What military families have always had to deal with — the impending doom of long-distance relationships — has now become very common. Especially with the increasing popularity of online dating, men and women alike are meeting partners in unexpected places; social media allows us to reconnect with friends and acquaintances from our past in surprising ways. In short, technology has made the world a much smaller place.
After being "on my own" for about four years, I chose to begin a long-distance relationship with a friend I had known for many years. As a single mother with almost-grown-up sons, I knew this phase of my life was going to be transitional. Perhaps surprisingly, I thought a long-distance relationship would be an ideal way to acclimate myself back into the rhythm of intimacy.
Well, I won't lie and said it's been easy. Though I also won't say it's any more difficult than a "local relationship." When push comes to shove, all relationships are difficult. Long-distance ones just make that difficulty a little more apparent in the day-to-day.
With that said, here are 10 tips I've learned while on my own long-distance journey. Obviously, there are far more than 10 things to do to cultivate a healthier relationship. But like me, you'll figure them out on your own journey. So start with these to build a solid foundation ...
1. Communicate — clearly and consistently.
I wish I could list this tip 10 times over! For any relationship, romantic or otherwise, communication is vital. In long-distance relationships, where the comfort of physical touch is not available, it's especially important to prioritize transparent and authentic communication. Get to know one another's needs and desires, so that resentments and frustrations don't build over time. Find out what modes of communication work best for you. And use them frequently!
2. Remember that social media is a no-no.
This may sound ironic, especially after I'm telling you to prioritize regular communication. But social media is not an especially mindful or intentional place to have intimate, honest conversations. Even if you met your partner on a social media platform, make a conscious effort not to use it as a tool for sharing and catching up with one another. Communication with your partner should be relatively private and direct.
3. Make plans for the immediate future.
Don't make your partner guess if and when you will be together again. As soon as you are both able to commit to a time-frame and location, make a plan. Also make sure you are both willing to take turns doing the traveling. Having some kind of consistency and predictability in how you spend time together will help build trust. Plus, it will make the feeling of longing on a day-to-day basis feel much more manageable.
4. Make plans for the distant future, too.
Show your intentions for the relationship by agreeing to plans further down the road. If it's winter, make some vacation plans for spring or summer. If it's early on in your relationship, don't put pressure on this tip. But you can have casual conversations about things you might like to do in the future, and make concrete plans later.
5. Use texting appropriately!
Texting was designed as a means of communicating short, simple messages, not as a means for long and involved conversations. In fact, trying to express complex thoughts over text message can often lead to things being lost in translation, and potentially even unnecessary conflict. So use text messages to communicate quick thoughts like, "I'm thinking of you!" or "I'll give you a call after work!" Avoid drunk texting for obvious reasons. "Sexting" is a different topic altogether, as it works for some and less so for others. This is one area where you'll figure out what works for your relationship!
6. Email each other longer trains of thought.
If a topic deserves more thoughtful consideration, email is the way to go. Email about trip ideas, planning visits, or other more involved trains of thought. That said, don't try and communicate "relationship issues" over email. Save that for the phone, or better yet, in person. In other words, if it's too long for a text, and not so serious as to warrant an immediate phone conversation, try email.
7. Keep things special with snail mail.
Everyone likes to receive mail that isn't a bill or an advertisement. Getting a letter or postcard also shows you took the time and made a little more of an effort. Send a cute card, love note or small gift to surprise your partner!
8. Talk daily. Yes, daily!
Long or short telephone conversations will keep you present with your partner. You'll feel more connected and will also look forward to this part of your day or night. Even schedule "phone dates." While I prefer not to Skype or use FaceTime, they may work better for you than the phone, so experiment.
9. Develop rituals.
Having things the two of you share when you're apart will make you feel closer. My partner and I will go out and look at the moon "together" often when we talk. You can make a routine of a "Good Morning" or "Good Night" text. Be creative and see what works for you.
10. Honor your partner's independence.
Taking the time to recognize your partner's independence from you and your relationship can sometimes feel painful, especially in the context of a long-distance relationship. But like you, your partner has an entire world that they experience everyday. They have a career, home, friends and family. Honor their independence, and they will honor yours. Not only will you avoid codependency, you will feel more confident and empowered in your own daily life.
All relationships require nurturing. So don't expect a long-distance one to be any different.
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