Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Long Distance Relationships and How to Make it Work

A relationship situation that many are familiar with.  Though for most, its temporary, while for a small minority its the indefinite way of their relationship and both parties are cool with that.  I'm referring to long(ish) distance relationships.  Long distance, meaning hundreds or even thousands of miles apart, and then my own choice of term "longish" meaning maybe just a couple hours apart.

Longish tends towards being easier, both because of being able to see one another still fairly regularly, and even on a whim if one truly wanted to.  Generally making it easier to really build on a relationship with one another and stay in close touch.  And then longer distances, tending towards being more difficult in their not being able to see one another nearly as often, adding in additional challenge with regards to staying closely connected and keeping feelings strong.

However you cut it though, long distance relationships are a relationship situation that many are familiar with and have experienced at some point or another.  There are both positive and negative aspects to this arrangement, as with most anything in life.  Many people claim long distance relationships cannot work, that this is an inevitable deal breaker eventually.  I disagree.  Both via my own personal experience, witnessing others experiences close to me, as well as via extensive reading.  I think instead, it depends largely on how the distance is handled, navigated, and approached between the two people.  This far more determines whether the relationship will last over the long term, as opposed to it being purely on the premise of "long distance or not" being the main determinant of whether it will last or not.

Therefore, I am going to outline below some of the challenges often experienced in long distance relationships, as well as some of the positive aspects to this type of relationship.  And then finally, how to approach and navigate this relationship situation in such a way that makes longevity and emotional closeness a likely outcome.

There is much romance to be found in long distance situations.  Read on further for more detail....

First off, some of the challenges of both longish and long distance relationships can include:

-When you do see one another, wanting the time together to be the best it can possibly be, so both people are on their upmost behavior.  While this is a good thing to a degree, it can also lend the relationship false feelings of always being wonderful, giving each person misperceptions of one another.  Magnifying one another's best traits, while sort of slipping under the rug for the time being, any potential challenging or difficult ones that might become harder to contend with if both people saw one another far more often and thus, experienced these facets of their partner more quickly and on a regular basis too.

At its best, this isn't a huge deal.  Over time, each persons negative and challenging traits will reveal themselves eventually.  Though in a long distance relationship, this often takes much longer to come to light and really observe in its fullness.  But, as said, at its best, this will be no biggie.  Just, each person getting a dose of reality upon living closer which maybe they hadn't seen so obviously prior, but ultimately its all good.  Realizing one another's challenging traits are ones each can handle.

At its worst though?  This can lead to a jarring slap of reality and even the demise of the relationship when, upon living closer and spending far more time together, if one person realizes that, whoa, my romantic partner isn't quite who I thought they were after all.  And that actually, there are some major character problems with this person, deal breakers, or just things that, had they known were an aspect of this person, they most certainly wouldn't have dated them.
Unfortunately, long distance relationships can make this far more likely to fall prey to, as it takes much longer to eventually see this stuff in a long distance type situation (if it is there after all, things like major character flaws lying in wait to be discovered), as opposed to in a relationship where you see the other person far more often, this often becoming apparent far quicker.

-Not being able to see one another in person on a whim.  There are some times when you just really want to see your partner.  Either you had a rough day, are feeling sad and yearning for their company, or are just really wishing to be with them from a joyous perspective as well.  Sometimes, it can be incredibly hard, even crushing, not being able to do that whenever you wish.

-Staying connected can be more difficult when, coupled with one another's alternate experiences that are quite different from one another's day to day worlds, you also live far apart.  It can be harder to understand one another's lives, inner experiences and day to days when, say, you have never been to their gym with them, or you haven't met any of their colleagues, or you hardly know their friends, or you dont share any meals together during this week.

Now though, some positive aspects of long and longish distance relationships:

-If done correctly and the effort and attention is put in, studies have shown that many people in long distance relationships actually have deeper emotional connections than those in relationships where they see one another far more often.  Why might this be?  Because they spend far more time talking, writing, communicating verbally as opposed to being more physical with one another like people who see each other more would be.  This forces two people to stay close through talking, and thus, often (though of course, not always) leads to a deeper connection.

-Exciting and romantic.  There is a sense of heart fluttering anticipation when seeing one another next.  While being apart often lends itself to feelings of yearning, some sadness, and missing one another, this can also be interpreted from the other side of the coin which is that: missing someone reminds you of what they mean to you.  Missing someone can add a sense of anticipation and excitement to your week, counting down until seeing them next.  Missing someone can also make one far less likely towards taking this person for granted.

-Adding more weight to the time you do spend together.  Because you dont see one another daily, the time you do have together feels more special.  Therefore, people in long or longish distance relationships dont tend towards taking for granted their time together like say, people who live together and see each other every day may subconsciously do.  Instead, people who dont see each other every day tend towards reveling in their time together more.  Again, not always.  Of course there are people who live together and are still excited to see each other each day, and still revel in one another's company.  But, just as often, these things wear off a fair amount once you live with someone.  People in long distance relationships?  They often have this in spades.

And finally, How to Make Long and Longish Distance Relationships Work:

1. Daily contact in some way, and which actually carries weight.  You already lead largely separate experiences via your day to day lives at the moment, within a long distance relationship.  This can make it tougher to connect, understand one another's emotional experiences, and stay as close as couples who see one another, say, a handful of times weekly do.  Therefore, you must make the time as well as invest the energy and attention, into staying connected with your partner.  Know the details of their life.  Their emotional experiences.  The big players in their lives.  Their major goals at the moment, as well as their challenges or distresses.  These are things that, to maintain a rock solid and emotionally close connection, you must stay on top of with one another.  Otherwise, you do risk weakening the connection and at some point, drifting apart.

2. Be real with one another.  Its only natural to, when you dont see someone often, behave especially polite when spending time with this person, even repressing or stifling certain sides of yourself.  Of course, its important, not just with your romantic partner, but with friends, colleagues, and family members as well, to ever be striving towards being your best self.  Towards being polite, kind, thoughtful, giving, respectful, etc.
With that said though, all of us are human, and humans have bad moments, as well as each and every one of us has a handful of negative as well as challenging personal traits about us.  While trying to be your best self for your partner, as well as the other people you love, simultaneously, make sure to allow your partner to see who you really are.  To witness and learn about your challenging traits, as well as your great ones.
This is the only way to build an authentic relationship.  You cannot truly love someone unless you've seen their darkness too.  Its easy to love someone's light.  To be truly loved though, and genuinely emotionally close to someone, they must eventually see all of you.  The good and the tougher stuff.

3.  Surprise each other.  During routine times apart, its important to remind one another that you are thinking of each other.  That the other person is special to you and on your mind.  It can be easy to become immersed in your day to day experiences that are separate and apart from one another.  Instead of willfully and un-mindfully going along in your day to days apart though, break out of that mold.  Venture outside the box.  View long distance as an exciting and romantic opportunity in your relationship.  This is a time when you can get really creative and have immense amounts of fun with one another.  Especially since most romantic relationships are not long distance indefinitely.  This phase likely will conclude at some point.  So, you can have a lot of fun with this if you so desire. 

Though there are hundreds upon hundreds of ways you can surprise and delight one another, to name a few ideas: hand write and mail each other love letters, in the actual post.  Book a weekend away for you and your love, not telling them until a couple days before.  Send them their favorite sweet in the mail, or even further, a fun little care package you've assembled and mailed of things you know they love.  Send an email to let them know randomly that you are thinking of them and how much they mean to you.  Plan a new activity for the two of you to partake in together the next time you meet.  Choose a book you both are interested in and read it together- making for fun discussion as well as means of further connection while apart (you can do the same thing with a TV series as well).  Pick a daytrip for a new town to wander and explore together for a day. 

The list can go on and on and on, for new ways to surprise your partner and remind them how special they are to you, as well as build on new experiences and make fun memories together.

4.  During the time you do spend together, continue seeking novelty and new experiences together.  Its easy to get into a rut of comfort and routine, spending the few nights you do have together hanging on the couch.  This can lead though, to a stagnation of growth in the relationship over time. That's absolutely nothing wrong with hanging out, having low key nights in regularly.  These are equally important to close romantic relationships though, as continuing to have new experiences together are too.  Growth in a relationship and between two people, as well as deepening your emotional connection though, goes hand in hand with seeking out new experiences, having different kind of moments together, and trying novel things side by side.  This adds layers and depth to your ever growing relationship, as well as fun, anticipation, and excitement.

5.  Place an immensely high priority, in both feeling but even more importantly in action, on the relationship.  Without it, other priorities will eventually find ways to quietly usurp your relationship.  Whether it be work, other relationships (platonic, but potentially even romantic), certain hobbies, or even just things like watching TV on the couch.  If you do not place an incredibly high importance and priority on the building and maintaining of having a close, high quality romantic relationship, it will be very hard to actually make this happen and keep it going.

6.  Have an end goal in mind.  No, a relationship in general is not a destination, its a journey.  Yet so many people approach their romances in opposite mindset and action, racing towards a seeming finish line, only to realize the fatal flaw in their approach later on.  With that said though, unless you are ok with having a relationship that's perpetually apart most of the time (and some people are, which is totally fine if both people are into this dynamic indefinitely, in which case, go for it and no end goal needed), there should potentially, eventually be a discussion of some sort with regards tentative goals, a context for your relationship, where you would like it to go, and where you see the both of you heading.

Initiating this conversation just a couple months into your long distance relationship?  Almost certainly too soon.  You still hardly know this person, and everyone is on their very best behavior, as illustrated in my point towards the top, about what can be one of the major potential risks and pitfalls of long distance relationships.

Having the conversation though, say 12-16 months into dating?  That's more of a solid, reliable time having been given to get to know one another, and spent a good deal of time with one another in varying situations, experiences, and moments.  Likely giving you a pretty solid idea of their character and hopefully by this point, not only their good traits but their more challenging ones as well.

Because if there isn't some solid synchronicity and like-mindedness involved, you could be wasting your time.  Some important questions to consider and even possibly discuss with your partner:

--How long do you want to continue living far apart from one another?  Do we eventually want to live closer to one another, or even potentially live together?  (Because, believe it or not, not everyone wants to live with a romantic partner.  A lot of people do, and yet, some people do not.  This might be a good thing to know, if your partner is at least open to and interested in the idea at some point, or not).
--Who, ultimately, will make the move if we want to live closer to one another?  (Since one person will have to).  Is this something both people would be willing/open to doing, under the right circumstances?  Or is one person unwilling to do so?  That also might be good to know in advance, if one person in the relationship is unwilling to budge no matter what.
--What is the context for our relationship?  Why are some of the reasons we are together?  (Aside from just finding each other attractive and liking one another).  What shared goals might we have?  Where do we see us growing or moving towards, both as individuals and as a couple?

(Important side note: what exactly does that mean, you might be wondering.  Having a "context" for your relationship.  Why does it matter?  How can it make your relationship better?  More meaningful?  I wrote an article on this very topic some weeks ago: Why Having a Context for Your Relationship is Important.  Inspired by one of the best relationship books Ive ever read: The Soulmate Experience.  Take a look at the article for some more information on what a "context" for a relationship is, and why it can add immensely to your connection with your partner).

In conclusion, while long distance relationships come with some challenges that are unique to this type of relationship situation, they also carry a lot of positives, as well as opportunity for deeper emotional connection, surprises, and romance.  This is a type of relationship situation that is very possible to navigate, and even flourish in, depending on how the two people approach such together.  Assuming they have similar goals, wants, and are both feeling satisfied and fulfilled by their connection and relationship with one another, this is ultimately what matters.  Its also important to continue checking in with one another frequently with regards to relationship needs and feelings, in order to continue navigating a long distance relationship together successfully, as well as potentially then tailoring and tweaking things, or potentially reassessing as well, when and where it might be needed in order to stay close.

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