You’ve just started seeing someone great. You get along, have fun together, and things seem to be going well. The only problem? They just received an offer for their dream job in another state. Or, maybe you hit it off with someone online who happens to live on the other side of the country.
They might seem scary or challenging, but long-distance relationships can and do succeed. They just require a bit of extra consideration and work.
Here’s a look at how to keep the love alive and tackle potential issues that might come up.
Local and long-distance relationships require a lot of the same things. Long-distance ones, however, will require a bit more conscious thought.
“People in long-distance relationships must be way more intentional and industrious in doing the work that helps relationships thrive,” says Patrick Cheatham, PsyD.
Discuss communication needs
When you first begin a long-distance relationship, decide how often you want to talk, beyond quick text messages throughout the day.
You might both agree you want to talk frequently but disagree about what that actually means. If your ideal levels of communication differ, finding a compromise early on can help prevent frustration later.
A communication schedule can also help. This schedule doesn’t have to stand firm, but you may feel comforted knowing when you’ll hear from your partner next.
An occasional, spontaneous, “thinking of you” phone call can be a nice surprise, but scheduling longer conversations can help you connect when you’re both at your best. If your partner is a night owl and you’re more of a morning person, for example, try planning calls for just before or just after dinner.
Maintain your independence
This is a big one. Remember that you have your own life in your city. You might feel like part of you is missing if your partner is miles away, but try to keep up with your usual routines. Plus, keeping busy often helps relieve feelings of loneliness.
If you don’t see your partner often, you might want to talk to them more frequently. But feeling tied to your phone or computer can lead to sadness, or even resentment, if they can’t always talk to you. You’ll also lose out on time with other loved ones.
Even if your partner does have time to talk constantly throughout the day, it’s still a good idea to spend some time on your own or with friends and family.
Stick to your ‘meeting’ times whenever possible
You wouldn’t want to date someone who kept missing in-person dates for very long, would you?
Physical distance can sometimes make a relationship seem more casual. But prioritizing your partner, just as you would when dating someone locally, is crucial in making long-term relationships work.
A partner who’s too far away to help out when things go wrong may worry more than a local partner when they don’t hear from you at an expected time. Of course, things will come up, but try to let your partner know as soon as possible. And if you can, schedule a makeup chat session.
Vary your modes of communication
Switching up how you keep in touch may help you feel more connected. You might share photos and videos with Snapchat, keep up a chat on Facebook Messenger, text on occasion, and make a quick phone call over your lunch break or when you wake up in the morning.
Note that some people get overwhelmed when keeping track of multiple conversations, so this may not work for everyone.
Consider trying nondigital modes of communication, too. Receiving a letter or a surprise package tends to brighten most people’s days.
Try sharing a letter journal or scrapbook full of notes, pictures, and mementos from your daily lives. Send it back and forth, taking turns adding to it.
Make your communication count…
In a long-distance relationship, it’s common to feel like you never get enough time to talk to your partner. If this sounds familiar, try to focus your energy on making the most out of communication.
As you think of things to share throughout the day, jot them down so you remember them later. If you have something on your mind, talk about it instead of letting it go unsaid.
…but don’t neglect the mundane
Distance can prevent you from feeling physically close to your partner. But lacking minor details can make you feel even farther apart emotionally.
Your instinct may lead you to focus on deep or meaningful topics so you can make the conversations you do have count. But things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things can also contribute to your image of your partner and further emotional connection.
So, vent or ramble to each other and don’t be afraid to share things that seem trivial, even boring — what you had for lunch, your new neighbors, or how you stepped in cat vomit on the bathroom floor. After all, you’d probably share those things with a partner you saw every day.
Don’t neglect intimacy
Maintaining sexual intimacy is a key challenge in many long-distance relationships. If you and your partner enjoy regular sex, you might struggle with the lack of intimate contact during your weeks (or months) apart.
But you can still connect intimately, even from a distance.
Just keep in mind that not everyone feels comfortable with digital intimacy, so always discuss individual boundaries around photos, phone sex, or webcam use.
It’s normal to feel awkward or shy at first, but don’t hesitate to bring up these feelings. Sharing awkward moments can actually help you build more intimacy.
Share physical reminders of each other
Your loved one’s belongings can carry a lot of meaning for you.
Think of their toothbrush in the bathroom, their favorite jam in the refrigerator, or even the scent of their shampoo on the bed pillows. These can all help you remember your partner’s presence even when they’re hundreds of miles away.
During your next visits, consider purposely leaving some belongings with each other. Hang up some clothes in the closet, leave books on the shelf, and buy a favorite brand of tea or coffee to leave behind.
The next time you visit, those things will be waiting. And in the meantime, they might help both of you feel like the time until your next visit isn’t quite as long as it seems.
Spend time together when possible
Time, money, and work commitments can all make it difficult to visit your partner often as you’d like.
Consider doing some advanced planning to get a good deal on plane tickets or look into alternative transportation options, such as trains or ride shares.
You can even try changing things up by meeting at a halfway point to lighten the burden.
Walking through the grocery store, you see a couple debating different peanut butters. You feel a pang of envy that they get to do this mundane task together.
But physical distance doesn’t mean you can’t do things together, especially with modern technology. You’ll just have to be a bit creative.
Watch a movie together
Thanks to the rise of streaming, you can watch movies or TV shows on opposite sides of the world.
Synchronize the beginning of the movie by starting at exactly the same time. One partner could also watch through webcam while the other partner plays the movie, but this can make it harder to see or hear (though this may not matter if you’re watching “Goodfellas” for the hundredth time).
Enjoy the movie with your partner by calling or video chatting while you watch. Relax and be yourself, just like you would if your partner were in the room with you.
Go for a walk
Share a walk with your partner by talking on the phone while you spend time outside in your neighborhood, a favorite spot, or somewhere entirely new. You can mention any new or interesting things you see and even take pictures.
If possible, do this while they’re taking a stroll, too. Arranging to do the same activity at the same time can increase your sense of connection.
Walking and video chatting at the same time can be a little dangerous, but find a favorite park or other quiet spot to have a short video call.
Take up a hobby together
Hobbies can challenge you, help you pass time in an enjoyable way, and promote relaxation. If you and your partner both have enough time to try out a new hobby, consider finding something you can do together.
If you plan to video chat or talk on speaker mode during, look for a hobby you can do at home.
There are plenty of options to consider:
You can even do different things at the same time. Video chatting while one of you practices guitar and the other sketches, for example, can resemble the kind of evening you might have when physically spending time together.
Cook and eat a meal together
If you and your partner like to cook together, keep the tradition going even when you’re apart. Try making the same dish and see if they turn out the same — just make sure to keep you phone or computer away from any food or liquid!
Plan a date night
Maybe you can’t go on a date in person, but you can still create a romantic atmosphere at home. Put on music and have a glass of wine (or your favorite drink) together.
You can make the evening feel more special if both of you:
- dress up
- light candles
- make a meal you both enjoy
End on a romantic note with a video chat during a candlelit bath and intimate conversation. Physical intimacy is an important part of many relationships, and even if you can’t be directly physical, you can still create intimacy and a sense of closeness.
Make each other a part of family and friend gatherings
If you and your partner used to visit each other’s friends and families for social gatherings, holidays, or other occasions, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to “invite” them to participate over a video chat.
Continuing to share special events or even casual hangouts helps maintain a sense of involvement in each other’s lives. It also helps you keep in touch with family and friends you might not see otherwise.
Staying connected like this can be especially important if one partner lives alone in a new city with no loved ones nearby. Just make sure that rest of the group knows they’ll be having a digital guest.
Do chores together
Most people don’t really look forward to their chores. Dishes, laundry, cleaning the toilet — these tasks likely aren’t your preferred way to spend an evening, especially if you have to do everything on your own.
You can’t help each other out from several hundred miles away, but talking while you work can make chores seem less tiresome.
This probably won’t work with everything. It’s doubtful either of you wants to watch the other cleaning drains or scrubbing out the litter box. But try a laundry folding date or chat while cleaning out the refrigerator (they might even be able to remember what’s in that Tupperware you’re afraid to open).
Like any kind of relationship, long-distance bonds aren’t a one-size-fits-all situation. What works for one couple might not do much for another.
Still, there are a few things you should probably avoid doing in any kind of long-distance relationship.
Checking up on your partner
Long-distance relationships require you trust each other to maintain the boundaries of your relationship.
Of course, this is true in every kind of relationship, but it can have even more significance in a relationship where you have no way of knowing if your partner is actually doing what they say they’re doing.
It’s normal to worry when your partner’s behavior seems unusual. Maybe they miss a goodnight call, talk a lot about new friends, or seem less responsive to texts for a few days.
When this happens, communicate your concerns instead of letting worries tempt you into asking for proof of where they were or photos of them in bed each night.
Treating every visit like a vacation
If you only see your partner occasionally, you might feel the urge to make every minute of your visit worthwhile.
“You might feel tempted to treat it like vacation time,” Cheatham says, “especially if it’s the only time you can have sex.” While this is totally understandable, it can make it harder to know what your partner’s life is like when you aren’t there.
Keeping feelings and emotions to yourself
If you prefer to talk about difficult emotions or feelings in person, you might struggle to find ways to share these things with a long-distance partner. But avoiding serious discussions can eventually cause problems.
“Your ability and willingness to talk about difficult issues or feelings are both very important,” says Scott Cubberly, MSW, LCSW. “Many people tend to be avoidant of these things, since they’re afraid to cause emotion or upset.”
Plus, the absence of facial expressions or body language can make it easy to misread words or intentions, which can make misunderstandings more likely.
Despite these difficulties, it’s important to get in the habit of talking openly about your feelings with your partner. Avoiding it or lying about how you feel won’t help either of you in the long run.
All relationships hit bumps in the road, but physical distance can cause some unique issues.
Here are some key concerns you might face, plus a few tips to help you navigate them.
Different relationship expectations
While even the firmest relationship goals can change over time, it never hurts to have a conversation in the beginning about what you hope comes from the relationship.
“Your expectations should align,” says Shannon Batts, LMFT. “Are you doing this for fun with no hopes of a long-term commitment? Do you just want a close friend or fling? Or are you hoping to grow good relationship skills and a shared life, even marriage? Have these talks early on.”
She also encourages keeping the discussion alive to make sure you’re on the same page about where the relationship is heading. Don’t be afraid to revisit initial expectations if things no longer feel quite right.
It may not be realistic for you (or your partner) to immediately reply to messages or phone calls. But you might notice, when you do talk, that they seem distracted or disinterested. If this becomes a pattern, you might feel worried, even jealous if you know they spend a lot of time with other friends.
These feelings are common, but they’re important to discuss. “Trust is critical,” Cubberly says. “Responsiveness can help build trust, as can openness and honesty. Without responsiveness, the mind fills in the blanks with negatives.”
He encourages paying attention to your partner’s responses when you bring up these concerns. “Do they seem open and nondefensive? Do they have empathy for your worries?”
One partner puts more effort into the relationship
It’s impossible for one person to single-handedly maintain a relationship. Even if one of you has more going on, both parties are responsible for maintaining the relationship.
If you’re the one planning all the visits, initiating communication, and sending surprise care packages, you’ll just end up feeling frustrated down the line. It can also leave you feeling insecure in the relationship.
One answer to this issue? Better communication on both sides. If one of you has less emotional energy due to work obligations or stress, talk about it. Having an honest conversation about what you can both realistically contribute can help to lift some of the burden and ensure you both feel secure.
Most people dislike conflict, especially in a relationship. If you see or talk to your partner less than you’d like, you might feel even more reluctant to have an argument and do whatever you can to keep calls and visits peaceful.
Long-distance relationships sometimes involve less conflict naturally. Disagreements over errands or household tasks, for example, probably won’t come up. But if you do have a difference of opinion, it’s important to say so, especially when it involves personal values or things that really matter.
Strongly opposing viewpoints can lead to conflict, but they can also help you recognize that a relationship may not work out long term. Don’t shy away from having discussions about intense topics, even if you feel like you might disagree with each other.
Trying to keep the relationship perfect and conflict-free can disguise incompatibilities or keep you from growing as partners.
Feeling uninvolved in each other’s lives
The physical distance separating you and your partner can make it seem as if you’re living completely separate lives, even if you both feel firmly committed.
“Creating a sense of a shared life is one unique issue that can come up,” Cheatham says. “It’s really easy to take for granted that you know what goes on in your partner’s life, such as their job, their friends, and their daily routines. This can be hard in a long-distance relationship.
To bridge this gap, keep each other informed about your daily lives. Share anecdotes about coworkers or what happened on your commute. Talk about what your friends are up to, your last hike, or what you’re making for dinner. Sharing photos of friends, pets, or things at home can also help decrease emotional distance.
“Even though you’re in different cities,” he adds, “there should still be some feeling that you’re in each other’s minds and hearts.”
If you want to see each other regularly, you might have to invest a significant amount of time and money to make those visits. Those costs can quickly add up, even if you take turns scheduling time off work and paying for trips.
Cheatham encourages people considering a long-distance relationship to think about these practical aspects. “I don’t think these challenges need to be deal breakers, but they can foster resentment if they’re unexpected,” he says.
Financial matters aren’t always the easiest topic to discuss, but it’s a good idea to communicate what you hope for in terms of visits early in the relationship. If you know you can’t afford to visit your partner more than once a month, say so up front instead of trying to stretch your funds.
Distance doesn’t have to signal the end of a relationship. Sure, you might have to put in a bit of extra effort and get creative with how you stay in touch, but you might find that those elements just bring you closer together.