Do Long Distance Relationships Really Work?

Couple saying goodbye at train station

It can be nerve-wracking to go through a period of being in a long-distance relationship, especially if you know that this person could be the one you want to marry. If the decision isn’t set in stone, couples can wonder whether they should work extremely hard and sacrifice career and personal goals in order to stay in the same proximity. At the same time, most people in relationships also want what’s best for the person they are with, so it can be difficult to decide whether to prioritize in-person contact or the goals and dreams that each individual has. There are some important questions to answer for yourself before you begin a long-distance part of your relationship.

Woman video chatting on cellphone

Are You Willing to Trust Your Partner?

When two people date in person, it is easy to feel like you trust them; after all, you see each other so often and you know so much about the schedule of the other person. Some of that trust, however, is more like a feeling of being in control. You know you would find out if your partner was doing anything you disapproved of, so you don’t actually have to trust them not to do those things. This can create a rude wake-up call when you are parted from each other for a substantial amount of time. In long-distance relationships it can be easy to wonder how the other person spends his or her free time, leading to doubt and jealousy.

What should be clear from the outset is whether or not you really trust the person you are with, especially when they have the opportunity to make poor choices without you finding out. Would you send him or her into a new unfamiliar situation full of new people and still know that he or she will be honest with you and committed to you?

If you cannot answer yes, it may be a bad idea to be long-distance. That doesn’t mean that one partner will automatically misbehave; rather, no one likes being treated with doubt and constant questioning. Even if neither person in the relationship is ever unfaithful or involved in something negative, suspicion can be destructive to a relationship that is already going through the difficulties of distance.

Couple gazing into each other's eyes

Can You Emphasize the Positive and Not Focus on the Negative?

The negatives of long-distance are so easy to see that it can be tempting to dwell on them and mention them all the time. This means talking about how much you miss each other, how lonely you feel, and how much you daydream about being close again. Many couples stop having as much fun in their conversational life because their phone calls and video chats descend into repetition of how much they miss each other. This can slowly make talking to each other less and less positive, making you doubt what was good about the relationship in the first place.

Being positive is harder, but it also increases your chances of making it through a period of dating long-distance as a strong couple. If you focus on learning what made the other person’s day great or on creating interesting question games to get to know each other better, you can use the time apart as a chance to notice what makes you good together, not just what makes you sad during your separation. Some couples who take this positive approach actually note that they find themselves growing closer during times of separation because they have to work harder to come up with topics that get to the core of their personalities, rather than just commenting on the daily life they share in common.

You can get really creative about emphasizing the positive: write each other kind and thoughtful letters, create silly surprise packages, and send each other voice memos of songs or poems! If you make an effort, you can be just as much of a positive influence on your significant other during time away from them as when you are in person.

Calendar with date flagged

Can You See the End Date and Celebrate Its Approach?

It can be tempting to let long-distance relationships drag on long term if one or both partners are still in a place of uncertainty about where they want to be for the future. However, this kind of relationship can become deeply exhausting to both members, since they don’t get to count down the days until they get to date in-person again.

Whenever possible, it is good to know how long the long-distance experiment will be; after that time, either a concerted effort to reunite or a determination of whether things are still working is in order. People who get into a long-distance relationship and don’t know when or if they will ever be done with long-distance have to measure by an interesting metric, namely, would they prefer having this long-distance relationship with the person they are now with, or an in-person relationship with someone else? When there is no end in sight for long-distance, many people tend to choose the latter after a long amount of time has passed.

This isn’t to say that very long stretches of distance cannot work. For example, if one partner goes to medical school and residency for six years, there is some joy in knowing the end date is approaching. It means that you have “anniversaries” to celebrate regarding how close you are to being together, which injects more of that much-needed positivity into your relationship.

In summary, long-distance relationships present a unique set of challenges when compared to dating in close proximity to your partner. However, there are reasons to make long-distance relationships work. These reasons include you being at a place where you truly trust your partner’s character, emphasizing the positives of being together rather than the negatives of distance, and knowing an end date, no matter how far off it may be. With these items handled, you can make the best of the time you do spend together and work hard to be a positive part of each other’s lives during the times in between.

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