It’s never been easier to make a long-distance relationship work. Twenty years ago, calling people long-distance was inconvenient and expensive, and the technology to actually see each other live on video was limited. But the widespread use of text, email, social media, and video chat goes a long way toward helping people feel like they aren’t so far apart. Here, a few expert tips on how to make long distance relationships work.
If you’re in a long distance relationship, discuss how often you both want to talk or video chat, see each other in person, when you’ll have your dates, etc. “When you visit each other, do you only spend time together alone, or do you want to include other people too?” says Anita Chlipala, Chicago-based licensed marriage and family therapist. “You also want to be clear about the end goal of your relationship—where will you both end up? What will this mean for your relationship?” Make sure you are both on the same page with how long you will have to be a long distance couple.
It can be very helpful for a couple to have a planned time to talk to each other, both by phone and by video, says Aimee Hartstein, a New York–based psychotherapist. “Otherwise you may find that you go days without contact, which can make the relationship feel very tenuous.”
Share the day-to-day details of your life with each other. “They might seem boring and unimportant, but it’s good to know what’s going on in the other’s work and personal lives,” says Hartstein.
In long-distance relationships, couples heavily rely on communication to feel connected. Problems can arise when partners feel connected in different ways. For example, Chlipala says, when one partner wants to talk every night and the other finds it suffocating. “If you do have differences that are causing hurt feelings, both of you can identify your non-negotiables and where you can be flexible,” she says.
You may think you’ll ruin your weekend together if you discuss a conflict, and so you keep it to yourself. This can lead to resentment, bickering, negativity, and disconnection within a long distance couple. “You and your partner can set aside weekly time to discuss any issues that came up during the week, even if it’s clarifying something one of you said that you took negatively,” says Chlipala. “Having frequent check-ins can prevent unnecessary negativity from taking over your relationship.”
You should both make efforts to see each other as much as possible.”If you go too long without physical togetherness, it can be hard to keep your bond feeling strong,” says Hartstein.
When you actually are together, you should make it a point to meet and spend time with each other’s friends and family, she adds. “It’s probably tempting to hole up by yourselves, but if you want the relationship to grow and strengthen, you need to become part of each other’s lives.”
Continue to date each other, advises Chlipala. “Dress up for your video dates. Send each other cards. Show your appreciation of each other in small and big ways.”
“Couples assume monogamy without talking about it, and some people don’t even know that emotional infidelity is a thing,” says Chlipala. Given people have different definitions of what behaviors are acceptable and which ones aren’t, it’s important for couples to have conversations around what they consider to be cheating so they can trust one another.
Long-distance relationships can be especially taxing for those whose top love language is physical touch. It’s the way you feel the most cared for and loved by your partner. “Knowing when you’ll see each other can help tide you over,” says Chlipala. “Another option is to focus on your second love language or other top relationship needs. If you can’t get physical touch regularly, your partner can step up with their words of affirmation or sending you small gifts, cards, or even letters. If you feel most connected through deep conversations, your partner can be sure to set aside time for these talks.”
A long-distance relationship can be trial and error to figure out what works for you both, says Chlipala. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re not happy about something.
As manageable as long distance may be, it’s actually in a couple’s best interest to try to make plans to live in the same place. “Firstly, it’s a good idea to make sure that you are both on the same page,” saysHartstein.“Is one of you really looking to turn this into a serious thing, but the other one is just having a good time?”
The other reason is that long-distance relationships can’t continue indefinitely. “They do work for some people for a period of time, but eventually at least one person is going to want the ability to build a life together in person,” she says. “Working toward that goal, even if it’s a ways off, can definitely make a relationship feel more solid and substantial.”