Managing Long Distance Relationships


Chicago IL, Therapist Managing Long Distance Relationships

by Jimmy G. Owen, MS, LPC

A year ago, I never imagined I would be part of a long distance relationship. However, due to the current economic circumstances that is exactly what happened to my partner and me.  Current statistics show an estimated 2.9% of US marriages are considered long distance, with 1 in 10 marriages reported to have included a period of long distance within the first 3 years.

As I reflect on the situation, I have learned a lot about my partner, our relationship and myself.   Preparing for and maintaining a relationship across the country has had its surprises, rewards and difficulties.  Fortunately, we did our homework before the experience and (theoretically) knew what we were in for.  Having over 7 years invested in the relationship made the decision to try it easier, but it isn’t for the faint of heart.  Not having your partner in close physical proximity can be difficult and creates new challenges and opportunities as you grow together – while apart.  I would like to offer some suggestions should you find yourself considering long distance love.

Communication is paramount.  At the onset, make sure to ask the important questions and be certain you are both clear on the parameters of the relationship.  Talk about how it impacts each of you financially, emotionally, physically.  Logistically, how exactly is it going to operate?

Are you dating? Exclusive? Married? Is the relationship open? Closed? Exactly what does that mean to the two of you in terms of specific behaviors while you are apart?  Having this conversation may be uncomfortable but can save conflict and confusion down the road.

Communicate every single day.  At least once a day.  Schedule it if you have to, but make sure to maintain a consistent connection.  In addition to the phone, with the evolution of the Internet we know have instant messenger and face-to-face options.  If possible, let this communication become part of a loving ritual.  Whether it is small talk, shop talk, deep talk, future talk, fun talk, sexy talk; be sure to make it happen often and don’t take it for granted.

Be clear about an end point and manage your expectations.  Knowing there is a set time when the two of you will be permanently back under the same roof gives each of you something to look forward to.   If possible, don’t string it along indefinitely.  Revisit and revise the agreement if the time frames change and be clear you both remain on board with the plan.

Schedule visits often.  This helps break up a large chunk of time into smaller, doable pieces.  Don’t let family and friends get in the way and make sure the time together isn’t full of obligations with others.  This is a time for the two of you to reconnect on an emotional and physical level.   Take a vacation together.

Trust each other.  Jealousy and drama can ruin a relationship – especially when you aren’t in close physical proximity.  Talk about your feelings and continue to manage the set of relationship standards you have mutually agreed upon.  Many times a lack of trust is more about low self-esteem than what you imagine could be going on.  If you’ve had a negative experience in the past about trust, be careful about lumping your partner into your past experiences.   Talk freely about your vulnerability and ask for reassurance in those times of loneliness.

Talk about your future together.   In doing this, you reinforce the ultimate goal of being together again and are reminded why you are choosing this temporary path.  Share your future goals.  Speak to the tangible payoffs and benefits of being together and remind one another the short term long distance is not in vain.

Reach out to your support systems to fill some of the free time.  Take the time to explore new hobbies, work out, volunteer.  Maintain your individuality and take the time to enjoy yourself.

Maintain common interests, even while apart.  Read a book at the same time and talk about it.  Share music.  Watch your favorite TV shows while on the phone.  Go to the movie at the same time and then call to share your experience.  Choose a game to play together over the Internet.  If you are going out with friends, call your partner and pass the phone around.  Let him feel a part of the event even if he is far away and let him experience it with you.  Film a video or take pictures to share about how you are spending your day.

All of these suggestions have a common theme – creating closeness while apart.

As Jim and I come to the end of a year of long distance love, our lives are about to change once again.  This time with a move back to Dallas, ironically, where we started our journey.  It will be wonderful to have our family back together again – to say good morning in the same room instead of on the phone, to cook a meal together, to not be a single parent to 3 beagles.

I will miss Madison incredibly.  Never have I lived in a more comfortable, welcoming city.  I will miss living in a part of the country with 4 seasons, the world’s largest Farmer’s Market, Concerts on the Square, Tex Tubbs Taco Palace, my clients, colleagues, neighbors and friends.  I will miss my involvement with Our Lives magazine and OPEN.  And, yes, I will especially miss the snow.


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