Couples embark on long distance relationships for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes one of you needs to move for a better job, or it might be a matter of necessity because one of you needs to look after a relative. Often long distance relationships start because you already lived in different places when you met.
Whatever the reason for living apart, it’s no secret that long distance relationships can come with difficulties. What’s less understood are the ways in which these difficulties can affect your relationship.
What kind of problems might arise in a long distance relationship?
In any long-term relationship having the chance to spend quality time together helps build your connection. This can mean planning nice things to do together, like days out or date nights, but it can also be the little things that you might take for granted: a cup of tea in the morning or a shared joke with friends.
Without getting to experience these things regularly it can be easy to begin to feel disconnected as a couple. Relationships aren’t always self-sustaining – they need nourishment to stay strong. These little interactions – although we may not always realise it at the time – give our relationships this nourishment, and make them more resilient to inevitable challenges. Without the chance to regularly check in with our partner we can begin to feel less close to them.
This sense of disconnection can also create resentment. If one of you is staying away from home, you may begin to feel like a stranger in your own home – worried about all the things you’re missing while you’re away. While whoever stays at home can feel jealous of their partner – who they may feel has left the family behind to do their own thing.
Having so little time to spend together can also make things difficult when you are re-united. You might feel like you need to pack everything into the weekend because you haven’t seen each other during the week. You may make lots of plans – trying to fit in a day out, a romantic evening, and a nice family dinner to make up for lost time. There’s also a pressure to be truly ‘on form’ – ready to be the best you can be in the short time you have.
But this can create massive disappointment when the time you have together just doesn’t quite pan out this way. Sometimes, one person just isn’t in the right mood on the weekend itself, or the plans you do make fall through. Sometimes, there’s housework to do – and no time for other stuff.
How do you make a long distance relationship work?
The honest answer is that, in some cases, it may not. Some couples find the challenges presented by being in a long distance relationship are too great – and that, if they’re to survive, they need to think of a different way forward. However, this isn’t always the case. Some couples do manage to sustain their connection – but it almost always takes a lot of extra work.
The first thing is the most obvious: making sure you have a chance to talk regularly. This could mean chatting on the phone once an evening or once every other evening and simply telling each other what you’ve been up to. It’s important to stick to this regularly, and not let it slide off the agenda.
Doing this will mean a lot in terms of reaffirming your connection and staying a regular part of each other’s lives. Although it may not always feel like you’ve got that much to say, even just talking about what you’ve been up to will mean you feel like you’re involved with one another’s lives, as you would be if you lived closer together. It can also head off the potential for mistrust – which can be a problem when you feel your partner’s daily activities are a mystery.
It’ll also mean you’re able to talk regularly about how you’re coping with the distance itself. It’s important you feel you can be open with each other about this so resentment doesn’t begin to grow. It’s not uncommon for one partner to find things harder than the other (sometimes the one who suggested situation in the first place), but feel unable to talk about this because the other person seems OK. It’s crucial you feel you’re on the same team: not dealing with things as two separate individuals.
And when you’re back home together, try to accept not every weekend is going to be perfect. There needs to be space for times when one or both of you is feeling a bit deflated, or things don’t quite go to plan. Putting too much pressure on things inevitably leads to feeling let down – and yes, this definitely applies to the bedroom too – so give yourself some leeway. Sometimes, a movie night in is as good as a romantic meal out.
What if it’s too hard?
Long distance relationships aren’t for everyone. Although it can be painful to accept, sometimes, it may come down to choosing what’s more important: the reason you’re living apart or the relationship itself?
This might come about because you’re both finding things too hard – or because one of you is. Both are equally valid. That doesn’t mean you can’t find a compromise – it might be that you agree to set a time limit on how long the distance will continue. Or you could try to think about ways that you could continue at a distance, but adjust how you do things: speaking more regularly, or even trying to lessen how far apart you are by changing your living situation.
However, it is important you’re making these decisions together, as otherwise the potential for someone to feel hurt or let down can be very high indeed.
Getting some help
The pressure of long distance relationships is one of the most common reasons that people come for Relationship Counselling.
If you think you could do with some help, don’t hesitate to get in contact with us. Your counsellor won’t take sides or tell you what to do, they’ll simply try to help you come up with a way of moving forward that works for everyone.