11 Secrets for a Successful Long-Distance Relationship
I used to think that long-distance was a death sentence for relationships. Roxy and I spent two years living respectively in Boston and San Francisco, and I learned from experience and research that it’s possible not only to succeed but to emerge stronger. Here are some of the secrets to success.
1. Accept that it’s going to suck
It's hard. Those long nights alone suck (that’s the worst time, late at night). The aching feeling of having to wait 3 more weeks to see your love sucks. The envy of going to dinner with your couple friends who live in the same city, seeing them casually spending several evenings together in a week sucks. It sucks – know that going in.
2. Believe in your relationship
This is important for all relationships and especially for long-distance ones. If you have one foot out the door, you’ll be leaving the building soon. So take the plunge: believe in yourself, your partner and your union. Act like you're in a long-term partnership that matters to you. Your beliefs will be self-fulfilling.
3. Believe it will be good for you
This is hard sometimes but do your best to believe that there are a lot of benefits. You'll learn to communicate better; and the time you do have together is magical because of its scarcity. Now, Roxy and I live together, and we often feel joy that we don’t have to date distance any more. Know that this gratitude will be yours too one day, and that your love will be all the sweeter for having survived the adversity of long-distance.
4. Grab the chance to be you
Couples often spend so much time together that they begin to lose their individuality and become co-dependent. Take this chance to be an individual (“be yourself – everyone else is already taken”). Immerse yourself in your passions, your own friendships, whatever makes you come alive. Being a whole person with your own life makes you so much more attractive as a partner. Spend some time alone. If you don’t like being alone, all the more reason to get comfortable with it and discover that it’s actually ok.
5. Consider non-monogamy
It’s not for everyone but lots of couples have found that being apart for long periods creates temptation, distrust and jealousy. Opening up the option to engage outside the relationship can reduce all three, as long as you remain communicative and committed to your relationship. Once a fruit is no longer forbidden, its flesh might not seem quite so delicious. Don’t make the mistake of limiting your partner by assuming they aren't open to it – have the conversation and decide together if it’s something you want to try.
6. Plan ahead
If you have specific plans (flights booked and so on) for seeing each other, you have something to look forward to. And it means you can make other plans when your partner’s not in town so you don’t get bored and needy. Plus, figure out how to challenge assumptions and prioritize your relationship. For example, you might skip family Thanksgiving this year and take a vacation just the two of you – if you tell your folks that you really want to invest in your relationship, they might just understand. They probably care about you and want you to be happy.
7. Learn the art of the monologue
Ok, here’s a really great trick coming up. Had that problem where you’re at dinner on the West Coast and your partner is going to bed on the East Coast? She is in bed, feeling loving and sweet, and wants to have a nice conversation before going to sleep. You’re with your friends eating delicious sushi. You want to talk to her, but your energy level is different so it’s often not a great conversation; and you feel conflicted about where to be. On the one hand you want to talk to her, both because she wants to talk, and because you do. On the other, you feel bad about leaving dinner and not being present there. Plus, your partner feels guilty about dragging you away from your dinner – and you feel guilty that they are feeling that guilt… it’s a classic example of the situation almost inevitably resulting in some negative emotions and harm to the relationship.
The solution (drum roll please…) is voice memos. Use an app (iPhone voice memo is our favorite) and make a recording for your partner, then send it via text or a messaging service like Whatsapp. It’s weird at first to record a monologue with no immediate interaction, but trust me you’ll get used to it. Soon you’ll be leaving 20 minute messages about everything from what you had for dinner to your deepest feelings. This way you can talk asynchronously: for example, your partner can record you a late-night message while you’re at dinner, then you can listen to it later when you go to bed yourself (by which time it’s the wee hours on the East Coast and she’s asleep). Trust me when I say this one is a real game-changer.
8. Get to know the other person
We found that being apart helped us get to know each other. Through voice recordings and live conversations (a lot of topics seemed to flow seamlessly between those two media), we talked about a lot of real stuff. If you’re physically together it’s much easier to just be in each other's presence, but being far apart you have to purely exchange ideas and emotions, so you really get to know the person. We once spent nearly a whole day on the phone (earbuds are an important purchase): we went shopping, went for a walk, cleaned our apartments, ate meals. We did this while talking most of the time, in different cities.
9. Rediscover the love letter
You can go old school and use actual paper (gasp!), or email. Whatever you choose, the idea is the same – write love letters to each other occasionally. They are truly wonderful to write and to receive, and then you’ll have them so you can go back and read them later. What stops people from doing this? It doesn't matter if you don't think you're a great writer. And if you think it sounds too sappy or vulnerable, give it a shot and see how much joy you can give your partner with a simple 100 words on a postcard. Let go your inhibitions, write from the heart, and feel the love.
10. Surprise and delight
Being apart makes it easier to spend time planning surprises for each other. Spend time finding a thoughtful gift to send to your partner. Not for their birthday, just ‘cos. One time I flew unannounced from San Francisco to Boston (in the dead of winter, no less) to spend the weekend with Roxy (her room-mate helped me make sure she’d be around). I actually enjoyed the 6 hour flights in both directions due to the excitement and the afterglow. Imagine the pure joy of that weekend and how much it sustained us at other times.
11. Create a light at the end of the tunnel
If you want to live in the same location long-term, co-create the path to that. If all you have is an agreement to ‘figure it out’, and there’s no plan for how or when you might live in the same place, that’s going to weigh on you. It makes it harder to be optimistic because there’s no end in sight. It causes resentment because each of you may be hoping that the other person will eventually move, and every month they don’t adds to a feeling that the other person doesn't love you enough. It can cause conflict about who should move to the other person’s location. So have a plan. I’ll warn you that the last few weeks and months are a real drag. The ‘home stretch’, when you’ve done most of it, somehow is harder than it should be.
Long-distance is really hard at times, but I promise you that like many hard things you'll be thankful you did it. I wish you luck, and I invite you to share your own experiences and tips with me. I'll add the best ones to this post.