When thinking about how to stay connected in a long distance relationship. It’s easy to gravitate towards the common tools that keep us ‘together’. Think:
- Video calls
- Visits, etc.
While they are the literal form of staying connected…
…They aren’t always what makes us FEEL connected for the times we are apart.
Here are our tips to set up the right foundation that makes it easier for long distance couples to stay & feel connected when separated.
How to Stay Connected in a Long Distance Relationship
1. Staying connected in the different periods of separation
Instead of thinking of your entire relationship as one big separation, it can be helpful to think about periods of separation (when you and your partner are physically apart for longer stretches of time). Each of these periods of separation also has a before and after.
Let’s break this down.
This is the time when you and your partner are together, but you’re anticipating the upcoming separation. Like the Monday morning after you’ve spent the long weekend together and one of you is driving or flying home later that day.
This is the long-distance part—where you are your partner are physically separated.
This is the period of time when you and your partner are physically reunited. For some couples this is one weekend at a time, whereas other couples might reunite for a month or longer, but then have longer periods of separation in between.
This before, during, and after separation is a cycle.
You’re physically together, then you separate, and then finally (after what might feel like forever) you reunite. The cycle continues for as long as you’re apart.
So why is thinking about LDRs in this way helpful?
The most important reason for breaking down LDRs in this way is that what you do to maintain a healthy relationship looks different in each phase. A lot of what is written about LDRs focuses on the phase of separation. Now of course this is important—being physically separated is probably most of how you spend your time (physically apart, instead of together). But the other phases are important to think about too.
2. Spend some extra quality time with your partner before you part
Have any major issues in your relationship? Distance is one way to make sure they bubble to the surface.
If you have been living in the same city and are about to embark upon a period of long distance, set aside some extra time to spend with your partner during the two weeks before you departure day. Talk through the upcoming separation and any points of stress or tension. Try to ensure that your relationship is in a healthy place so you can part with peace, knowing that your relationship is strong.
Also, the person leaving can find it easier to deal with the separation due to busyness and being stimulated by new surroundings and new challenges. However, the person left behind remains in the same place, with the same routine, just with a big hole left by the traveler.
Doing some advance planning around logistics like finances, meals, maintenance, etc., can help ease the load of the person left behind and make the time apart easier.
3. Manage your expectations
At times, you will miscommunicate, irritate, and even hurt each other. It will be an effort to understand and to fix that over distance.
Expect to struggle sometimes, and to have negative feelings emerge. Expect your partner to struggle, and expect to be surprised by some of the things they struggle with because their experiences will be different from yours.
Ultimately, unless you’re the sort of couple who really needs time away from each other, LDRs are not fun. Expecting this period to be generally difficult can help you cope better.
4. Set aside time to talk to each other when you are apart
If you are spending anything more than a couple of days apart, don’t try to put your relationship on hold and expect to just pick up where you left off when you reunite.
When you’re apart, set aside time to talk to each other and protect that time whenever possible.
This doesn’t have to mean 90-minute phone calls every day, but it probably means an extended conversation at least once every couple of days.
5. Practice asking thoughtful questions
When you’re apart, your conversations are really all you have, and it can be hard to convey all you’re experiencing and doing in ways that help your partner understand and draw you closer together.
It can be especially hard to bridge the gap between daily realities that are vastly different.
If you are based in an oil rig and your partner is at home looking after kids and dealing with a broken washing machine, it can feel challenging to know what to say to each other.
So go beyond asking your partner how their day was. Practice asking thoughtful and interesting questions that require your partner to think. Try:
- What did you do well today?
- When did you feel frustrated today?
- When was a time you felt happy or peaceful today?
6. Share some of the small details of your day
Even if you are living very different realities while you’re apart (or, perhaps, especially if this is the case) it is important to honestly express your experiences, and listen to and validate your partner’s experiences.
Don’t share just the highs and the crises.
Try to share some of the small day-to-day details, too. Those will help your partner visualize your experiences more effectively and help you both feel more connected.
7. Don’t delay addressing frustrations and tricky issues
If you’re going to be apart for longer than a couple of weeks, don’t delay talking about something because you think it might lead to conflict with your partner. If one or both of you is under serious pressure it may be wise to refrain from tackling a tricky relationship issue or something potentially sensitive over distance.
Be aware that doing this too often can lead to unhelpful patterns of repression and conflict avoidance in your relationship.
8. Identify how each of you typically respond to time apart
When my husband and I are separated for three weeks or longer, I tend to find the first couple of days particularly hard. Then things feel easier until about the midpoint of the time apart, when I experience another dip.
My husband’s typical pattern is different.
Understanding your own and your partner’s typical reactions can help you communicate more effectively and be particularly gentle and kind with each other during the “tough seasons.”
9. Have some “pick-me-ups” ready for when you feel especially glum
We all know that saying, “take it one day at a time.”.
When things feel particularly hard or lonely, just focus on getting through the next day and have some pick-me ups on hand to boost your spirits.
For a stay-at-home partner, that might be a favorite food, a new movie, a book, time with friends, or a special outing, etc. The options are often more limited for a traveling partner, but try to pack along some fun distractions or treats.
10. Acknowledge and own your own reactions
Ultimately your responses to the separation are yours to control.
Your partner can do their bit by trying to connect and empathize with you across the miles, but you are the only one who can acknowledge your reactions and control your responses to the situation. So recognize those responses and do what you need to do to look after yourself. In doing this, you look after your partner as well.
Learning to do this consistently and well might mean seeking extra support from family, friends or professionals. If so, do it. It’s worth the time and energy.
11. Look for the silver linings
It’s an annoying truth of life that the hard times can stretch us and “grow” us more effectively than the easy, fun times.
So when your long distance relationship feels hard, remind yourself that you’re in a season of growth and look for the silver linings in your separation. Name them. And practice gratitude.
What will you do to feel connected while apart?
Depending on where you are on your LDR journey. The distance has already or is going to test the bond you have with your partner.
If you need support. We recommend joining our free support group for long distance couples. It’s an open and inclusive community where you can ask questions and get advice from people that have navigated similar situations.