A few years back, I laughed until I cried while listening to a comedian talk about the difference between couples without children leaving the house and couples with children leaving the house. Here’s how it went…
Couples without children: “Let’s leave the house. Ok!” (Couple walks briskly out the door.)
Couples with children: “Let’s leave the house.” (20 minutes of chaos ensues… herding children, packing bags, yelling, crying, and parents losing their minds.)
Of course, couples with children must be a lot more intentional about going anywhere – even in running errands. When I meet my friend for a stroll through Target or a bite at Chick-Fil-A, it takes her a few minutes to get herself (and the stroller… and the bag… and the children…) out of the car than it does for just me and my purse. However, it never ceases to amaze me how much my mom friends can get done in five minutes!
In a way, that comedy sketch about parents vs. non-parents doing something as “simple” as leaving the house made me think of long-distance relationships vs. geographically close relationships. Couples who live within five to ten miles of each other can call, plan a date, meet somewhere in ten minutes, and have nothing but a little traffic to separate them.
Meanwhile, couples who live far apart must be intentional to keep their relationships moving forward. They must be purposeful in planning their time together and working on their relationships. Often, we have long-distance couples contact us for pre-engagement counseling and premarital counseling. Some of these couples live as little as half an hour from each other, whereas others are continents apart. It touches my heart to see how hard they work (and, at times, how much they hurt) to keep their love story growing. Seeking out relationship counseling services is one significant sign of intentionality for couples – especially for couples who have limited time together.
If you are in a long-distance relationship, may be facing a long-distance dating situation soon, or are contemplating online dating, keep reading for some tips on being intentional in your long-distance relationship:
- Treat your long-distance relationship as if you are not in a long-distance relationship.
- Your relationship matters. Reaffirm to yourself and your partner that your relationship is as legitimate and as important as any geographically close relationship.
- Stay in touch as you would in a geographically close relationship. Call and text as you would if you lived nearby. There is no need to overcompensate by unloading constant communication on each other because of the distance. In fact, communication smothering can kill a relationship. Be intentional in reducing your quantity of contacts to a reasonable amount if you tend to overdo it (or if your partner thinks you tend to overdo it).
- If you lived nearby, you would talk regularly. You would know (roughly) each other’s schedules. You would go see each other. You would laugh and joke. You would make plans for your relationship’s future. If you would see each other or talk in person with your time if you were geographically close, then see each other (via internet video apps) and talk from a distance (via the phone) with your time as well.
- Communicate. Communicate.
- Spend a lot of time talking. “Forced” communication is a hidden blessing of long-distance relationships. Since long-distance couples are not physically together, they do most of their connecting by talking – talking about the future, talking about goals, talking about family, talking about career, talking about feelings and thoughts. Take advantage of this time to get to know each other really, really well.
- Send postal mail randomly. Sure, it is faster to send a quick text, but the effort put into a card or hand-written letter is intentional and appreciated.
- Send care packages. When we were dating, Eric gave me a teddy bear wearing one of his t-shirts. You can send treats not available where your significant other lives. Books, poetry, movies, a handful of his or her favorite snacks – a box full of “notes” which say, “I love you, I pay attention, and you are on my mind.”
- Read books together. Eric used to read to me over the phone when we had some long-distance dating time – relationship books, of course. ~smile~ Pick some books and read them together. If you do not wish to read them together, you can read them separately and discuss them together like your own personal book club.
- Speak face-to-face when you can. FaceTime and other video conferencing options are hugely beneficial to the long-distance couple. Body language is a huge part of communication and in this generation, we do not have to be in the same room to read body language. Not every conversation needs to be face-to-face, but, when possible, let your special someone see your face (it is probably his or her favorite face to see).
- Plan the next visit before the current visit ends (when possible).
- Visit each other when possible. Make traveling to see each other a priority. When a relationship gets too comfortable, intentionality is one of the first aspects to fade. If you are pursuing a long-term relationship, keep those visits on the books. (And, if you are not pursuing a long-term relationship, be kind and avoid stringing him or her along. Long-distance relationships are tough enough when both people are committed.) Before leaving your partner to go back home, be seriously discussing the next visit.
- Plan fun for your visits together in advance but be careful not to over plan. We want to have fun with our significant others when we finally get to see them, but every minute does not need to be delegated to an excursion. Walk in the park. Visit landmarks. Spend some time with each other’s families. And also plan some down time for connecting.
- Discuss boundaries before seeing each other. When long-distance couples finally see each other, hormones often kick into high gear. For couples who are biblically saving sex for marriage, it will be imperative to have some safeguards in place. Absence very much makes the heart grow fonder, as well as sexual desire also growing stronger due to being apart.
- Date as if you are together.
- Walk. Walk in the park together (on the phone).
- Play. Play a game together. These can be dice games (e.g., Farkle, Yahtzee), board games (e.g., Clue, Pictionary, Codenames, Scattergories), or competitive and co-operation video games (e.g., PC, console, or virtual reality headsets). A lot of fun and connection can happen over gaming together!
- Watch. Watch movies together (Zoom, Skype, Hulu Watch Party, Netflix Party, etc.)
- Eat. Go to the same restaurant in your respective cities and talk while you eat your favorite meals. Or make the same meal at home and FaceTime while you cook and eat. Light candles for a romantic edge.
- Work towards no longer being a long-distance couple.
- Start planning. Once you reach the point in your relationship where you know you want to consider marriage, start talking about the possibility and making plans. It is ill-advised to remain happily apart for several years with no plans for marriage.
- Invest in pre-engagement counseling. Eric and I have the privilege of working with couples who are many miles apart but moving towards marriage and blending their lives together.
- Research. Look into job markets in each other’s cities, or even cities in between. Determine if you need to live closer to one person’s family or the other. Consider which areas best fit your collective needs.
- Have a goal date in mind. If you are further along in your relationship to where you are seriously considering marriage, but are not yet engaged, discuss a timeframe by which you think you want to be married; or, determine a goal timeframe for when you want to be living closer to each other; or, agree on a date by which you will decide if you do want to pursue engagement and marriage. We recommend living near each another at least for a short time (if not longer) before getting married to help the transition between long-distance living and geographically close living (which will also introduce the necessity of compromising).
Long-distance relationships are not for everyone, and they are certainly not for the faint of heart. If your primary love language is physical touch, then then we do not recommend looking for love outside of your community. But, even if it is and you have chosen to pursue a relationship with someone outside of your reach, be encouraged. There are so many ways to connect. Just remember to always be intentional with each other.
The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again. – Charles Dickens
Live life intentionally!
How will you be intentional in your long-distance relationship this week?