Do Long Distance Relationships Work?

The short and fairly obvious answer to this question is: Yes, they can; but there are lots of potential traps and pitfalls.

What is a Long Distance Relationship?

A long-distance relationship typically means living far enough apart that the couple maintains separate residences. The frequency that long-distance couples are able to see each other can vary a great deal. Some may be able to meet every weekend, while others may have to wait much longer – even up to a few months per visit. Financial resources and distance apart are often the key factors that determine this frequency.

Why Do They Happen in the First Place?

Long-distance relationships are generally caused by career, employment, or school choices when a couple decides that one partner’s opportunity should be pursued despite the geographic challenges it can cause in their relationship. Sometimes pressing family matters, such as caregiving, an illness, or death, can also create long-distance relationships. However, these normally don’t last an extended amount of time.

In general, the longer a relationship has been in place, the better the chance of having a successful long-distance relationship. A couple’s level of commitment is key.

Helpful Hints to Make Long Distance Relationships Work:

  1. Make sure you have a plan: How long will this go on? Is there an end point? What is the understanding of each partner?
  2. Ensure there is clear communication: What are the goals of the relationship? Are expectations the same? What are the parameters of the relationship and what is the plan for the future?
  3. Both partners must prioritize their relationship, and agree on the quality of other relationships. How do opposite sex friendships fit in? Trust issues can quickly doom a long-distance relationship.
  4. Regular communication (calls, texts, email, and Skype) is essential! In addition, plan on “doing things together while apart.” This might include watching the same television show or movie, reading the same books, or engaging in any shared activity simultaneously (that can be done long distance) and discuss it afterward.
  5. There has to be an understanding about the frequency of in-person visits. It can be costly and time consuming, but visits need to be regular and planned. Anticipation of being together can greatly enhance the relationship!
  6. Share with each other your “local life,” your day-to-day world. Keep each other up to date about what’s happening with your work and fellow cohorts, talk about your daily routine, and share something funny that happened. It’s the little things that often help you feel and stay connected.

A major pitfall for couples who stop sharing with one another is that they start becoming gradually more and more disconnected. Sometimes, this disconnection can lead to trust issues and a weakening commitment, which are both recipes for trouble. Instead of breaking up, some couples choose to stay together, while living separately. This allows them to avoid the painful emotional fallout of a permanent breakup. Other couples avoid ending their long-distance relationship simply for convenience or financial reasons.

Ideally, couples should have a game plan before one partner’s career, school, or family changes necessitate embarking on a long-distance relationship. If you’re not feeling comfortable before you begin living apart, there’s a good chance you’ll experience some rough seas ahead while navigating the above long-distance relationship challenges. Therefore, if either partner has some uncertainty or discomfort, it’s a wise idea to get some counseling to help put a plan in place before you actually make separate residential arrangements. A skilled therapist can address all of these issues, help you prepare for potential problems ahead, and ease the transition toward living in a healthy long-distance relationship.

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