I love the stories of how couples meet, don’t you? It’s one of my favorite things to ask a new couple because no matter if they’ve been together three months or 30 years, they always light up a little when they tell it. It was most likely a totally ordinary day: They went to meet a friend at a party. They were standing in line at a grocery store. They caught someone’s eye in a coffee shop. And then, well, the rest is history. The rest is love. The best stories are often from people who are in long-distance relationships because there was something about that first meeting that convinced them that it was worth trying to make a long-distance relationship work.
My husband and I are no different. I met him when I went on a solo backpacking trip around Europe. I was supposed to be in the Netherlands for one night, but then I met him, and one night turned into five. When I flew back to the U.S., I had no idea what was going to happen. I’d never been in a long-distance relationship before—never mind with someone who literally lived on the other side of the world! For a while, I tried to convince myself to just appreciate our time together as a holiday fling and move on. That lasted for a day. Then we had a Skype call (the patron saint of LDRs), and I knew that I wanted to be with him—even if it was going to be complicated.
Thankfully, we live together now, but we first had to spend a couple of years navigating a relationship with oceans between us. It wasn’t always easy. To be honest, in the beginning, I had no idea how to make a long-distance relationship work. It was a lot of trial and error, and there were some days where it felt way too difficult. I hope you’re not currently experiencing one of those days in your LDR, but if you are, I do have some tips for you.
There are lots of ways to make a long-distance relationship work. Every relationship is going to be different, but these are some of the things that worked for my husband and me. And, well, it turned out pretty great for us!
OK, I’m going to start with the most controversial of my tips. Everyone knows that communication is hugely important in a relationship. In long-distance relationships, it’s probably the MOST important (with an excellent sex life being a close second). But what most people forget is that communication is more about quality than it is quantity. Yeah, you could text your man with mundane updates from your day every single day, or you could have an intentional phone call every two days where you really invest in the conversation.
The problem with long-distance relationships is that after a while it stops feeling like enough. It gets frustrating to email your love with what you’re doing today because you want to be doing it with them. Texting to say you miss them just makes you miss them more. Even though technology has made LDRs much easier (can you imagine if you had to rely on writing letters?), technology still doesn't make up for face-to-face contact.
Shortly into our relationship, my husband and I decided to experiment with talking a little less. In the beginning, I used to message him from the moment I woke up until I went to bed. Although it did make me feel close to him, it also made me feel like something was constantly missing from my life. I couldn’t enjoy my days because I just wanted him to be there. Plus, our conversations started to get a little boring. There’s only so much reporting of my day I could do!
Although we didn’t start ignoring or neglecting each other, we kept our daily interactions to short thinking-of-you messages and saved our real conversations for our Skype calls. I found myself really looking forward to those calls like it was a date, and I was overflowing with things to tell him.
Pick a night in the week that’s your date night. My husband and I liked to do this around our favorite TV shows. We’d set up Skype and then watch it together, mostly in companionable silence. It helped us to feel like we were still sharing life and creating our own shared rituals. Plus, it’s fun to know that you have date night every week.
Another thing that my husband and I did was create a book club between us. We’d both read the same book, and we’d regularly text each other reactions while we read. But I did read a little faster than him, so I did have to promise not to reveal any spoilers! Pick something that you both love to do, then think of a way for you to do it together each week.
Sometimes when you miss someone, it’s all you can think about. Everything would be better if they were there to share it with you. But that also puts huge amounts of pressure on your relationship. Before you know it, all of your conversations will be about how much you miss them and why can’t they be here and life’s unfair. And that’s just not very fun, is it? After a while, you’re both going to be miserable.
Think about if you were dating someone locally. It would be very unattractive if they had no life or friends or interests outside of you. Of course, you want to be invited to partake in their life, and you want to build a life together, but you also want them to have things that are just for them.
So even though it’s difficult, make sure that you’re still creating a life for yourself where you are. See your friends. Have hobbies. Find things that you love about your town. Whatever you do, don’t spend every night waiting for them to call. Besides, the more you do, the more you’ll have to talk about with your love.
The greater the distance between you and your love, the harder it is to see them frequently. Most of us aren’t millionaires, so making transcontinental flights every weekend isn’t going to happen. Plus, we all have busy lives in our own hometowns and jobs that aren’t going to let us take endless vacation days. Still, when it comes to long-distance relationships, you have to be a little unreasonable. That’s my biggest tip on how to make a long-distance relationship work: Be unreasonable.
What does that mean? Your relationship should be the biggest priority in your life if you want it to survive. My husband and I decided early on that the max amount of time we could spend apart was three months. Toward the end of the third month, we would start to go a little crazy with missing each other. So no matter what, we saw each other every three months. And we traded visits. He would come to me, I would go to him, and sometimes we would meet in the middle. It was expensive. It meant that I had to skip out on vacations with my friends and visits to family. But it was also worth it. I think it’s the single biggest thing that kept us together because we knew that we were doing everything we could to keep our bond strong.
So what is your and your partner’s maximum amount of time apart? In a perfect world, it would be about three days, right? But until that’s possible, try and come to an agreement together and stick to it.
There are lots of ways to keep your sex life exciting. You can sext. You can get his and hers sex toys. You can experiment with cyber sex. The point is: Don’t neglect your sex life just because you're far apart. Beyond making time to talk, I think that keeping sex creative is the most important thing for making sure your relationship is healthy.
You miss a lot of the physical aspect of romantic relationships when your man is apart, so be sure to do everything you can to recreate it—even if it is virtual. Also, try not to be shy. Put on the sexy lingerie. Experiment with videos and photos and voice recordings. There’s no reason why your sex life can’t be as varied and fulfilling as it would be if you lived near each other. Also, I think to think of it as some very, very extended foreplay until you can be together again.
I hope these tips are helpful for you when it comes to making your LDR work. I have one last bonus tip: Ask your partner what they need to be happy. Everyone needs different things, so be sure that you’re checking in to make sure that they feel fulfilled and loved.
Jennifer Craig has been in a successful long-distance relationship and started SurviveLDR to encourage those who want to pursue love with partners in far land.
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