How to Really Make a Long Distance Relationship Work

By Relationships Australia

The saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” might ring true, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Here, we share our advice and strategies to help you make it work while doing long-distance with your partner – whether they’re on the other side of the state, country, or world.

There’s no doubt about it – long distance relationships aren’t easy. They create significant challenges to overcome, and usually require a couple to develop special skills and resources to make them work successfully. If children are in the mix, that raises the stakes even higher.

If you only get together infrequently, then the emotional wrench of each parting, and then counting the days until you connect again, can keep the relationship alive – so long as the positives outweigh the in-built negative of not being able to be together so often.

With the right planning, attitude and communication skills, you can successfully manage a long-distance relationships over the long term.

Why long-distance relationships can arise

Many different factors can lead to long distance relationships. Work might take one of you interstate or overseas, possibly as a fly-in-fly-out worker in regional and remote communities, or as a member of the armed forces.

You might have met online, and your partner is based a long way away from your work life and home life. The arrangements may have been in place from the beginning, or present themselves later in the relationship as other life decisions intrude and take you in a new direction.

Travel and border restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have also meant that many more people were separated from their partners and families in the last few years.

How do you make a long-distance relationship work?

For a long-distance relationship to succeed, there are a few things to come to discuss and agree on, as early on into the relationship as possible:

Decide on how long the relationship will be ‘long distance’

Is this arrangement short or long term? Temporary situations require different skills and strategies than if the relationship is going to be like this long term, such as in cases involving employment in a mining role or the armed forces.

Make sure you’re both on the same page.

Are you both on-board about the reasons behind it? If you think your partner’s new job opportunity isn’t worth the impact on your relationship, or you believe they have options about the amount of travel, then resentment might start to creep in. You could lose confidence in the reasoning behind the distance and start to read into it.

Define each other’s role expectations clearly.

Whether you’re the one at home or away, discuss what’s expected from each of you. For example, is the one who is home meant to undertake all home maintenance, all decisions about parenting, maintain in-law relationships and be expected to smile at the door when their partner comes home? Is the person who is away expected to be on speed dial, not have too much fun, and always bring presents on return? Undiscussed expectations can come back to bite you.

Ways to succeed in the long term

Sustaining love from a distance requires each of you to have certain personal characteristics and strengths.

  • Autonomy: Fundamentally, you need to be fairly autonomous. Both of you should be people who enjoy intimacy, but who are very independent and enjoy separate time, interests and friends.
  • Independence: You also need to have a life that’s not dependent on a partner to thrive. You have to be able to navigate couple moments – dinner parties, events – confidently on your own. If you really need a partner regularly by your side and believe your life stops or is impeded when they’re not around, you will struggle more.
  • Trust: Importantly, you need to have trust. If you spend a lot of time worrying what your partner is up to while you’re apart, then that will eventually bring the relationship undone. Trust is not built by being in proximity and keeping watch, but spending a long time apart will test you as a couple and perhaps leave room for things like infidelity to occur.
  • A good support network: You also need a support team and a life outside the relationship. If you’ve been depending on a relationship for your main social life, the relationship has too much riding on it.

Critical skills for long-distance couples

While the above characteristics and personality traits are largely inherent and tough to change, there are also plenty of complementary skills you can develop and foster to help make your long-distance relationship grow stronger:

  • Communication: You need to be able to speak up about your needs, and to raise fears and concerns directly and quickly with your partner, before they take root and start to breed resentment. Be open about what’s going on for you.
    Proactivity and directness: If you let issues slide, then the distance can equally magnify insecurities and anxieties, as it can falsely emphasise the positive in the relationship.
  • Compensation: This is not about one person owing the other for the negative impact of the distance. You’ve both agreed to the relationship on these terms. However, given that spending less time together can have an impact, planning together how to balance that out with positive intimacy will be important. Sometimes this might involve grand gestures, but it will be more sustainable if it is heartfelt and reliable, such as rituals you create on homecoming, such as the first weekend being “just for us.”
  • Reliable contact: Distance can make contact difficult, with time zones and shift times getting in the way. To whatever degree you can, talk openly about what’s going to work for you, and be flexible when it sometimes fails.
  • Manage anxiety with flexibility: There is a lot riding on the homecoming – don’t overthink it. You might clash a bit those first few days after reuniting, while you ‘warm up’ the relationship again. You might experience your partner as intruding on your independent routine, or you might feel like a bit of a ‘spare part’ when you first arrive. Don’t interpret any of these feelings as bad signs in themselves; they might just be your way of sorting yourselves back into coupledom.

Admit when there’s a problem

Long-distance relationships are inherently challenging and resolving issues from afar can be much more complicated than doing so face-to-face. It’s important to acknowledge when there’s an aspect of the relationship that might not be working, so you can tackle it before it evolves into something bigger.

If you need guidance on how to do so, seeking professional advice from a counsellor can be helpful. They can look at your long-distance relationship challenges objectively and help you move forward.

Relationships Australia NSW offers Couples Counselling services, both in-person and online. We also offer a number of Group Workshops such as Couples’ Communication and Building Better Relationships For Couples, to help you learn the skills to talk through issues with your partner more effectively.

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