Image from Pixabay.
Sustaining a relationship across the miles is not most people’s idea of the ideal situation, but for lovers of international travel, sometimes circumstances and opportunities necessitate a short- or long-term separation from the ones we love.
Everyone knows that Skype and FaceTime are great ways to say connected, but here a few other specific thoughts on how to make long-distance relationships work. I drew from my own experience of living in West Africa for nearly two years apart from my partner and also asked a few friends, including a married couple, a pair who got engaged after a long-term geographical separation was over, and my girlfriend herself.
Communication: The Logistics
Of course, no two relationships are the same; you’re going to have to find a balance that works for you. Some folks like the certainty of a weekly call and instant messaging whenever possible. Others find that overly frequent contact distracts from their ability to be absorbed and integrated into their present environment. Being in constant contact is tempting, but it can actually make the sting of separation harder.
Technology conditions will vary depending on which countries you each live in. Assess the modes of communication open to you, agree on how to divvy up the communication budget, and experiment with the amount of contact that helps you both feel connected but not utterly reliant on each other for social contact.
Living in a place like West Africa, where phone and Internet connections are routinely spotty, my girlfriend and I agree that there are times when it is best to give up on the call and try another day. This can save precious minutes as well as a lot of frustration.
Communication: The Content
Technology makes it easy to share everything that’s happening in your life. Image from Pixabay.
No matter how frequently you agree to be in touch, that time is going to be more limited than usual. Be specific and direct, especially when talking about something important, like the status of your relationship.
In between contact, it can help to keep a little Post-it note list of things you’d like to relate or discuss. I do this to help me remember things like a trivial, funny moment from my day or an insight from a book that I wanted to share.
If the long-distance stint is a long-term one, you’re both going to be growing and changing apart from each other. As in any relationship, wherever it may be, openly communicate about what you are going through and what you both need and expect from the relationship.
Have a Life in the Place Where You Live
It may seem obvious, but if you spend every moment counting down the hours until your next Skype date, you’re not getting much out of your travel experience.
You’re apart from your partner for now, so you’re going to have to cultivate an interest in the place where you find yourself situated. If the situation is longer-term, start to make friends who are respectful of your faraway relationship. It can be very helpful to find a local friend who is also trying to navigate the difficulties of sustaining a long-distance relationship.
Invest in your current partner, but immerse yourself in healthy activities wherever you find yourself. You’ll have all the more interesting things to contribute when you do get to talk next.
Don’t Over-Think It
Sustaining a healthy long-distance relationship is hard. Acknowledge that, and be kind to yourself. Periodically evaluate what is working and what isn’t, but don’t obsess over it. Just stay honest with your partner about whether you continue to be committed to the relationship as it stands. If not, is there anything that can be changed? Trust your intuition.
Two years ago, when I decided to move to West Africa, my girlfriend and I mutually agreed to call it quits. Neither one of us wanted to deal with all the difficulties of trying to keep up a healthy relationship from afar for that long. Yet once when I got here, it turned out that neither one of us wanted to stop communicating or stop investing in each other.
When I accepted my position here, a major drawback had been the certainty that it meant breaking up with her. Many friends assured me, “Don’t worry, if the relationship is meant to continue right now, it will.” Although a relationship only continues with hard work and intentionality, in a way, they were right. We intended to break up, but when faced with the pressure of long-distance, we both realized we wanted to try to make it work. In the end, navigating this challenge has brought us closer and helped us develop stronger trust in each other.
You Do You
My girlfriend added something that I think is very apt: Much like pregnancy, everyone is going to think they have the right to give you advice about your long-distance relationship. Take what fits. Forget the rest. Including the advice in this column.