Ahh long distance relationships, the type of relationship that no one wants to be in, but many of us commit to at one stage or another (yes me included), due to a variety of reasons.
Emotions run high, things can be easily misinterpreted and you won’t ever be able to anticipate just how much you’ll miss your significant other. Not to mention the sexual frustration.
When their smell slowly fades from your sheets, when you miss bin day because it used to be their job to put the bin out, when you see your loved-up friends and the longing to have your person is so overwhelming it hits you like a punch to the stomach. These are all part of the long-distance relationship game.
While it is definitely hard, it’s not impossible. I’ve enlisted the help of one of Australia’s most sought-after therapists, Melissa Ferrari, who has over 20 years experience in couples counselling and individual psychotherapy.
“Long distance relationships is an issue that I am seeing more of in my practice. This is due to more people in the modern age making the decision to have relationships with more space,” Melissa says.
“Gwyneth Paltrow is the most famous of these and we are seeing more couples choosing to ‘live together apart’, which of course comes with both benefits and complications.
“COVID-19 has also had an impact, with the government response to the virus stranding people all over the world. So we are dealing with those who have been forced into a long-distance relationship needing support.”
Melissa identifies the most common issue long-distance couples are facing is due to attachment styles, with these styles reflecting how we relate to each other.
“If one person is anxious or avoidant [attachment style], then the distance is going to create issues as the anxiety in one partner is likely to be activated, potentially leading to significant issues in the relationship,” she says.
“Another issue is not being able to have both parties in the same room during therapy. Couples counselling is most effective when we can connect with each other and without the ability for couples to truly look at each other and be able to physically touch, then finding that reconnection is far more difficult to achieve.”
In Melissa’s extensive experience she thinks it is a lot easier to cope with long-distance at the beginning of a relationship than it is if distance occurs mid-relationship.
“In either scenario what is most important is that as a couple the decision to go long-distance is mutual. Long-distance relationships have a greater chance of working if everyone is on the same page,” Melissa says.
“Where trouble arises in a new relationship is when one partner is quite happy with the distance, while the other is of the belief that they will be finding a way to live together. This congruence will at some point cause enormous tension.
“Likewise, if one partner has pushed for the distance, perhaps for financial reasons such as an employment opportunity, almost coercing their partner to agree, over time that will create significant issues.”
So what should the goal be?
“What the goal should be for couples choosing to enter into a long-distance relationship is to be open and honest with each other. Genuinely explore how you both feel, talk about any uncertainty and make sure that the final decision is mutual, just and fair for both parties,” Melissa says.
“If you can sense trouble ahead, look for a different course where you can be together.
“That is not to say that long-distance love cannot work, many people make it work and in many ways due to the need to be great conversationalists, you often get to know each other better than you would living together, so when you do come together the intimacy can be intoxicating.
“Essentially it is about the people involved. By knowing each other you will have a better understanding as to how well you will cope with the distance.”
With this in mind, Melissa has outlined her top tips for surviving and thriving in a long-distance relationship:
- Communicating is very important, short conversations or texts are always going to create issues, so have a routine that involves plenty of time to talk to each other.
- Physical intimacy is important in all relationships, when we are intimate with each other it creates a bond. When you cannot be with each other, be inventive and sexual through technology and remember that there are many ways in this digital age to stay intimate.
- One of the most important points of connection is through the eyes, when we really look into our partners eyes it creates connection. When we are apart this creates challenges. The answer here is technology, we live in an amazing age for staying connected, so if you are living apart take advantage of it.
- Issues of jealousy and trust are always bound to come up when we are apart, which is why routines are important. If you speak every day and that starts to become sporadic the negative thoughts will come, why didn’t they call? Don’t they love me anymore? Who are they with? To avoid the pain points, make sure that you check-in regularly and be consistent about it.
- What is also important is to know when it is not working, which means that you are going to have to make a tough call. That may be ending the relationship for the sake of each other or deciding to come back together. Just because you made the decision to have a long-distance relationship does not mean you need to stay in if it is making you unhappy. So, if you are experiencing loneliness, a sense of abandonment, well then it is time. No matter how much you may love your partner, it may be time to call it quits on the agreement to live separately.
Being in the modern world of technology means there are so many resources available to assist couples in navigating long-distance relationships.
“The most obvious resource is to use technology to see each other as often as possible whether that is Zoom, FaceTime or Skype. Face-to-face time is so important no matter how far apart or close we are in any relationship,” Melissa says.
“Lack of intimacy is always an issue when we are not together and again technology is there to help, with a range of apps available that connect to a broad range of sex toys that your partner can control. While these will not create the same feelings of connection that sex will, it at least keeps that important intimate connection alive, while you are apart.
“There are also apps for private messaging and sharing for just the two of you, games that can be played, maps for the perfect virtual date amongst a host of other things that help you to create rituals with each other.
“The best advice I can give is to be creative and use the technology that is available to you to help keep things fun and fresh.”
How to navigate coming back together post long-distance
“Like any change to a relationship, this will bring challenges. If you have never lived together, then you will need to discover what it is like to live together and whether your relationship can survive the two of you living under the same roof. It can be far more testing than you are expecting,” Melissa says.
“If you are coming back to a relationship, then you will likely face issues around the loss of freedom, being able to do what you want when you want. This will be tempered somewhat by the joy of re-uniting but again there will be challenges.
“What matters is that you are there for each other, supporting each other, checking in with each other, always having each other’s back and making every effort to put the relationship, not yourself, first.”
Melissa loops back to the importance of communication.
“If you are struggling, then tell your partner, talk through why and work together on the solution. They may well be feeling the same way or have an issue they need to deal with,” she says.
“By facing issues together is how couples stay together and build a relationship that lasts.”