The secret to making Long Distance Relationships work
[Photo courtesy of EBM Photography: thanks Emma!]
Many people ask me what is the secret?
Apparently I’m inspirational.
I must be blissfully happy and have the perfect relationship.
How did I stay committed and faithful for so long?
What tips do I have?
After surviving 3 years long distance (and I’m not talking down the road here – nope England Vs. Germany) seeing my boyfriend only once a year for about a measly week at a time (thanks to the German and UK uni holidays never matching up) I guess people think we’re the perfect couple enduring all and winning. That it must be true love.
That if it’s meant to be, it will be effortless, easy and will just happen on its own.
That we are now solid and will live happily ever after.
We must have the secrets to making a long distance relationship work, right?
Everyone thinks we are the perfect couple and that annoys me. No one is perfect. Every couple has their issues behind closed doors. Please don’t put us on a pedestal. It’s not nice being up there and I feel like a fraud. And please don’t compare your relationship! Every relationship is uniquely different.
Personally, I think i’m a romantic masochist or a commitment phobe with a fear of failing or just too stubborn to give up! I’ll explain that in another post 😉 I am however, honest and faithful and believe in transparency. I’m not saying I wasn’t tempted; I was and I am only human but I never acted on those urges. I had too much love and respect for my boyfriend to hurt him like that.
Actually, let me just go back and quash those ideas I mentioned above by the way:
No, just because you do long distance doesn’t mean it is true love.
No, just because you do long distance doesn’t mean it will be effortless and easy. In fact, prepare yourself for a rollercoaster ride.
No, just because you survive the long distance, doesn’t mean that you can rest on your laurels and the relationship will be that happily ever after you dream of once you’re back together again. Relationships are an investment and what you put in is what you get out and nothing is guaranteed. If you don’t keep putting energy into the relationship, it’s not going to grow and go anywhere. Nothing is forever. And just because you endured pretty tough times apart and survived, doesn’t guarantee your relationship is secure for the future when you’re together.
These are all misconceptions I once believed too.
But I do have some tips that might help you with your long distance relationship so I thought I’d talk about that today. About my experiences, ideas and perspectives on this because this seems to be a topic of interest for people when I talk about my life.
It’s also something I reflect on a lot in order to understand myself better and why I make the decisions I do.
So to give you a bit of background, here is a very quick summary of my story: I met my Ukrainian boyfriend, now husband, back in 2006 in Chemnitz. We were dating for a few months then moved in together, unexpectedly soon, because my “zwischen Miete” apartment contract was ending (a 6 month rent agreement taking over a student’s flat while he was studying abroad) and as a temporary solution I moved into Andriy’s 14 squared Metre uni dorm room while I tried to find new digs.
Believe me, it was cramped.
Forget cosy — we are practically inside each other and all my things were in boxes!
Temporary ended up being about a year.
I struggled with anxiety and stress due to my job situation at the time and after a few hospitalisations because of intestinal trouble, I decided I should go back to the UK to get another opinion on my medical condition and try to figure out what I wanted to do career wise.
It was a really hard decision to make and we felt there were no other options left.
My physical and mental health were important and to be frank, I was just a mess with worry about finance, health and career. I didn’t have a Bachelor’s degree, the job market in Germany is completely different to the UK and no one seemed to be willing to give me a chance. Training on the job? No chance in Germany!
I left all my belongings and only took what I could carry. After 18 months together, I left my boyfriend standing in the rain at Leipzig train station, while I got a one way coach ticket back to the UK unsure of when I would be returning.
Tail between my legs.
Broke and jobless.
I came back to the UK in April 2008 and ended up staying until November 2011. I got my health back on track, successfully completed a Graphic Design and Illustration course with triple distinction and worked in a bar, supermarket and Natwest Bank during that time.
I had no plans other than try to figure out my life.
I had no idea where I was going.
Again, I felt lost in my life.
A failure. (I’ll write more about this in another article because this is a big topic that needs its own write up)
I had no idea if Andriy and I would work out.
I didn’t know where we were going. Long distance was literally the only solution to fixing my immediate issues and we just had to see how things would go with ‘us’.
Just stay flexible and be honest with each other.
It wasn’t all romantic and exciting. It was scary, upsetting and the future looked stormy.
Why do people do long distance relationships?
Now, many people do long distance for all kinds of reasons. It could be work, logistics or you just prefer having a lot of space from someone!
It might be obligatory through military transfers and deployments or maybe you work for an international company, it may be that you met somewhere or online but each of you live in different cities, even countries etc. You get the gist. There are many reasons why people are separated by distance.
Firstly, I’m going to say that there is no wrong or right way about doing long distance relationships. There are no rules or codes that you have to follow. Just as much as your reasons for doing long distance are unique to you, you as a person are individually unique and so is your relationship. There is no one rule that fits every couple. Each has to agree with what works for them, what they want and what they are willing to do to keep the relationship going.
There are however, a few common things that can help and generally can be applied to every long distance relationship and I will cover these shortly.
Now, I know I said there are no rules but the bottom line is: a long distance relationship should only ever be temporary. And I will repeat this later on.
There is no point in being “together” if you are not “together” literally.
I did 3 years and I think this is the very maximum that anyone should do in one stretch. In fact, truthfully, it was probably too long and the danger with doing long distance for longer than two years is that you end up growing apart and getting used to doing what you want, when you want it and ultimately being selfish.
You don’t have to be held accountable to anything you do because the other person isn’t there.
You are independent and your relationship becomes more of a distant e-relationship over Skype, WhatsApp and all the other communication tools that are around. Without being physically together, there isn’t really much chance to develop trust, intimacy and generally love. You can’t move forwards in the relationship.
You can also romanticise each other and forget about the little annoying habits and flaws.
When Andriy and I did long distance there was no social media. There was only Facebook but no Messenger app. There were no WhatsApp or Snapchat apps. No cool smart phones either.
We had dodgy Skype connections and text messages which cost about 10 pence /20 cents a message!
We sent letters, postcards and did emails. Yup.
You think doing a long distance relationship nowadays is hard? How about the time before technology gave us tools for instant communication? I digress …
3 years was a long time. I had integrated back into the UK and I was scared to leave and go back to the place that I felt I had failed in. The place where I had health issues and no work. But Andriy couldn’t take the distance anymore and gave me an ultimatum. Either I come back or we call it quits.
To me, after doing 3 years long distance and calling it quits was not acceptable. I wasn’t giving up and letting the relationship go. (Stubborn cow!) Coming back to Germany was hard as hell. I quit my job. Took the little money I had. Packed up everything and shipped it to Germany. I cried the 24 hr coach trip from London Victoria to Chemnitz thinking I was probably making a mistake but putting my faith into the relationship and hoping the job situation would be different second time around.
I came back to Germany in November 2011. We jumped into marriage January 2012 and it’s been kind of rocky ever since. We never had a big white wedding. No photographer. No cake. No bridesmaids. We still haven’t had a honeymoon or a holiday by ourselves. We have had bad luck with studies, jobs, money and friends. The relationship has taken a lot of hits. There are some pretty big cracks and we’ve been recently trying to reconnect and work through our issues. We’ve been ‘together’ 9 years, married for 4 years but the time actually living together is 6 years. We were only together 18 months before we did long distance.
But I’ve learned loads on this journey. And I mean shit loads. About myself, about marriage, about communication, about relationships, about life and surviving and about realising what it is I want and need and I will be sharing all my insights with you on this blog.
Like I said, just because you survive a long distance relationship it doesn’t mean that all the hard times are behind you. You can’t rest on your laurels because there are always going to be things that test you as couple. If you do come back together again, it’s a process of getting to know each other all over again, respecting each other and figuring out if you still want the same things and are going in the same direction. And sometimes couples don’t survive. But some do. Long distance will weather your relationship and test it. Don’t rush into marriage after getting back together. It’s not true love that ensures your success but the effort you put into making the relationship work with your true love.
So, without further ado, let me give you some advice that helped me get through 3 years long distance:
Communicate but don’t overdo it.
Communication is the most important thing in any relationship but particularly in long distance. You can’t see each other or hang out in person so you need to talk. It’s the only form of interaction you have. You need to keep each other interested. Need to work at the relationship in another way and this is the perfect time to get to know one another on another non-physical level and figure out if you actually have a future together. Andriy and I would Skype every other night for about an hour, maybe the odd text message in the week too. But generally that was it. Like I said, no smart phones back then either. And to be honest at times we still struggled to find things to talk about. The danger with phones and apps today is that you are constantly accessible. Think about it in the literal sense. If you were living closer together, you wouldn’t be with each other 24/7. You’d be working, doing things, busy with your social life etc. And you’d meet up when you could. So when you are texting all day, every day, you can be overwhelming and too much. People need to focus and concentrate on work and other things. It doesn’t mean you are not a priority or they love you any less but there has to be a healthy balance. And there’s only so much you can talk about before conversation runs dry then you just look like you are trying too hard. Technology doesn’t help us these days but can lead to obsessive texting. Give each other room to chase, to flirt, to be spontaneous. Don’t make it all one sided. The underlying fear of course, is rejection. That the other person won’t put in the effort and things will drift apart. Well, if that happens let it. Don’t force someone or try to provoke them to talk. They will talk when they want to. You want them to be genuinely interested and wanting to talk to you not because they feel guilt tripped into talking to you. Don’t beg for their attention; it just looks desperate. But by all means express how you feel and be honest. If you are someone that needs constant communication like that then be upfront about it and then try to work on your own issues. Don’t smother them. It’s about learning to respect people’s boundaries. You’re going to miss them and have days or nights crying. That’s OK. Let it out, it’s a great way to release pressure and frustration. But don’t be constantly crying on Skype to them and telling them 24/7 how hard it is, how you miss them and how it hurts. Don’t be negative because your partner can’t do anything about it from where they are and they will just worry you are not strong enough to handle it. They might be struggling too and then both of you will just be a snivelling wreck. It will just make you both doubt the relationship but it also makes everything depressing and draining. Stay positive, write good things and if you’re feeling down and know you won’t be able to cheer up then pull back and have some alone time. It’s not fair and it’s not attractive for the other person to constantly see you crying. Of course, it could push them to move closer to you more quickly but it could also push them away. Regardless of gender, we all want a strong confident partner that can handle things, inspire us and remain positive in the toughest of storms.
Give each other space and time alone
Talking about boundaries and space, it’s OK to want to have a few days ‘offline’ now and then. It doesn’t mean anything bad, not necessarily anyway. It’s just sometimes we want to have a lazy day and can’t be bloody arsed with texting or calling. Some people just aren’t texters or know what to say online. Or they want to chill with their mates uninterrupted. Or just have a break from the monotony of the relationship. Let them have their alone time. Sometimes you might row about something silly or just get annoyed and need time out. That’s the beauty of Skype actually—when Andriy and I would argue about things I could just hit the red “end call” button and it would be like saying, “I’m right, and you can’t say anything back! Ha!” *sticks out tongue* Ahh indulging in childish ways! 😛 I do miss that “end call” button!
Think of an elastic band, the further back you pull it the harder and faster it will spring back to you. Give people space when they need it and don’t get all paranoid. People squabble all the time about little things so don’t panic s/he is going to end the relationship after one falling out on Skype. Chill out and just have faith. They will come back to you and you’ll have something to talk about or apologise for!
Trust and have confidence in one another
Have mutual respect for each other. Trust each other and have confidence that they are the person they say they are. Unless they really are a lying ___ (insert expletive of choice) but when doing long distance, honesty and communication are important. It will make you feel more secure as a couple. Tell the truth, tell each other how you feel and if it isn’t working then don’t waste any more time and just say so. If you’re being honest then you will build trust. Don’t compare your previous relationships to this one and don’t listen to other people talk about how so and so cheated on their other half doing long distance. That’s going to make you paranoid. Surround yourself with positive people. Each relationship is new, unique and different. Don’t tarnish people with the same brush. Start afresh. Respect the other person and have faith. It’s a huge gamble. It’s taking a risk and yeah, you might get hurt but if you don’t have trust and faith, then every time that person goes out, every time there is a photo of them with a girl / guy, every time they get drunk or don’t call / text for a few days, you are going to be going out of your mind with worry. With jealousy. With fear. Paranoid. You’ll start to attack them and accuse them of cheating and being unfaithful and you will eventually drive them away. I mean, if you are already accusing them then why shouldn’t they cheat, right? You’re already giving them a hard time for nothing! On the social front though – it might be a good idea to cut the alcohol down a tad because it’s too easy to end up doing stupid things when drunk. Temptation is much harder to resist when we are tanked and horny. But if something happens, own it, ‘fess up and figure out what you want to do about it. And remember, you don’t have to tell them every single thing that happens. If a guy or girl comes onto you but you turned them down then it’s your call whether or not you want to tell your partner. I know Andriy and I decided we wouldn’t tell each other little things like that because it would make us paranoid all the time. We are not stupid, we know it happens but unless we felt we wanted to do something or something actually happened, we decided we didn’t need to report on everything. Just decide what works best for you.
Understand that they will be doing things without you
This one is quite hard to swallow. You both need a social life and why shouldn’t you? Just because you are doing long distance doesn’t mean you have to live your life like a hermit! We are sociable beings and need contact to people. Socialising is good and helps us relax. It’s not fair to make your other half feel guilty for going out and having a good time without you. Yes, they will have good time and you won’t be part of it. You should be happy for them and encourage them to go out and mingle. If they see you are happy, it builds trust and they will want to tell you all about their day / night out. Share that with each other. Just make sure you plan in time for one another and it’s balanced. Don’t try to compete with their families or friends either. Don’t make them feel guilty for spending time with their relatives. They have separate relationships with each of them and it’s not loving you any less. It’s being fair and trying to make sure everyone is happy. Don’t throw your toys out the pram and have a tantrum because you don’t have their attention 24/7. On the reverse side, they will also be going through rubbish times without you. They might have had a row with a friend, might have messed up at work, a family member or pet might have died and they’re going through hell and you aren’t there. They can’t get hold of you on the phone or you haven’t responded to texts. Unfortunately, it’s neither of your faults and there’s not a lot you can do. You do not know what the other person is doing all the time. Maybe they are having a shit day too but are trying to stay positive and not make you worry. Maybe there is no service. Sympathy and a listening ear do help you feel better but don’t make them feel guilty for being away or not responding right away. Don’t get bitter or resentful. If time zones are an issue then be patient and respect that the other person may be sleeping or working. It’s a case of putting on your grown up pants and handling the situation the best you can and showing you are tough enough on your own when you have to be. Sometimes life throws us things to teach us to stand on our own two feet. This will give you a lot of respect later on anyway and prove that you are strong, confident and independent, not needy and insecure.
Actually book trips to be together and plan them ahead as goals to aim for
You might eventually notice that your conversation will slip more and more into the future tense, “When we are together again we will …”, “When I see you …” etc. and while this is great for thinking about the future and keeping things interesting, too much can lead into fantasy and steer you away from the present and what you are actually doing. Sometimes talking about your day can feel like reading from a diary. Sometimes it’s a bit boring and so often we will fantasize about what we would love to do with that person. We miss them and want to see them. Well, keep working on those goals and plan things to do but make sure you have a date booked to actually do them. Without booked flights and dates pencilled in, there isn’t really any way of knowing when the next time will be when you will see them. This makes it really, really hard to keep motivated and positive. You want things to be able to count down to and get excited about to keep you going. The general idea is that being apart is only temporary and one of you will have to make the move to the other in the end. It’s just a temporary solution until things can be sorted. And yep, you’re going to be paying for a lot of travel.
Commit to spending time together like arranging set days and intentionally plan ways to be together but stay flexible. Plans sometimes change. Things come up. Emergencies happen. Not a lot you can do so cry or moan about it then let it go and get on with something else. If it’s just you forgot about your Aunt’s birthday party or your work meeting after work hours that’s not so bad. It’s crap but let your significant other know at least. Let them know when you will call next so as not to completely ruin their night and be totally disappointed. Again, more things to talk about and keep things entertaining. Sometimes spontaneity is refreshing and breaks up the routine so if you have a certain day you call, maybe try calling on another day out the blue. A surprise call can be really appreciated and make them smile but best check they are not at work or in the middle of a friend’s wedding, etc. Routines get dull so stay flexible and try to think of creative ways to keep each other interested. Sometimes trips get cancelled or dates have to be postponed, it sucks big time so make sure you re-book as soon as possible and know that you will see each other again soon. Keep smiling!
Avoid romanticising your partner and be realistic
This is way too easily done, especially on my part. When we are apart from each other for a long time, we eventually get over the initial agony of missing them and start to find a new daily routine without them. We get comfortable in our own ways and forget about all our little niggly annoying habits. Likewise, we forget about our partner’s bad habits too. We all have them so don’t kid yourself! When we are apart, we like to romanticise situations, dream of the future together and what we will do with our partners when we are finally reunited. We think of the fairytale ending, the love and passion and all those movies. We forget how they were, we miss them and brush over their imperfections and just see them in a good light. We sometimes put them on pedestals or think how incredible they are. That they are amazing for loving us and being faithful to us despite the distance. We need to remember that no one is perfect. Everyone is perfectly imperfect in their own natural way. You should compliment them and make them feel sexy but don’t inflate their ego so much that they think they are perfect. Keep the balance and feel free to criticise them when need be. The whole point of being with someone is to see if we could live with them long term and have a future with them. We need to see if their annoying habits are ones we could put up with and how we think and feel about certain topics like finance, marriage, kids, role of a husband, role of a wife, cleaning, etc. Discuss those things and find out where you stand on different issues. Are you compatible? When coming back to Germany after 3 years apart, I had forgotten how messy Andriy is and how cleaning was obviously something we needed to discuss among many other things!
Be romantic and keep doing little things for each other
By all means play and have fun. Get a little sexy now and then and if sexting or Skype sex is your thing then go for it. It’s really important to find little ways to do sexy things and make your other half feel desired and needed in that sexual way. It’s the difference between friend zone and partner zone. You want to keep things light and flirty, spontaneous and be creative. I’ll share some of my ideas in another post 😉 Mix things up a bit and show and tell them how much you miss them. Everyone wants to feel sexy. Include each other in important decisions or news you get because it creates those intimate moments. Maybe you got a job promotion or passed an exam—share it with your lover first before you put it on Facebook. It will make them feel special. Make sure you include them in all your triumphs but also your defeats because that builds the intimacy and trust. They can either share and delight in your victories or give you support and love in your sorrows. Feel free to ask each other for help and try to do little things for each other to make each other smile. Try to think of their needs and focus on them. By giving love you will receive it. It’s like a boomerang, it will come back.
Make sure you’re heading in the same direction
Know what you want, what your standards are and where you are heading. Then communicate those to your partner and see if they want the same things. You need common goals and similar likes and interests. You also need to choose to be loyal to one another and discuss boundaries and what things are acceptable and what are not. It’s not a business deal I know but chat about the things you want in the future. You also need to figure out if you want to have an open relationship or be exclusive or if there are any second chances for slip ups during the time apart. You need to understand as well that everyone has needs and distance makes relationships harder on all fronts but especially, sexually. How are you going to deal with this when apart? Do you want marriage? Are you already married and do you want them to be faithful? How long should this long distance go on for? Remember, long distance relationships should only ever be a temporary solution for getting you back together again. So where are you heading and what are you aiming for long term and where do you see yourselves realistically in the next 2 – 5 years?
Patience and persistence will be skills you need to learn
Sometimes things annoy us and are sent to try our patience. Sometimes the internet connection goes. Sometimes the call is interrupted or disconnected. Sometimes there’s no bloody signal for any messages to go through. Sometimes it seems like our lover has received the messages but they actually haven’t. And we just want to jump to conclusions and assume they are ignoring us. Maybe they are angry? Was it something I said? Don’t they like me anymore? *checks phone a hundred times in an hour* Sometimes technology is a pain in the flipping arse and actually causes more problems. Sometimes too much communication is a bad thing because when someone suddenly goes silent, we fear the worst. Sometimes our situation annoys us and we are pulling out our hair at not being with our partner or being able to talk to them about stuff stressing us out. It’s a testing time. You’re sexually frustrated. You want to see your other half and just laugh and spend time with them. You want to have a normal uninterrupted conversation for once instead of random drip fed messages or constant disconnected calls. Some days are about putting one foot in front of the other and making it through. Other days go too quickly and you haven’t made time for each other. Sometimes the other person won’t leave you alone and is doing your head in. Trying to find the balance is hard. Trying to navigate your way through a foreign language, technology and the male / female brain seems near impossible. Let alone all three! But keep trying. Keep going. Just be patient and if it’s not working that day then be flexible and try calling / Skyping another day instead. And be honest. Just communicate what is working for you and what isn’t. But above all stay positive and just keep trying!
No one is perfect. We all have annoying habits but it’s finding that one person whose habits you can put up with and who makes your heart sing. That imperfect person who is perfect for you. There are no real big failproof solutions to making a long distance relationship work. You have to figure out what works for you and just try. But if you are to work out long term, you need to come back together eventually. Because it’s all about the little every day things you do and learning, adapting and growing together. Long distance should only ever be temporary because the point is we are supposed to be together. We are social beings and crave companionship and love. So figure out what you want and need and if they are the person for you. If they are, then decide which one of you is doing the big move and when and then just do it. What are you waiting for?