Navigating the Long-Distance Relationship I Never Asked For
As I write this, my eyes are swollen from a night full of crying. My head feels fuzzy and there’s an ache in my chest that is painful to say the very least. Last night, my girlfriend and I tried to enjoy what would be our last time sleeping in the same bed for over four months. This week, she’ll be setting off for a study abroad program and while I’m trying my very best to be supportive, I can’t help but feel the weight of all this time we’ll be spending apart bearing down on me.
While I tried to put on my best poker face and simply enjoy the few remaining hours I had with her, it wasn’t long before we were both breaking down in sobs. My girlfriend and I have been dating for just over two years now and in those two years, we’ve never been more than an hour and a half apart. Since the day we met, it was a rare occurrence for us not to see each other at least once a week.
This previous year, my girlfriend’s junior year of college, she spent every day with me, commuting to school each morning and returning to me each night. We found ourselves comfortably used to falling asleep next to each other every night and waking up to each other every morning.
When my girlfriend first told me she’d be spending a semester abroad, I felt a mix of emotions. I wanted to be happy for her. I wanted to feel nothing but a sense of pride in the fact that my girlfriend was going to be exposed to so many great opportunities. I wanted to hug her, tell her how proud I was of her, and leave it at that. But I found myself struggling with the idea.
I’ve always been the kind of person that said I’d never even try to make a long-distance relationship work. While I was well aware that there are many people out there who are making long-distance relationships work, I knew myself and I knew what I needed out of a relationship. I needed to be in the presence of my significant other at least fairly regularly.
Regardless of every promise I’ve ever made myself that I’d never subject myself to a long-distance relationship, I love my girlfriend. I’ve never loved someone more. When I thought about this, I knew there was no other option but to support her through this, to make it work, and to hang in for the long haul despite my fears.
Today is Day One of my long-distance relationship and I want to start things off right by formulating a gameplan. I want to take it upon myself to think this all out, to push on despite the emptiness in my chest, to rise above my fears of the situation. In doing so, I plan to make this long-distance relationship work. I plan to do everything possible to make this an experience that strengthens my relationship with my girlfriend rather than tear it apart with each passing day.
If you are navigating a long-distance relationship right now, I want to share the ways I’ll be working to overcome the struggle with you. It is my hope that you’ll utilize these strategies during your own experience, making your long-distance relationship a time full of genuine love, happiness, and even good memories.
Those of us who find ourselves in a long-distance relationship, whether purposely or by accident, tend to fall into the pits of depression. We tend to find ourselves wishing our life away because we’re constantly looking ahead to the day where the distance is closed.
Rather than allowing myself to get wrapped up in the distance, I want to enjoy each day of the relationship that I have- whether she’s right next to me or not. Here are a few ways to stop focusing on the distance so that you can start embracing your long-distance relationship.
Dedicate Yourself to the Work and Demand the Same Effort in Return
While I’m only on Day One of my first long-distance relationship, I’m already well aware of the fact that this new aspect of my relationship is going to take a heaping dose of three things: commitment, hard work, and sacrifice.
Last night as my girlfriend and I struggled to speak through our tears, I made her a personal promise. I told her that I would give my all to making this work. I told her that even on the days that were difficult, I would be committed to seeing this through.
In order for your long-distance relationship to be a success, there may be weekends where you and your significant other will have to sacrifice going out with friends in order to travel to see each other. You may find that you have to skip out on eating out or avoid buying an extra cup of coffee so you can save up more money for the trip.
As you navigate your long-distance relationship, it’s important that you are honest with yourself. Are you committed to making the necessary sacrifices and pushing forward on the hard days? If so, you’ve already made a huge accomplishment when it comes to taking on your long-distance relationship.
While it is important that you dedicate yourself to making your relationship work despite the distance, it is equally important that your partner is willing to put in the necessary work as well. If it ever comes to a point where you or your partner feels that one person isn’t putting in as much effort as the other, it is crucial that the other person is made aware of this. It’s also important that each of you recognize when the other person makes a sacrifice and that you thank them for it.
When you and your partner are willing to work together as a team in order to support each other, you will have laid the foundation for a long-distance relationship that can work.
Give Yourselves Something to Look Forward To
One thing I have made clear to my girlfriend in the weeks leading up to the start of our long-distance relationship is that I will feel better supported and more optimistic about this time if we set short-term goals.
Considering the fact that I have always been the type of person that is genuinely happier when I have things to look forward to, I knew short-term goals would be key in motivating me to keep pushing forward. For this reason, we made a pact to visit each other at least every three weeks while she’s gone. By setting this goal, I know that I will see her again and that our time apart will be broken up by visits that I can look forward to and be excited for.
By setting short-term goals and even long-term goals if you and your significant other will be long-distance for a longer amount of time than my girlfriend and I, you can place a figurative light at the end of the tunnel. No matter how bleak everything may seem from one day to the next, short and long-term goals act as a motivating factor. Considering the day to day stresses of life are significant even outside of the further stress brought on by a long-distance relationship, short and long-term goals can provide great relief.
Schedule a Time of Undivided Attention for Each Other
Life can get really busy, especially if you and your significant other are living in different timezones (something I’m absolutely grateful isn’t the case for my girlfriend and I). For this reason, setting a clear and scheduled time for you and your significant other to have plenty of time to catch up is vital.
Prioritize the times when you and your partner can communicate uninterrupted. Schedule in times to talk and stick to those dates as strictly as you would if the two of you had planned an in-person date. Let’s not forget Skype and FaceTime! Never has it been easier to see your loved one’s face and hear their voice than now. Even just taking some time to text back and forth continuously for, say, 30 minutes, can do a lot for you and your partner’s feelings of connectivity.
If you and your partner are anything like my girlfriend and I, it’s likely that you can pick up on their feelings in a way that isn’t dissimilar from spidey-sense. This is important because even as crucial as it is that you and your partner keep scheduled times to speak to each other, it is equally important that you pay attention to the way they’re communicating with you during these sessions.
Due to the fact that your time spent talking with your significant other is so precious and limited, you will want to do your best to ensure that as much of your interactions are positive as possible. Although couples fight and there’s bound to be hard times filled with disagreements or insecurity, keep in mind how precious the time to speak with your partner is. If your partner were to say something that annoys you, keep in mind that you don’t have the luxury of just cuddling it out or getting over it with a more intimate face-to-face conversation.
Rather than unleashing all of your anger and frustration on your partner, saying hurtful things that you’re likely to regret later, sometimes it’s a good idea to take some time and write your thoughts down. Write down everything that’s frustrating you in that moment and maybe even sleep on it. You may find that, upon waking the next morning, you aren’t nearly as angry or frustrated and this will allow you to communicate much more effectively.
Think Outside of the Long-Distance Bubble
Now that my relationship can be classified as a long-distance relationship, I’ve found myself falling into what I call “the long-distance bubble”. All day, all I can even think about wanting to do is talk to my girlfriend. When she doesn’t reply to my text as quickly as I might like, I feel myself beginning to feel low. Rather than getting up and doing something productive or working on a piece of writing, I find myself waiting by my phone for her to answer. I crave her attention.
Whenever my girlfriend and I have been apart for some extended period in the past, any argument that ever arose between us would make me want to wallow in sadness and this would affect my mood for the rest of the day. This would then lead to a feeling of guilt that I had “wasted” my day lying around feeling sorry for myself rather than living my life to the fullest. This is, yet again, another example of “living in the long-distance bubble”.
While communication is thoroughly important when it comes to a successful long-distance relationship, it’s equally important that you and your partner learn to live your lives apart. Otherwise, feelings of resentment could surface when you or your partner feel as though the other person is holding them back from living their best day to day life.
Just as it is important to schedule one-on-one time between you and your partner, it is crucial that you schedule time to do things that you want to do without your partner. This could be anything from pursuing a hobby you personally enjoy to spending time with friends or even working on a project! I’ve found that one of the best ways for me to break free of the “long-distance bubble” is to sit down and write. In fact, that’s what led me to write this particular post.
Regardless of what you choose to do outside of your time with your partner, it is important that you remind yourself how meaningful your life is outside of your relationship. Feeling fulfilled outside of your relationship makes you a happier person and this, in turn, makes you a better partner as well! Don’t let yourself become entrapped in the “long-distance bubble”!
Keep the Trust Strong
One of the biggest signs of a healthy relationship, whether it’s long-distance or not, is trust. It’s particularly easy to get paranoid and allow yourself to fall victim to FOMO about what your partner is doing when you’re not there. It’s even easier to allow these feelings in when they haven’t responded to your text. Regardless, the more that you obsess over that, the more toxic your relationship will become and the more you will find the trust you have built in your relationship eroding.
The last time that my girlfriend and I were away from each other for an extended period of time, she had left for a school trip to the Bahamas. As hard as I tried not to let my mind run wild, I found myself starting to get really paranoid. I would rarely hear from my girlfriend all day and, at night, I knew she had free time available to talk to me. But she didn’t. Instead, she’d text me to let me know that she and a group of students were going to a local bar for drinks. I wouldn’t hear from her all night. The bad thoughts starting rushing in like a tidal wave. She doesn’t miss you. She’s having more fun without you. She likes the people she’s with more than you. Maybe she’s even met someone that she’s interested in. Alcohol can cause a lot of bad things to happen.
These thoughts started to consume me. I found myself getting angry. When I spoke to my girlfriend about how I was feeling, I lashed out in anger rather than simply explaining the way I was feeling. We got into one of the biggest arguments that we’ve ever had in our two years together and she accused me of not trusting her. And could you really blame her for feeling that way? No. Worse still, my behavior pushed her away and she began to purposely ignore my texts for the remainder of the trip as she would later admit to me.
The way that I acted in this scenario is a great example of what not to do when navigating your own long-distance relationship. While it’s likely that feelings of paranoia will surface in one form or another from time to time, it’s important that you remember the trust that you and your partner have in each other. When the bad thoughts start creeping in, ask yourself if they are based in any fact. In most cases, you’re likely to find that they aren’t.
When navigating your long-distance relationship, you have to express your concerns to your partner in a civilized and compassionate way. After you’ve done that, all that’s left to do is trust your partner and trust that they have your relationship’s best interests in mind. If you find that you can’t possibly trust your partner, it’s time to reevaluate the relationship and ask yourself whether it’s worth continuing. Trust is key.
Learn to Enjoy Your Independence
In any relationship, both parties should be able and willing to find happiness outside of each other and to be their own person. While it’s a popular cliche that your partner should make you “whole”, you should be whole on your own and this can be done by cultivating your own identity and sense of self-dependence.
While it can be easy to fall into a pattern of spending every single night on the phone for hours with your partner, this isn’t something that is particularly sustainable. Take it upon yourself to go out, meet up with friends, and even make new ones. Otherwise, you will eventually become miserable.
While the current times we find ourselves in make socializing challenging, there are still plenty of ways that you can foster a human connection with others. I recently read an article entitled You Can Still Make New Friends During the Pandemic. Here’s How and found lots of great tips regarding ways to make friends while social-distancing. It is possible!
Don’t use the coronavirus as an excuse to remain dependent on your partner. These are lonely times we’re living in but there are ways to maintain a social life and even learn to enjoy your independence outside of your long-distance partner. Think of this time as a learning experience and opportunity rather than a terrible period of time in your life. Your own sense of independence is important and the healthiest long-distance relationship is one that fosters a sense of independence in both partners.
But Don’t Forget to Support Your Significant Other
A long-distance relationship is all about finding that perfect balance. For this reason, as vital as it is to foster your own sense of independence, it is equally important to continue to support your partner. Decades of research indicate that the most satisfying relationships are those in which each partner is able to successfully respond to the other’s emotional calls. Emotional calls can be defined as the many tiny attempts to connect with each other. At the root of every emotional call is one fundamental question: will you be there for me?
A long-distance relationship can sometimes make responding to the emotional calls of your partner a bit tricky. After all, you can’t show up physically for your partner or offer them a reassuring hug anytime they need it. However, that doesn’t mean that this crucial element found at the heart of a successful relationship is any less important.
Long-distance couples may even need to be more intentional about responding to each other’s attempts to connect. If you have scheduled a time to talk to your partner, you should make that call a priority. If your partner is having an important day, call or text them to see how it went and let them know you’re thinking of them and genuinely care. By making your partner’s needs a major concern, you’ll effectively demonstrate that you’re there for them regardless of the distance and your partner should be willing to do the same for you!
Don’t Forget Why You Chose to Be in This Relationship in the First Place
Finally, one of the best ways to navigate your long-distance relationship successfully is to constantly remind yourself why you agreed to be in this relationship in the first place. There are going to be very challenging days. There are going to be arguments. There are going to be days of sadness and loneliness. To get through these days, you have to remember why you chose to be in this relationship in the first place.
When I find myself getting sad and missing my girlfriend terribly, I like to go through my phone and look at all the videos and pictures we’ve taken together. In each of those, we’re smiling and laughing and the love between us is apparent.
When I start feeling like this four months is going to feel like four years, I think about all of the times I’ve struggled with my mental health and all the times I’ve felt like I’ll never get better and I’ve remembered how my girlfriend was there for me every time.
I love my girlfriend more than anything in the world and I would do anything in my power to make her happy. I want a long future with her and I want to be by her side for as long as possible. For all of those reasons, I’m going to put my all into making this long-distance relationship work.
Because I know the future ahead of us is well worth the wait.