In the technological dark ages of my youth, when the phone would ring, Dad would pick it up. I’d hear him shout to my mom, “Hey Bet, quick. Get on the phone. It’s Adam calling long distance.” Mother would come flying; a long-distance call cost a lot of money, so the message must be very important for a loved one to phone unexpectedly. Usually, the news was happy, but sometimes that caller needed comfort, or quick information.
Now long distance has nothing to do with urgency. In fact, it’s routine. They’re a couple whose jobs require frequent trips to Chicago or India. Your daughter headed to Paris for her senior trip, or your grad student son has an internship in Brazil. The reality of normal “family life” frequently means that you’re trying to maintain close ties with parents, children, grandchildren and let’s not forget friends, who are far away.
Technology makes all of that easier, of course. Between FaceTime, Zoom, What’s App, Skype, Instagram or SnapChat, you can keep in close touch. Furthermore, you can “see” each other while you keep those conversations going.
But bear hugs aren’t possible over FaceBook, hands can’t be held via Zoom, snuggles aren’t possible on WhatsApp. So, I’ve come up with four core beliefs that can help to maintain a relationship’s 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, surviving and even thriving through it all.
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 she 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, 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. 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.
Make sure you don’t let too much time go by without some form of contact.
The marvelous thing about technology 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.
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.
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!
My book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression is available and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.
And there’s a new way to send me a message! You can record by clicking below and ask your question or make a comment. You’ll have 90 seconds to do so and that time goes quickly. By recording, you’re giving SelfWork (and me) permission to use your voice on the podcast. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!
Originally published on September 1, 2017; updated and republished on April 2, 2022.