For many partners, nothing is as sweet as waking up in the morning and seeing their spouses first in the day. Nothing also beats returning home after a long day at work and walking into the warm embrace of one’s partner. Intimacy is the engine of a relationship, marriage counsellors say. This is why it’s advisable for couples to frequently go on a date, see a movie together, play games together, hold the other person’s hand, eat together at the same table, feel each other’s touch, take a walk together, smell each other’s hair, among other things.
Sadly, all these can never happen when partners are miles apart. Of course, with technology, it is quite easier than before for long-distant partners to connect. Still, it’s not going to be easy–the extra distance makes many things unachievable. Things could get complicated, and partners could get sad and lonely at times.
Long-distance relationships are especially tough because partners have to almost exclusively rely on communication to keep their bond strong, and that may require more work than the average relationship, says author and marriage counsellor, Dr Randy Schroeder.
“The goal of every gratifying relationship is to have a strong ‘oneness.’ Long-distance relationship couples must understand that it will require more work to stay connected to prevent even small cracks in their (relationship’s)] foundation,” Schroeder writes.
Many people believe that long-distance relationships are never going to work out. Their families may discourage it, their friends may also advise them not to take the relationship too seriously, in case things don’t work out.
Yes, long-distance relationships may be tough but experts say they have their own surprises too – provided the partners are committed to making it work.
For partners in a long-distance relationship to keep their love alive and strong, the following tips are recommended by marriage counsellors.
Lay down some ground rules
This isn’t exactly sexy, but really, it’s got to be done, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan, New York, Jocelyn Charnas, tells womenshealthmag.com.
“It’s extremely important to set realistic and healthy expectations,” she says. “That means covering how often you expect to be in touch, when you’ll try to see each other (once a month? every six weeks?), whether you’ll see other people.”
“There’s no right or wrong answer, but problems ensue when these things aren’t discussed,” Charnas adds.
It is also good to set clear rules and boundaries. For instance, don’t do anything you wouldn’t want the other person to see on social media.
You should do your best to stay out of situations that might make your long-distance partner feel uncomfortable or threatened – within reason. You don’t need to check in before or get approval for every social interaction with your partner, but you should set clear boundaries and rules that work for both of you and adhere to them.
Though apart, have common goals
Though you shouldn’t lose your sense of independence, if you really see longevity in your long-distance relationship, you should be working toward long-term goals with your partner (other than just deciding that you want to live near each other in the future). Maybe it’s starting a new project together or saving up to invest in a timeshare together.
“Agreeing on three to five major goals can strengthen a couple as they work together to achieve those important objectives,” says Schroeder.
“Make sure you jot them down, too, as that will make those goals feel more tangible. Having specific, written goals also sets in motion an action plan that will build a positive foundation for the present connection, as well as the future,” he adds.
Set an end date
While long-distance love can be a great thing for a finite time, eventually you probably want to be in the same place as your partner.
“It helps both parties to know when that will happen,” a psychotherapist and marriage counsellor, Lori Gottlieb, tells TIME.
“It’s hard being apart, so you both have to be equally committed to the relationship and be on the same page about how long this situation will last, and what the plan is for eventually living in the same place,” she adds.
Do fun things together despite distance
The founder of Smart Dating Academy, Bela Gandhi, says just because partners aren’t physically in the same place doesn’t mean they can’t have fun together – thanks to technology.
“Plan a movie night together via Skype where you can watch the same movie even when you’re in different places,” Gandhi suggests.
“Netflix, or other streaming services, makes it easier than ever to binge-watch shows with your partner,” she adds.
The expert also recommends doing online quizzes or games together and discussing the results to spark new and interesting conversations.
Take time to travel together
These don’t always have to be week-long vacations across the world. Instead, you can plan shorter weekend vacations and explore a new city or country that’s a fair meeting point between the both of you.
“Enjoyable, exciting communication occurs when partners discuss future travel plans and eventually on the vacation communicate affection through tender touch, caring eye contact, and warm words, leading to a much more gratifying, happier relationship,” Schroeder says.
“These do require smart planning on both of your parts though, so keep in mind how these mini-vacays can also serve as bonding sessions for you and bae,” he adds.
Lean on family and friends as support system
There’s no sugar-coating this: Long-distance relationships are hard, especially when you see other couples living their best lives and you fall into wishing your partner lived closer to you.
However, turning to family, friends, or online communities for support can make that stress a little more bearable. Whether it’s for advice or just a shoulder to lean on, Schroeder says connecting with your support system can help you feel better about the more difficult parts of being in a long-distance relationship.
Send voice recordings
It’s easy to misinterpret a text and even how long it takes to get a response. Like, you could easily assume your partner is blowing you off while they’re actually stuck in a meeting. (This actually applies for any relationship, but the potential for miscommunication is even greater when there’s physical distance involved).
The fix? Try sending each other voice recordings via text message. “Just hearing the voice of a loved one, even if it isn’t saying much, is soothing,” says clinical psychologist and author, Dr Ramani Durvasula.
And, when you can, engage in video chats instead of calls.
“Being able to see each other gives you the entire range of communication. It also helps prevent being distracted by other things during your limited time,” says marriage and family therapist, Lesli Doares.
Meanwhile, you should talk only when you have something to say as there’s no real reason you need to talk to your partner 24/7 just because you can’t see them.
Think of it this way: If you lived together or just spent loads of time together, you’d have plenty of quiet moments. A long-distance relationship doesn’t really have those built in, Durvasula says, but you want them to make the times you do talk (and see each other) more valuable.
Plus, it can feel like a total chore if you feel like you have to call or text a few times a day. So, save those chats for when you actually want to talk. You’ll enjoy them much more.
Jot down little details after conversation
This one is a big deal. When you’re talking or texting, take a mental note when your partner tells you they have something coming up, like a doctor’s appointment, meeting with a boss, or visit from their parents. Then, put it in your phone calendar and follow up.
For example, if they have a big meeting, send a simple “Good luck today!” text beforehand, and then ask how it went afterwards. “In successful relationships, partners generally do not have an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. But this can happen in a long-distance relationship,” says marriage counsellor Pastor Paul Alade.
Of course, you’re going to forget some stuff (you’re human!), but following up on things shows that your partner is on your mind—and that matters.
Physical stuff is tricky when you live so far apart, so get a T-shirt or sweatshirt that you can each take turns wearing and mail it back and forth, or maybe a book that you can both take turns to read.
The idea is to experience sharing each others’ things as you would if you both lived in the same area. These things will elevate your relationship since they demonstrate effort, can give you something to chat about, or may even give you something to cuddle up to that smells just like them, too. Another perk: You can send along little additional treats, like chocolate, or reminders of you in the package, too, says Durvasula.
Remind yourself why you trust your partner
When you don’t see each other on the regular, it’s easy for your mind to run wild when you can’t reach them. “Any feelings of uncertainty can be magnified in a long-distance relationship because you can’t just ‘drop by,’” Doares says.
So, when you’re feeling super secure in your relationship, take some time to write down why your partner is so great and trustworthy. Then, read what you’ve written when you’re having a freakout.
Keep in mind: “Recognise your feelings (if you’re feeling insecure), but be aware that they are your perceptions, not necessarily the truth,” Doares adds.
Remember, being in a long-distant relationship is a choice you’re both making – it’s not something that you have to do.
Doares says, “The way a person thinks or feels about a situation influences their satisfaction with it. It’s easy to wallow over the fact that you’re stuck in a less-than-ideal situation, but try to focus on the positives and actually voice them to your partner.
“Like, you won’t be in this situation forever, you love them for a reason, and being together – even if it means being apart for now – is better than not having each other at all.
“The point here is not to ignore the challenges but to put them in perspective instead. And no heavy conversation necessary either, just a simple, ‘Hey, I just want to let you know that I love you, and you’re so worth all of this,’ can go a long way.”