By Jo Piazza
I may be standing on top of a mountain in New Zealand, 7,000 miles away from my husband, but I don’t think we’ve ever been happier or felt more in love. When I FaceTime him we laugh and giggle like newlyweds.
My husband Nick and I are no strangers to a long-distance relationship; and through trial and error, we figured out how to make our long-distance relationship work. We met in the Galapagos when I lived in New York and he lived in California. We never even lived together until we got married. Even now, three years married with a one-year-old son, we’re in different parts of the world for work about a third of the time. The time apart, the distance, makes our relationship better. I like having the time to miss him, to remember why I wanted to be with him in the first place.
And I’m not alone. I hear success stories about long-distance relationships on a regular basis. Some of the happiest couples I know are in long-distance relationship some or all of the time. Most experts even think it’s really healthy for a relationship to begin when two people live in different places.
“When people meet and are infatuated with each other, it is generally thought that the initial surge of emotion lasts longer when the couple is separated,” says Dr. Phillip Lee and Dr. Diane Rudolph, the co-heads of Couples Therapy at Weill Cornell Medicine.
“Eventually there is a risk of decreasing affection, and for those who are beyond the infatuation phase, there is a greater risk in separation, but also a greater potential benefit,” says Lee.
The statistics on long-distance relationships are encouraging. According to a 2013 study from the Journal of Communication, approximately three million Americans live apart from their spouse at some point during their marriage, and 75% of college students have been in a long distance relationship at one time or another. Research has even shown that long distance couples tend to have the same or more satisfaction in their relationships than couples who are geographically close, and higher levels of dedication to their relationships and less feelings of being trapped.
“One of the greatest benefits is that you do a lot more talking and learning about each other, since you spend more time having conversations than you might if you were sitting side-by-side watching Netflix, or out running errands or doing activities together,” says Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist who specializes in relationships.
“There’s also the benefit of cultivating your own friendships and interests, so that you’re more interesting people and have more to bring to the relationship. You have more alone time than people who live in the same city do, so you’re very excited to see each other and really value the time you do spend together,” says Gottlieb.
Of course, long-distance relationship problems exist, but if two people are committed to making it work the outlook isn’t bleak. We talked to experts about how to overcome some of the hardships of loving from afar and for long-distance relationship tips.
Technology Is Your Best Friend
Gottlieb says that long-distance relationships are easier now than ever because we have so many ways to stay connected thanks to technology.
“A lot of the glue of a relationship is in the day-to-day minutia, and with technology, you can share that in real time, instantaneously, with photos, texts and FaceTime. That’s very different from letters or long-distance phone calls,” says Gottlieb. “Also, because people in long-distance relationships rely more heavily on technology to stay connected, in some ways tech allows them to communicate verbally even more than couples who see each other [often], but sit in the same room not interacting at all.”
Gottlieb also advises that it’s important to share details with your partner instead of just generalizations. For example, don’t just say, “I went to this dinner and had a great time.” Instead, really delve into the details. Talk about who was there, what you talked about, what you ate and how it made you feel. It will make the everyday come alive for your partner even though they weren’t there to witness it.
Be Committed to the Relationship
This applies to everyone involved in long-distance relationships, but is particularly true for people pursuing long-distance relationships in college. It’s important to know that you’re truly committed to a person before wasting precious time. “If you’re in college, really truly think about if you love this person, and if they’re worth foregoing being single in college,” says Bela Gandhi, the founder of Smart Dating Academy. The importance of being single in college, according to Gandhi, is that you get to experiment and test the waters to determine what you really want and need in a relationship. “I see so many people that just go through the motions of a long-distance [relationship] and fritter away their college years.”
If you choose to stay in a long-distance relationship in college it’s imperative that you have a plan for what happens next and that you both work towards that goal. That’s another reason that Gandhi says going long distance in college can be hard. It’s daunting to have to plan your future around another person when you hardly know what your own future holds.
After surviving four years apart try your best to end the distance after college. “Ideally, you both end up working in the same city after graduation,” says Gandhi. “Long-distance relationships that are going to stand the test of time need a plan to end the distance at some point.”
Set An End Date
While long-distance love can be a great thing for a finite time, eventually you probably want to be in the same place as your partner. It helps both parties to know when that will happen. “It’s hard being apart, so you both have to be equally committed to the relationship and be on the same page about how long this situation will last, and what the plan is for eventually living in the same place,” says Gottlieb.
Do Stuff Together Even Though You’re Apart
Just because you aren’t physically in the same place doesn’t mean you can’t have fun together. “Plan a movie night together via Skype where you can watch the same movie even when you’re in different places,” suggests Gandhi.
Netflix, or other streaming services, makes it easier than ever to binge-watch shows with your partner. Gandhi also recommends doing online quizzes or games together, and discussing the results to spark new and interesting conversations.
Make Fun Plans
Delight in the details of what the two of you will do the next time you see each other. “Plan your next weekend together. Make it a ritual to talk about the fun things you’ll do together. Maybe you can decide that every night you’re together, you’ll try new restaurants instead of going to the same places,” says Gandhi. This will create something that both partners can look forward to.
Gandhi also suggests scheduling “good night video calls” when you’re both your PJs in order to create a sense of going to bed together.
Be Confident in Your Relationship
According to both Lee and Rudolph, insecurity can lead to one partner checking in on the other one too often. This can result in excessive calls and texts being sent for the wrong reasons, and can lead to unnecessary tension.
“The constructive reason couples communicate is to provide their partners with a sense of their lives and what’s important to them. When the communication is hijacked by insecurity, the anxious partner will not be reassured, and the other partner will be turned off by the constant checking [in],” warn Lee and Rudolph. “The frequency of interaction in couples separated by distance needs to correlate to the same parameters of interaction when both are at home. It needs to be at a level agreeable to both parties.”
Stick to a Schedule
Timing matters, especially when your time together is precious. To keep long-distance relationships going you need to actually see one another, know when you’re going to see each other and be able to trust that the other person will stick to that plan.
“You don’t want to go long periods of time without seeing each other,” says Gottlieb.
Set Clear Rules and Boundaries
Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want the other person to see on social media, advise Lee and Rudolph.
Gandhi adds that you should do you best to stay out of situations that might make your long-distance partner feel uncomfortable or threatened — within reason. You don’t need to check in before or get approval for every social interaction with your partner, but you should set clear boundaries and rules that work for the both of you and adhere to them.