In the technological dark ages of my youth, when the phone would ring, Dad would pick it up. And then I’d hear, “Hey Bet, quick. Get on the phone. It’s so and so calling long distance.” And Mother would come flying. Not only did a long distance call cost a lot of money, but the message must be very special for a loved one to phone in. Hopefully, the news was happy. But sometimes it was because whoever was on the other end of the line needed comfort, or quick information. So being there was paramount.
After all, it was “long distance.”
Now when you think of long distance, it has nothing to do with urgency. You might think of two people in love whose jobs require frequent trips to Chicago or India. Or your high schooler being headed to Paris for their senior trip. Or a friend doing an an internship in Brazil. The reality of normal “family life” in 2020 frequently means that you’re trying to maintain close ties with parents, children and grandchildren who are living in another part of the country, or even the world. And friendships often have to weather the hellos and goodbyes of living far apart.
Technology makes all of that easier of course. Between FaceTime, What’s App, Skype, Instagram or SnapChat, you can keep in close touch. Or at least, you can “see” each other and keep conversations going.
But bear hugs aren’t possible over FaceBook. Nor can tears be dried over a text. So healthy long distance relationships require some basic core beliefs that can help to maintain their warmth and depth, while simultaneously managing their inherent vulnerability.
I’m quite familiar with this topic. I moved away from my hometown when I was seventeen years old, my adult son lives hundreds of miles away from us, and many of my best friends live in different cities. So I know what it’s like to be separated from people I care about, all of us living busy lives and yet surviving through it all — and connecting with each other in person when we can.
It’s very possible to have happy, warm, loving relationships with people you don’t see as often as you’d like. Here are some basic skills you can adopt to help keep those relationships thriving, despite time and distance intervening.
Four skills to keep long distance relationships thriving…
Let the time you have together be whatever it shapes up to be.
Avoid the impulse to think, “The weekend has to be perfect!” Or the infamous, “I have to cook all his favorite things.” Because you actually may not know his favorite things any more… maybe he’s trying out vegan. Or no longer drinks chai tea.
Don’t force things. Prioritize what’s most important but be flexible about the rest. Enjoy being together while you have the chance, allowing the moments to evolve naturally. Remind yourself that if you try to make everything special, you might miss “normal.”
Realize that celebrations can happen any day.
You can perform incredible Cirque du Soleil-like twists and turns (and demand that others do the same) in trying to make a certain celebration or event. Obviously if it’s something that only happens once, it makes sense to do all you can to be there, front and center, smiling and applauding
However, when there are hundreds of miles between you, long distance relationships can thrive if you adjust your expectations and realize that holidays or birthdays can be celebrated on whatever day that you can be together. Birthdays might fall during finals week, or when your boss needs you for a presentation.
Life gets complicated and being tied to a calendar date can bring unneeded stress. It’s the togetherness that matters, whenever you can make that can happen.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
Maybe your best friend has her daughter and grandchildren living a couple of blocks away, but yours is on the other side of the country expecting her first child.
Or perhaps your neighbor has all of his siblings and their children over every Friday for a huge family gathering, while your siblings are scattered around the world and you haven’t all been together in over a decade.
It’s difficult to not compare your situation to others, to mourn what you don’t have in the face of others having it. Social media can make this even harder to ignore. But as the old saying goes, comparison is the thief of joy. And the best thing to do is avoid the bitterness is make peace with what you have — and what is possible.
And it’s interesting to note… you never know who is looking at your situation and wishing their life looked more like yours.
Make sure you don’t let too much time go by without some form of contact.
The marvelous thing about all of the technology available today is the incredible variety of communication you can have with someone. From ordering flowers for no special reason, to asking Alexa to turn on lights as your partner gets home, to the arrival of a Candy-gram, all can celebrate the quality of your caring. The distance might be regrettable, but ultimately it means nothing because the relationship remains meaningful.
Yet every relationship requires a loving touch from time to time and relationships need nurturing no matter what the distance involved. So you want to be aware and do your part to keep the fire of the relationship fueled. That’s unique for all relationships, whether it’s one that depends on more or less frequent contact.
If it works for both of you, then that’s the ticket. But sometimes finding out how much contact is enough contact involves compromise.
But it’s more than achievable.
All four of these lead to having a much calmer and more fulfilling relationship with those you love. And help to keep your awareness on the side of the glass that’s half-full, instead of half-empty.
And that can be a huge gift to give yourself, as well as those you love.
You can hear more about relationships and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
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Originally published on September 1, 2017; updated February 9, 2020.