move to a new state for work soon. My partner and I don’t want to break up, but the distance is making us anxious. What should we do?”
- “I met someone amazing online and I want to make things exclusive between us. The catch is that they live far away. Is it wise to pursue this?”
- “My partner is moving away for a couple of years and is suggesting we take a break because of the distance. Are long-distance relationships really a bad idea?”
- “I am in a long-distance relationship with my partner. Recently, I don’t feel like picking up their calls. I still love them, though. Why is this happening to me?”
Long-distance relationships catch a lot of flak in popular culture. As social animals, we are wired to find the concept of being close to someone who is miles away rather counterintuitive.
But the truth is, with a bit of work, long-distance relationships can survive the test of time and can be just as rewarding as standard in-person relationships. Here are three things you can do to make your long-distance relationship thrive.
1. Regularly engage in loving, real-time communication.
Regular communication is crucial when it comes to long-distance relationships. Love talk, friendship talk, and problem talk are the three major types of communication long-distance couples engage in.
A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that love talk is linked to higher relationship satisfaction among long-distance couples only when it is synchronous. In other words, when you want to express your love for your partner, ensure that both of you are present in the conversation in real time. If you are in different time zones, set aside a few hours each week so that you can get some face time with each other.
With video calling, instant messaging, and virtual dates, the latency in your expressions of love and friendship can be reduced. Seeing each other over video is also likely to increase the potency of your expressed emotions.
The study also found that problem talk (discussions about issues that are bothering you in your day-to-day life) over real-time media is linked with lower relationship satisfaction as opposed to friendship talk or love talk. In other words, you want your partner to associate your presence with affirmations of love, not drawn-out rants about your problems.
2. Improve your own mental health to keep your long-distance relationship healthy.
One of the major fears people have about committing to a long-distance relationship is that they will no longer have the same level of intimacy with their partner.
However, a study published in The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy showed that people with a healthy mind had success with intimacy even in long-distance relationships.
Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are known relationship killers and can affect interpersonal communication, commitment, and sexual satisfaction. Such mental health issues can result in emotional distance between you and your partner and lead to a cycle of relationship problems that seem too complicated to solve on your own.
If you regularly feel anxious or low, consider making an appointment with a mental health practitioner. They will be able to guide you toward a less stressful life and, thus, a more fulfilling relationship with your partner.
3. Keep your eye on the prize.
If you are serious about your partner, your long-distance relationship is likely temporary. One study published in Communication Quarterly found that partners who engaged in a long-distance relationship were more satisfied and less stressed when they both had similar plans for the future and saw the long-distance relationship phase of their relationship as a minor inconvenience in the larger scheme of things.
Have you and your partner discussed when the long-distance phase of your relationship will end? Are you fond of each other’s families? Do you see a potential future living together?
Your answers will reveal a lot about whether your long-distance relationship will be worth the effort.
Long-distance relationships are too often dismissed as relationship killers. Instead, you should think about distance as one part of the unique tapestry of your relationship — and approach it without judgment or preconceptions. If you are serious about your partner, dedicate time to being present in their life (even virtually) and keep your own mental health in check.
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