Go The Distance: What It Takes To Make Long Distance Relationships Work

Every relationship starts with a kind of leap of faith. There’s a lot of uncertainty, negotiation, and figuring out what will make your relationship work. I know, because I’ve been there. For about nine months back in 2012 and 2013, my wife, then my girlfriend, and I were in a long distance relationship. I was in graduate school and she was working about a 12 hour bus ride away, a trip I occasionally made through the night. That’s not very long, or very far compared to many couples, but it certainly gave me some insights into what it takes to make long distance relationships work.

The Stats On Long Distance

One of the upsides of being in a long distance relationship today, compared to a few decades ago, is that not only are they much more common, but there are a lot more tools that can help make them last. That’s good news for the 3% of married Americans who live apart from their spouses, as well as the 75% of college students who will be in a long distance relationship at some point. Dating apps and online groups also make it more likely that people who have never lived near each other will strike up a relationship.

The Key — Communication

Unsurprisingly, the most important elements in a great long distance relationship is communication, and there’s good news — couples in long distance relationships show stronger communication skills than their peers living in the same place. This is in large part because living apart forces couples to focus on quality communication, whether that’s cultivating shared interests and knowledge of each other or setting boundaries and expectations around how to conduct the relationship.

When you’re not together, you have to be intentional about every moment; you can’t just collapse on the couch together and stare at your phones. In this way, couples who are together all the time may actually lose out. They may get a greater quantity of time, but not true quality time.

Know What You Want

Following on the importance of communication, another important element in building a successful long distance relationship is being clear about what your goals are. Depending on the reasons that you’re living that long distance life, how long it might take you and your partner to relocate to the same place — and how important that is to you — will vary.

To be clear, how long it takes to go from long distance to living in the same place isn’t the point. What matters is that you’re both clear about your goals and that you communicate those to each other to make sure they’re compatible. If one of you thinks that you’ll be living together in a year, and the other assumes it will be at least three to five years, you may need to talk about how you can compromise around those timelines and what will work for both of you.

Use Tech Tools

Finally, when it comes to making a long distance relationship work, it’s important to find ways to connect in the day-to-day. Yes, your communication skills will serve you, but it’s the occasional text message mid-day, simultaneously watching a movie while on Skype, or a small present seen online and sent “just because” that can keep the spark alive. Technology makes long distance easier because it enables long distance couples to engage in activities that make them feel connected, whether that’s reading a book out loud or playing video games together. You just want to find ways to do “normal” couple things because for you, long distance is normal.

Long distance relationships are undeniably challenging and it’s okay to feel sad or frustrated about not being closer to your partner; that’s normal and it’s important to be honest about those feelings and let yourself experience them. But that’s why having a clear plan for your relationship is so important — it may not work out exactly the way you envisioned, but you’ll always have something to look forward to, whether it’s a phone call after dinner to say goodnight or eventually moving in together. Make the little things count until you can make that big move.