If you’re in a long-distance relationship (LDR), you’ve probably wondered, “Is this worth it?” “Will this work out?” “What about the guy my best friend wants to set me up with who lives right down the street?”
Long-distance relationships, like close-proximity relationships, can be challenging, and they can cause doubts. But they can also be truly enjoyable and liberating.
I know, because I’ve had three long-distance relationships, including one with someone a four-hour drive away and another with someone on another continent.
I often get emails asking, “How do I make my long-distance relationship work? Do you have tips? Can you write an article about it?”
Below are five tips for making LDRs work so your relationship can keep the love and care you and your partner have for one another alive over the void of physical distance . . .
The Research on Long-Distance Relationships
Long-distance relationships are not inherently worse than close-proximity relationships because, just like close-proximity relationships, each partner’s individual characteristics and the way the partners collaborate (or don’t) determines the relationship’s quality.1
Here are some positive takeaways from the research:
- “Research suggests that LD romantic relationships are of equal or even more trust and satisfaction than their geographically close (GC) counterparts.”2
- Another research study with 870 individuals in LDRs found that partners in LDRs reported higher levels of dedication to their partners and lower levels of feeling constrained than individuals who lived closer to one another.3
- Like close-proximity relationships, long-distance relationships need to engage in behaviors that strengthen the relationship’s emotional bond.4
Essentially, research suggests that success in a LDR boils down to few key attributes: choosing to be emotionally invested in the relationship, cherishing one another, directly communicating, fostering opportunities for in-person contact without a screen between you, and, at some point, removing the distance.
5 Tips for Making a Long-Distance Relationship Work
Focus on the Opportunities
The temporary distance between you and your partner doesn’t have to be all bad. As much as you’ll miss one another, it’s also an opportunity.
An opportunity to miss one another! To prioritize yourself! To focus on hobbies or friendships that you might not have fostered otherwise! All that “me time” can actually benefit the relationship.
Here are two ways to transform independence into intimacy in your relationship.
- Use your time apart to explore more of yourself and who you are. Then, take that new understanding of yourself and open up to your partner. For example, “I’m going to take a class on cooking because I always wanted to learn how to cook pasta from scratch. And then when you’re in town next month, I’ll cook for you!” This gives your partner an opportunity to see who you are becoming and helps them feel connected to what is going on in your life.
- When you get a promotion at work, are excited about something you see, or feel energized, you can redirect that energy toward your partner, not only by sharing the exciting news or event but also by transforming that energy into love for your partner. “I just got a huge promotion at work. I’m now doing [blank]. Isn’t that exciting? I love sharing these big things with you. You’re so special to me.”
These opportunities can be used to cultivate a deeper connection despite the distance.
Distance also offers opportunities to cherish the memories you’ve had together and the memories you will have in the future. If something sparks a special memory for you, capture that moment and share it with your partner.
These tips will help you keep perspective when the distance feels especially tough.
In today’s world, if you’re in a long-distance relationship, you’ve got to get on board with technology to help your relationship last.
Before the internet, couples may have sent handwritten letters to one another, waiting days or weeks for a response. Most modern couples aren’t doing that.
Instead, you can connect instantly with your partner, no matter where they are, using phones or computers. Below are five ways to embrace technology to cultivate connection:
- Sign-up for a relationship app together such as Lasting
- Plan a date night where you ask each other questions using the Gottman Card Deck App.
- Order your partner their favorite dessert via Uber Eats after they’ve had a hard day.
- Create a watch party and watch the same show together but in separate spaces. Feel free to keep your phone on so you can talk to each other during the show and see each other’s faces (if you like that).
- If you are curious about or enjoy sex toys, you can explore long-distance sex toys such as strokers and vibrator sex toy sets that connect to one another.
This doesn’t mean you need to be available at all times to connect with your partner; that’s not healthy. But if you and your partner can intentionally figure out a digital communication routine and stick to it, you’ll both be glad you did.
It is also important to offer some grace if your partner needs to reschedule or misses one of your routine connections. Make it okay to sometimes say no or change plans. This leaves room for more freedom to choose to connect rather than connecting out of obligation. Just sitting on the phone in silence out of obligation doesn’t strengthen a relationship. Note: If changing plans and not showing up for routine calls becomes a recurring pattern, then it’s important to talk about what is going on.
(Don’t miss this post about the Love Tank Theory and whether it’s the key to making a relationship last.)
Create Things to Look Forward To
Your long-distance relationship can work unless it stays distant forever. Make sure you and your partner set a clear end date for when the long-distance part of the relationship is going to end. If one partner, for example, has to move away for work temporarily, make sure they get a clear answer about when that will end and when they will be back.
This end date gives you both something to look forward to. It’s also a fun countdown you can share together as you anticipate connecting deeply with one another when you’re back together again.
In the meantime, you can also create things to look forward to during your visits. Whether it’s a weekend or a month together, try to fill your visits with quality time and things you’ll both be excited about.
When the physical distance ends in the relationship and you are closer, it will require an adjustment. Sometimes the distance leads to idealizing your partner, and when you move in together or start seeing each other more frequently, you may start to notice smaller things that are annoying.5 It’s important to reset your expectations and normalize healthy conflict as you renegotiate how to be with one another.
Communicate Insecurity to Strengthen Trust and Set Boundaries When Needed
A long-distance relationship also requires large amounts of trust and trustworthiness. If one partner is across the world, it might make them insecure to wake up to a social media post of their partner out partying until 4:00 a.m.
So, what do you do when you’re feeling insecure and your partner is not within physical reach?
Typically, there are three choices:
- Hide the insecurity and pretend like it isn’t there. Often, though, this suppression just ends up blowing up like Mentos in a Coke bottle over something minor, like your partner being three minutes late to a phone call. This can end up pushing your partner away, despite your intention of trying to keep them close (the emotional reasoning behind hiding your insecurity in the first place).
- Attempt to control your partner without sharing your insecurity. For example, you might say, “You can’t hang out until 3:00 a.m.,” stepping into parenting mode to soothe your own insecurities. This isn’t vulnerable and will actually cause your partner to feel controlled (surprise!).
- Share your insecurities in a vulnerable way. For example, “I saw you were out until 4:00 a.m. I love you and sometimes get scared that since I’m not there, you’ll fall in love with someone else.” Sharing your fears and worries can bring your partner closer to you, leading them to soothe your insecurity.
If needed, it can be helpful to set boundaries in the relationship, such as agreeing to not post (or do) things that would hurt the other person. Trust, as defined by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, is acting in ways that keep our partner’s heart in mind. 7
These boundaries will help you and your partner navigate what can be an emotionally tricky time for both of you without making it worse.
To learn more about the importance of trust, read Trust & Commitment: Why Every Happy Relationship Needs It
Check In Regularly
I don’t just mean texts that ask, “How’s your day going?” It’s also important for both of you to check in with one another on a deeper level. This allows both of you to address potential issues before they become bigger problems. It also opens up communication channels for deeper conversations.
Long-distance relationships can thrive if both partners act in trustworthy ways, share insecurities in a non-accusatory way, and embrace technology. Like close-proximity relationships, it is the choices each partner makes and how both partners work together that will ultimately determine the quality of the relationship.
Dedicated to Cultivating Secure Relationships (of any distance),
Did you learn a lot from this post? Here are three more to read next:
- 7 Enhancing Lovemaking Conversations for Couples
- 6 Steps to Becoming an Emotionally Available Lover
- An Intimate Conversation is like Traveling the World
- Emma Dargie, Karen L. Blair, Corrie Goldfinger & Caroline F. Pukall (2015). Go Long! Predictors of Positive Relationship Outcomes in Long-Distance Dating Relationships, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 41(2), 181–202, DOI: 10.1080/0092623X.2013.864367 ↩
- Crystal Jiang, L. and Hancock, J. T. (2013). Absence Makes the Communication Grow Fonder: Geographic Separation, Interpersonal Media, and Intimacy in Dating Relationships. Journal of Communication 63(3): 556–577. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12029 ↩
- Kelmer, G., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. and Markman, H. J. (2013). Relationship Quality, Commitment, and Stability in Long-Distance Relationships. Family Process, 52(2): 257–270. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545-5300.2012.01418.x ↩
- Jennifer M. Belus, Kimberly Z. Pentel, Matthew J. Cohen, Melanie S. Fischer & Donald H. Baucom (2019). Staying Connected: An Examination of Relationship Maintenance Behaviors in Long-Distance Relationships, Marriage & Family Review, 55(1), 78–98, DOI: 10.1080/01494929.2018.1458004 ↩
- Stafford, L., & Merolla, A. J. (2007). Idealization, reunions, and stability in long-distance dating relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24(1), 37–54. ↩
- Burgess Moser, M., Johnson, S. M., Dalgelish, T. L., Wiebe, S. A., & Tasca, G. (2017). The impact of blamer-softening on romantic attachment in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 44(4), 640–654. ↩
- Gottman, J., Gottman, J. S., Abrams, D., & Abrams, R. C. (2018). Eight dates: Essential conversations for a lifetime of live. Workman Publishing Co, Inc. ↩