Long Distance Relationships: Making Them Work
Long distance relationships most commonly refer to romantic relationships where the two partners live in different geographical locations. You and your partner might be living in two opposing points of the same city, two different cities, two states or even two different countries! Even though clear estimates are not available for India, a look at the global estimates indicate that long distance relationships are on the rise. Education and career opportunities are the two main reasons that romantic relationships often turn into long distance romantic relationships.
The Qualities of Long Distance Relationships
Research reveals that many long distance relationship (LDR) couples are as satisfied with their relationships as are couples living geographically close. The distance perhaps allows you to connect with someone and maintain your independence, which might be very important to some people. Focussing on your career might not come in the way of your relationship; or you might not have to ‘choose’ between your partner and your friends. Absence of your partner might also allow you to focus on the positives of your relationship, and on the good memories that you have of your time together. You might prefer to make the most of your time together rather than spend it arguing, which generates a sense of satisfaction and stability in your relationship.
Moreover, instant messaging services such as WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook, Google Hangouts and Skype have certainly made maintaining LDRs much easier now. While couples in the past had to be content with handwritten letters and telephone calls, you and your partner can now see and talk to each other in real time and that could give you a sense of ‘being together’.
Challenges Faced by LDR Couples
Although staying connected has become more convenient, the physical distance, conflicting workloads and lifestyles, and at times, different time zones contribute to the difficulties experienced by LDR couples. These challenges can be broadly categorised into four areas- emotional, financial, intimacy, and technological challenges.
Emotional challenges: Studies suggest that physical proximity is a vital aspect of feeling secure in a relationship. In other words, the more geographically closer the couple, the lesser would be the uncertainty regarding the relationship and its future. Thus, not being able to see each other often makes couples prone to jealousy and insecurity in their relationship. Insecurities can arise from being suspicious about your partner’s whereabouts, or thinking that your partner is not as committed as you are. Not being together can also make the partners feel lonely, and yearn for each other. At times, partners also end up living alone which brings up safety concerns, adding to the emotional insecurity.
Financial challenges: Planning trips to each other’s places often need to be made in advance considering your partner’s schedule, availability and travel prices. Moreover, a significant amount of money is spent on phone bills and internet data plans.
Challenges of intimacy: Understandably, most couples would not be comfortable with the idea of cyber sex. Shyness, and lack of privacy might prevent you and your partner from getting intimate with each other on camera. While sending virtual kisses and hugs to your partner gives a sense of intimacy, the need to be physically close does not get fulfilled through the phone or the Internet.
Technological challenges: Communicating via Skype or other video apps comes with its own unique challenges. Poor audio and video quality arising from problems with internet connection, and issues with computer equipment can result in breaks in your conversations.
Living apart can be very stressful, and can contribute to loneliness for some couples. These challenges notwithstanding, couples have found ways to maintain their relationships, with the satisfaction and stability that intimate relationships offer. It takes effort to maintain any relationship and the following strategies can help you get the most out of your long distance relationship.
Going the distance: Strategies to make LDRs work
Trust each other: Developing and maintaining trust is the basis of all relationships, and LDR’s are no exception. It IS the cardinal rule. Assuring your partner of your love and commitment to the relationship builds feelings of security and trust.
Be positive: Focus on the positive aspects of your relationship. The distance and space offered by LDRs gives you an opportunity to develop you own hobbies and career, and maintain friendships. Make the most of your time together by being cheerful and optimistic.
Develop and follow rules: Establish some ground rules- How will you communicate? When will you call? Who can initiate the call? How much time would you like to spend with your friends and engage in your hobbies?
Set realistic expectations: Differing workloads and lifestyles can create a lot of conflicts between partners. Being aware of each other’s schedules and priorities helps in avoiding unrealistic expectations and hence, minimises conflicts.
See each other: Studies reveal that LDR couples who see each other face to face frequently are more satisfied in their relationships than LDR couples who do not. Try to plan a visit regularly. Utilising video chat services more often would also help strengthen your relationship.
Manage conflicts wisely: Important things are best said over phone or video chat as there is a lesser risk of being misunderstood compared to messaging or chatting. Moreover, patiently listening to your partner without interruption shows respect for your partner’s feelings and emotions.
Be open: Disclosing your feelings such as “I feel frightened when we don’t talk for more than a day” or “ I’m feeling very tired today” helps your partner understand what you are going through and respond accordingly.
Make each other a part of your life: Don't just present your "good side" to your partner or talk about romance. Talking about things happening in your daily life, your beliefs and values helps you and your partner know each other better. Talk about your relationship, and your goals for the future. This helps you adjust better when you and your partner eventually move to the same location.
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Dainton, M., & Aylor, B. (2002). Patterns of communication channel use in the maintenance of long distance relationships. Communication Research Reports, 19, 118-129
Neustaedter, C. and Greenberg, S. (2011). Intimacy in Long-Distance Relationships over Video Chat. Research Report 2011-1014-26, Department of Computer Science, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada T2N 1N4, August.
Stafford, L., & Merolla, A.J. (2007). Idealization, reunions and stability in long distance dating relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24, 37-54.
Sahlstein, E. M. (2004). Relating at a distance: Negotiating being together and being apart in long-distance relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21, 689-710.
If you or someone close to you is finding it hard to maintain the long distance relationship, an InnerHour therapist will be able to help.
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