There are several things couples can do to help give their long-distance relationships (LDR) the best chance of success, and to keep the flame of romance alive! Trust, established ground-rules, communication, and dedication are key. Statistics show that long-distance relationships CAN work. Here’s how:
Does “absence make the heart grow fonder?”, or is it more of a case of “out of sight, out of mind?” Experts weigh in on how to make long distance relationships work…
You’ve fallen in love with your soul mate, and you can’t wait to spend every spare minute with each other. Then you get some potentially devastating news… your partner has a contract to work overseas for twelve months. You both have a tough choice to make. Do you take this journey together, and commit to building the relationship despite the distance, or do you throw in the towel now, before things get “too messy”?
Sarah and her partner sustained a long-distance relationship for a year while she was studying at Rhodes. “We fought a LOT during that time,” says Sarah. “He was so jealous and worried that I’d cheat. He spent thousands on phone-calls and travelling back and forth between provinces. But we kept it together, and now we’ve been happily married for almost 20 years. In those days, communication was even tougher. We didn’t have social media or WhatsApp. We had to rely on the postal system or landline calls! I think our LDR made us stronger, and more able to deal with conflict and frustrations in our marriage.”
But access to technology doesn’t necessarily guarantee a relationship’s success. Annie and her boyfriend had been dating for three years before she left for varsity in 2016. They spoke to each other every day, and tried to visit as often as possible while she was still studying. However, another two years into the relationship, Annie was devastated to find out that her boyfriend had been unfaithful. “We poured five years of our lives into this relationship, I thought he was ‘the one’,” she says. It took her several months to come to terms with the heartbreak and get back onto the dating scene. She doesn’t think she could consider another LDR in the future.
How long can long-distance relationships (LDRs) last?
A 2018 survey conducted by KIIROO in the US found that 60% of LDRs managed to survive. Interestingly, of the couples who survive the initial distance, one third break up within three months after their reunion according to academic researchers for Ohio State University. The “loss of autonomy” is one of the major contributing factors. People become accustomed to spending time by themselves, and doing what they want to do. They find it difficult to compromise and adjust their expectations when they’re living together with their partner again.
Participants in the KIIROO study said that during their long-distance relationships, the four-month mark was “the most difficult” period. This was when most couples decided to either ‘make it’ or ‘break it’. However, if they managed to persevere past eight months, they had a higher chance of surviving the distance.
A 2010 German study found that LDRs lasted an average of 2.9 years – less than half the length of a proximal relationship, which lasted 7.3 years.
But don’t be despondent.
“Long distance relationships ARE sustainable,” says Michael Kallenbach, a couples therapist with consulting rooms in Parkhurst, Johannesburg. “They just require determination and commitment. With video conferencing and free wi-fi telephone calls these days, it makes it easy for both parties to stay in regular contact.”
What are the challenges of long-distance relationships?
All couples say that the lack of physical intimacy is one of the things that they struggle with most in an LDR. While modern technology has helped improve the ease of communication, no amount of Skyping or WhatsApp messages will make up for sex or cuddles.
Other challenges included worrying about infidelity, feelings of loneliness, expenses related to travel, lack of communication (couples not bringing up issues because they don’t want to argue), and time difference between the geographical locations where they each live.
How do you keep the romance alive in long-distance relationships?
Kallenbach is confident that “The romantic flame can be kept alive, even if couples are separated for a period of time during an LDR.”
“Flowers, books and chocolates are all gifts that can be ordered online and delivered on special occasions.”
But intimacy and romance is about much more than a few thoughtful gifts.
“Making time to talk on the phone or via video as often as possible is extremely important,” says Kallenbach. “Don’t rush these calls during work hours.”
Intersperse calls with:
- Text messages or WhatsApps. “Say something kind and thoughtful like ‘I’m thinking of you’ or ‘wish you were here with me today’,” suggests Kallenbach.
- “Background Skype” is something that a lot of couples have adopted. They hook up their device to Skype in the evenings after work, and carry on with their activities while “in each other’s company”. Couples can even watch movies together – streaming a movie on one device and Skype on another.
- Surprise each other with thoughtful gifts occasionally. Order pizza for your partner so they don’t have to cook, or send them a gift voucher for a spa treatment.
What about TRUST in a long-distance relationship?
One of the foundations of a stable relationship is a sense of trust between the couple. Physical distance shouldn’t change a person’s values or core beliefs.
If you’re worried about your partner cheating, the truth is that they could cheat on you whether they are 1 kilometre away or on the other side of the ocean. Feeling like you need to monitor their every move means that there is a lack of trust within the relationship. There may be various reasons for this instability including heartbreaks and betrayals by previous partners, or destructive patterns of behaviour in the current relationship.
This is something that can be dealt with most effectively through professional counselling.
3 Keys to making long-distance relationships (LDR) work
There are several things couples can do to help give their long-distance relationship the best chance of success.
1. Communication for long-distance relationships
As with all relationships, communication is absolutely key.
- If you’re feeling lonely, tell your partner
- Feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of holding down the fort at home while your partner is away is NORMAL. But don’t hide it, they need to know so that they can support you emotionally or practically
- If you just miss them terribly, then say so
Stay in touch using as many means as possible, and if your budget allows, try to visit regularly. Knowing that there’s a visit coming up in the future can help couples deal with the emotional turmoil that they may struggle with on occasion. The physical reconnection and intimacy also helps strengthen the relationship.
2. Ground rules for long-distance relationships
Are visits with people of the opposite sex allowed? Are you in a monogamous or open relationship? Who pays for travel? Who pays for communication expenses?
These are all topics that need to be discussed before embarking on a long-distance relationship.
“Trust is a big and important issue in any relationship. If both parties agree that they’re in an open relationship, then that’s fine. However, if not, couples need to lay down rules and promise to remain faithful to each other, even when separated by thousands of miles,” says Kallenbach.
3. Commitment for long-distance relationships
A long-distance relationship can only work if both people are committed to the process. Relationships are never always smooth sailing, but distance can make smaller issues seem bigger than they really are. Couples need to navigate the frustrations together. This builds trust, and will help establish a strong foundation of teamwork when the couple build a life together in the future.
Ultimately, long-distance relationships CAN work. They just require a lot of effort from each individual.