We should start off by saying “long distance relationships suck” because every other article seems to.
Next they walk you through vague ways for it not to suck so much. More often than not it’s:
- Trust, and
Sure, they’re a good place to start.
This is the basic foundation that’s necessary to survive a long distance relationship. To make it work.
But to be completely honest…
To survive is to barely make it through. By the skin of your teeth. You’ve done just enough to get to the finish line.
But do you think this is the best state for your relationship to be in once you’re living together?
This is your person. Someone that you want to create an amazing life with.
Why settle on surviving the distance. When you could be thriving.
We believe there are ten habits all long distance relationships should focus their energy on to truly succeed.
They’re the reason why it felt so easy for us to close the distance and helped us transition into our new life together. Even today our relationship benefits from the practical things we did while apart.
Why Should We Listen To You About Long Distance Relationships?
We’re Lolo (Canada) and Nate (Australia), “long distance alumni” and the founders of the site you’re on now, LastingTheDistance.com.
We met as international exchange students at San Diego State University and it wasn’t long before realizing what we had was special. Being on exchange meant our time together would be cut short.
But it wasn’t going to be the end.
For over 500 days and 10,600 miles. We faced all the emotional curve balls a long distance relationship has to offer. Not to mention the time zone, cultural, family, language (French/English) and immigration knuckle balls an international LDR throws at you.
Since closing the distance we’ve lived in each other’s home country, developed professional careers, started a family and created an amazing relationship along the way. You can learn more about our long distance timeline here.
From our own experiences, combined with the expected and surprising results of our research. We found areas that impacted the overall ‘health score’ of long distance relationships both positively and negatively.
Here are the most important habits and traits for long distance couples to thrive while apart, and once they close the distance, set up their relationship for long term success.
How Long Distance Couples Can Create Thriving Relationships In 2023
1. Go All In On Your Long Distance Relationship
To ‘go all in’ is to commit yourself to your partner and your long distance relationship. Having one foot in and one foot out isn’t going to cut it.
It’s about wholeheartedly agreeing that this is what you both truly want and are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.
Whatever. It. Takes.
Lolo and I expressed our commitment to each other in two ways:
- Our words, and
- Our actions
We weren’t only vocal about going all in at the start of our long distance relationship. We frequently let each other know that this is what we wanted and were in it for the long haul.
But this was only half of the equation. Our actions proved we meant what we said.
Whether it was:
- Agreeing to email each other EVERY night (because of opposite timezones)
- Scheduling and preparing for visits well ahead of time
- Creating relationships with each other’s friends and family members, or
- Committing and sticking to a date we’d close the distance
We showed up for each other because it’s what we truly wanted.
Words and actions like these are powerful. Not only do they help to keep you motivated. They also create a level of clarity around the unknown because you now have the confidence that you can rely on one another when things get tough (and trust me, they will).
This is only possible if you actually mean it.
You need to be honest with yourself and your partner. Otherwise you’re probably not going to put in the required time and effort that your relationship needs and that your partner deserves.
Take some time to think about what going all in means for your long distance relationship. Then have an open discussion with your partner to find out if this is what you both truly want and how you’re going help each other get there.
2. Develop Unshakable Trust
Q: Without trust, how on earth can you have a fulfilling life AND successful long distance relationship?
A: You can’t!
If you don’t completely trust one another you will be second guessing everything each other says and does.
This is why we believe going all in is so important because it shows you have each other’s best interests at heart. Which is the perfect foundation for trust to be built upon.
When it comes to developing unshakable trust, it must first be earned.
When your words match your actions.
But in order to get there, you need to know exactly what situations can build upon or break that trust.
While I knew Lolo to be very open and honest. A previous relationship impacted my ability to trust people when they are overly secretive. It was necessary to not only tell her, but to honestly explain the story behind it. So she could truly understand why being transparent was important for me.
Bringing up the past was tough. But I am thankful that I did because to this day, it still has a positive impact on our relationship.
We all have varying degrees of trust issues and the thought of admitting them can feel gut wrenching. But if we don’t, how can our partners manage or handle certain situations appropriately?
Otherwise we are creating a level of disconnect that is completely unavoidable. Our thoughts and energy will continue to fuel the seeds of doubt and jealousy until the relationship is no more.
Couples should talk about everything from their values to past experiences, which have played a role in ‘what trust means’ to you. This can lead to events in your long distance relationship that need discussing and whether healthy boundaries should be suggested.
3. Deep Connection Through Meaningful Communication
Whether verbal or written, the primary way long distance couples connect is with words.
So, when we’re messaging each other throughout the day and having video calls that last several hours. It doesn’t take long before we feel like we know everything there is to know about one another.
During that time you become more and more comfortable communicating and spending time with each other online.
It’s a great feeling!
But you have to fight the urge for it to feel like an achievement. Otherwise it will lead you to, unknowingly, put in less effort. The result?
- Conversation topics become generic, and
- You stop getting to know each other on a deeper level.
For long distance relationships to be successful, they can’t allow conversations to continually stay on the surface.
One of the ways Lolo and I found to do this was to stay curious. We made a conscious effort to set aside time to learn something new about each other.
At first it felt like our lives weren’t exciting enough to talk about. But being from different places meant a lot of what made us who we are was also very different.
We would dive into areas like:
- Upbringing, friends and family
- Language, culture and beliefs
- Past relationships
- Hobbies and guilty pleasures, etc.
Not only did understanding more deeply about these differences help bring us closer together. The surprising things we did learn would send us further down the rabbit hole. Spurring on more and more questions and deeper insights.
Creating the type of environment where you both feel safe to have such deep conversations will also make it much easier to approach intimidating subjects like money, emotions and sexuality.
The best way to create an environment where your partner is willing to share is to share first. It not only shows you’re able to be vulnerable but that you also trust them with information you’re giving them.
4. Manufacture & Prioritize Quality Time
Navigating life is demanding enough. Add in a long distance relationship and it feels like the world is against you.
- Time zones
- The list goes on…
It’s easy to see why spending quality time together can feel out of reach.
There definitely will be times where it’s unavoidable. But this cannot become the norm.
Spending quality time together is too important to leave to chance.
Even our love language survey found that over a third of respondents (334 of 926) said quality time with their long distance partner being the most important way for them to feel and express love.
So, if that’s how a third of long distance couples need to express and receive love. What happens to the relationship when they can’t?
There won’t be one unless something changes.
It’s not realistic to think that extra time will magically appear in your schedules. You have to be willing to make decisions that prioritize what’s important in your life.
Being in opposite time zones, paired with busy schedules, didn’t give us a lot of options for meaningful one-on-one time.
But to first understand this, we compared complete weekly schedules with Google Calendar. This helped to find a couple of times where we were both always free.
Unfortunately they weren’t long enough for what we both considered to be quality time. So we had some tough decisions to make.
Our time zones meant one of us would be going to sleep as the other woke up. We figured that if we were willing to sacrifice 30 minutes at the start and end of our days.
This manufactured an hour per day we could dedicate to quality time.
Excluding weekends, that’s:
- 5 hours a week
- 20-22 hours a month
- 260-262 hours a year
Not all long distance relationships will have to take drastic measures. Nor should an hour of quality time per day be a benchmark. You do what suits your schedule and relationship.
But this does show that you can find time for what you truly want. Without it impacting your daily life.
Work together to answer: What does quality time mean to you and what does it consist of? This will give you a rough idea to map out how much time you need.
Comparing your complete schedules will help you find times to lock away. If not, it will help show you where you can manufacture time by sacrificing in certain areas.
5. Embrace The Pain Of Being Apart
Visiting your long distance partner is one of the most amazing experiences you’ll get to encounter.
From the nervous excitement during the build up. The almost euphoric feeling of finally being in each others arms. To just being together and doing regular couple things making you feel invincible.
But the opposite is also true.
Saying goodbye is one of the worst experiences you’ll encounter.
Before you know it that sweet sweet dopamine is cut off and the withdrawals start to kick in. One moment the heartbreak leaves you sad and depressed. The next you’re angry and frustrated because you chose to be in this situation.
At this point you can choose one of two paths:
- Leave it unchecked and continue to isolate yourself, or
- Embrace the pain and turn it into a positive.
Being over 10,000 miles apart meant that our visits were longer then most (4-5 weeks). But it also meant that time between visits was too (5-6 months).
This made our goodbyes tough and I really struggled in the weeks that followed. But if I didn’t do something about it I knew it would impact my life at home and our relationship.
There were three areas that had the most impact:
It’s hard not to feel empowered if you look at the pain from a positive perspective.
I believe how much it hurts is directly correlated to how deeply you feel about your partner and not many people get to experience that kind of love in their lifetime.
When you’re stuck you tend to overthink things when really you should just be doing.
- Do life: Unpack that damn suitcase and get back into your regular routine.
- Do what makes you happy: Rather than spending mental energy dwelling on the negatives.
- Try something new: Get the mental and physical benefits of achieving a long time goal.
If you’re willing to put yourselves through this pain. You should also be willing to help each other through it.
You need to become each other’s biggest cheerleaders and hold each other accountable.
In this situation it’s better to be proactive instead of reactive. Have a plan for what you will do to help each other after your next visit.
How will you:
- Check in with each other?
- Make positive changes?
- Support each other?
6. Manage & Reduce Uncertainties
When we’re away from our partners, we have too much time on our hands.
Combine this with one or more of the many uncertainties that a long distance relationship creates:
- Why haven’t they introduced me to their friends/family?
- Are my parents going to like them?
- When is our first/next visit?
- How are we going to afford it?
And you’ve got yourself a recipe for crippling stress and anxiety.
We can’t answer many of these questions on our own. But when we try to, it’s easy for our thoughts to spiral into ridiculous hypothetical scenarios.
It leaves us feeling overloaded. The uncertainty hijacks our attention, which studies have shown can impact our ability to connect and communicate with our partners.
That’s the last thing a long distance relationship needs.
To help manage feelings of uncertainty, long distance couples should adopt a two-part approach:
- Focus energy on what can be controlled, and
- Make what is uncertain, certain.
It’s hard to admit, but I’m an overthinker that likes to be two steps ahead.
This is great for being prepared for what you can prepare for. But not when something is out of your control, which was the case when Lolo moved to Australia to close the distance.
What if she doesn’t like it here?
I stressed over this for some time. It took talking to a friend to realize the most important word in that sentence.
We won’t know if she really likes living in Australia and being with me until she gets here.
I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders knowing that this is an uncertainty I can’t control until the time arrives.
In saying that, there were other uncertainties, which we could do something about and could have an impact on how she adapts.
One of those was “Where is she going to work?”.
Taking steps to help find job opportunities didn’t mean immediate employment was a certainty. But we were more certain of the path forward than ever before.
This went a long way to reducing some of the early stress and anxiety felt when making a big life change.
Be open and honest with each other about the uncertainties brought on by your long distance relationship that are making you feel stressed and anxious.
From here you can work together to understand if this is something you can control. If so, discuss ways you can help one another to solve it and the steps you’ll take to get there.
7. Create A Support Network
A lot of people love to give unsolicited advice on things they don’t know much about. Long distance relationships are no exception.
For some reason this topic is like crack to these people.
It’s not a real relationship.
They can cheat and you won’t know.
Are they even real?
More often than not, what they have to say is negative, which is fine if we don’t know them well. But when it comes from someone we love or respect…
It’s a different kind of heartbreak.
At this point it’s easy to get in your own way. Isolating yourself because you think no one understands what you’re going through.
Don’t do this. Being away from your long distance partner is lonely enough.
While every long distance relationship is unique, not all of what you experience along the way is. There are others that know exactly what you’re going through. There are also people that have no idea, but will be in your corner regardless.
It’s up to you to figure out who they are.
Finding Your Tribe
Who are the people (family, friends, community) we want to involve AND are supportive of our choices AND give us tough love when we need it?
The people in your support network have to check off each part of the question above.
But what about those people that don’t meet the criteria but you want to have an active relationship with?
Shutting people out when your relationship becomes a discussion topic isn’t healthy. Nor do these people understand why.
The only option you have is to be open and honest.
Let them know how important they are to you. But also let them know how important your long distance relationship is too.
Not Sure Where To Start?
We created an LDR Support Group (which is free for you to join) because Lolo and I didn’t have a community of other long distance couples to lean back on.
It has since become an amazing starting point for those that don’t know who they can turn to. Come and join our tribe!
Define ‘who’ is in your corner. Be cut throat. There is no room for negativity. Then reach out to them and let them know why you want to confide in them.
8. Consistent & Careful Money Management
Money plays the most important role in bringing you and your partner physically together.
Whether it’s gifts to keep you connected, visits or closing the distance. There is a significant cost to being in a long distance relationship.
If you’re not on top of your finances, those costs can create long term consequences.
We surveyed 469 couples to find how much money they wanted to save before closing the distance. On average, domestic long distance relationships (253) wanted to save $7,639 while international long distance relationships (216) had a goal of $8,236.
Having a goal like this is fantastic. But there are no pats on the back just yet. You need to have your sh!t together if you’re going to accomplish it. Here’s how:
Build discipline TOGETHER
Talking about your finances can leave you feeling very vulnerable. This was definitely the case for Lolo and me. But if we were going to hit our goals, we needed to better understand how each of us thinks about money and actively manages it.
We then started to make some positive adjustments:
- We didn’t know where every dollar was coming in and where every dollar was going out. So we created personal budgets to find out! They helped us better understand how much we were saving and would become our accountability tool to keep our spending in check.
- Overspending during visits is easy to do. While we agreed to make the most of our time together. We also agreed to not let our spending decisions create a situation where the next visit would would be delayed or have to be shorter.
Some people will say you don’t have a saving money problem, you have a making money problem.
But we believe reducing expenses is where you should start because it’s the easiest and almost instant way to put more money in your pocket. If you create a personal budget you’ll know exactly what is necessary and unnecessary and can then take the appropriate action.
It also helps create further discipline around spending habits when you have a savings goal.
The most common ways to do this would be:
- Getting a better paying job
- Selling possessions you don’t use
- Starting a side hustle
While it will take longer to make more money, this is where the significant gains are going to be made.
Rather than saving $100 extra a month, you could be making $1000 a month. But it’s the discipline you gained while reducing your spending that is going to help you keep as much of that extra $1000 in your pocket.
What Could The Results Be For You?
- Gifts are more affordable making it easier to show love from afar
- More frequent or longer lasting visits meaning you spend less time apart
- Being able to close the distance sooner and with less financial stress
- Your money habits stick and positively impact the rest of your lives
All of this is possible. But it can’t stop with the goal, you need to put it into action.
If you don’t have a personal budget this is the best time to start. Examine each other’s spending habits and how it impacts your next visit (when it is and for how long).
Then work together to improve your financial situation by highlighting ways to save or make more money. You could also look at what these improvements would mean for your next visit.
9. Enhance Your Physical Connection
As days apart turn into weeks and weeks into months. Not being able to be intimate, cuddle or hold hands. Heck, not even being able to just sit right beside each other can be agonizing.
Overtime, this can leave you feeling isolated and disconnected. Putting a strain on your ability to bond and be emotionally close to your partner.
- Because physical touch is proven to reduce feelings of loneliness, while
- Being physically intimate with your partner boosts oxytocin, which reduces stress and increasing feelings of love and trust.
Unfortunately, there is no getting around that fact that you won’t be able to fully realize these benefits until you’re physically together.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to enhance your physical connection while apart.
It’s all about compromise and your willingness to explore the “next best thing”.
Willingness to explore virtual intimacy
When done right, we’re big believers in how being intimate online together can strengthen long distance relationships.
And we’re not alone!
Our survey (343 responses) found that four out of five people in long distance relationships felt that virtual intimacy helped strengthen the connection they have with their partner.
So, if you can’t be physically intimate, what are the next best options?
- Phone sex
- Foreplay games
- Webcam sex
- Long distance sex toys
You or your relationship might not be ready for this level of intimacy and that’s ok. There are other non-sexual ways to feel physically connected.
Presence as a compromise
If we break down what being together means. It’s to be in each other’s presence.
Lolo and I tried to various ways to feel each other’s presence while apart. We found the most impactful to involve the five human senses. For example:
- Touch: We used Bond Touch bracelets that allowed us to feel each other’s “touch” no matter where we were or at what time (See our in-depth review for more details).
- Scent: I sent Lolo my favorite hoodie, which she would wear when she struggled with the distance (you can add a little spray of cologne or perfume to enhance the smell).
- Voice: Being in opposite time zones meant leaving voices messages (while one of us was asleep) was a quick yet impactful way to keep each updated on our daily lives.
- Taste: From time to time we’d use date nights to make and try each other’s favorite foods. And even included them in our regular cooking routine when we were apart.
- Sight: I changed my phone’s homescreen to a photo of us. So multiple times a day. I would be reminded of how good we are together and what we were fighting for.
You might love our ideas or they might make you cringe a little and that’s ok. What’s important is that you allow yourselves to be open and honest about what you’re willing to try.
Start by discussing consent. If you are planning to be intimate online, you both need to be fully onboard.
- If yes, find out what each other misses most in your intimate connection and what you’re willing to experiment with.
- If no, discuss non-sexual ways you want to try to create the feeling of presence. Choose one you both agree with rather than multiple.
10. Work Forward With An Eye On The Future
I want to circle back to uncertainty. More specifically…
With certainty comes feelings of stability and security. Without it, the unknowns it creates come with feelings of distress and anxiety about the future.
For long distance relationships, much of this distress and anxiety is caused by not being able to answer:
When will we be together?
It’s your “North Star”.
If you’re not working towards it, even the light hearted preliminary steps. The distress and anxiety we mentioned earlier begins to grow.
It doesn’t matter if your North Star is your first/next visit or finally closing the distance for good. Not working towards the ‘who, when, where, what and how’ types of questions can make your relationship feel like it’s stuck in an endless loop.
So what can you do?
Gain certainty through clarity
The only way to gain clarity is to talk about what is unclear.
Just know that this isn’t about having all the answers straight away. That’s not realistic. It’s about moving forward at your own pace, and overtime gradually creating more clarity around your future.
The early conversations on our future were just that, conversations. There were no milestones to hit, we only wanted to understand each other’s perspectives.
Overtime those conversations lead to deeper and more insightful questions, which helped us visualize a path towards closing the distance.
We didn’t start with a closing the distance date either. Our early conversations got us to a year, which we could narrow down from. As we progressed, the year became a season, the season became a month and the month became a day.
That day was Friday, June 29th.
And I can still remember it vividly. Waiting for Lolo to walk through the doors of international arrivals at Adelaide Airport.
Whether it’s locking in your next visit or to close the distance. As you gradually move along this path, the certainty you are creating in your relationship and each other will fill you with confidence.
It’s this confidence that will take you from thinking “we could be together” to…
We WILL be together.
Figure out the next milestone you should be planning. Is it a visit or are you ready to start your journey towards closing the distance?
From here you can talk about your must-haves and must-dos to work out an initial time frame.
The Next Steps To Take On Your Journey To Long Distance Success
If you’ve made it this far, congrats! It’s a long read, but it’s the only way to truly guide couples towards healthier, happier and more successful long distance relationships.
So, what now?
You might have noticed a few habits that you’re already doing. But you definitely noticed some that you need to work on.
Our recommendation is to talk them over with your partner and move forward with one rather than multiple habits. This level of focus in one area will have you seeing success far earlier than splitting your focus on three or four.
If you’re not sure where to start, pick the one you think can have the biggest positive impact on your relationship in the shortest amount of time.
Alternatively, take a look at our course, LDRs THAT WORK, where we help you navigate each of these habits (and more) step-by-step and in much greater detail.