Abby Van Egdom, MA, LMFTA
Long Distance Relationships
Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Long distance sucks.
Long distance actually really sucks. There are many reasons why couples can find themselves in a long distance relationship, such as starting that way, adjusting to life changes (job relocation, school, deployment, etc.), or sudden crises like the current pandemic. With the barriers due to COVID-19, I have had more conversations about long distance relationships - even if just separate homes in the same city.
It suddenly took me back to the pain of my now husband and I dating for four years while in a long distance relationship. Once someone moves through a difficult time, the individual may no longer fully remember those difficulties. The selective remembrance is protective.
The overwhelming joy and excitement of seeing each other again. Actually being able to hold them and touch them. Soaking up every moment and memory together. Both of you not wanting to acknowledge that the unspoken time is approaching. The day arrives, battling wanting to continue to enjoy the last few hours while holding the creeping realization that we are about to say goodbye. You may be going back to reality and may be returning to the where the two of you made memories.
While reflecting on my personal experience and conversations from clients, I have put together a list of heartbreaks from being apart, how some couples make it work, and possible benefits from having a long distance relationship. This may provide validation for other couples out there who are currently in a long distance relationship, those trying to understand what it is like for their loved one, or someone trying to decide if a long distance relationship is worth it for them.
Long distance tests you personally & your relationship
Continual heartbreak when you wake up on the day you have to separate
Looking at each other on the screen, but not being able to have physical connection
Jealousy and resentment may creep in
Withdrawing (a little or a lot) from social life to prioritize time with partner or your support network unaware of how to support you
Feelings of anger, unfairness, sadness, fear, loneliness, etc.
Not being able to physically comfort or care for your partner
Hearing “I just miss you so much. This is so hard.” - It is difficult not to feel responsible. You can’t fix that. You are both in this together.
Awkwardness or tension when you are finally together after all the built up excitement or expectations
Making it work
Scheduling regular video chats or phone calls
Doing an activity together - watch a tv show/movie/video or listen to a podcast at the same time, play games, book club, go on walks, online shopping, cooking the same recipe, relationship questions, relationship workbooks, etc.
Connecting a few times throughout the day to mesh your two worlds - sending pictures, texts, short videos
Sharing your expectations for what time apart looks like
Spicing it up - sexting, etc.
Having a tangible item that reminds you of each other
Committing to the next time you will see each other before you leave so you can count down
Being honest - trust is essential
Being open and vulnerable - this is a difficult experience for both of you
Connecting with yourself and what brings you joy and fulfillment (ex. friends, hobbies, routine, etc).
Shifting your perspective & focusing on the growth, opportunity, and positives
Having an end goal in mind & dream together
Meeting with a therapist to have a safe space to explore your feelings, thoughts, and fears (individual or couples therapy)
Embracing the ways that distance “can make the heart grow fonder”
Talking about all of the important topics - What else can you two do other than talk? What do you have to lose?
Identifying and letting go of conflict faster - When you only have a few days together, you learn that snapping at each other or disagreeing is not worth the tension
Learning how to support your partner and identifying your needs
Committing to the relationship - You are choosing this person each and every day when physically together or apart
Being intentional about your connection & time
Being curious about the other person’s world
Dreaming together & setting goals for your future
I didn’t know another couple who were in a long distance relationship and made it work. We just wanted to be a “normal” couple. There really is no “normal” couple. Our relationship is unique and so is yours. Another truth is you are not alone. It truly is hard to remember when you look around and see all the couples together. Plenty of couples have experienced long distance in some form out there and are ready to support and encourage you through this time.
Let me be clear though. Long distance is hard. Your relationship is unique and not every idea that “worked” for others will work for you. This is your relationship and you two know it best. Take notice of what provides comfort and what creates strain. Listen and recalibrate.
My hope for you is that you hold the desire to never say goodbye again (only goodnight) AND gratitude for the growth & strength from long distance.