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Should We Breakup?
As a couples therapist and relationship coach who provides services online, I frequently work with couples who find themselves in long-distance relationships. Long-distance relationships are more popular than ever these days, especially as more and more people are finding love through apps or websites that expand their pool of potential partners beyond their own towns and cities.
Lots of great articles and podcasts exist for people in long-distance relationships about how to improve their relationships or maintain their connections. However, today, I want to talk about a side of long-distance relationships that usually gets less attention–how to know when it’s time to let go, and how to move on once you’ve made that decision.
What’s The Real Problem–the Relationship Or The Distance?
When working with couples or individuals who are going through a hard time in their long-distance relationship, one of the most common questions I receive is whether the problems they are experiencing are just being caused by the distance or whether it’s the relationship itself that isn’t working.
In my experience, the answer to this question is most often that the challenges at hand are from a combination of the two. For example, I often meet with couples who experience some communication difficulties when they’re together that then are exacerbated into something larger when they are long distance.
In these kinds of situations, I recommend that couples work with an experienced couples therapist or relationship coach who can help them determine the root cause of their challenges and give them tools to help address them.
Here are a few of the questions that I usually walkthrough as I help my clients determine an answer to whether their challenges are being caused by being long distance or by deeper issues within the relationship:
- What is your relationship like when you are physically together?
- Have you been physically together for extended periods of time before?
- Have you been physically together when real-life stressors are present? (Or in other words, not just on vacation?)
- In thinking about your relationship’s challenging areas, what are those areas like when you are physically together?
A final point about this common question: If your relationship is likely to remain long-distance for months or years to come, differentiating between problems caused by the distance and problems caused by the relationship may not matter all that much.
When clients ask me this question in our work together, they’re often assuming that if the relationship is all good when they’re together and it’s really just the distance that’s causing difficulties, they can discount the problems caused by physical separation as somehow less real. However, if being long-distance is a standard part of your relationship, the problems that come along deserve serious consideration as you decide whether to continue in the relationship.
What If You Can’t Make A Long-Distance Relationship Work?
There are lots of valid reasons why partners might choose to end a relationship, and when it comes to couples who are long-distance, physical separation also often plays a role. While there are absolutely couples who are able to have healthy and happy long-distance relationships, not being able to consistently share physical space with your partner can be a legitimate challenge.
One reason for this is that being in a long-distance relationship requires more intentionality to help each partner feel loved and cherished. When you live with or in the same city as your significant other, it’s relatively easy to share little moments that build your connection, such as doing small acts of service for each other or holding hands as you talk about your day. In a long-distance relationship, it often takes more planning and forethought to show these small gestures of love, which means that it’s easier for them to fall to the wayside.
If you come to the conclusion that a long-distance relationship and the intentionality necessary to maintain it is not right for you, but still want to maintain your relationship with your partner, it may be worth exploring if you or your partner relocating to either live together or in the same city is a feasible option.
What Are Some Of The Signs That It’s Time To Let Go Of A Long Distance Relationship?
How to know when it’s time to let go of a relationship, regardless of whether it’s long-distance or not, is one of the most common questions that I get asked by my clients. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that no one knows your relationship like you do, and only you and your partner can make the final decision of when to end things. With that in mind, here are some of the signs specific to long-distance couples that I often discuss with my clients about when it may be time to consider letting go of your relationship:
- You realize that you or your partner has needs that are too difficult to meet when you are long-distance, and these unmet needs are leading to resentment.
- You or your partner don’t have the energy or time to exercise the intentionality that’s necessary to have a healthy and thriving long-distance relationship.
- You don’t want to be long-distance anymore, but there is no feasible way for you and your partner to live together or in the same city in the near future.
What Is The Best Way To Initiate A Long-Distance Breakup?
Just like with all breakups, showing your partner respect is a key part of ending your long-distance relationship. Here are a few things that are helpful to consider when trying to figure out the best way to break up with your long-distance partner:
The Medium. A good rule of thumb when breaking up with your partner is to choose a medium as close as possible to speaking in person, like a video chat or a phone call. Because long-distance relationships often rely a lot on text messaging or email as a means of communication, it can be tempting to break up through these means of communication as well, especially if you’re a person who hates conflict. Resist that urge!
Unless there were extenuating circumstances in the relationship that could endanger your emotional safety during a phone or video conversation (like emotional abuse or gaslighting), it’s always better to go with a phone or video call if possible.
The Timing. Another important factor to consider when initiating a breakup with your long-distance partner is timing. Ideally, try to choose a time when you know they won’t be busy, like in the middle of their workday, or preoccupied, like right before an interview or large presentation.
A Head’s Up. It can be helpful to your partner (and help get the ball rolling in the actual breakup conversation) if you give them a head’s up about having something important to talk about with them when you schedule a time for your phone or video conversation.
There’s no need to go into too much detail (after all, you don’t want to do the actual breaking up here), but simply letting them know that when you have this conversation, there’s something important you need to talk with them about regarding the relationship will give them some time to mentally prepare for what’s to come.
How Can I Begin To Heal From The End Of My Long-Distance Relationship?
In my work as a breakup recovery therapist and coach, one of the ways that I have seen a long-distance breakup be different from typical breakups is that, at first, your life may not seem to change all that much.
In a typical relationship, a breakup often involves moving out from the living space you share with your partner or finding new things to do during your evenings and weekends. However, when your long-distance relationship ends, your living space will usually not change, and your day-to-day life will likely remain largely the same, minus some messages and calls from your ex.
Because long-distance breakups tend to change people’s daily lives less dramatically, it may take longer for the reality of your breakup and the typical grieving process to set in. Once it does, however, healing from the end of your relationship is much like healing from the end of any relationship. Grieving your relationship, experiencing a range of emotions, and eventually, growth, are all normal and to be expected. To learn about the stages of a breakup in more detail, I recommend checking out Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby’s podcast episode specifically on this topic: Long Distance Relationship Questions.
As you heal from the end of your relationship, should you feel that additional support beyond what your friends and family can provide would be helpful, I would also recommend meeting with a therapist or coach who specializes in breakup recovery for private meetings or group sessions (like my online Breakup Support Group).
Gaining professional guidance can help you make sure that you are on the right path to healing, and, if you decide to attend a group, hearing from others in similar situations can help you to know that you’re not alone.
If you find yourself in a long-distance relationship that doesn’t seem to be working, I hope that some of the perspectives I’ve shared here can be helpful to you.