Love is a tricky thing. Relationships are even more so. When you add distance into the mix, it can seem almost impossible to manage. A long distance relationship can work, however, with the right mindset and understanding. It’s certainly not going to be easy-a relationship of any kind requires cooperation and making sacrifices. I have been one half of a long distance relationship on three separate occasions now. Some have worked, some have not. The determination of the pass or fail rate is just as tricky as love itself, and for good reason. Surviving a long distance relationship comes down to understanding how you love, and how you must strengthen this to pull through.
American author bell hooks explains in her book, All About Love: New Visions, that “To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients-care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.” Though this certainly applies to all relationships we may be a part of (not excluding friendships, family relationships, etc), I think it can serve as a sort of framework for ensuring the success of a long term relationship. I think using each of these aspects and really working to apply them will provide the strength and the foundation for a healthy relationship that no number of miles can touch.
Care: Care is defined (on dictionary.com) as a verb “to be concerned or solicitous; have thought or regard.” Though this seems a bit commonsense, we must think about this. When taking into consideration the difficulties you will face in a long distance relationship, what is your first thought? I’m sure you think about how lonely you will be, how hard it is going to be going without daily contact, physical contact with that person. Our thoughts tend to linger on our own problems with dealing. We may say we care for our significant other, but now we must also show it-through caring. Work to understand your partner’s issues, and talk about them. Because our personalities are not identical, both parties could have different reasons for having problems. Take into consideration what his/her particular needs are and not take for granted that they will mirror yours.
Affection: Physical affection is obviously difficult to maintain in a long distance relationship-so it is vital that you take the effort to offer emotional affection whenever possible. We all tend to get anxiety, think that our partner will not continue to love us in our absence. This is of course natural, but can be overcome. Be reassuring when talking with your partner. Try to go out of your way here and there to send a loving email, text message, or letter. This doesn’t mean giving up every hour of your day, but the little things count so much more when you’re not able to receive them on a daily basis.
Respect: This is key in a variety of aspects. You need to respect your partner for who they are (which goes back to acknowledging their particular needs within the separation), and you also have to respect that they are their own person and have their own life. Odds are they have a certain schedule, and may not be able to devote as much time to you as they are able to. Perhaps they have a job, military responsibilities, schooling, or other factors that will restrict the amount of time and attention they can give you remotely. But also respect your own needs. Make sure that they set aside time for you, but be understanding and respectful of their needs as well. This is equally important for offering that time as well.
Commitment: This is entirely essential in getting through a long distance relationship. You both need to understand that it is not going to be easy. In all reality, it is likely to be very frustrating. But you both must agree to make it work. Agreeing to make it work, however, means that both parties must put in the effort and action to do so. You must both be optimistic, and willing to make sacrifices. This means not giving up when you start to get lonely, and promising to really try. Commitment of course also can refer to staying faithful to the relationship. If you are lonely, that is perfectly natural. However, this loneliness or distance is no excuse to be unfaithful to your significant other (unless you have discussed it and both parties have agreed to an alternative situation).
Trust: Jealousy is of course a big issue in any long distance relationship. It is absolutely natural and expected. You cannot punish your significant other or yourself for having feelings of jealousy in this situation. However, you must understand it and work through it. Think about why the jealousy is occurring. Perhaps you went out with your friends, and your partner is convinced that you were unfaithful. This may seem irrational-and your first instinct will always be to get defensive-but you need to take a step back and look at the situation. Remain calm in these times, and talk it out. If you are feeling jealous of your partner, talk to them about it. Letting these things build up inside us only encourages us to make assumptions. You must learn to trust each other, and maintain that trust even in situations where you can be physically together. You also must trust in the strength of your relationship.
Open and Honest Communication: I saved the best for last, as I find this to be the one single most important factor in surviving a long distance relationship. Some people would disagree with me, and say that there should be “little white lies” in a relationship, to protect it. I say this is ridiculous. In what way can deceiving the one you love be healthy for a relationship? Because jealousy is so prevalent in the long distance relationship, it is particularly important to be honest and open about all feelings and worries. Talking is the key. Though it can get messy, and can certainly be emotionally stressful, it is absolutely necessary that you address issues in the relationship so that you can overcome them. I’ve found, however, that even though it can be wearisome, always trying to end the conversation on a good note, always trying to reach some kind of consensus makes for a much healthier situation.
I could give you some little tips or hints to make a long distance relationship work, but the fact of the matter is that whether or not you survive it depends on the quality of your relationship regardless of whether or not distance is between you. If there is an unequal balance of power, or if one person’s heart just isn’t in it, it’s not going to work. Surviving a long distance relationship is all up to you and your significant other-if you embrace those aspects of loving that I discussed here, and maintain open and honest communication at all times, I have no doubt that your relationship will not only survive the distance, but become stronger as a result of it. But you have to apply them all. Take this time to look at the quality of your relationship and how consciously you love. Most importantly, take the time to appreciate the beauty of what you have. In then end, when that temporary period of distance is over, it will be so worth it.
bell hooks: “All About Love: New Visions” Published 2000.