How to Make Long Distance Work

Do Long Distance Relationships Work?

Oh yes. In fact, long-distance relationships can have certain benefits over in-person relationships, and may very well be a wonderful experience for everyone involved. However, to have a successful long-distance relationship, you need to be mindful of a few key factors in order to help you both feel loved, secure and connected even as the miles keep you physically apart.

To talk all about how to make long distance relationships work, I’ve invited Brogan C., MS, LMFTC on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. 

Brogan specializes in couples counselor and long-distance relationships and has extensive experience in providing long-distance couples counseling to couples around the world. Additionally, Brogan did her graduate research on factors that contribute to successful, satisfying long-distance relationships. She particularly focused on how to maintain the emotional and sexual connection in a long-distance relationship situation.

Long Distance Relationship Tips

Brogan and I talk about many things in this podcast including:

  • Why long-distance couples can actually have strengths and advantages over other couples, especially when one or both partners are ambitious and career-focused.
  • Some of the unique challenges that long-distance couples face and how to overcome them.
  • What the most important factors in making long distance relationships work are, and how you can mindfully incorporate certain strategies to keep your connection strong.
  • Strategies to use during the transitional period when you shift from a long distance relationship to living together (or nearby).

Listen to this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, and learn how to make your long-distance relationship thrive.

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How to Make Long Distance Work

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. And you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

[Song: Country Mile by Camera Obscura]

Dr. Lisa: Such a beautiful, melancholy song, isn’t it? That’s Camera Obscura with “Country Mile,” a song that is all about someone who is far away from the person they love and wishing they could be closer. And that is what we’re talking about today on the podcast. We are talking about long-distance relationships. And how to not just make them work, but make them amazing. So that’s what we’re talking about today on the show because we have been doing a lot of work with long-distance couples at our practice lately. Getting lots of questions coming in from the blog for people in long-distance relationships, and as you know, if you’ve ever listened to this podcast before, I am here to please. The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast is all about you. It’s all about helping you feel good about yourself and your life, helping you have better relationships and helping you do wonderful things in the world and really achieving the fullness of your potential. 

And so we talked about a lot of different things on the podcast, but it is all inspired by you. So let’s see… If this is your first time catching the show, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I’m the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. We’re based out of Denver, Colorado, but we see people all over the world through online video, and we do this podcast. We also have a very active blog with all kinds of free helpful information for you. If you want to check any of that out, it’s available at On our website, we also have lots of free quizzes, and online tutorials, and online video coaching stuff. If you want to check that out. Part of what we do this for again is for you. We have people get in touch with us all the time with questions on Facebook, or on Twitter, or getting in touch through our website to ask questions. And so I consider this podcast to be part of this public service because a lot of people certainly come see us. But there’s also so many people who might not be in a place where they can come talk to a counselor or a coach, but might just listen to this podcast. 

And so that’s what this is all about. It’s really trying to serve you and meet your needs and give you a little bit of helpful advice or some new ideas to tuck in your pocket and make your life just a little bit better. So that is what the show is all about. I’m just so honored that you are here and listening and partaking in our wonderful community. If you have questions about this or any other topic, I would love it if you get in touch. You can track me down on Facebook and send me a message you can get in touch with us through our website, is our email if you want to email directly. And Twitter’s good too, at @DrLisaBobby

So anyway, however you’d like to get in touch: passenger pigeon, smoke signals, whatever works for you, but we want to hear from you. So that is all. And also one tiny, tiny request. If you like the show, if you get something out of it, if you get a little nugget of advice or wisdom to take with you, it would mean so much if you would say so. You can write a review on iTunes or give us a rating if you like it. And not for me, I’m going to be doing this podcast no matter what. But this will find its way to more people that might also benefit, just like you have, from hearing the different things that we talked about on the show. And so, if you would rate or review the podcast, I would be eternally grateful. And thank you on behalf of other people that might encounter this podcast that wouldn’t have and except for your support of the show. So, thank you. 

Okay, so let’s talk about our topic at hand, which is long-distance relationships. So we do so much couples counseling, marriage counseling online, that’s a natural progression of this over the years is that we started working with so many people where online was the only way for them to do it. One person is in Chicago, the other person is in LA, or even further people, somebody is in Barcelona, and the other person is in New York. And so for that reason, this subspecialty of our practice, in some ways, is working with people who are in long-distance relationships and wanting to support and making them better. And so I have the most fun show plan for you because it’s not just me droning on and on about long-distance relationships. I have actually enlisted the support of my colleague, Brogan Crosby. 

Brogan and I work together here at Growing Self. And Brogan is amazing for many reasons; she does so much good work. But I wanted to talk with her for your benefit today because her specialty is actually online work with couples in long-distance relationships. She has a ton of knowledge; she has a lot of experience working with these couples. But also she actually did her master’s thesis and a research project all about this. And so she knows more than anybody that I’ve ever talked to before about issues specific to long-distance relationships: factors that can strengthen and enhance long-distance relationships, but also things that people really need to be mindful of like not doing, harm them. But also, various tips and things that couples can do to strengthen their relationships in long distances and make them even better. So I am so excited to introduce Brogan to you today. Broken Crosby, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast. 

Brogan Crosby: Well, thank you for asking me to join you and to talk about my experiences with long-distance relationships. I really appreciate it.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I was so excited to talk with you because you are so knowledgeable on this subject. I mean, personally, you’ve lived through the experience, but also you did a master’s thesis on long-distance relationships, and how couples can stay connected. So as we talk, I’ll be very interested to hear more about your research and your experience. So let’s just jump right in. I mean, because we do so much online, couples counseling here in our practice. We wind up seeing all kinds of couples, but certainly, people in long-distance relationships where the only option to do couples counseling is through an online format. Because one person is in Texas, and the other person is in New Jersey. Let’s just maybe start by talking about some of the most common challenges that you have seen couples face in long-distance relationships that are maybe a little bit different than couples who live in the same town might experience. 

Brogan: Sure, I think as we talk about it, I might be hitting some really key points that fit for a lot of people and I might be missing things as well because there are just a variety of challenges. But generally, I think just one of the biggest challenges is the inability to casually see each other or to drop by. If there is any visit, or anytime that you’re seeing each other, it has to be generally pretty planned out ahead of time. That makes it really difficult for couples to maybe feel connected. If they’re unable to see each other casually, or once or twice a week. Sometimes, it’s more like once or twice a year, I’ve seen.

Dr. Lisa: Wow, that could be so hard. What do you think starts to happen? I mean, there’s being able to see your, I mean, scheduling aside, and people are certainly busy, but being able to at least hang out a few times a week. Whereas in long-distance relationships, it is a bigger deal. What have you seen is starting to happen to the quality of people’s connections just by virtue of that it is hard to connect?

Brogan: I’ve seen, of course, it’s a challenge. So I’ve seen some couples really miss that piece of physical connection. And by not having that physical connection and maybe also feeling less emotionally connected. And all of these pieces coming in together: you can’t see your partner, maybe feeling like conversations are difficult to have. So really, there’s different levels of connection with that physical piece in that emotional piece. And so, in some cases, I’ve seen that really decrease feeling connected. 

But in other cases, there’s increased connection, too, because couples are able to find a way to be creative and to still lean on one another, and go to each other in times of “Maybe it’s a stressful day,” and you don’t have the opportunity to go see your partner later or stop by but being able to FaceTime or reach out and still feel connected. Physical distance also lead to emotional distance. Couples can find ways to stay connected and to keep that connection, too.

Dr. Lisa: I would love to hear more about that because I think that’s one of the biggest complaints that I’ve certainly heard as a couple’s counselor is just that feeling of disconnection. Or also that, when people do have the opportunity to either be together in person. Or maybe, they have a thing where they talk once a day at a certain time or every couple of days. Those moments can become really fraught and in a way. If the trip doesn’t go well, or the conversation doesn’t go well, and you’re not going to talk to your person for another three days or something, then it can… It’s a bigger deal.

Brogan: Oh, absolutely. And that’s not, I mean, not only is something that I’ve seen, it;s something I felt, too, in terms of, you have this visit coming up. And there’s such great expectations about the quality time that you’re going to have. But long-distance couples experience fights, too, or things don’t work out. Maybe the visit didn’t go as well as planned. But there’s almost like this added pressure. “This is the only time that we’re really getting to see each other. We don’t want to spend it fighting. Or we don’t want to spend it angry with one another.” But that’s also very real in relationships and regular relationships… There’s going to be times when there’s fights when you don’t want them to be. And so I know for me personally, I used to put just so much pressure on my visits with my partner because this was the only time that we got to see each other. And then if there was any disagreement or argument, I would take that so hard because I felt like I was missing something. But in reality, it gave us an opportunity to learn how to resolve our arguments, just like regular couples do when they see each other.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. And if it’s okay, can I ask you just a little bit more about your personal experience? Because I know this has become something of a professional passion. But, I think, it is true for so many of us. It’s our own life experiences that do inform our work. I mean, I think that’s why I mentioned in a recent podcast; why I have such a heart and a way for people who are going through terrible traumatic breakups is because of my own life experience when I was much younger. I want to help people who are going through that same situation. So if it’s okay, tell us a little bit about your experience in a long-distance relationship. 

Brogan: Sure. Yeah. I would love to. And, I think, you had mentioned earlier my personal experience and then my master’s thesis. 

Dr. Lisa: Yes. 

Brogan: The reason I chose that topic, or my master’s thesis is because it was so personal to me. And I knew that when I picked a topic, it needed to be something that I wanted to read about and spend years work on. So that’s what led me to do it but, yeah. So, my personal experience with long-distance is my partner and I… We met in undergrad. We both went to Purdue University. And after graduation, we had different career goals and different paths where his led him to Denver. And he got a job and he really liked it and was placed in Denver. But I knew that I wanted to go to graduate school and the program that I wanted to go to was still in Indiana, where we were from. And so we decided to give it a shot. We knew it would be about a three-year journey but would have an ending as well. And so, neither of us I think wanted to tell the other person, “Don’t follow your dreams.” 

Dr. Lisa: Of course. 

Brogan: We said, “How about we both follow our dreams and give this a shot and try it together?” And so we’ve been long-distance for about three years. And it took a lot of navigating. And even to this day, there’s still moments where it’s more difficult than others and there’s always adjusting to as well. So I  entered into the long-distance relationship. It was my first one, and it has its ups and downs, but I encourage anyone who is thinking about it to maybe give it a shot. If they hear this podcast, and they think about it, know that it can work out, too. Because, I think, there’s sometimes a negative association with long-distance relationships and that they don’t work out. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, no. And certainly so many of them can. And maybe, say a little bit more about that part. Well, certainly long-distance relationships can have some unique challenges. Long-distance relationships can also have some, I think, pretty interesting advantages and positive aspects, too. Can you speak to that?

Brogan: Yes. When I was thinking about the advantages, I was in a really good place. I was feeling really good about my long-distance relationship. So it was much easier to come up with a list. But I mean, I have to say, for me, personally, I do not think I would have succeeded in graduate school if I was not in a long-distance relationship. It really allowed me to focus. And that’s me knowing myself. I think if he was around, I would have put off a paper or reading or just self-care even for me. And it’s really difficult. I know that I got through it because we were long-distance, and I was really able to focus on getting through school.

Dr: Lisa: Yeah, that is, I think, really an under-considered advantage and one that I honestly had not thought of until you said that, but you’re right. A day to day maintenance of a relationship, relationships do take a lot of time and energy. And you’re saying just by virtue of that decision, you were really freed up to pursue some, not that your relationship wasn’t important to you, but that you had that time and headspace to focus on other goals, too. And that’s—

Brogan: Absolutely. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. What a great point.

Brogan: Yeah, I think I realized that piece, maybe six months into when I started the graduate program and just how much time it was really taking up for me. But because I was in a long-distance relationship, I was allowed to really put my entire heart into it. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Brogan: And then still have my partner there to talk to when I was stressed or didn’t want to write a paper or do any more readings. But I did have a lot of time to focus on myself in grad school, which I really appreciated. It also gave me an opportunity to develop relationships and friendships with those in my program. Because I didn’t have my partner here to spend time with, I was able to really focus on spending time with other people that I may not have… I may not have done it if he was around. As much as I love him, I probably wouldn’t have spent as much time. 

Dr. Lisa: It’s a good point. When we’re partnered, so much of our focus does go into that relationship, and sometimes other friendships can falter. But that you feel like your life was richer and fuller, in a way, because of that distance.

Brogan: Yeah, absolutely. And then something that I really loved about that, too, is so when you’re long-distance, you might feel like you and your partner have these separate lives. I know there have been times where I felt like my life in Indiana was completely different than when I would go visit in Colorado. But it also gave an opportunity for me to create relationships here and then introduce my partner to these people as well; for him to also get to know them.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and vice versa. I mean, because one of the things that we know from research is that part of what keeps especially long-term relationships feeling fresh and interesting is when two people in a relationship are doing their own things, and to a degree having their own lives and their own relationships. Because then, they’re interesting to their partners and continually evolving, as opposed to that feeling of stagnation when there’s just, everybody knows everything that’s going on. 

Brogan: Right. Everybody knows, everyone knows, 

Dr. Lisa: Right? Yeah.

Brogan: It allowed for a development individually and independently, but then intertwining of those lives. And just picking up on pieces like, “Oh, you’re going to meet this person again, you’ve mentioned them before.” Going out to visit and actually meeting this person, “Hey, I’ve heard so much about you,” and vice versa. So, I think that’s been really helpful too. But then I also realize that some long-distance couples, they have an inability to visit frequently. So this is just speaking from my experience of being able to travel to Colorado every couple of months. So I did feel pretty intertwined as well.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, and I would think that too, would be a fun aspect of a long-distance relationship. It is being able to kind of be on vacation mode a little bit when you guys are together. Was that–?

Brogan: Yes, if I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to Colorado, but it was like going to new places and trying new things. And because I’m from the Midwest, it’s a little bit different. We don’t have the mountains. We don’t have skiing and things like that because it’s so flat. But then I would get to go to Colorado and do these new things every once in a while that new experiences that I didn’t have. So even though I was traveling to the same place every time that is an advantage, being able to travel being able to see a new city that maybe you normally wouldn’t have gone to.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, definitely. And having those bonding experiences every time. So there’s your personal experience, and certainly living through these. And also though, you’ve done so much research, and so let me ask you about this piece. So this is just a question that I just thought of, but one of the things that I have encountered in couples that live long distance is, I mean, I hate to use the word jealousy, but almost a sense of insecurity sometimes. Maybe your partner does have these friends that they’re talking about and doing these interesting things, and you can’t be a part of it for the next two and a half months until your next trip. Those kinds of things. There was a bit of what your research was based on, right? How to maintain that sense of emotional security and relationships?

Dr: Brogan: Yes, part of my research was looking at attachment security. I think it’s funny what you’re describing, I experienced that all the time. I refer to it as fear-of-missing-out, FOMO. Yes. That is something that I know I have experienced pretty frequently. “Oh, well. Now I know this person. I wish I was out there doing those things with you.” But the piece that you’re bringing up, that insecurity; hurtful for long-distance relationships. And in my research, I was interested in a few different factors and how they were connected together. So I really focused on sexual communication satisfaction, attachment, security, and relationship satisfaction. I was really curious about how these three factors interacted with one another and what that looked like. What I found out was attachment security and feeling connected with your partner. Meaning like, you’re having a bad day and feeling like you can go to your partner and talk with them about it, and knowing they’re going to be there for you. And they’re going to help you through it. Having that attachment security is what positively predicted relationship satisfaction and sexual communication satisfaction, too. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, well. Okay, and so attachment security. So that was what you found to be most predictive of high-quality relationships. I’m glad that you’re defining the term a little bit because it is a little bit of an academic term. But that sense that your person is your person, and there’s that loyalty and commitment and trust, I guess. Say more about that because this is a very important construct in any relationship, but especially in long-distance one. How does it show up in long-distance couples?

Brogan: Well, so normally, maybe attachment security and trusting your partner is going to be there, if you’re in a physically close relationship, you might think, sitting down with your partner and telling them about your day, and then maybe they are comforting you, whatever that is, whether they’re giving you comforting words or hug or something like that. Of course that would provide attachment security for couples who are physically close to one another. 

However, it’s been found that long-distance couples can also create attachment security, even without physical closeness. Because when we’re defining the term closeness, does that mean we’re proximity we’re actually close to one another, or can it mean emotional closeness. For long-distance couples, always be thankful for technology that plays a huge role in long-distance relationships. But maybe being able to FaceTime your partner or call your partner or text your partner, or there’s tons of ways to communicate. And that’s your way of reaching out and letting them know that you’re having a bad day or something stressful happen, and you need them, and then your partner being able to respond back. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

Brogan: Whether it be via FaceTime or texting. And so even though it looks a little bit different for long-distance couples, because they don’t have that physical closeness, there’s still an opportunity for couples who are long-distance to support each other, especially with modes of technology. I mean, we’ve also had, there’s writing letters to one another, or sending each other things like that, too. But so research has found that long-distance couples can still create secure attachments, it just might look a little bit different. And couples who are close to one another,

Dr. Lisa: Well, I could see just hearing you talk, in some ways, how the quality of the connection, might even be —I mean, I don’t want to compare— but I could see there being an opportunity for it to be even more meaningful long distance. Because, I mean, think about somebody in a long-term, regular relationship. Even though I’m in the same house with my husband, like all the time, and sometimes, of course, we do have heart-to-heart talks, there are other times when we’re like sitting next to each other watching a TV show. 

So even though we’re in the same room, it doesn’t mean that you’re connecting meaningfully with your partner all the time. But what you’re describing is, there is this special time where the intention is to connect maybe on a deeper level. And then I would think even like… Because couples that cohabitate take each other for granted, sometimes, whereas you probably don’t have as much opportunity to do that. But when you talk every once a day or every couple of days, that it might be more special.

Brogan: Yeah, I think that’s true. It taught me whether it be phone calls because I know, in my relationship; we text throughout the day, make updates here and there, how are you, how’s your day. But when we have those deep, meaningful conversations, that’s when it’s a phone call or FaceTime. So a little bit more, and there still needs to be that undivided attention. That’s given. 

I love what you said about it being an opportunity because that’s really how I feel. I think long-distance can give couples an opportunity to be creative, and really work together during those challenges. And I know at some times during my relationship, it felt like us against the world, like no one else understands. “We’re in this long-distance world”. And so sometimes that’s really powerful, though, too. Yeah. And being able to work with your partner and say, “This is terrible. We don’t like this, but what can we do? What’s something that can be just for us to get through it?”

Dr. Lisa: Well, I’m guessing and maybe you could actually talk a little bit more about how you conducted your research because I’m imagining that you, in addition to your experience, probably interviewed other people in long-distance relationships to discover the things that they did to stay connected. Is that—

Brogan: So my research was quantitative, quantitative, I’m sorry. So I didn’t interview. I didn’t ask any kind of questions. It was all per statistical analysis. 

Dr. Lisa: Yes. Got it. 

Brogan: Which was wonderful. I know it has its pros and cons. I understand. But I will say, it’s interesting, too. So I did this research. And then I went to some conferences in my area to… I just displayed a poster about it. It’s so interesting because people, just throughout the day, “Oh, I’ve been in a long-distance relationship.” “Oh, my parents were in a long-distance relationship for three months or nine months.” 

It’s just so interesting because a lot of people you talk to, at some point in their life, either they’ve experienced it, or they know someone who’s experienced it. And so even though I didn’t interview anyone, I guess, for my research, it allowed me to talk with a lot of people and just hear a lot of stories of what people did to get through it: writing letters to one another, or scheduling phone calls, and things like that.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Okay. So people that wanted to talk with you about it, and also, I’m sure work, working with clients that are in that situation, or all kinds of ways to stay connected. And so on this note, too, just while we’re talking about this. Something that I was curious about, do you feel there’s a difference between relationships that start it sounds like yours did, where your you went to school together, you’re in the same place, and then you chose a period of separation that supported each of you in your goals versus couples who may be from the very getgo? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to that went out of town to a wedding or something and met the one. And that they, but they never, their whole entire relationship from the very beginning, it was flying to Miami or going, that situation. And they never had that day-to-day closeness. Do you feel there’s a bit of a difference there? Or do you see relationships following the same trajectory?

Brogan: I think I see them following the same trajectory, mainly because there are pros and cons to both. For those “I’m right there with you,” I hear a lot of stories of like, “I traveled somewhere I met someone.” I hear a lot of stories of people meeting online now too, of course, or video games or online dating sites and things like that. But, I think there’s pros and cons to both because if you’re starting off long-distance and just continuing that structure, then there’s not so much of a transitional period, because that’s how it’s always been. Not to say that’s any easier, but it’s almost like this is all we’ve ever known. Versus, starting off together and then separating for however long is a transition within itself. Because you get used to what it’s like to be near that person, and then change things up. Now you’re transitioning to long distance. 

I also think, too, because there’s something I found in my research, which was really interesting and I really loved, is that there’s some couples that get into long-distance relationships, starting off long-distance, and they really don’t have a plan or they don’t know when it’s going to end. But I still love that they meet each other, and even though they might not have an end in sight in that moment, there’s something about the other person where they’re like, “I want to be in a relationship with you, even though it’s difficult.” 

I can imagine, I think that would have to be really challenging to not necessarily know when it’s going to end. Because I know, even having a tentative date or a tentative plan sometimes can provide hope, something to look forward to. People do ask me frequently, “What’s been so helpful with your long-distance relationship?” Or, “What’s something that can be helpful for couples?” And I think, trying to plan when, and if you want it to close the distance. If you ever want that to happen, planning that and coming up with a goal on when and how to do that is really helpful. It provides some hope of one day this will be over.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I can see that. I also the way was certainly with, I would say the majority of people that there is an end in sight, it’s very comforting. But I also love that you bring up the fact that there are also couples for whom this is their preferred lifestyle. I mean, I have met, she lives in LA. He lives in New York. They’re married. That is what they both like because I think for the reasons you were saying. Maybe they both feel free to have their own lives. And then they also have this connection where they’re connecting every day. And maybe, once a month they do a weekend together or something. And it really works for them as a lifestyle. So—

Brogan: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s why I think it’s hard to say is one more challenging than the other or anything that because I think it depends on the individuals and the couple. I agree. When we were talking earlier about some advantages of long-distance relationships, I know for some, having that space is the biggest advantage for them. Because being close with someone all the time is, I don’t want to say necessarily intimidating, but it can be really scary. Instead of the option of not being in a relationship at all, or being with someone 24 seven, this can be a middle ground for people. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. No, I get that. Okay. So, and then, I would love and I’m sure that anybody listening to this, who has been in a long-distance relationship would love to hear more about what you’ve learned about the things that they could do to support their relationship. Because there are those challenges. What kinds of strategies do you advise?

Brogan: Oh, I love this question. So my thoughts instantly go to the love languages. Because I think that helps come up with specific strategies that fit whatever love language you are.

Dr. Lisa: I think it’s so easy for us to assume that everybody in the universe knows about love languages. We are couples counselors. Say it’s a little bit more about what you mean by love languages. First of all, let’s talk about how they look.

Brogan: So love languages, there’re sometimes I know, there’s a metaphor like people use it of how we speak and share our love with others. There are almost five different unique languages. It’s important that you and your partner understand and know not only your own love language but the other person’s. Because let’s say that I’m speaking English. That’s my love language, but you’re speaking Spanish and I don’t know Spanish. And I don’t know what you’re saying to me. I don’t… I’m not understanding you. But you’re also not understanding me either because we have these different love languages. So the idea is getting on the same wavelength. I think love languages can really help people feel connected to their partner. 

So there’s five love languages, I guess I could say what they are. There’s physical touch. So whether that be holding hands or a nice hub or something like that, physical touch. There’s words of affirmations: saying positive things to one another and using your words, I guess, to be supportive. There’s also quality time and I love this one too, because I think quality time can look different for everyone. Quality time can be that undivided attention where you’re both doing an activity or happy together. I think some people view quality time as coexisting, maybe, in the same room. I like to call, that could be considered quality time for some couples. There’s also acts of service so doing things for your partner. I love to give the example with chores. Maybe you have a chore that you despise and your partner does that chore for you. What a nice act of service? And then last is gift giving. So giving your partner–and it doesn’t necessarily have to be like a monetary value gift–it’s just that act of giving something a gift to your partner. 

So that’s the love languages. We receive and we show love based on them; the idea is based off of one of these five languages. Some people have to actually better their top ones and so and I always say you know not one love languages is superior or inferior to the other. They just looked differently and so it’s important to know what your love languages are and what your partner’s is to because  they might be different. 

You might be trying to be supportive and be loving with your own love language but they aren’t receiving it in that way because that’s not what their love languages. I found this to be, once I understood the love languages and understanding it for myself and for just couples in general, I really learned how long-distance couples can be creative with this, too. And have this understanding for one another. So I’ll give an example of mine. Physical touch is my top love language. As you can imagine, long-distance couples don’t really get a lot of that. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, it’s really, I would say—

Brogan: —that’s probably the most. But here we are, and that’s what my love language is. So my partner is very kind and lets me borrow his clothes. 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, that’s so sweet. 

Brogan: Maybe during the visit, I’ll swap it out but I’ll grab a sweatshirt because it’s like having a piece of him with me and then I’ll take it back to Indiana. And if I’m having a stressful day or just missing him or something, then I’ll put on a sweatshirt. And so well that’s not him here with me. That’s some way for me to feel connected. It’s a piece of clothing that was his so I know that’s my top love language and that’s how I use it.

Dr. Lisa: That is also a creative way because I could see that. If physical connection is your top love language, what are you going to do? But that is wonderful. can see how that–

Brogan: He would be very kind. Yes, and he lets me borrow a lot of clothes. I’ll be happy to get those back here shortly. To couples who like acts of service, for example. There have been times when maybe he had a long day. My partner had a long day. I hear this actually from a lot of couples that I know that are also in long-distance relationships. They’ll send their partner food to be delivered.

Dr. Lisa: An edible arrangement? Like what?

Brogan: You have one day. And you’re telling me that your day was so long and you haven’t eaten and you need to go grocery shopping thing. So here’s your–

Dr. Lisa: And it’s awesome.

Brogan: Thank goodness for technology. “And it’s for you, here you go. And I can’t bring it to you and I can’t go out to dinner with you.” Or anything like that but, “Here, I’ll send you food so that we know it’s something that you don’t have to worry about.” 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I could see that being really meaningful, and just a way to stay connected, especially if you can FaceTime together during the meal. It’s a little bit like dinner together.

Brogan: Yeah, I love doing that. This time and during movies, watching movies together at the same time, something like that. That could be quality time. Playing online video games together, I know for a lot of couples who meet online, that’s their way of spending quality time together is through the video game. So I think that’s really important. Of course for words of affirmation, and maybe I suggest leaving notes or letters or sending notes and letters if you’re unable to visit your partner, but you still want them to have that. Just sending a little something and thinking of you. I think this can really go a long way. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I could totally see that. Now, what about for couples? Because I’m hearing that there are lots of ways of just daily maintenance, to maintain that connection and keep it feeling good. And with a lot of the couples that show up at our door, that it has been feeling more of the hard parts, so much of it really is rooted in exactly what you were saying; that attachment security has become damaged because of the distance, that they are feeling insecure. They’re feeling uncertain. They are feeling worried about their relationship. That can start to show up in lots of different ways. Can you say more about that piece? When does it start to feel like it’s going off the rails? And what you have found couples can do in those moments when the pain can be very real?

Brogan: Oh, sure. I think the first piece of that–and might be one of the most difficult–is being able to not necessarily admit that it’s an issue, but this idea with long distances, you have to be strong to get through it. And this is just what it is. And so you have to get over it type of thing. I think that first step of actually being able to reach out to your partner and say, “I’m really struggling with this piece.” Whatever that piece is, “I’m really struggling with feeling like we haven’t talked much lately.” Genuinely talk or, “I’m feeling really left out because you’re with all of these people.” I think that’s the first and most important step is being able to really reach out to your partner and let them know what’s going on for you. Because part of that attachment security is when you reach out to your partner and something’s wrong that they respond to you. 

Dr. Lisa: That’s where the rubber meets the road. But you’re saying that the first step is being able to talk about those feelings in a vulnerable way. I think sometimes what we see is people getting angry, like, “You didn’t call us. You said you’re gonna call.” But to be able to get underneath that and being like, “I’m feeling anxious,” is that first step. But then the other piece is you have then responsiveness in return. Say more about what you mean by that? 

Brogan: Absolutely. I think when we are feeling vulnerable, and we reach out to our partner while vulnerable, that’s really scary. Because you’re hoping that your partner responds in the way that you need it. Responding in a way that’s, like you had mentioned, sometimes it comes out as anger or frustration. That can easily be met with anger and frustration as well. But if you’re able to reach out and be vulnerable, then for your partner, for them to also reach out and match that vulnerability, even I would say, because I think sometimes two couples might not feel or couples might not feel in the same spot. One might be struggling more with the distance and the other person at that moment in time might not be struggling with it as much and that’s okay. But I think to try to have some understanding and empathy. Maybe I’m doing okay right now with a distance, but clearly, my partner’s having a hard time, and what can I do to help get them through it? Because if you’re in a long-distance relationship, I think you’re both going into it together as a team. And so even though you might not be on the same wavelength, trying to understand where they’re at, and what they’re going through is really important. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, for sure. Okay. So then, you’re saying for the person on the other side, to have empathy and to really be ready to be understanding. If your partner does come to you with a concern or something, do not be defensive about it, or angry about it. But instead be like, “Oh, this is my signal that I need to step it up. Be even more emotionally present and do what I can do to help them. 

Brogan: Yeah, absolutely. I think balancing that time of listening to them, and being empathetic and understanding. “What can I do? Let’s be creative. What are some ways that we can feel connected again?” Just like how normal couples do. Is it having a date night? Is it saying, “Hey, tonight, we’re not doing anything else. We’re going to talk on the phone. We’ll start a movie at the same time. We’ll talk.” It’s just like how you would in a normal relationship. What do you need? Do you need to give your partner some more attention and some more time?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. What a wonderful idea–time and attention. It’s really, and maybe a pizza.

Brogan: Yeah. It gives you an opportunity to learn what your partner’s favorite pizza is.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and so much even emotionally, because well… I mean, I think that we’re also starting to bump up against another thing that I’ve seen with not so much the actual long-distance part, but I can’t tell you how many couples that I’ve worked with, who have spent a significant period of their relationship in a long-distance relationship. Maybe over time, came to be good at the kinds of things that you’re talking about: being responsive and respectful of their partner’s feelings in that kind of context. 

Then their long-distance part ends, and maybe they move in together. That can be a very interesting experience for people when they have had a totally different kind, they’re not living with each other day to day, they’re not spending that physical time together, but it has been more either intellectual or emotional, or they have been in this separate vacation-y space. I’ve had people move in together and be like, “Who are you?” When it comes to the day-to-day quirks that we all have, like, “You’re loading the dishwasher wrong.” “That’s not how you cut a tomato.” I mean, all these kinds of things. So have you had that experience at all with the clients you’ve seen or—?

Brogan: I have not, thankfully, but I can’t— What you’re talking about is so true and so realistic. I think it’s funny that we bring that up because the distance is closing. So you should just be happy to be, right? This is what it’s all about right? It’s just, now you’re together, you just better be happy because you didn’t like the distance and this is what you wanted. But I think it’s really acknowledging that that’s still an adjustment period, in the middle of a transition. I stand by you can be excited and thankful and happy and also still feel scared, and have concerns and be worried about the transition. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. 

I think what ends up happening, is going into it without maybe addressing any of it, the concerns or the fears. And because there is this idea that you should just be happy. This is what you’ve been working towards. So maybe feeling like, “Well, I guess I can’t really complain. This is what we wanted.” Where I’m on the flip side of, “I think you should absolutely be talking about those things right when you start realizing them.” Even before maybe it is moving in together. It’s like, “Hey, are you worried about this at all? Do you have any concerns because this is a transition for us, and we were really good at long-distance. We figured that out. So how do we transition to being back together again?”

Dr. Lisa: Well, I love that word, though, that transition and there are things that you have to learn to make a long-distance relationship work. I personally think that it’s true for all couples that move even from dating locally to more of a cohabitation arrangement, that there is such a transition, whether or not you’ve been long distance. I think that’s why I’m such a huge advocate of all the premarital counseling we do. It doesn’t even have to be premarital, but so many of the couples that we see just start to run into friction points around. 

[Alarm Sound]

Dr. Lisa: Oops, sorry about that. So many… I’m going to back up a little bit. But so many of the couples that we see do run into friction points around that stuff of life, and little things that you don’t even know would grate on you around. There’s the stack of mail that’s been, “Are you going to do something about that?” Or making assumptions about who does what around the house, or who’s gonna cook dinner? Or the way things are done. 

I mean, there’s just dozens and dozens of these little things that I think all couples have to have some agreements around, like, who does what, how do we handle these situations? And how do we make plans even as a couple now that we’re always going to be here on the same weekends? How do we divide our time? So that can be such a transition for all couples, but—

Brogan: Oh, absolutely. I think just that renegotiation—

Dr. Lisa: Good word, yeah. 

Brogan:—is a huge piece. So I think a lot of couples that are long-distance, they do a lot of the things on their own because they’re living alone. Or I guess, not even just long-distance, but couples that are someone that’s living alone, they take care of all the chores and do the cooking, and the cleaning, and all those things. Then now we come together, and that might look very different. 

I think I would go back to, I think, it could be a great opportunity, though, to have a conversation with your partner. “What chores do you hate? Which ones do you not mind so much? Are there any places where I can pick up the ones that you strongly dislike doing, because I don’t mind those?” And so I think there’s just an opportunity for renegotiation of roles and tasks. When we don’t talk about those things, there’s just assumptions. Sometimes those are taken to heart or you were saying questions, like, “Who are you? I didn’t even realize.” Because there was no conversation about it and what that might look like.

Dr. Lisa: Well, but I love what you’re saying, though, that just to not assume that it is going to be just perfect and gorgeous. Because I think that that messes people up when they think it’s going to be a certain way. But to go into moving in together or being in the same place with this assumption that there will be things that need to be, to use your word, renegotiated and figured out into the land for that. So that when those things do happen, that it’s not a shocker. People might think, “Oh, we’re not compatible or there’s something wrong with our relationship.” But rather, this is what everybody has to do. Now it’s our turn. 

Brogan: Yeah, absolutely. I love that, and I was thinking about that, too. When couples start long distance, I think there needs to be a renegotiation, and there’s expectations. You understand that those expectations can be adjusted because we change as people. And I think it’s the same thing when people start living together, we renegotiate those pieces, and it might work, it might not. And then we just continually have conversations about what’s working. If it’s not working, then what can we try to make it work? 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Wow, great advice. What a nice positive note to end this conversation on. This has been so wonderful. I really just appreciate how knowledgeable you are about long-distance relationships, and also what a positive, hopeful approach that you have towards this whole experience. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with somebody listening right now who’s in a long-distance relationship, and it’s, maybe it’s been feeling hard lately? Or do you think we covered the important parts?

Brogan: I think we covered a lot of ground. But for anyone who’s in a long-distance relationship and feeling in this moment the struggles of it, and how difficult it is; I just want to remind them that it’s okay to feel that way right now. Be open to sharing that with your partner. Hope that that passes, because I’ve been there. I’ve had my moments where I’m so thankful for long-distance and how it let me graduate on time and do these things. Then there’s been moments where I hated every piece of long-distance and I didn’t understand why I would even, why I even considered getting into it. And so for anyone that’s struggling with it, I just want them to know that it’s normal, and it happens, and I hope that it gets better. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. If you listen to Brogan’s wonderful advice, because you offered a lot of really actionable ideas and things that people can do to improve this. So, thank you so much Brogan for taking the time to join me on the podcast and talk about this really important issue. I just appreciate your wisdom and your guidance on this, and I’m sure a lot of my listeners do, too. So thank you.

Brogan: Thank you. Thanks for letting me come on and share my own experiences as well as my research and hopefully be a positive voice for others. I really appreciate it. 

[Outro Song]

Episode Highlights

  • Challenges of LDR
    • One of the biggest challenges of LDRs is the lack of physical togetherness.
    • Due to this lack of physical togetherness, couples might feel disconnected.
    • Couples need to be creative in expressing their connection if they want to be in a LDR.
  • Advantages and Disadvantages of LDR
    • For Brogan, the distance helped her to focus on and finish her studies. Despite the distance, she knew she still had her partner to talk with when things got rough. 
    • You’re able to do your own things while still having one another.
    • One disadvantage is that sometimes, especially if the distance is too far, it’s just impossible to visit.
    • Another is that, because of the distance, you might feel insecure about your connection to your partner. 
  • The Five Love Languages
    • Brogan suggests being aware of your partner’s and your own love language.
    • The five love languages are a good guide for when you need to reaffirm your connection with one another.
    • The five love languages can also be helpful in finding different ways to express your affection for your partner in a LDR.
  • Transitioning from LDR to Living Together
    • Once the LDR stage is over and you start to live together, you might think that it’s all happy and it ends there. It doesn’t.
    • There will be another phase of transition and renegotiation of time and spaces between you and your partner.
    • The most important thing is to remain open to communication and never work under assumptions. 

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