I think its fair to say this from the get-go: long-distance relationships are tough. But there are definitely tactics that help in not only surviving, but thriving while apart. As Sam and I are so close now to our long-distance chapter ending, we are opening up to shed some light on what we’ve learnt and experienced.
I thought it would be valuable to include both sides of the story, so Sam is joining me to answer six questions that we think are pretty important. These were answered totally separately (and honestly) – this is what we had to share.
1. What’s your favourite thing about long-distance?
I’ve always been a lover of the small things in life, so this one naturally went to a whole new level. You really appreciate the small details. When we aren’t together and we’re waiting on that next visit, the small details are the big details. I have never been so thankful to spend a few hours with someone on Skype, or to receive little messages throughout the day. Those typically casual forms of communication are the core of how we are present with each other on a day-to-day basis. Never taking those small things for granted is a big reality of long-distance and for me my favourite part. Its noticeable too that the more grateful we are, the more joy is present. It sounds cheesy, but when Sam sends me a message telling me all about anything thats going on in his world, or sends a little compliment – that means the world to me and eases the distance.
The brief periods when Renee and I aren’t long distance anymore. It bears saying right from the beginning: long-distance relationships are hard. You miscommunicate, misunderstand and most of the time just downright miss each other. But absence definitely does makes the heart grow fonder. There’s something special about being reunited at the airport and finally hugging someone who you’ve been wanting to hug for weeks. When most of the time you spend together is on laptop screens, you appreciate every moment of actually being able to cuddle together on a couch. It makes the hard times worth it. Even over time, as visits become routine, they never become less exciting.
2. How do you approach resolving conflict and miscommunication?
Conflict is never a good time, but it can be especially tough with long-distance for multiple reasons. Firstly, conflict can happen just because a message wasn’t sent with a lot of thought, or it has been completely misinterpreted to what was actually intended. And secondly, when your person is miles away, resolution takes extra intentionality. Not only do you have to literally communicate “hey, _______ hurt me”, but all the emphasis is put on words alone. You don’t have them right there to pick up on tone, body language and expression, so communicating carefully but honestly is really important. I also don’t recommend ever holding onto hurt and expecting another to pick up on vibes, let them know whats going on.
When it comes to resolution, life is busy, and the reality is you might have to wait awhile until you get to talk properly. But be intentional about making time to talk things through when you can. One thing that I love about our relationship is that we have always done this. Even in the busiest of times, we prioritise each other and make time to talk. Once the hurt is out there, use your words to heal too. I think most of us in relationships will agree, having a cuddle helps a lot with feeling everything will be okay. You obviously can’t do that with long-distance, so what we’ve learnt is that without physical presence, sometimes it doesn’t immediately “feel” okay after tension is resolved. But words can go a long way in helping. Use them to the best of your ability.
Also, quick pro-tip: don’t fight over messages! Pick up that phone.
Communication is both easier and harder in a long-distance relationship. It’s easier in the sense that over long-distance, communication is all you’ve got. Unlike an ordinary relationship where there are countless different ways to spend time together, the bulk of your time together long-distance will be spent talking to each other. You get a lot better at sharing your thoughts and letting the other person know what’s going on in your life.
It’s harder because there is often miscommunication. A lot gets lost in a Facebook message – body language, tone of voice, the emphasis on certain words – and it’s easy to misread what the other person is saying. One of the most valuable realisations we had early in our relationship was recognising that you shouldn’t try to use social media to resolve conflict. Trying to resolve something over Facebook is like trying to put out a fire with vodka rather than water. When conflict arises (and it will), it’s important to have an actual conversation about it.
3. How do you ensure you are always letting the other know you care?
Long-distance brings unique challenges with putting in effort and getting creative. A relationship that never stops pursuing is incredibly important to me, so I think if you can nail this effort and connection at a distance, it’s really positive! Writing letters regularly is my favourite way of letting Sam know I care – it’s an opportunity to speak life and express how I feel. I also send little surprises when I can. But I also think the importance of day-to-day effort should never be overlooked. Just one example of how we show that we care is that we committed to saying good morning and goodnight no matter what. It’s such a simple act, but speaks so much in terms of being present and showing we’re important to each other, no matter what else is going on.
More than anything else, it’s the little things you do every day. Giving a spontaneous compliment, sending your significant other a little gift or making the effort to ask them how their day is going are all great examples. It’s easy to forget that the other person doesn’t know you care unless you show you care.
I’ve definitely been guilty of just assuming that because I know in my head how much I love Renee, she must just know that as well. But she isn’t a mind reader. Unless I communicate how proud I am of something she has achieved at work, she’s not going to know that. Unless I tell her that she looks incredible in a particular dress, she’s going to wonder whether I’ve even noticed.
When in doubt, it never hurts to check that you are letting the other person know you care. Once every couple of weeks, Renee and I like to ask each other, “How can I love you better?” For us, this question not only helps us to find new ways to love each other, it reminds us how important it is to be intentional about showing the other person you care.
4. What’s the first piece of advice you would give to another choosing to pursue long-distance?
If I could only give one piece of advice, it would be to have an agreed end-date to long-distance. From the very beginning we had discussed a time where we would plan what the next step in our relationship would look like and how that will happen. The end goal of long-distance is to no longer be long-distance. Someone eventually needs to move, and I don’t think it’s wise to commit to long-distance without talking that through. Be intentional about this commitment because when things get tough (and they will!), having that next step you know you are working towards really helps.
Relationships progressing aren’t a given, but if you’re confident enough to pursue long-distance, I think you should be confident enough to have a plan in mind. Long distance is not for the faint-hearted. It is really hard. So I can’t imagine pursuing it without that intentionality.
My first piece of advice would be that you shouldn’t enter into a long-distance relationship lightly. Unlike some Christians, I’m of the firm belief that you don’t need to be convinced that someone is your soulmate before you start dating them. You can just be thinking I’d like to get to know this girl better, I should ask her on a date.
A long-distance relationship, on the other hand, is a bit more serious. You’re making a commitment to the other person that you’re going to put a lot of energy (and probably a lot of travel money) into making the relationship work. My advice would be that this commitment shouldn’t be made at the initial “getting to know you better” stage of the relationship. You should already be in a solid relationship with someone and even then, it’s a commitment you should seriously weigh up.
My second piece of advice, for those of you who do pursue a long-distance relationship, would be to communicate about expectations before long-distance begins. When Renee and I were about to begin a long-distance relationship, we made three commitments that have been, without a doubt, the bedrock for the success of that relationship.
The first was that we would have at least one decent video conversation each week. No matter what else is going on, no matter how busy we are, we make that time for each other every week.
The second was that one of us would visit the other at least once a month. For us and for how far away from each other we were, we decided this was the best balance between not going too long without seeing each other and other considerations like travel costs.
The final commitment was that by the end of a year of long distance, if we were still together, one of us would move to be with the other. For us, this was about having a clear understanding of what we wanted and where we wanted to be in the future. In my experience, the single greatest factor in the success of a long-distance relationship is whether there is an end goal. Couples who have this end goal in sight are far more likely to go the distance than those who don’t. During the hard times, knowing that there is an end goal gives you the strength to keep going.
5. What’s one thing that long-distance inspired you to do, that now you can’t imagine not doing?
Asking intentional questions. During long-distance, you spend a lot of time talking, and some of the best conversations we have are the ones where we’re both asking questions and digging deeper to get to know each other better. Asking questions is actually quite an art and asking the right ones takes a bit of trial and error, because we all open up a little differently. If I want to know more about Sam, then I need to ask more. And I need to ask in a way that both invites him to share and is comfortable doing so. If I want to know what Sam thinks about something, then I need to ask. This intentionality also translates incredibly well with the time we do share together in person. During our visits we really connect and know how to communicate well.
Saying good morning and good night every day. For us, this was another commitment we made before the start of long-distance. It’s a small thing, but when you’re both living busy lives, your relationship is built on small things like this. These little messages are the foundation of our communication throughout the day. Even if one of us is upset with the other, we still make the effort to say good morning and good night. These messages are a little reminder that our relationship is built on more than just emotion. Love is a choice and in the rare moments when we hardly feel “in love” with each other, saying good morning and good night is one small way that we make that choice.
6. How do you think long-distance will help your future relationship when you are no longer at a distance?
Long-distance definitely sharpens communication! We’re learning to communicate effectively and we are always conscious of doing this better. I’m almost reluctant to touch on this, but there are aspects that “slow down” the progression of a relationship when long-distance, because you aren’t experiencing all that life throws at you side-by-side and learning how the other responds. But getting better at communicating happens faster than in a normal relationship. They say lack of communication is a prominent reason why relationships fail, so this is definitely something I appreciate and am so grateful for. Thinking back to when we first started dating, I know we’ve come such a long way.
The biggest benefit of a long-distance relationship has definitely been improving at communication. I’ve learnt that it’s hard to be a bad boyfriend if I’m working to be a good communicator. Why? Because good communication is connected to everything else.
I can tell Renee I miss her, but if I’m trying to be a good communicator, I’ll also tell her what I’m missing. That’s going to require self-awareness and reflection on the relationship as a whole. I can tell Renee I think she’s pretty, but if I’m trying to be a good communicator, I’ll be specific about what I find attractive. That means being attentive. I can tell Renee that I’m upset with her, but if I’m trying to be a good communicator, I need to tell her why I’m upset. That means I need to be vulnerable.
Self-awareness, vulnerability and countless other aspects of what makes up a healthy relationship are all part of good communication. This definitely isn’t a skill that can only be learned over long-distance, but as I mentioned previously, over long-distance you get a lot of practice. Learning how to communicate better has been the biggest challenge of our relationship, but over the long-term I’ve got no doubt it will be the biggest blessing.