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How to Make a Long Distance Relationship Work

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Long distance relationships take a lot of effort to see through to the end. While the majority of LDR couples do reunite in the end (one study’s participants had a 58% success rate), you might be wondering what to do to improve the chances of a positive result.

For me and my wife, we found that the following helped see us through to the finish line:

  • Being in a routine and sticking to it
  • Having lives outside of our relationship
  • Getting support from our family and friends
  • Relieving the distance (if only for a while)
  • Being okay with not being okay
  • Identifying our love needs and acting on them
  • Have a solid end date mind

Be in a routine (and stick to it)

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It sounds super weird…but the thing I liked most about our long distance relationship was the routine.

We had a 15 hour time difference, so we had to plan our time. I knew that after I finished dinner and enjoyed a bit of relaxation time, I could chat with her as soon as she woke up.

Then, when she was heading to work and I was in bed, we’d switch to an audio call so we could chat while she was driving.

The next day, I knew that she’d be available most weeknights during my lunch hour while she was having dinner. She’d then catch me up on her day while I’d go out for a bite to eat, and stroll around Sydney Harbor to take some nice photos to share with her.

Meanwhile, on the weekends…

We’d usually have a movie in mind that we’d want to watch. So, we’d both rent it, cue it up on our computers, and watch it together. Or we’d have a TV series that we’d want to see at the same time. We’d both open up our Netflix accounts and binge a season over a day or two.

And it wasn’t just watching shows, either

When my wife learned I’d never read any of the Harry Potter books, she was shocked. We decided to go through the whole series together over FaceTime, reading chapters to each other. 

I really looked forward to our reading time. I could spend more quality time with her, but also because I wanted to know what happened next. She also loved doing it, because she could see my reaction to all the plot twists in the series.

Special deliveries

Perhaps the best routine I liked in our relationship was her postcards.

Every week, she’d make an effort to buy a postcard, write me a message, and mail it to me.

I never expected her to send them to me, but seeing them in my post box made my day.

And she’d never let up! She’d always send handful of cards after a few weeks, and I’d get a little piece of her in the mail. It was something I could hold, read, and enjoy.

She sent a lot of postcards.

By the end of it I ended up with two huge binders of postcards. In fact, I used those very postcards as evidence for my permanent residency interview. 

Now, I’m not saying that it’s a foolproof formula…but hundreds of handwritten postcards over several years is pretty compelling evidence of a bona fide relationship!

(By the way, I also sent her letters, postcards, and origami too. Truth be told, she was much better at keeping it up than I was, though.)

The bottom line is: a routine gives both of you something to look forward to. It helps normalize a unique situation until you’re both ready to reunite. 

Have a life outside of your relationship

Credit: Savannah Dematteo

If you’re about to start a long distance relationship, you might be wondering to yourself, “How much time do I need to spend with my partner? How often do I message them? Should I be calling them and talking with them whenever I have a spare minute?”

My response is that you should communicate with your partner at a level where you’re both comfortable. Just make room for other things in your life too.

You might be feeling anxious that you’re not calling them enough. Or you might be thinking that if you don’t contact them whenever you have some spare time, you’re not invested in the relationship.

Relax. It’s okay to have a life outside your relationship, too.

Imagine if you were both dating in the same city or place. Would you spend every single waking minute messaging them, spending time exclusively with them, and forgoing all your other relationships?

No? So why would you do it now?

Admittedly, I felt the same way in the early days of our relationship. I felt guilty whenever I’d miss a regular call with her because my friends wanted to hang out, or I’d be out at a family dinner for longer than I planned. My wife would feel the same way too.

But we both realized that having our own life, aspirations, and goals outside of our relationship was just as important as maintaining the love we had for each other. It made us better people and more attractive to each other.

So don’t over-communicate and inundate your partner with missed calls. Go and see your friends. Find your own individual hobbies. Discuss your dreams and goals with your partner, and pursue them. Have the confidence to be your own person as well as being in a great relationship.

Get support from your family and friends

One of the hardest things for me in my long distance journey was dealing with the skepticism from others.

“I’d never be able to do that. I don’t know how you can do it!”

“Oh wow! You must trust her a lot!”

“What a waste of time! You know the relationship is as good as dead!”

It’s fatiguing and overwhelming to be assailed with doubt and questions, non-stop, every day. It took months for my mum to accept the fact that what my partner and I had was genuine and not a fleeting thing. I’ll never forget talking to my neighbour and hearing him say adamantly that my relationship would fail. (Needless to say, he wasn’t invited to the wedding.)

However, my wife and I were fortunate enough to know so many amazing people that supported us in our journey. They would always ask about how we were doing, what we were up to, and how we were working towards reuniting again.

Finding people like that can be as rare and as valuable as diamonds. But if you do have people like that in your corner cheering for you, it can really give you both the boost needed to see this thing through to the end.

Relieve the distance, if only for a while

Credit: Anna Shvets

Long distance relationships do not have to be long distance for 100% of the time. And they shouldn’t! It’s incredibly hard to be apart from someone for that long.

When we were separate, we made the goal of trying to see each other every 6 months. (Ideally, we wanted it to be every 3 months, but flying from Australia to the USA isn’t cheap!)

Reuniting was always a huge deal, and it was a great reset for the both of us to “relearn” how to hold each other, kiss each other, share the same bed, and so on.

Of course, separating again was awful, and the lows that followed can be devastating. But having those two or three weeks together was everything, and it kept us going until we were together for good.

Be okay with not being okay

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Long distance is a tough situation. I can’t count the number of days where I wanted to just book the next flight out so I could hold her, just for an hour.

There were times when she and I felt completely low and helpless. We were either completely lost as to what steps to take next, or we’d feel like we were at the mercy of the US Citizenship and Immigration System.

The waiting was truly the hardest part. I don’t miss those days at all.

There are times where both of you will not be okay with where you are…and that’s normal. The journey you’ve taken was never going to be easy.

Making a long distance relationship work means enduring the pain of separation now, so you can enjoy the rest of your lives together later.

Identify your love needs, and act on them

I’m sure by now you’ve heard all about the Five Love Languages.

My wife and I took the quiz and found that we actually both shared the same preference for expressions of love. (Unfortunately, it was “Physical Touch”—the irony!)

However, knowing each other’s preferences for expressions of love really helped us to keep our love for each other strong, and to help validate and meet each other’s emotional needs.

If you and your partner haven’t looked into this, it might be a worthwhile avenue to explore.

Have a solid end date in mind

Credit: Євгеній Симоненко

Did you know that long distance college couples who weren’t sure if they could reside in the same city in the future suffered from increased distress and lower satisfaction in their relationship?

Statistics aside, the idea of enduring being apart from the one you love, day after day, hoping that it will end without a clear plan in mind…to me, that’s torturous.

I say that because my wife and I went through that for a period of time. We put off that conversation, because it would eventually raise the question of “who has to give up their home and lifestyle?”

But let me tell you—it’s a lot easier to bite the bullet, make a decision, and set a game plan in motion, than it is to just stay together and quietly hope that the other person surprises you with a snap decision.

Making a long distance relationship work is difficult. But knowing that you’re both working towards a set date or goal makes it much, much easier than staying in limbo.