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Top 8 Tips for Navigating a Long-Distance Relationship

Svea-Schmidt-Psychotherapist-in-training-in-Berlin

Svea is a clinical psychologist specialising in couples therapy, social anxiety and LGBTQIA+ issues.

Last Updated on March 8, 2024 by It’s Complicated

Long-distance relationships intensify certain challenges inherent in any relationship, particularly feelings of loss, jealousy, and loneliness. In this article, we explore eight specific tips for maintaining a healthy long-distance relationship.

Difficulties and advantages of long-distance relationships

Long-distance relationships present a unique set of challenges that can test the strength and resilience of romantic connections. The physical separation, lack of daily face-to-face interaction, and the potential need to navigate different time zones can create hurdles for maintaining intimacy and communication. Physical separation reduces the time partners spend together, leading to unmet needs for closeness and potential misunderstandings. Additionally, each meeting carries the pressure to make up for lost time.
However, the challenges of long-distance relationships also offer opportunities for personal growth, independence, and the development of strong emotional bonds and they can enhance communication skills. Partners in long-distance relationships may develop a deeper level of trust and understanding as they rely mostly on verbal communication and non-verbal cues to maintain their bond. The distance can also provide space for individual growth and self-discovery, as each partner learns to navigate life independently while still being part of a committed relationship. Both partners can maintain independent social lives and personal autonomy, requiring less compromise when planning activities.

If you feel like your long-distance relationship needs some support, here are eight tips for you.

1. Shared Long-term Goals

Setting concrete goals provides motivation and security, reducing stress caused by uncertainty.
Concrete goals motivate us and provide our brains with security. When we don’t know when something ends, we are much more stressed than when we already plan the endpoint. Just remember the beginning of the Corona time. How stressed were you by all the uncertainties and the feeling of not knowing what’s coming?
Goals in a long-distance relationship could be, for example: looking for a shared apartment at the end of next year, spending the next vacation together, being together every weekend after finishing university…

2. Virtual Communication Skills

Addressing communication difficulties openly and honestly is key to overcoming challenges posed by text and voice messages which are often used in long-distance relationships.
This is because text messages and voice messages have their pitfalls: we don’t see the other person in front of us, both verbal and non-verbal cues are missing, leading to quicker misunderstandings. Some are bothered when the other person doesn’t send smileys, others find long response times uncomfortable. The key here is to uncover mutual communication difficulties. Be honest: What bothers you? What makes you angry? But also: What can you handle? What makes you feel good? Being on the phone all the time just to quickly respond to potential messages, for example, is not healthy. Maybe you can communicate that you’ll check your phone every two hours or that you have time for a long chat in the evening?
For most people it’s also better to communicate with descriptions rather than smileys (e.g. “I would like to hug you” instead of a smiley with two hands) as those can be interpreted differently. Unsure about what your partner means? Then it’s better to ask! Be open about your wishes and fears when it comes to communication.

3. Effective Planning

Time and money management are crucial in long-distance relationships, requiring good organizational skills. So, learn to organize yourself well! How much money can you set aside to afford the next trip to see your partner? When do you have enough time to meet with your partner and when do you have too much stress? When will you take care of household chores while you’re spending time together? Write down your plans or use lists!

4. Set Specific Dates for Future Meetings

Knowing the date of your next meeting demonstrates commitment and provides a sense of security within the relationship.
My expert tip: Plan the next meeting while you’re still together! This way, even the farewell will hurt a little less.

5. Discuss Expectations

Openly communicating about expectations for shared time, individual activities, and communication frequency can prevent disappointments and misunderstandings.
Because the time spent together is so limited, it can lead to disappointments when expectations are not met. Therefore, openly discuss what you both wish for during your time together. Do you want to spend it solely together or also do some activities separately? How will you handle work or household chores? How will you communicate if you need some time for yourself?
Also, discuss what you expect when you’re not spending time together. How often do you want to communicate during the day? What uncertainties do you have when the other person is out alone? Is there a way to reach each other if one of you is not feeling well?

6. Tangible Memories

Physical reminders such as clothing or gifts can provide comfort in digital relationships.
When most of the encounters take place virtually, it can help to have something tangible that you can physically touch. This could be, for example, clothing belonging to your loved one, a stuffed animal, letters, gifts, or shared photos.

7. Open Communication

In general, communication is important to maintain a satisfying relationship for both parties. When in a long-distance relationship, it becomes even more crucial. This is because we see each other less often, have less physical contact, receive less affirmation, and misunderstandings can easily arise. It’s best if you talk about what is particularly hurtful or unsettling for you at the beginning of your relationship. Be aware of what triggers your sensitive points! What behaviour from your partner triggers negative feelings in you and why do you think that is? Try to be open with each other, explore your own feelings and be mindful of them and then share them with your partner. This way, you can build a good and happy relationship together – regardless of how much time you actually spend physically together. Establishing open communication from the beginning helps build trust and understanding, especially in the absence of regular physical contact.

8. Prioritisation of your own mental health

A study in The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy (Dargie, Emma, et al., 2015) found that individuals with good mental health are better with maintaining intimacy in long-distance relationships. Mental health issues like anxiety and depression can impact communication, commitment, and sexual satisfaction, leading to emotional distance and relationship challenges. Seeking support from a mental health practitioner can not only help your mental state but it can also help reduce stress in your relationship!

Extra-Tip: Get Counselling

Are these 8 tips not enough for you? Is your long-distance relationship not going as planned? Are the same fears or conflicts bothering you repeatedly? Perhaps there are also old relationship patterns at play, which you carry from one relationship to the next, and that prevent you from having a truly happy relationship? In these cases counselling can help you! Maintaining a relationship can evoke strong emotions. It’s easy to let these emotions overpower rationality and become lost in the difficulties, leading to a downward spiral. Seeking support through couple therapy can provide a practical solution to alleviate the challenges of maintaining a long-distance relationship. The therapist is impartial and wants the best for both of you. They can help you to examine individual aspects and challenges of your long-distance relationship more closely and find solutions together.

Sources:

  • “Beziehungsweise glücklich: Profi-Tipps von Paartherapeuten“ (Schwiderski, 2009, p. 127 ff).
  • “Absence Makes the Communication Grow Fonder: Geographic Separation, Interpersonal Media, and Intimacy in Dating Relationships,” published in the June 2013 Journal of Communication
  • Jonathon J. Beckmeyer,Debby Herbenick,Heather Eastman-Mueller,. (2023) Long-distance romantic relationships among college students: Prevalence, correlates, and dynamics in a campus probability survey. Journal of American College Health 71:8, pages 2314-2318.
  • Dargie, Emma, et al. “Go long! Predictors of positive relationship outcomes in long-distance dating relationships.” Journal of sex & marital therapy 41.2 (2015): 181-202

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