Long-distance relationships are more common now than ever before, and thankfully, so is the technology to help them succeed. Though still not the ideal situation for most couples, living apart for a time is doable if both are willing to put in the effort.
Each year, we work with couples in long-distance relationships and they are typically just as healthy (if not healthier) than our couples who live near each other. If up to this point, you have been unwilling to consider a distance relationship, read the tips below and revisit your position. If you are willing to move, or willing to wait until someone moves to you, online dating might be a more viable possibility than you realize! (Just be completely upfront in the beginning. If you are not willing to move, say so at the start.)
If you are already in a long-distance relationships or know someone who is, we hope these tips are helpful to you!
- Develop and express a sense of humor. Without a good sense of humor, long-distance relationships can become extremely cheerless. A good sense of humor is important no matter what stage of life you are in because there will always be reasons for pessimism. We can get up each day and easily find a negative outlook; and, we can also get up and look for the humor in our lives. Funny stuff is everywhere if we look for it. Being away from the one you love is a challenge on your best days and a heartache on your worst; but, prioritizing laughter and looking for the levity lightens the load considerably.
- Prioritize each other just as you would if you lived in the same town. If you are past the getting to know you stage and this relationship is heading towards something long-term, prioritizing each other is important. Many of your dating habits will follow you into your marriage, so make the time for each other now that you hope to have once you are living in the same vicinity. Prioritizing does not mean talking five hours a day, but it does mean demonstrating to the other person that he or she is at the top of your list. We can tell when our significant other is taking us for granted and active prioritization helps us avoid that.
- Take advantage of your situation – communicate! Being apart may not seem like a blessing, but it gives long-distance couples the chance to talk, talk, and talk. When Eric and I were long-distance, we spent hours on the phone discussing our futures and learning about each other. Once we lived in the same town again, we did not talk as much. In fact, we nauseated innocent bystanders with our snuggling. We were that Even our realtor complained! Physical affection is nice, but it does not take the place of quality conversation. Use this time to your advantage!
- Take advantage of your situation – prepare! While you are communicating well, prepare for your future together. Talk about everything. This includes the tough topics. Though you want to be wise about ripping open old wounds (if that needs to happen, do so in counseling), be as open as you can about yourself – your likes, dislikes, hopes, fears, desires for marriage, philosophy of parenting, and most definitely your religious beliefs. Read relationships books together. Answer the questions in the back of the chapters. Discuss what you are learning in your Bible study. Ask each other a lot of questions. How much would you want to know about a potential nanny for your children? This person may become much more important than a nanny to you, so do not skimp on the challenging subjects.
- Be open about your schedules. When I say open, I mean that it is good for you to have a general idea of each other’s schedules – especially if you are engaged or both have verbalized the possibility of getting married. To be clear, it should not be necessary to tell your partner every last detail (e.g., lunch plans were postponed 15 minutes [unless your lunch plans are with that person], the plumber rescheduled to tomorrow, etc.); yet, it is wise to keep each other updated on your overall schedule (e.g., I work 11a-7p each day this week, my parents are coming to visit Thursday through Sunday, I am taking a day trip with my friends to a tech conference Saturday, etc.). It may even be a red flag when the other person demonstrates a strong perceived desire to know where you are at all times or desires frequent updates (every hour or two).
- Go on dates. Technology gives us the chance to be together as much as we want! When my parents were dating in the 1970s, they saw each other at school and church. She did not have a phone and Dad worked all the time, so they did not go on many dates and they had zero late-night phone conversations. At least 99% (literally) of my grandparents’ dating was via snail mail during World War II. Long-distance couples now have more chances to connect than many local couples had in generations past. Through video conferencing, you can go to the park “together,” go to a restaurant “together,” and even play a game “together.” Sure, it takes some planning, but it can (and should) happen!
- Have dinner together. If possible (or when possible), sit down in front of your devices and eat dinner (or breakfast/lunch) together. Converse as you would if you were at a restaurant. Catch up, discuss work issues, talk about your evening plans, and chit chat. It is a tradition you can (and should) continue into your marriage. Having at least one meal together every day is a bonding experience.
- Write letters – often! As I mentioned before, my grandparents wrote letters to each other for three years during World War II. They married five days after he returned home. Those must have been some good letters! Today we have many convenient ways to connect, but nothing takes the place of an old-fashioned, hand-written letter. In albums, I have several old letters from past boyfriends and friends. Handwriting has a connecting power you will not find in e-mail or text. Keep those sweet notes coming. A stamp is a small price to pay for a keepsake!
- Address problems. Being apart can “help” couples (especially those who avoid conflict) put off dealing with issues. It feels like a peaceful approach in the short term, but you will pay dearly for the avoidance in the long-term. As a world-class avoider, I know from experience. Take at least a few minutes each week to discuss concerns and also include what you appreciate about the other person too! Be intentional, set a time to talk, and resist the urge to bombard your partner with a laundry list of complaints.
- Engage in pre-engagement or premarital counseling! We work with long-distance couples all the time and we would love to get to know you! If you are interested in pre-engagement or premarital counseling, simply contact us, fill out an intake form, and we will set up a free consultation. In the consultation, we will get to know a little about you, describe how we can help you gain clarity about yourselves and your relationship, and then you can decide if you wish to move forward in working with us.
- Discover what is important to each other and then go to work. Does he love German chocolate cake? Learn to make an exquisite German chocolate cake. Does she enjoy roller skating? Pack up your pride and put on a pair of skates and practice. Maybe you cannot spend all your time together right now, but you can use your time to make your next visit so much sweeter. Imagine how surprised, impressed, and touched your partner will be when he or she realizes the effort you put into making him or her happy!
- Take nights off from each other. Married couples have evenings when they hang out with friends or pursue a hobby. Just because you are physically separated does not mean you must spend every night talking for hours. Give each other the freedom to spend time with friends. Even encourage each other to make friends. Keep each other up to date on plans (assuming you are in a committed relationship) but try not to enslave yourselves to each other. Doing so can lead to frustration and emotional distancing.
- Keep investing in other relationships. My grandma and I used to hang out with her friend, Miss Linda, at my grandma’s apartment. We had the best time laughing like high school friends. On several occasions, we even talked about having a slumber party. When I returned to my hometown the summer between undergrad and graduate school, Miss Linda wanted me to stay later at my grandma’s so we could spend some time together, but Eric and I always talked on the phone at 9pm. To this day, I wish I had taken that night off because I will never forget the look of disappointment on her face. Now, I am with Eric every day, but my grandma is with the Lord, and I rarely get to see Miss Linda. Be flexible with each other and remember to look at the big picture. Do not forget the people who loved you before your partner loved you.
- Develop your own secret dialect. Making up a couple’s language is fun, a great way to communicate in public, and gives you an inside “joke” to share. It can be as hilarious or serious as you want it to be. Make up your own hand signals too (but keep it classy).
- Pursue goals together! Whether it is memorizing a book of the Bible, training for a marathon, or organizing your coat closets, work on a collective goal. Perhaps pick a new goal each month while also working towards a long-term goal (like learning a language)? There is motivation in working together and the chance to bond over a shared pursuit.
- Always have a visit in the works! Leaving each other is tough, but easier if you know when you will see each other again! Even if the details are not nailed down, never leave one visit without tentatively planning the next one.
- Spend time with older married couples and glean from their experiences! We all benefit from having a multi-generational community. Some of the best advice I have ever received came from the 60+ crowd. Adopt an older couple, spend time with them, and ask them questions about marriage and raising children. They might teach you more than ten relationship books! When your sweetheart comes to town, have dinner with your mentors (this may even happen over video conferencing too!).
- Make the most of your time apart. You will never have these days again. Marriage comes with blessings, but it completely changes your life. What can you do right now which will be much harder after marriage? Is there a time-consuming goal you want to reach, such as running a marathon? A class which interests you? Have you and your friends been trying to plan a week at the beach? Instead of moping at home, longing for the day when you can finally be together, use the time wisely. You have (Lord willing) your lifetime to be married, but you only get this single season for a while longer.
- Learn about each other’s families and friends and find ways to connect with them! If you can FaceTime or Zoom with your partner, you can FaceTime or Zoom with his or her family and friends! It might feel nerve-wrecking in the beginning, but it is a solid way to display your interest in joining your lives together. Most of the time, we marry a person’s family when we marry that person (regardless of what some may say!).
- Create or join a long-distance relationship support group on social media. There are groups for everything now. I am in a golden retriever owners’ group and an enneagram type 9 I even joined my friend’s hometown group (as she mentioned the discussions can get… entertaining). Why not join a group for people in long-distance relationships? You can give tips, support each other, and find validation in their understanding. If you don’t find one you would like to join and have a specific vision for such a group, consider creating your own. You and your partner can be the admins!
Long-distance relationships are not for the lazy or faint of heart, and not every dating relationship is meant to last and that is okay. If the relationship ends, it does not make either of you failures. It just means you need or want to follow a different path. Admitting so frees you up to find someone who is heading in your same direction.
There is no doubt long-distance relationships take work, but they can be enriching, growing experiences too. Couples who not only make it through a distance relationship but thrive in the process are ahead of the curve in a lot of ways – communication, delaying gratification, and independence just to name a few.
Do you have tips for long-distance couples you did not see posted here? Feel free to add a comment!
What is your secret to a positive long-distance relationship experience?