The Challenges of Long Distance Relationships… And How to Make Them Work

Imagine missing your partner to the point where you feel your heart about to explode.  You need to connect to the person you love, to feel their physical presence, and experience their love and affection.  Now imagine that your partner that you miss so much does not live in the same city as you do.  Maybe your partner is states, countries, or even continents away.  How do you maintain your love for your partner when you cannot physically see them nearly as often as you’d love to?  

I love marriage counseling and relationship coaching, but it wasn't until I started doing online couples counseling that I was led to working with a new, interesting demographic – the long-distance relationship.  Sometimes our globalized world requires a partner to move away from a loved one to keep a job, or a loved one who is a member of the military may be deployed for months or even years at a time.  These types of relationships can be very difficult to navigate for both partners, but understanding some of the unique challenges of long-distance relationships can give couples a better chance to weather the storms and come through the separation strong and connected.

The most obvious and painful part of long-distance relationships is the most obvious – you do not get to physically see or be with your partner on a regular basis, if at all.  Physical connection and time spent with each other is a crucial part of any relationship.  With the best case scenario, couples in this situation would work to see each other physically as much as they can.  But what if these couples can’t see each other, be it for financial or logistical reasons?  That sort of separation can cause loneliness and emotional turmoil for a couple that can turn toxic very quickly, leading to possible breakups and affairs.  Couples in long-distance relationships always have to be on the lookout for how they feel in the moment, as that lack of physical connection can make the temptation to stray even more intense.

What can a long-distance couple do to keep their connection alive and vibrant?

  1. Open Communication: Making it a commitment to see each other physically when possible can work, but the key truly lies with honest emotional communication.  Learning how to communicate emotions honestly, without criticism or defensiveness, can help bridge the gap that lies between these couples.  
  2. Listening, With All Your Heart: That being said, it’s not just about sharing how you feel to your partner –  you need to be able to listen to each other without trying to “fix” how the other feels.  Attachment literature and research has shown that feeling heard when you share, without being judged or disregarded, can help build attachment bonds.  In other words, knowing that your partner is truly listening to your emotions and pain without judgment will bring you closer to that partner, building the connection and closeness that all healthy relationships have.  
  3. Practicing Empathy and Validation: Imagine how you’ll feel when you share your pain with your partner, and the person you love validates that pain and holds you close, even if you’re a continent away.  There’s nothing like it, and through practicing attachment-style communication (sharing and listening without judgment) you won’t just learn to hear your partner.  You’ll learn to empathize with your partner, to feel your partner’s emotion as your own.  The connection that can be built at that point can be extraordinary!

Your partner is thousands of miles away, and you miss them so much.  But the avenues of communication must be open to building connection during this separation.  If you can’t see each other physically, make sure you’re either talking or communicating with your partner as much as you can.  When you do talk to each other, be emotionally honest and listen to each other without judgment.  The conversations may be painful at times, but they will be true, and that’s an experience that couples who even live together often don’t have.  

When you know your partner loves you, can share with you, and can listen to you, your connection and bond will be that much stronger when the both of you are finally physically together again.  

Seth Bender, M.A., LMFTC