What Kills Long-Distance Relationships?

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What Kills Long-Distance Relationships?

Long-distance relationships are more and more common, thanks to the technologies that make it easy to stay in touch from different corners of the globe. As an experienced couples counselor, I know that long-distance relationships can be beautiful and rewarding, but they also come with unique challenges. In this article, we’ll explore the hurdles that often come up in long-distance couples therapy, explore what kills long-distance relationships, and discuss some practical strategies to keep the flame burning bright, no matter the miles between you.

The Challenges of Long-Distance Relationships

Long-distance relationships are for romantics — but they’re not for the faint of heart. They require effort, commitment, and, most importantly, a strong emotional connection. No matter how in love you are with your partner, being separated challenges your bond. 

Here are a few of the obstacles faced by long-distance couples and by couples in military relationships:

  • Physical Separation: Let’s get the obvious one out of the way – being apart physically. When your loved one is not just a car ride away, you miss out on the simple joys of a hug, holding hands, or enjoying sexual intimacy. That distance can feel like a daunting hurdle, especially if your love language is physical touch. 
  • Communication Hiccups: While we live in a digital age where the people we love are always a text or a video call away, interacting through a screen just can’t replace face-to-face conversations. Misunderstandings can happen more easily when you can’t see your partner’s expressions, hear the tone of their voice, or offer a comforting touch during vulnerable conversations.
  • Time Zone Tango: If you’re in different time zones, coordinating your schedules can be like a complex dance. Finding a suitable time for a call or a text chat becomes a puzzle you both need to solve, and frustration and resentment can brew when schedules don’t align. 
  • Loneliness and FOMO: Loneliness can creep into your relationship when you’re missing out on all the everyday moments, special occasions, and adventures you’d share if you were in the same place. Celebrating birthdays or anniversaries alone is no one’s idea of fun, and many couples in long-distance relationships feel FOMO frequently, especially if they’re comparing their relationships to others. 
  • Lack of Shared Experiences: Sharing experiences together creates memories and a rich history of connection. Couples living nearby can do this effortlessly – going on dates, attending events, or just laughing on the couch. When you’re miles apart, it’s not as easy to create those meaningful moments that bind you together.
  • Jealousy: Without a strong sense of trust, many long-distance couples struggle with jealousy. Who are they spending time with? Are they making new friends? Trust issues can trigger these concerns and create conflict in the relationship.
  • Anxiety: Long-distance relationships can be hard on those with an anxious attachment style. Even for securely attached people, the imagination can run wild when you’re not physically close to your partner. 
  • Communication Frequency: Couples often struggle to find the right balance when it comes to communication. One partner might want to talk more frequently, while the other needs more space. These discrepancies can lead to tension, conflict, and even a damaging pursue-withdraw pattern in the relationship.
  • Maintaining Emotional Intimacy: Maintaining a strong emotional connection can be challenging when you can’t be physically close. Feelings of emotional distance can lead to dissatisfaction and doubts about your relationship or your partner’s commitment.
  • Handling Conflicts: Every relationship faces conflicts, and LDRs are no exception. Arguments can feel harder to resolve when your only means of talking things out is over the phone or through text messages.

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What Kills Long-Distance Relationships? 

So, why do some long-distance couples make it work while others are headed for a long-distance breakup? In my experience, the number-one killer of long-distance relationships is a lack of intentionality. 

All relationships need to be approached with a heap of intention, whether it’s communicating thoughtfully, considering your partner’s needs, deliberately building trust, or setting aside quality time to focus on your connection. But none of this “just happens” in a long-distance relationship. Minor missteps like a missed phone call or a short reply can set off a chain of unintended consequences, including hurt feelings and negative perceptions of each other that damage your bond. The smallest actions in a long-distance relationship have to be approached with intention and care, because the entire relationship is balanced on the edge of these small actions. 

Strategies to Keep a Long-Distance Relationship Strong

While long-distance relationships have their challenges, I’ve seen many couples thrive with the right approach. Here are some strategies that will help you approach your relationship with intention and maintain a healthy, secure bond:

  1. Open and Honest Communication: Share your thoughts, feelings, and concerns with your partner in a vulnerable, honest way. Be transparent about your expectations, needs, and the challenges you’re facing. This fosters trust and deepens the emotional intimacy in your relationship, helping you feel close even though you’re apart. 
  1. Schedule Quality Time: Set aside dedicated time for each other. This can include regular video calls, virtual movie nights, or even playing online games together. Having a schedule ensures that you both make time for your relationship and that you both can rest assured that you hold an important place in each other’s lives.
  1. Shared Goals: Every couple needs shared goals for the future, especially long-distance couples. Knowing that there’s a plan to eventually be in the same place can provide hope and motivation to continue. Discuss where you both see the relationship heading and how you plan to get there.
  1. Trust Building: Trust is built through reliable actions. If you say you’ll call at a certain time, stick to it. Keep your promises and be consistent. Trust also grows when you are able to broach difficult conversations in a vulnerable, authentic, emotionally safe way.
  1. Avoid Overcommunication: While communication is essential, avoid bombarding each other with messages. Everyone needs personal space. Strike a balance between staying connected and giving each other space to develop your own identities while in your relationship.
  1. Coping with Jealousy: Address jealousy openly and honestly. Talk about what triggers those feelings and work together to find solutions. Trust can be strengthened when you approach jealousy and other challenges as a team.
  1. Focus on the Positives: Instead of dwelling on the things that feel hard about long-distance relationships, focus on the positives. Celebrate your love and the unique aspects of your connection. Acknowledge the efforts you’re both making to stay together despite the distance, and what that says about your love and commitment to each other.
  1. Visit Each Other: Whenever possible, try to visit each other in person. These visits can be a reminder of what you’re working towards and provide cherished moments that help you both get through the hard times together

Expert Support for Long-Distance Love

I hope this article gave you some clarity about what kills long-distance relationships, and how to have a successful relationship even when you’re physically apart. If you and your partner would like support for your relationship from a long-distance couples counselor at Growing Self, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — For more long-distance relationship advice, check out my “Long Distance Love” collection of articles and podcasts. 

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