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9 Proven Ways to Maintain a Long-Distance Relationship

Rituals, independence, and trust.

Key points

  • Long-distance relationships face challenges but can thrive with effort.
  • Living apart can reveal compatibility for a loving, committed relationship just as much as cohabiting.
  • Some key ingredients for success include communication, trust, and emotional reliability.
Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash
Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

It's increasingly common for couples to be involved in long-distance relationships and even marriages. Long distance relationships happen because of many different situations, including but not limited to meeting in a neutral place, such as on a work trip or vacation, where neither person lives there and they wish to continue their relationship upon returning to their respective homes; meeting remotely via online apps and remaining at a geographical distance perhaps even long after meeting in person; and meeting locally and being together in relatively close proximity to each other or even living together or marrying when eventually one person needs to move for work, caregiving, or other reasons.

For the majority of individuals and couples, navigating distance is not the ideal choice for how to be in a relationship. And clearly it is not for everyone since many people flat out refuse to be in them, even turning their backs on promising romantic prospects because it's not something they want to deal with.

Others do it, hoping it's very temporary. This is because it's generally viewed as more of a burden, as something often tricky, troublesome, and testing a couple's strength. Often, people assume that not only will it be too much work, but it will also be work that lands in only one person's lap, with that person assuming the lion's share of making all the visits and plans.

Furthermore, people are soured on long-distance relationships because of the time, energy, and money involved in going back and forth to be together and concern or even dread related to issues of trust and infidelity. Those who have experienced a breakup from a significant distant relationship are often more apt to rule out this arrangement for the future, blaming the split on just what happens with distance, though, of course, that may be an incorrect attribution of the real failings of the union.

Here, I identify nine surefire ways to strengthen a long-distance relationship:

1. Communication is key. Each person needs to be able to articulate their needs and desires and feel heard and respected, especially regarding expectations of frequency for talking, messaging, and visiting.

2. Trust is built on good communication, and at the same time, effective communication is built on trust. For couples to function well at a distance, each person needs and deserves to be able to count on a comfortable rhythm of communication that enables them to feel cared for and loved.

3. Emotional reliability is an important building block of trust and communication. This involves each person being accountable and truly showing up, both literally and figuratively.

4. Long-distance relationships benefit from a healthy balance of planning, flexibility, and spontaneity. When couples communicate clearly about a framework for seeing each other that feels sustainable, they can more easily make plans with each other and socially with other couples, and they also know when they will have time for themselves and with their friends. Talking this out and exploring each person's expectations and ideas involves some creativity and emotional intelligence.

5. Striking a balance between independence and connection is key. Given all the things that can happen in life that might alter or prevent a visit, couples need to be understanding and flexible with each other; of course, this really involves trust and clear communication.

For example, weather or transportation problems and delays might prevent a visit, as might illness, a business trip, a work obligation, family responsibilities, children's activities, school responsibilities, an annual trip with old friends, or even simply feeling worn down and tired, and wanting to rest and be alone. Couples who can gracefully manage the three-ring circus of life and go with the flow on this usually feel more secure about their partnership.

This means cultivating a full life outside of the relationship. Individuals who are at ease being alone some or even most of the time fare better in a long-distance relationship, and then when they do come together, they have fresh energy and other rich experiences to bring to their moments together. The time apart can indeed deepen the relationship.

6. Resources are essential. For a long-distance relationship to work, people need to be able to communicate and see each other with some degree of regularity. This means each person needs access to phones, reliable Wi-fi, a good car, or other means of reliable transportation, which might involve having sufficient funds for plane travel, train travel, etc. As a long-distance relationship progresses and gets more serious, or as a couple cannot live together by choice or circumstance, it becomes more apparent that there are financial costs to sustaining the relationship, including managing two households.

7. Rituals help keep a couple grounded. These might be related to things a couple did in the early stages of dating that they enjoy continuing for and with each other. These are ways to bring playfulness and joy into the relationship.

8. Fighting fairly is an essential requirement. It is inevitable that, at certain points, a couple will disagree about things. That's perfectly normal. But a couple that sees each other less regularly has to find ways to convey their concerns, questions, disappointments, fear, pain, and vulnerability in ways that don't generate more woundedness.

Being passive-aggressive, withholding, giving silent treatment, or berating the other person are all toxic and deadly to relationships, especially so for long-distance relationships. Again, we come back to the cornerstones of communication and trust so that each person can come away from an argument feeling heard, held, and secure—even without the other person's physical presence.

9. Success with a long-distance relationship is based on the Buddhist thinking of "not too tight, not too loose." It's important to hold onto each other in ways that cultivate closeness and profound intimacy while simultaneously giving each other necessary breathing space.

As it turns out, the nine things I've outlined and discussed here are vital ingredients for any great relationship but are significant to amplify, especially when talking about long-distance relationships. When people are in the position to assess the future of an intimate relationship that has been unfolding at a distance, it is common to hear something along the lines of, "I need to know we would live together well," revealing a desire to halt the distance factor and to move in together.

Yet, therein lies an assumption that living together is what gives us the most important information about a partner and predicts future longevity. But long-distance relationships urge us to consider something else of at least equal importance: We can live apart well and still be fully, deeply in love and committed.

Facebook image: antoniodiaz/Shutterstock

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