Couples under stress will either grow together, or grow apart. Dr. Lisa shares the small “make or break moments” that will strengthen your relationship… or damage it. Learn what you can do — today — to cultivate the healthy, happy, connected relationship you want and deserve.
Long Distance Relationships
Is a Long Distance Relationship Right for You?
As an online couples counselor, I get to work with couples who find themselves in long distance relationships due to a number of different reasons. Whether they meet online, move for work, or travel frequently without their partner – they find themselves in circumstances regular, in-person relationships just don’t experience. Long distance relationships are not for everyone. They take a lot of work and time to maintain something that isn’t right at your fingertips. And while long distance relationships are not ideal for many couples, many partners find themselves in this situation, why?
Today I want to talk about why long distance relationships are growing in popularity, what you can do to nourish and grow a long distance relationship if you find yourself in one, how to get past difficult and uncomfortable experiences in long distance relationships, and how to know if being in a long distance relationship is a good idea for you or not.
What’s the Deal with Long Distance Relationships?
Why do people put themselves and their relationship through long distance? Simply put, because love is stronger than distance! When we find someone special that we connect with we do what we have to do to keep that person in our life. As most of us know, love is hard to find and when you find it, it becomes worth fighting and sacrificing for.
Though long distance relationships are hard, they can still provide an ear to listen when we’ve had a rough day or a loving text to remind us that we have someone in our life that cares. Especially right now, we are seeing an uptick in long distance relationships due to the nature of the pandemic and the changing circumstances surrounding jobs, home, and family.
The growing popularity around long distance relationships, especially among millennials has a lot to do with the nature of the world we are currently living in. Where our parents may have had more of an opportunity to settle down and fit more into “the dream,” many U.S. American millennials are struggling with school loans, the cost of living and the housing market, finding stable, reliable work, and ultimately meeting others in their area with similar drive, interests, and lifestyle goals.
Having the opportunity to engage in a long distance relationship with someone whose values align with yours, and being able to foster this relationship through technology while still maintaining a level of “independence” is very attractive to a lot of younger couples.
Unintentional vs. Intentional Long Distance Relationships
For some couples, they started out as an in-person relationship and then had to shift to long distance relationships unintentionally. There are many reasons why couples may engage in a new long distance relationship or continue their partnership long distanced. Some include, meeting online or while traveling, one partner having to move due to work or family obligations, or being in a partnership with someone who travels frequently (whether for work or pleasure) but your work or living situation doesn’t allow the same lifestyle.
I certainly can speak to this as I found myself in an unintentional long distance relationship and the reality is sometimes long distance relationships just happen! When you care about someone and have a connection you don’t want to let that go. You treasure the moments you have together and you find ways to make it work.
When people are intentionally creating distance between them it may be because of a separation in which the couple needs time apart from one another. This can be helpful for couples to gain perspective or clarity on their thoughts and feelings regarding the relationship. If this is occurring it may be a great time to explore individual or online couples counseling or coaching.
I met a couple that had been in a long distance relationship for over 15 years and loved it. They got to be independent, got to travel regularly and still spent about half their time together. Obviously this dynamic won’t work for many of us, but with the right resources, a long distance relationship could even be fun!
Before we sought help from you, I was at a point in my relationship that I had really given up on hope... you have changed our lives.
What to Know Before Getting Involved in a Long Distance Relationship
If you’re considering embarking in a relationship with someone who is long distance, there are important things to think about before you get too emotionally involved. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself:
Do you realistically have time and energy to devote to this relationship?
Relationships in general require time and attention, but especially long distance ones because communication is so key. Can you set aside time regularly to talk to your partner? Or are you too tired at the end of each workday to be able to communicate? If so, a LDR might not be a great fit for you.
Are you comfortable talking on the phone/video chatting?
Some people hate talking on the phone and only feel that they can connect with someone in person. Some people don’t have great communication skills and have trouble “going deep” beyond surface level topics. If that’s the case you might want to ask yourself if a LDR will be too draining or tedious to try to keep up.
Are you willing to set boundaries and follow “ground rules” that you establish together?
It’s always important to be on the same page in a relationship, so it’s helpful to talk through expectations and boundaries together. Getting on the same page is essential to the success of a long distance relationship.
How to Make Ground Rules for Long Distance Relationships
- Take some time to individually write down your must-haves and deal-breakers when it comes to being long distance. Be specific and reasonable! What do you want your partner to do and what boundaries or guidelines need to be in place to avoid hurting or upsetting one another through unrealistic expectations? What will friendships look like with people of the gender(s) you and your partner are attracted to? How often will you talk? What are your expectations and what do you want to avoid?
- Discuss your lists together. Ask each other questions. Get clarity on anything that confuses you. Talk about what is reasonable and what is not because you might not agree on everything. Where are you willing to compromise? If you come to a stalemate on the “rules” it may be time to seek out some relationship coaching.
- Have a plan for how you’re going to discuss and come to a resolution if “ground rules” are broken. If you agree on rules, but one or both of you aren’t following them, discuss what you’ll do and how you’ll move forward.
Having these ground rules from the beginning will help set expectations, create healthy boundaries, and provide accountability in your partnership.
Rewards of a Long Distance Relationship
LDRs allow us to connect with a person on a deeper level beyond just physical connection. When all we have is communication to be able to connect with our partner, we can learn so much more about their interests, desires, goals, and past. Studies have actually shown there are equal or even higher rates of satisfaction, commitment, and trust in LDRs compared to close geographical relationships. We also know that 60% of LDR couples stay together, which means that the majority of LDRs are successful and have a happy ending to their story.
Not seeing each other often usually means when you do see each other the time you spend becomes special. In my LDR whenever my partner came to town we would go to restaurants I had never gone to and attend fun events I wouldn’t have attended if he hadn’t come to town. I got to explore my own city more because it was like a vacation for my partner. And likewise, since my partner lived in my hometown seeing him meant that I got to see my family and friends more than if I wouldn’t have been dating him.
I think the most important reason for being in a LDR is that you get to continue a relationship with someone that you want to be in a relationship with. You get to have an important person in your life and get to continue to explore and deepen your connection. Long distance is one of the most difficult tests on a relationship that a couple can experience and if you can make it through to the other side, it’s proof of how strong your relationship really is and how you can handle practically anything together as a united team.
Challenges of a Long Distance Relationship
Part of the reason we prefer physically close relationships is because when we hug, kiss, or are intimate with our partner it releases a hormone called oxytocin (also known as the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone”). Oxytocin reduces stress and causes us to feel all warm and fuzzy inside so it makes sense why we like it when oxytocin is released. When we’re not able to be near our partner it makes it that much harder for us to get oxytocin, so there’s actually reasons in our body that make LDRs tough.
Another reason long distance relationships are hard is because of jealousy. Jealousy can creep up in any relationship, but when other people get to spend time with and be around your partner regularly and you can’t, it’s easy for those feelings to arise. Managing feelings of jealousy can be difficult.
Sometimes it can be hard to have serious talks in a LDR because you might not get a lot of time together, so when you do get to talk you don’t want to feel like you’re being a downer or rocking the boat. It’s not uncommon to avoid certain difficult topics because you don’t want to start a fight or cause your partner to feel unhappy. But remember… though bringing up grievances constantly can put a strain on a relationship, it’s crucial to talk about your thoughts and feelings about the relationship because you don’t have physical cues and facial expressions to read your partner like you would be able to do in person.
In LDRs it can be easier to drift away because unlike living with your partner, you have to put effort and planning into talking to them. So having regular conversations about how the relationship is going helps to be on the same page.
A huge challenge of a LDR can be when you don’t know when you’ll see each other next or when the long distance will end. It’s okay to not have it all figured out and a lot of people don’t. Not knowing what the future holds can cause us feelings of stress or anxiety. It can bring up insecurity and very vulnerable feelings, maybe we didn’t even know we had. But just remember more LDRs last than don’t. For most couples there is a light at the end of the tunnel!
Advice for Mitigating through Challenges in a Long Distance Relationship
Long distance relationships are hard. There’s no easy way to say it. Not being able to be around your partner physically becomes emotionally painful over time so it’s important to remind yourself that there may be times that are gut-wrenching and agonizing where all you want is to be able to hold your partner and that’s okay! Make sure you take care of yourself… have someone to talk to, practice self-care regularly, have hobbies and fun activities to keep you active. Make sure you have things outside of the relationship that bring you happiness and joy.
Sometimes it can be a good idea to keep a list of what you love most about and are grateful for in your partner when times get tough. We all need reminders sometimes about why making sacrifices for our relationship is worth it.
Also, don’t forget to talk to each other about how you individually feel cared about and loved (such as love languages) and try to show your partner as often as possible. Make your partner a gift, text them and tell them what you love about them, buy them a delivery meal when they’re having a busy day, set up a video chat and watch a movie together.
Try to schedule date nights together and don’t be afraid to have weekly check-ins about your relationship just to make sure you’re on the same page. But don’t forget to have fun too! Send each other jokes or funny videos, talk about good times you’ve had together, or watch something funny together. Just because you’re in different places doesn’t mean you can’t share a good laugh.
Ultimately, you have to figure out what works best for you as a couple. Usually what helps couples connect is being able to share in the details of life so don’t be afraid to share aspects of your everyday life with your partner and make sure to listen and ask questions when your partner shares their day with you. Likewise, feel free to ask questions and talk about bigger topics as well, such as the news, what your goals/hopes/dreams are, or hypotheticals like what you’d do if you won the lottery. Having a range in conversation topics can help keep conversations interesting.
Long Distance Relationship Couples Counseling
It might be a good idea to seek online couples counseling if your LDR starts to feel bad more often than it feels good or if you can’t agree on what you want the relationship to look like. If you’re not talking regularly or if when you do talk you’re fighting, it might be time to seek outside guidance. There is no shame in having ups and downs in a LDR and if you are, know that you are not alone. Counseling can provide guidance on how to navigate the path forward and allows you to discuss your thoughts and feelings with your partner in a safe and supportive environment. Therapists can help you develop healthy communication habits and talk through the issues that you get stuck on.
Another reason to think about seeking counseling is if the distance is going to end. 37% of LDR end within 3 months of the couple becoming geographically close (same article from above) so it may be wise to consider getting some outside guidance to help with the transition of becoming closer physically. There is a lot of independence allowed in a LDR and sometimes coming together feels like a loss of that independence or the life that you’ve created on your own. Most people expect to feel elated now that they’re with their partner and feel immense disappointment when being together feels different than how they imagined. Counseling can help a couple find the middle ground and acceptance around the big life changes that are happening.
Jenna Peterson, M.A., MFTC is a supportive marriage counselor, couples therapist, individual therapist and life coach with a friendly, light style and a great sense of humor. She uses effective, evidence-based techniques to help you achieve your most important goals for your life and your relationships. Jenna works with Long Distanced couples online to help build foundational skills, work through challenges, and strength partnerships.
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