I’ve worked with a number of couples in which one person had to relocate to take a job they couldn’t find locally. In other cases, couples met online and weren’t in a position to move in together. Marcia and Harvey came to me in a situation similar to the first example.
When Harvey’s company was acquired, he lost his job. Then he was offered a lucrative job of his dreams in Seattle. After weeks of discussion, they decided he should take it. Marcia said, “The change has been really hard for both of us. We really miss each other, even though we know it’s best for Harvey and our money situation.”
Keeping a relationship vibrant and healthy when you live in the same house is challenging enough. But when couples are separated by geographical distance, it puts extra strain on the relationship.
Regardless of whether one partner had to relocate to another state or you met online and fell in love, here are six strategies to help you work through some of the kinks of handling a long-distance relationship.
1. Find a New Way to Look at the Situation
It’s normal to feel distressed about this separation. One way to transform your negative outlook is to reframe the situation.
That is, try to view the long-distance relationship in a positive light. How might living apart for a finite amount of time be beneficial?
Marcia volunteered this one: “It’s made our reunions sexier.” She also said she was looking forward to decorating the Seattle apartment.
The two of them talked about having more time to do their own thing and not taking each other for granted. Harvey said his new position has been huge for his career. Try to come up with at least three benefits.
2. Don’t Have Secrets From One Another
The two most important defenses against jealousy, suspicion, and paranoia are transparency and inclusion. Share stories with your partner about the people in your life. Don’t omit events or interactions simply because they might inspire a twinge of jealousy.
Each of you will experience loneliness from time to time — that’s natural. But you can keep yourself from acting on it — and keep your partner from worrying that you will — by disclosing your feelings and giving lots of details about your life.
3. Map Out the Parameters Together
Sit down together and define the parameters and expectations of this long-distance arrangement. For each of you, what are your concerns? How often will you visit? What about the kids? Are there domestic issues (household upkeep, car, finances, etc.) that may require a new plan of action?
I encouraged Marcia and Harvey to discuss their biggest relationship worries with each other, concerns such as intimacy, jealousy, and trust. It’s important to get everything out into the open right at the start so you can both begin this new adventure on the same footing.
4. Look to the Future, and Make a Plan
Ask your partner: Where do you see us in one year? How about five years? Talk about what each of you can do, in the context of living apart, that will make this future vision come true. Having shared goals is one of the keys to a happy relationship, and doing this activity subtly reminds each of you that you’re working as a team.
Living in separate homes doesn’t mean you have to lead separate lives and have separate futures, nor that the distance will be permanent. Harvey admitted he had trouble with this one. “When I try to project into the future, I feel paralyzed.” I suggested that he talk about where he wants the relationship to be in five years, not necessarily the details of their living situation, and he found this helpful.
5. Establish Daily Contact
Set up regular phone, Facetime or Skype dates. It’s amazing how technology has brought people together. Communicate every day, more than once, if possible. It’s critically important, when two people are unable to have physical intimacy, to maintain an emotional bond.
Even if your partner isn’t really a talker, find ways to stay in touch. If she hates being on the phone, then email, text, or instant message each other. Share your little victories and frustrations or just something funny that happened during the day. Ask about each other’s day, and be sure to support each other through the bad and good days. Get to know what a day in the life of your partner looks like.
6. Get Together in Person
Talking, video chatting, and emailing are all great. But to maintain a romantic relationship, you need to make the time to see each other face to face. Together, go over your work, family, and other obligations, and then schedule times when you’ll visit. It’s also important for each partner to visit the other partner; each person should have more than a verbal description of the other partner’s home, city, and favorite haunts.
Also, when you do see each other, find creative — and frequent — ways to keep the romance going in your relationship. Because Marcia is a teacher, it was easy for the two of them to plan trips to Seattle. “But he has to come here, too, sometimes” she said, “because the kids miss him.”
It’s Possible to Thrive in a Long-Distance Relationship!
Marcia and Harvey have been having Skype sessions with me for half a year. Harvey connects from Seattle and Marcia from Chicago. Although jealousy and loneliness were, at first, the two biggest challenges for them, they’ve learned to text and video chat with each other almost daily and include the other in regular details of life.
They often discuss that this is a temporary situation, and Harvey is working to persuade his current company to relocate him to Chicago. Marcia has been seeing her friends and adult children more often as well, which keeps her busy. She’s even joined a health club for the first time ever, and plays tennis in a women’s league.
We all know it can be challenging to make local relationships work, so having miles between you and your partner can create additional stresses. My advice is not to forget the little things. When you see a funny quote, comic, or story, send it to your partner. Continue to make each other laugh, even if you’re not face to face. Remind yourselves why you were attracted to each other in the first place. And, of course, now and then write your partner love letters that you can send through the mail. They are the perfect way to let the other person know you’re thinking about them.