When it feels like distance has doomed your love life, don’t give up so soon.
Long-distance relationships are living proof that love is not just physical. I can feel you next to me even when you’re thousands of miles away.” – Paulo Coelho
Mozart has been through it, Beethoven has, and so has Nietzsche. So it’s nothing new, and many people around the world live it daily. Expats, diplomats, college students and international business people are particularly affected by the challenges of a long-distance relationship. Whether partners are separated within a country or across continents, certain issues prevail among couples divided by oceans, national borders or a long train journey. There’s just too little time together.
Jack is wandering through the Vienna Airport, anxious about catching his flight to Birmingham. Last-minute shopping at Spar, buying Austrian essentials like cheese and bread, and maybe Manner Schnitten, all in one small backpack. Why not? It’s only for a weekend. A routine has already settled in for the bimonthly journey: a short layover, usually in Germany, and a few hours later, he arrives, greeted with hugs and kisses.
Jack and May met in the U.K. at university. After finishing a bachelor’s degree, Jack went back to Vienna, while May stayed in Birmingham to continue her research. Since then Jack visits every other week to see his girlfriend and spend the weekend. “I did not think we would make it, considering the distance,” May admitted. “And after a failed one, I didn’t want another long-distance relationship.” She finds it hard not sharing her daily life, “not having Jack physically with me.” But they are managing well, so far. She says “you have to bridge the distance in other ways.”
Living apart is in fact one of the biggest challenges in LDRs, says Dominik Borde, relationship coach and founder of the Vienna-based institute Sozialdynamik – how to “create a sense of closeness despite the geographical distance,” and the intimacy needed for building trust. But not necessarily calling or texting every 20 minutes. As Borde points out, a healthy and balanced way of communicating is often central to preventing jealousy.
“Where are you going, who is with you, what time are you back?” Those were frequent questions Jack had to grudgingly answer for his fiery Brazilian girlfriend before going out with friends, and slightly tipsy 3:00 goodnight calls were part of the routine.
Communicating regularly but not too often is something 24-year-old Pedro from São Paulo figured out. After meeting his partner during an exchange program in Switzerland, both agreed to regular, weekly Skype calls. “The lack of human contact was very difficult to manage, but open conversations about what each of us was experiencing were essential to maintain our relationship,” Pedro recalls. In modern relationships communication is mainly verbal, and so couples need to openly discuss any fears and worries they might have. Couples also have to figure out the mechanics of how to see each other. Sometimes the barriers are professional. Other times it’s simply a matter of money. Being open for compromise is therefore crucial.
For Tamara and Hannah the greatest challenge was not having the other around during special moments. After living long distance for more than two years, Hannah left her New York life to move in with Tamara in Rio de Janeiro. The decision was not easy, but “we had to make it work somehow,” Hannah explains. Tamara agrees. “When you experience a beautiful sunset, watch a touching movie or go for a weekend hike you want to share it with the person you love.”
Meeting in Cyberspace
Social media and other digital tools like Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp have made many couples more willing to try LDRs. It has never been as simple as it is today to communicate with someone far away in real time. Where letters were once the only way to maintain relationships abroad, couples communicate in today’s digital age instantly via WhatsApp and Facebook and can send videos, photos and audio recordings to each other all day long. Beware though of becoming the over clingy partner who gets upset if messages are not answered instantly. Trust is the word of the hour! Modern transportation often simplifies things. Especially in Europe, low-budget airlines and high-speed trains bridge physical distances as never before, making it possible for couples to see each other for a weekend break, whether they live in Rome, Vienna or Sofia.
So what can you do?
If you’re reading this, you may be looking for advice, so here are some tips that might help you feel happier and more confident while you are apart.
First is the importance of common goals. According to Borde, that involves long-term planning – the intention of living together in the same city or apartment and in some cases sharing the wish to have children. Many LDRs fail simply by not having talked through shared plans for moving forward together. Where there is no goal to work towards, where’s the motivation to stay together? Recently, Tamara and Hannah as well as May and Jack compromised on a place to live.
Second, stay connected to friends! A perk of living in an LDR is that you are freer to focus on your career and still have enough time for hobbies and a social life. Set up regular Skype calls with your partner, but don’t ignore the need to get out and have a life of your own. That’s essential for both partners and calling each other in the early morning hours after a convivial night with friends allows you to do both.
Lastly, take advantage of any cultural differences. This can be a gift, both of novelty and surprise. If your partner lives in a different country, read up on the respective cultural and historic background. That not only brings a deeper understanding of the other, but gives you new things to share and talk about and prepares you to explore each other’s countries together. While Jack’s long distance relationship is motivating him to read up on his newfound love of Latin culture, Pedro discovered a new interest in Swiss cheese and wine, something that he never thought he would enjoy.
Keep the Flame Alive
Here are some books and apps that may help keep your love alive!
The Long-Distance Relationship Survival Guide: Secrets and Strategies from Successful Couples Who Have Gone the Distance by Chris Bell & Kate Brauer-Bell
Read up on the ultimate survival guide for couples living through an LDR with some great tips on how to communicate with your significant other across distances and set common goals.
You might not be able to share the popcorn, but at least rabb.it allows you to watch a movie together in real time. Watch a movie together with your partner and both of you will see each other’s facial expressions, laughter and tears.
Avocado is an app that allows you to share photos, important dates and organize your relationship life within a social media site – without anyone else being able to see what you share. A good tool for future planning.
How to Keep (and Love) Your Long Distance Relationship: Advice for the Modern-Day Couple With Distance Woes by Ava Rey
A collection of funny and raunchy anecdotes of couples in LDRs.
DailyStrength.org is a forum for people in LDRs who need advice or want to pour their heart out.