Ah yes, the dreaded LDR. You’ve heard horror stories from most sources – maybe it’s through the rumor mill, maybe your friend is in one, or maybe you’re in one. They’re becoming more and more common because of travel, college, and demanding jobs. And It’s likely that you’ll be away from your partner for some period of time, especially if you’re a 20-something.
While it may feel as if the odds are stacked against you, not all hope is lost. After drawing from my own experiences and talking to several LDR couples, I’ve compiled a list of things that help us succeed.
Keep reading for bits of wisdom.
To start, I’m sure you’re wondering what makes me qualified to dish advice. Well, I’m not an expert. But I’ve been in two long distance relationships over the last three and a half years. The first ended after two and a half years and the second is ongoing. Given this, I’ve become the go-to gal for my friends who find themselves in the LDR predicament. Whether it’s for the summer, the year, or indefinitely, most of them ask for the same advice.
Before we dive in, let’s go back three years. The day I left home to embark upon freshman year of college was not a happy day. And a large reason was that my then-boyfriend and I had to say goodbye and begin our long distance relationship, from Pittsburgh to Long Island…for four years. Of course, we’d see each other once a month, but it was still scary.
I was extremely nervous, and the repetitive doubtful reactions from others made me feel worse:
- “You don’t want to be independent?”
- “What if you outgrow each other?”
- “You should really date around and explore before you get more serious.”
- “Aren’t you scared?”
- “You’re crazy.”
- “I feel so bad for you, good luck.”
- *Looks of pity*
Regardless of all the doubt surrounding us, we had been exclusively dating for about eight months and we were in love, so we decided to go for it. Which brings me to my first point…
1. Make a Decision
As a disclaimer, most of the answers to your questions will be, “It depends, and you know yourself and your relationship best.” While this answer is true, it’s kind of useless and I think you want something more concrete.
My philosophy has always followed the wise words of Coldplay, “If you never try, you’ll never know.”
If you’re in love (or in like) with your partner and you’re on the fence because you’re scared, I would give it a whirl. Worst case scenario, you see how it goes, realize you don’t like it, and then (peacefully) end it. Don’t worry about hating each other if you break up, you’ll deal with that if it happens.
You should also decide what kind of relationship you want. Featuring labels I made up, here are a few scenarios that I’ve experienced or seen others try:
- Completely Exclusive: We’re exclusively dating and we aren’t romantically or sexually involved with other people, whatsoever.
- Completely Open Transparent: Multiple relationships (emotional and/or physical) are okay, but we want to know what the other person is doing.
- Completely Open Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Multiple relationships (emotional and/or physical) are okay. Neither of us wants to know about the other’s exploits.
- Physically Open: Physical intimacy with third parties is fair, but once emotions become involved, it’s no longer okay.
- Emotionally Open: Emotional connections are okay as long as there’s no physical intimacy.
- Non-Distance Exclusive: We’re exclusively dating when we’re in the same place, but we’re open when we’re apart.
- On/Off: We’re exclusively dating when we’re in the same place, but if we’re apart, we’re just friends or acquaintances.
When deciding on a solution, communication is key. There are two people in your agreement, so if one party isn’t on board, it’s not a solution.
If you try some form of an open relationship, be brutally honest with yourself and your partner. Such arrangements can quickly and easily become messy. Be sure that you’re expressing your needs and feelings in an appropriate manner if you’re uncomfortable or unhappy.
That being said, if your gut is telling you that you need to end it completely, end it. Maybe you’re in desperate need of some “me time”, maybe you want to date around while you can, maybe you know your partner isn’t right for you deep down, maybe you want different things from life.
Again, there’s no good formula for this decision. It’s completely up to you and your partner, so be sure to communicate your thoughts, reasoning, and plans. It’s a tough conversation, but all important ones are.
2. Have an LDR End Date
If you’ve decided to give it a try, it’s extremely important to have an end in sight, even if it’s far. Think of a racehorse that breaks her leg on the track: If there’s no relief to her pain in sight, they put her down.
Similarly, long distance can be painful and exhausting. Make sure you won’t be in the same situation forever.
This also means that you need to be on the same page.
Suppose you’re pursuing your startup dreams in San Francisco and your partner is about to graduate from college. You and your partner should have a conversation and agree that he/she will look for jobs in SF. If they’re applying to jobs in Dubai, it’s not looking promising. If they don’t want to move to SF, that should be a conversation, too. Pure love for one another simply can't cure all problems.
3. Celebrate the Independence
Once you're in your LDR, do your own thing and don’t lose your sense of self.
We’ve all watched friends get into relationships and then disappear until they’re finally out of the honeymoon stage. Or maybe they become too dependent on their partner and continue to only spend time with them. It sucks for you and for your friend (even though they might now know it).
For better or for worse, you don’t have that option. So go to brunch with your friends, stay out late with your bros, stay in for wine night with your girlfriends.
Whatever you do, don’t become that person who’s always talking to their partner, whether via text, Skype, Snapchat, etc. It’s not healthy to be so dependent on each other. More on communication habits later.
There are benefits from a personal improvement standpoint, too.
You have the luxuries of time and space. You can’t spend hours doing nothing with your partner, so put the time to good use and focus on yourself. Learn a new skill, read more, go for a run, make a new friend.
Independence and happiness are sexy. The more positive and exciting things you have going for you, the happier you’ll be. The happier you are, the better your relationship will be. No one wants to be stagnant, and no one wants a stagnant partner, either.
4. Continue to Improve Your Patience & Communication
Sorry for the cliché, but it’s true and so important.
A simple, “I’ve had a shitty day” text can turn into a blow up fight about something dramatic like the meaning of your relationship just because you’re both in bad moods. Normal couples can prevent this with a hug, cuddles, and takeout. But distance doesn’t allow for such luxuries.
There’s little room for passive aggressive texts, miscommunications, short fuses, etc. When you’re in an argumentative setting, it’s hard to think rationally or stay calm, but it’s imperative that you do. If you know you have a toxic tendency, try to improve it. It will help to ask your partner to call you out if you’re displaying that kind of behavior, but they should also be understanding. That being said, there’s a fine line between being patient and being a pushover. Stand your ground, but don't be mean.
I have a passive aggression problem. I find myself sending ridiculous texts like, “Never mind, it’s fine” (it’s not) or “whatever, I don’t want to talk about it” (but it isn’t whatever and I do want to talk about it). Something comes over me and I become a crazy person that I don’t even recognize. This has led to drawn-out and overly-complicated arguments with my partners in the past. Even though it’s my problem, he helps the situation by remaining patient when I need him to most. I do the same when I see his toxic tendencies because relationships are a give and take.
Of course, this doesn't mean that it's your partner's responsibility to fix you. You need to keep yourself accountable, take responsibility, and make sure you're working on your weaknesses and poor conflict patterns.
Personally, I’ve fixed my passive aggression drastically by being cognizant of my irrational tendency. My boyfriend also keeps me accountable by telling me when that side is coming out. Calling it out helps me to acknowledge my behavior, process it, and change it.
5. Decide When to Communicate
Frequency of communication is also an important aspect. Some couples need to text constantly throughout the day and then Skype for an hour before bed, while other couples feel smothered by that. That’s for you to decide.
I’ve found that not having a set schedule is awesome. For a few months, Nat and I Skyped every night 10:30pm – 11pm, but it started to feel like a meeting and an obligation. I felt bad when I wanted to stay out late during the week (hence bailing on our 10:30pm "appointment"), and I felt sad when he “rescheduled” or “canceled” because he had plans.
It became an unnecessary point of small tension that was easily changeable. We changed our frequency and expectations to be more accommodating and saw a world of a difference.
Without the set “meeting”, we just Skyped and texted when we wanted to. It was a relief because not only did we have more interesting things to talk about, but it also removed negative feelings from something that should just be fun.
6. Don’t Bottle Up
This is essential to any relationship, but especially a long distance one. Sweeping your problems under the rug can become a detrimental tendency. As stated before, communication and patience are vital components to your long distance relationship. Use them to help you.
Tackling one small problem as it comes helps to avoid huge arguments about a million different things.
Don’t wait until you’re so angry that you explode about 101 small things that you dislike about your partner. And definitely don’t wait until you’ve already made your own assumptions, neglecting your partner the chance to talk it over with you.
It’s difficult at first, but establishing this habit early will be beneficial. A less awkward way to ease into it is to do a “weekly review” during which you discuss what worked and what didn’t that week. Does your partner need more communication? A different means of communication? Maybe he/she didn’t like the way you said something, or maybe everything is going swimmingly and they want to tell you that.
The weekly review can create an open space where you’re honest with each other about big and small issues.
7. Have Things to Look Forward to
If you start a diet thinking you can never eat chocolate cake again, you’re going to be miserable and you’ll fail. But if you know that you can have it, just not until Saturday, the diet is suddenly much more doable. You know you can eat your cake, but only once you earn it.
Similar to a diet, you and your significant other have to reward yourselves for the hard work.
There’s no better feeling than marking the date on your calendar when you get to reunite with your lover. Similar to having an LDR end date, it’s extremely important to have in-person meet ups to look forward to.
Maybe you’re lucky and you get to see each other once a month, or maybe you’re across the world from each other and can only link up a few times a year. In either case, having a “next time” in the books puts both of your minds at ease. You’ll be surprised how relieving it is to know how many months, weeks, or days are left until you get to hug your partner.
As the date approaches, plan activities together, starting with your first day or night together. It can be as simple as eating pizza in your sweatpants while binge watching the new season of Orange is the New Black. Or it can be as elaborate as a night at the symphony and a Michelin Star dinner. Different strokes for different folks.
Regardless of how you choose to spend your time, making plans will increase your excitement and make you feel closer to your partner. Even if you don’t stick to the agenda, it’s still fun to think about as you’re planning it.
8. Address Physical Intimacy
Not surprisingly, this is the topic that people are most intrigued by because distance implies no physical intimacy, which…sucks.
It may sound like a silly problem, but it can easily become a point of tension.
Discuss how you’ll be mindful of each other’s needs. Many couples begin to incorporate things like Skype sex, sexting, etc. These things may feel awkward or even embarrassing at first, but be patient and honest with your partner about what you like and don’t like. Together, you can decide a good course of action that will keep both of you happy.
It might also be fun to add a section to your list from point 6 that has whatever sexual adventures you want to embark upon when you’re back in the same place.
As a disclaimer, there are obvious risks with some of the solutions. Don’t be stupid and make sure you trust your guy or girl to keep everything private. You should also never feel forced to do anything.
If none of those are working, you may be interested in exploring a different relationship form that I listed in point 1, or creating your own rules.
9. Know When to Quit
I still don’t have a rule of thumb or a heuristic for myself, let alone for couples as a whole. But here’s how I think about it: if I’m in a happy relationship, I should feel that, at the end of the day, I choose them. Regardless of the mess, drama, and arguments, I still choose them. Sometimes your heart and your head will conflict, which may be a good sign that it's time to reconsider.
Maybe your heart is telling you to leave because you kind of know that you're not in love anymore. Of course you love them, but are you in love with them? Maybe your head starts to rationalize and make you want to stay for all the wrong reasons: you don't want to hurt them, things will change between you, you've been together for so long, you already have your holiday plans lined up, you're not unhappy, you don't want you friends to gossip or choose sides, you don't want to be single, etc. If similar arguments have built up in your head, it may a signal that you don't truly want to choose them every day.
As a disclaimer, don’t do anything rashly or out of anger. Sleep on it and talk it over with your partner if you think you’re nearing the end. And remember to be considerate, honest, and direct.
Some Final Thoughts
- LDR’s seriously aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay. There are so many factors that go into a relationship, let alone one with miles and time zones in between. It depends on the individuals that make up the partnership, as well as the dynamic of the two individuals as a couple.
- Take it day by day. Just as with any relationship, nothing is guaranteed. Try not get caught up in promises and details of the future (this is a hard one for me!).
- Reassure each other. Relent to your soft and mushy side. Say I love you, send handwritten cards, post the Instagram picture, surprise them. Keep the romance alive and make sure your partner knows how much you care. Remember, you can’t give them hugs or cuddles, so try to compensate for that.
- Have fun. When you’re constantly missing your partner, it can be hard to remember that relationships are supposed to be fun. It’s especially important to engage in your conversations, laugh together, and be silly, even if you can’t be physically together.
Also, sign up for airline rewards programs if you’re flying for your relationship, they add up and you’ll thank me later 🙂
Best of luck and let me know what you think!