Physical distance shouldn’t be a barrier to happiness.
Long distance relationships are challenging. Although you may have strong feelings for your partner, prolonged periods of time apart and a lack of physical intimacy can put any couple’s bond to the test. Deciding to commit to a long-distance relationship is an important decision, and couples have to be clear about their expectations, feelings, and boundaries before moving forward with this type of relationship. Communication, trust, and emotional intimacy have to lay the foundation so that the couple can continue to grow, even if they’re miles apart.
The good news is that long distance relationships are not impossible! “Challenging times call for some flexibility, which is a hallmark of a successful relationship. While it is difficult not being in close physical proximity, it is an opportunity to deepen and enrich the relationship in ways you may not have been able to do previously,” says Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, M.S., a licensed clinical professional counselor and a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist at TheMarriageRestorationProject.com. Long-distance relationships present the chance to get to know your partner on a deeper level, strengthen your emotional intimacy, and sustain a lasting connection. “It will also be a test if your relationship has staying power,” Slatkin says.
Thankfully, we live in the 21st century and have technology, so there are plenty of ways to maintain communication and an intimate connection with your partner at a distance. Having daily phone calls, video-chatting, and scheduling virtual dates are just some of the ways you can stay close with your significant other. And if the spark ever starts to diminish, we have plenty of tips from experts to keep your relationship fresh, exciting, and intimate (yep, even physically!). Here are smart tips from experts and Prevention.com editors to help your long-distance relationship make it through the long haul.
1 Stay connected with daily calls and check-ins.
Although communication is important to all relationships, openly communicating with your partner is especially vital for couples in long distance relationships, says Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author. “Many long-distance relationships deteriorate when partners forget to engage in little rituals that build healthy connection. It’s important to remember that small niceties like a tender goodnight call or a loving wake-up text go a long way,” she says.
2 And use a full range of ways to keep in touch.
Ryan Drzewiecki, Psy.D., Director of Psychology at All Points North Lodge, suggests relying on various means of communicating outside of a phone call. “Send photos and videos throughout the day, share memes that made you laugh, link an article you found to be thought-provoking, or send a care package through the mail,” he says. “By mixing it up, you keep everything interesting and fun, and avoid having the act of communication become a dull routine.”
3 Video chat with your partner weekly.
Communication is essential to making long distance relationships work, but seeing your partner’s face is especially important to maintaining the connection, says Fran Walfish, Psy.D., Beverly Hills and New York City based family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors, CBS TV, and co-star on WE TV. Through video chatting, couples can read body language, facial cues, and additional messages that tell us how the other person truly feels, Walfish says. “The goal is to learn what feels good to her and communicate what feels good to you.”
4 Write handwritten letters.
Writing letters is not an activity of the past! “There is something deeply special and personal in a handwritten letter, and as a couples counselor, I have found that people are often able to be more vulnerable in their writing,” says Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist with Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. “Getting something from your partner in the mail is fun, exciting, and feels like something tangible to hold on to while apart.”
5 Find creative ways to bond.
To keep the relationship fresh and exciting, dream up some creative ways to connect with your partner. “If you want to have a movie night, thanks to Amazon Prime, Netflix, and other streaming services, it’s very possible to set up a date night to Skype or Zoom while the two of you Netflix and chill,” says Christopher Ryan Jones, Psy.D. psychologist and sex therapist, member of both the American Psychological Association (APA), and host of Sex Therapy with Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones podcast. He also suggests surprising your partner with flowers, chocolates, or other thoughtful gifts they’ll appreciate from miles away.
6 Have a virtual date night.
While watching a movie at the same time as your partner is an obvious way to have virtual date night, there are plenty of other exciting options that couples can do to build romance while physically apart. Tara Overzat, Ph.D., online mental health counselor at Getting Overzat, recommends enjoying a meal together over Zoom or doing a virtual tour of a museum, such as the Louvre, together. “Even when you are apart, it is important to carve out time for a special activity the two of you can do together,” she says.
7 And create themed dates.
Just because you’re miles away from your partner, it doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with date night. Choose a themed date night a few times a month to really freshen up your virtual date. The options are endless, but consider a wine tasting, pasta making, or painting.
8 Try a couple’s personality assessment.
Alisha Sweyd, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California, recommends that long-distance couples do a couple’s personality assessment together, like the Better Love Assessment or the SYMBIS Assessment. “These assessments help you to have discussions about how your personalities work together to make an incredible and unique relationship,” Sweyd says. “They also share where you may have pitfalls that you can struggle with, and discuss ways of overcoming those obstacles. This will allow for more emotional connection and intimacy as well as strengthen the relationship as a whole.”
9 And have regular “brainstorming dates.”
A “brainstorming date” is when couples talk about what’s working and what’s challenging in the long-distance relationship, explains Karin Lawson, Psy.D., licensed Florida psychologist in private practice. “The goal of your brainstorming date is to problem-solve together (here comes the teamwork) to figure out what needs tweaking,” she says. “This might mean frequency of contact, mode of contact, what you talk about, etc. The point is to also highlight your strengths as a couple and to give credit to what’s working.”
10 Make a relationship bucket list.
Creating a bucket list can be a fun way to keep couples united on their goals and enhance excitement. Sure, you can fill the bucket list with long-term goals like moving closer together, but you can also keep your list simple and filled with fun activities. For instance, maybe your bucket list includes a trip to Mexico, running a half marathon, or attending a cooking class. The sky is the limit!
11 Find shared activities.
“Even though you’re far apart, it is important to do things together, in addition to just talking on the phone or using FaceTime,” Drzewiecki says, adding that long distance couples can synchronize activities like morning coffee, eating lunch, watching shows, or playing games together. “Shared activities will keep you engaged and interested in one another, and prevent the relationship from falling in a rut,” he says.
12 Maintain sexual intimacy.
Although it could be challenging to create a sex life without physical connection, it’s certainly not impossible, says Carolina Pataky, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist, clinical sexologist and certified sex therapist. “It’s important to make the effort to be open and honest with one another about your needs, feelings and desires. Thanks to our technological advances you can maintain sexual connection,” she says, adding that long distance couples should give virtual sex a try. “Sex can be a way for you to bond with your partner and share pleasure and fun.”
13 Try a couple’s vibrator.
“Distance does not mean the intimacy is gone,” Jones says. You can take virtual sex up another level with a couple’s vibrator. “Fortunately, there are companies like We-Vibe that make amazing products that your partner can control from anywhere in the world,” he says, referring to the We-Vibe Sync. “This can really spice things up when you are away from your partner.”
14 Read a book about sex.
Long-distance couples can read a book about sex simultaneously, Sweyd suggests. “Sexual intimacy is crucial in relationships, and especially hard in long distance relationships,” she says. “During the time apart, reading a book about sexual intimacy in relationships can help to strengthen the sexual intimacy.” Most importantly, couples can discuss the book together. “Reading the book can help to spark the conversations that help a couple communicate about sex in a healthy and productive way,” she says.
15 Establish expectations.
With the element of distance, couples should discuss their expectations and desires for the relationship. “Manage unhealthy habits by communicating and taking responsibility for your fears, needs and hopes,” Pataky says. “Both of you need to be clear with what you expect of each other during this long-distance relationship.”
16 And be honest about your wants and needs.
Couples in a long-distance relationship must be honest about their desires and needs, says Saba Harouni Lurie, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Take Root Therapy, a group psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles. “If you’re afraid to ask for something, let your partner know you’re a little nervous about bringing it up,” she recommends. “Hopefully you and your partner are able to hear each other without judgment, and come to a compromise.”
17 Don’t forget to openly discuss any concerns.
Manly says, in long-distance relationships, there can be a temptation to compartmentalize or avoid discussing bothersome issues. “Healthy long-distance relationships thrive when partners trust that they can safely discuss their worries and concerns,” she says. “Romance tends to grow stronger and couples feel more connected when they face the good and the not-so-good times as a team.”
18 And be sure to set rules and standards.
In addition to establishing expectations and boundaries, Pataky suggests setting some ground rules. “Talk about exclusivity, dating others, and so on so you can both be clear on where you each stand with one another,” she says. “Understand your commitment level and what that means to each of you. It’s better to be open with each other about all these things.”
19 Build trust.
“Trust is the basis for all good relationships,” Walfish explains. “Once trust is established and you feel safe, inhibitions decrease and free us to let loose, be ourselves, and be free within the context of coupling up.” Walfish says that long-distance couples can build trust can be built through consistent communication, specifically, over video chat. “The foundation of developing trust can begin long distance through Skype conversations,” she says.
20 Make plans to see each other.
“If possible, have regular in person visits,” Small suggests. “Getting to spend in person time together is important because it allows you both to integrate into one another life and get a sense of what life together would feel like.” In-person visits create opportunities for physical intimacy, which is an important aspect of relationships.
21 Plan a surprise trip.
Because you’ll be traveling to see each other anyway, why not switch things up and meet your partner in a really cool place? Plan a surprise trip, and your long-awaited reunion will be better than you could have ever expected.
22 Before you leave them, hide a gift in their home.
When you do get the chance to visit your partner, leave a little surprise for them to find after you’re gone. Purchase a small gift or write a thoughtful note and hide it somewhere in their home. They’ll be so happy to find it later on!
23 And swap belongings before you go.
When you’re really missing your partner, take one of their belongings home with you. It can be anything, but a fun hack is to put your partner’s T-shirt or sweatshirt around your pillow, and you can hug it and pretend it’s them at night. They’ll feel extra close.
24 Establish a timeline.
There’s a good chance that long-distance couples will eventually want to be closer together, so Pataky recommends establishing a timeline. “Humans crave touch and contact. Be honest with one another on what each of your timelines and expectations are moving forward,” she says. “Ask one another the tough questions and be willing to compromise and adjust without being afraid to ask for what you need.”
25 Remind your partner why you love them.
Although this may feel intuitive, Manly says long-distance couples should remember to tell their partner why they love them and are grateful for them. “Research shows that gratitude is an essential key for relationships—and it’s all the more important for long-distance romances that can have their share of challenges,” she says. “Take the time to let your partner know—at least a few times per week if not a few times per day—how truly grateful you are for the loving relationship.”
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