Long-distance relationships are not uncommon, and they can be very successful. Worst case scenario studies have found that long-distance relationship quality does not differ significantly from geographically close relationships in fact in some cases research has found that and it might even be better.
Respect the reason you are apart. This is not always easy to do, if you are in a long-distance relationship there will be times when it absolutely sucks, when it is hard work and when you question why. There is a reason you are apart, it may be professional reasons, deployment, a financial, or a family situation.
Here are some great tips for those in or about to start a long-distance relationship;
1. Communicate your way
Communicate how and as much or as little as you need to feel connected. Even if others don’t get it. I have been in long-distance relationships in the military and FIFO, I have done it before we had access to the current unprecedented digital access to each other.
In a long-distance relationship, it is important to be on the same page with how much or little you need so that you both feel connected. Taking advantage of the ease of access we have these days can be a double-edged sword if you don't have an understanding of how, how often and how to fit it into busy lives. Discuss what works for each of you with regards to general frequency, platform to use, how long you will generally spend connecting and be flexible as life has a way of throwing curveballs.
“We didn’t actually have a conversation about the frequency of catching up. We chatted about what platform is convenient for both of us and timing but not how often. It was just never an issue, I guess how often we chat while apart reflects the relationship we have when we are together, consistent, connected but flexible.”
2. Prioritize your schedules well.
Life goes on when spouses are away for work and juggling life from both sides is important. Different time zones, work, and school schedules, bedtimes, life’s curveballs etc all get in the way of even the most committed couples.
Your conversations about how to communicate needs to extend to scheduling. When are you both at your best? Is there one with a more flexible timetable? When, can you devote time and energy to the conversation? How do you feel about spontaneous texts? Who has a more flexible schedule? When do you feel like you want to connect with your partner? Be mindful of your choices, be mindful of resentment and frustration that can build up when you agree to something that doesn’t really fit or doesn’t support you both in your relationship.
“He is in the middle east right now so most mornings I wake up between 430am and 5am and we chat on WhatsApp or we talk on the phone. It is a time that works for me, the house is quiet, I am not distracted, and I am an early morning person. For him he is a night owl so chatting at 10pm is not an issue and he has finished work, so he is not distracted. Occasionally we catch up around 3pm Brisbane time but it is hard as he is starting his day and I am in meetings/consults or school pick up. But we both know to keep an eye on our phones around then and we connect if we can.”
3. “Be there”
Even when you can’t actually be there. It is not rocket science to understand that the most satisfied relationships are those where partners are sensitive and responsive to each other’s emotional needs. Not always easy in a long-distance relationship, the physical distance means that you can’t necessarily be there in person. It can be that you make a point of calling before a big event and be available to talk after the event. Make scheduled times for connection a priority during times like this. It all demonstrates that you are there for them no matter what.
“We had solar being installed, something he had organised before he went away this time. There had been some miscommunication and they turned up while I was driving to a meeting. I knew nothing about what was going on, it was the middle of the night where he was, and I had to call him to get some answers so I could deal with the contractors. The connection through our normal means of communication was not great and kept dropping out, then the phone lines were not great either. I was stressed, he was woken up in the middle of the night but calm and apologetic. He talked me through what I needed to know and then I took care of it. He was there when I needed him (even at 2am his time) even though he couldn’t physically be.”
4. Don’t let the little things grow.
Big problems can grow out of little ones when they are ignored. When your partner is away for work it can feel like the stressful issues going on at home are hard to bring up, create stress for them that they don’t need. When you do get to spend time together, you may feel like you don’t want to ruin that time you have together. It can create a vicious cycle where you can’t share what is going on, building resentment and stress that has to be let out at some point and it is not uncommon for that to come out in an argument. It is important to learn how to talk about all sorts of topics, from niggly little ones to more difficult ones when you are in any relationship but more so in a long-distance relationship.
“Language clarify language. If messaging is your main form of communication like us you will know how easily it can go wrong. I will leave it at that, clarify language, be mindful of the words you choose and don’t jump to conclusions, don’t let things feaster either.”
5. Quality over quantity is OK
Some research backs up my experience, that long-distance couples can be more satisfied with their communication than those living under the same roof. This could be because they don’t let the little things get in the way of time that they do have for communication. This appreciation for the time you have is a superpower that you need to take advantage of. It could be that before your scheduled time to talk you take not of what has been most important during your day. That distance doesn’t always allow you to read body language, so you have to be aware and purposeful with the words you choose.
“During times when he has been away, we often talk/chat more than the times when he has had an executive job in Australia. Between the long hours and physical and mental exhaustion (we both have from our jobs) it wasn’t unusual for few words to be exchanged during the week. This doesn’t seem unusual from what others have told me. When he is away it seems that there is automatically more effort put into communicating because we won’t see each other tomorrow and we know there is not a physical connection of rolling over and touching the other person, so words become very important.”
6. Respect the reason why you’re apart.
This is not always easy to do, if you are in a long-distance relationship there will be times when it absolutely sucks, when it is hard work and when you question why. There is a reason you are apart, it may be professional reasons, deployment, a financial, or a family situation. In the case of military-related separations, it is not always in your control when long-distance starts. Hopefully, in the beginning, you're your relationship you discussed what might be required in being a partner of a person in the military and you are undoubtedly proud of your partner’s chosen career. Don’t let the brain fog that stress can create in a long-distance relationship shadow the reason you are in a long-distance relationship. Don’t turn your stress into blame or hostility towards your partner. Respect your relationship and the decisions that led you to where you are.
“Every time he takes a job away from home it is a huge decision we make together. Money is better, an opportunity is too good to pass up or something else but we make the decision together. So, in being apart of the decision-making process I also have ownership of it and it is not fair to hold that against him.
In the case of his past military deployments, I used to remind myself that I choose to follow him and be a part of a military life. He was in the military when we started dating, he went away a lot then and I choose to follow him knowing that would continue. So, I could not hold it against him.”
7. Make it fun but don’t over-schedule time.
When you get excited about spending time together it can be easy to try to cram everything into that short time. You want to make the most of it but don’t fall into the trap of over-scheduling, so you don’t have time to reconnect. Intimacy is built in small moments as well as big ones, downtime is not wasted time, it helps you both breathe and connect.
8. It’s OK to share.
While you are on your own you get on with life, you do everything for yourself and you probably have things just how you like them, organise your day and family how works for you. Then your partner comes home, and they want to do the things they did before they left, they want to help they want to be there for you. It can be hard to let go, it can be hard to let them do things in a different way to what you have been doing. For partners it can be hard to come back into what feels like a life and space that runs differently or that doesn’t need you. It is important to let go of control, accept things may have changed and it is important that you talk this through. The coming home can be stressful despite it being a happy time.
“Let him do the everyday household things he has always done around the house even if they are not how you would do them while you are operating solo. Letting him do that means that he feels apart of the house and he helps how he can in the time he has at home.”
“As a family, we always make sure there is plenty of time for Dad and children to reconnect, including time without me in the picture. I found out very quickly that I would get dragged into things that they needed to work out without me, and I ended up being the bad person to someone which did not make for a happy time. If I let our child comes to term with the fact that him as an authority figure, as someone that can get things or help them out and allow him the space to be a parent thing worked better. That was when our children were younger. Now as a teenager, different parenting styles are pointed out and it is balancing act between letting him parent and keeping consistency, but I find if we have spoken regularly about the everyday things while he has been away that is easier to navigate.”
On the flip side “He has said he knows it is important for him to understand that I have been running my own show and fighting my own battles and that he needs to respect that.”
9. Don't put your life on hold.
Long-distance relationships do involve sacrifice, there is no doubt about that. Nothing good comes out of delaying or avoiding spending time with friends, on personal interests, because your partner is not with you or they have been delayed coming home. You are likely to wake up down the track wishing that you had been living your fullest life, whatever the relationship status is at that point. Sacrificing more than is necessary, can breed resentment and regret over time which is risky for any relationship, more so a long-distance one.
Make sure that you make the most of your life in your own location, living your life mindfully. Don't isolate yourself or spin your wheels at work. Live each day fully, whether your partner is absent or not. At the very least it will make the time apart fly.
“I had a life before I met him, so I have always made sure I have one independent of him so when he comes and goes now in a FIFO role the hole is not as big when he goes. Build networks of friends from different walks of life so you are not isolated. Have a hobby you can do at home that keeps you occupied on the nights you are alone and feel alone. Something that gives you a sense of accomplishment.”
“I studied psychology and sexology while he was traveling around the world. Between him going away, raising a child and a solo parenting life I needed a goal that was my own. I needed to know when my child was grown, and it was just the two of us again that I had something of my own that I had achieved and built career-wise.”
10. Don’t be afraid to trust or who that you can be trusted.
Trust is important in any relationship. It goes both ways, you earning trust is as important as you trusting your partner. Trust does not only relate to your sexual relationship it also means trust in being there for each other, sticking to plans, knowing what is important to each of you and being in the moment together.
11. Be Kind
Be gentle on yourself while you are running solo, its hard.
“If I am having a bad day, I am not afraid to let the kitchen go or keep my work to a minimum. If I need to talk to a friend, I say it. If I need to tell him it is hard I do so without any blame towards him. I know that the next day is a new day and I have a full life I can dive into but in that moment I acknowledge my feelings and let myself process them and yes it could mean punching a punching bag, dancing in my kitchen to loud music, having a glass or two of wine, going to the gym or painting. You just have to find the things that help you work through it, let yourself and then focus on moving forward, why the long-distance thing is happening and where you are going to.”
This is not an exhaustive list and not all the points may be right for yoru relationship. They are designed as a starting point and a conversation starter if you are in or about to start a long-distance relationship.
What works for you?
If you have any others that you would add please let us know.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this document should be read as general in nature and is only to provide and overview of the subject matter. Please read product packaging carefully and follow all instructions. Seek advice specific to your situation from your medical professional or mental health professional. Safe - Sane - Consensual