A long distance relationship is just like any other relationship. It’s about making time for each other, being on the same page, and setting your boundaries
Lots of people have long distance relationships (LDR). Often this happens because one person has to move away with their family, or for work or for study. Also some LDRs start out that way as people can now make connections with each other on the internet too.
I’ve also written this checklist of questions for making the University Long Distance Relationship work which you might find useful. For more general advice on how to do relationships read the Brief Guide to Relationships
So if you’ve chosen to be in, or have found yourself in, a long distance relationship, here are some tips and advice.
Just like other relationships
LDRs might seem like they are massively different to other relationships but they really aren’t. Relationships require some communication, some honesty, some trust, some good times, some arguments, some separateness, some safety, some fairness and some fancying. It’s also important to be on the same page about the relationship: ie you both agree on what kind of relationship it is and what it means. More on this in a bit.
So try to approach a LDR in a similar way to other relationships: it might seem hard but all relationships are hard whether you are close or far away.
Make time to chat
In all relationships we have to make time to speak to our partner, if we have very busy lives with lots of other people to see and things to do we need to be organised if we are to give the time that we need to make a relationship work. Same thing for LDRs.
Making time and planning time to chat is really important for LDRs because if we don’t hear from the other person it can make us feel really worried that something is wrong.
So make plans on when to chat, how and for how long. Some people need more communication than others so this is something you’ll need to work out with each other. Do you want daily texts? Do you want to have regular Skype chats or chats on the phone?
When you do chat it’s important to remember that you may not be totally getting what the other person is saying. Communicating via text has pluses and minuses. One the minuses is that it’s sometimes easier to misunderstand what someone is saying. When we chat to someone in person or on the phone/webcam we can get from their tone of voice how they are feeling about something. It’s harder to do this if your communication is mainly text, so try to remember that.
If you’re in a sexual relationship you can have long distance if you want to. LDRs are no different (have you spotted a pattern?).
There are plenty of ways to be sexual with someone who is not in the same room, postcode or timezone as you.
In the olden days we had to rely on letters, or phone calls (awkward when the phone is in the hallway), Polaroid film or telepathy to have sexy times with our far away partner. Nowadays Skype, Face Time, Hangout, WhatsApp, and texts make this all a LOT easier (remember you need to be over 18 to make your own sexual images). You could show each other your selves doing *things*, or talk to each other while you do *things*, or chat while you watch other people doing *things*.
This kind of sex can be just as sexy (in a different way) to other kinds of sex. Some people find it easier to talk about their fantasies when they are apart from their partner. We might feel embarrassed about our fantasies. Or we might have a fantasy we want to share but not necessarily do. Having some distance actually makes this easier for some people. When we’re in the same room as someone, talking about what turns us on may feel like too much of a risk for us.
You might also want to talk about what you want your rules about the sex to be while you’re not together (and there’s more about how to define the relationship here)
A ‘healthy’ relationship isn’t about 2 people becoming 1 (sorry to all you Spice Girl fans), but it’s about 2 people overlapping a bit. We need to get a balance of being close but also apart too – togetherness and separateness go hand in hand. Long distance relationships mean that we may have more opportunity to do our own thing. If you’re new to a LDR this might be one of the things you are finding the hardest (especially if you’re used to being in the same ends) but it may actually be a good thing. Some SDRs can be very intense and some people find them suffocating.
However it can be tough not seeing your partner on a day to day basis. We all grow and develop and change as individuals in relationships, when we see someone regularly we might not notice this but it does happen (at least in relationships that are pretty healthy). This change can happen a lot and really quickly in our late teens. We meet new people, new influences, explore new ideas for ourselves.
It can be difficult coping with a partner (or a friend or sibling) who comes back at Christmas with a whole new perspective on the world, new people they talk about all the time, stories of what they’ve been up to and what an amazing time they’ve been having and new annoying in-jokes and catchphrases.
Being away from your partner means you may notice how much they’ve changed more. Try and be cool with change and accept it.
The way to deal with this is not to try and deal with it but to accept change. Change happens to us and for others. We may change in ways that are great for us and our relationships or we may change in ways that may make the relationship harder. If you try to hold onto a fixed idea of what a person is like then you will end up being disappointed – people grow and change in all healthy relationships, not just long distance ones.
Make it work for you both
When we get into relationships with people there is a big expectation about what relationship rules we have: particularly to do with the contact we have with other people. However we can’t get all of what we want and need in our lives from just one person. We need and want things like laughter, good times, sex, hugs, cuddles, support, advice, help, intimacy: we can get these from friends, family, colleagues, course mates etc. So we all need to have relationships with different people and it’s actually healthy not to feel like we completely depend on one person.
Make your own rules and write your own script about how to make your relationship work for you
People feel this way about sexual relationships too. Some people accept that their partner may think about other people or watch porn. Others accept (and are happy with) their partner snogging or sexing or even having loving relationships with other people.
Starting on a long distance relationship may be good time to decide for yourselves on what you want your own relationship rules to be.
Maybe it’s also a good idea to talk about whether this is going to be a LDR forever, or for a while. Sometimes we can guess and make assumptions about something which is right but in LDRs clear communication is key.
Imagine your lover meets you off the train, you snog, run for a bus, hold each other all the way looking into each others eyes , then as soon as you get inside their place you start ripping each others clothes off and have frantic passionate sex.
Actually what might happen is that you are knackered, your partner hasn’t had chance to tidy up or get any food because they’ve been so busy getting all their work done so they could come and meet you and what you really want is to do a big poo, have a shower and a nap. You may have a row about the smell you made in the loo and you get pissed off because you’re so hungry.
What I’m saying here is that, like all relationships, things aren’t always lovely and sweet and sexy. This is true for LDRs as much as SDRs. Arguments are important so long as they happen properly. Sometimes even when we want to have super quality time we may end up being pissed off and frustrated. Welcome to relationships.
So in short, long distance relationships can be hard, but no harder than any other kind of relationship. Some things are different in a good way and some different in a less good way.
Could you do LDR? If so, how can you make it work?
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© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.