Like “I live with my parents,” or “I’m still looking for a job,” the phrase “I’m in a long distance relationship” pretty much guarantees you a pitying gaze in return. But, as it turns out, the superior person on the other side of those so-sad eyes might not actually be better off than you — in fact, it might be just the opposite. A recent study published in the Journal of Communication found that people in long-distance relationships have stronger bonds than those in who have a more consistent face-to-face connections with their significant others. Researchers suspect that’s because individuals in LDR’s have to try harder to communicate, and are in turn rewarded with a closer bond to their significant other. This feels a little tough for us to swallow, having been in a failed long-distance relationship or two ourselves, over the years.
The even more surprising fact from the study: that 3 million married couples in the U.S. live apart — meaning that even if you’re not in one now, chances are, you may find yourself in a far-flung romance in the future. So, with memories of our own disastrous efforts at LDRs dancing in our brains, we felt it was only right to look to the pros to get some solid advice on not just surviving, but thriving in, a long-distance relationship. The five rules to live by, ahead.
Designed by Ammiel Mendoza.
1. Have an End Date. It may be two years in the future, at the end of law school or that Foreign Service assignment, but you should be working toward something, says Rachel DeAlto, an L.A.-based relationship expert. “Vague phrasing like 'we’ll figure it out later' can make it hard for you to know if you’re both on the same page emotionally,” she says.
2. Visit the Right Way. When you haven’t seen each other for weeks, it’s tempting to turn every weekend together into an epic date, with romantic dinner reservations, plenty of champagne … and a credit card statement to match. But, over-the-top romance is expensive and exhausting, warns Andrea Syrtash, relationship expert and co-author of It’s Okay to Sleep With Him On the First Date . “Have a romantic dinner, but then spend Saturday hitting the farmers' market, heading to a friend’s party, or doing the stuff you or he would normally do on a Saturday afternoon,” she suggests. Knowing each other’s friends and routines makes you feel more a part of each other’s daily lives than you would if you spent the entire weekend locked away in a hotel. Oh, and make sure to visit a lot. “Aim for once a month, if possible,” suggests Syrtash.
3. Spend Face Time Together. Even if once-a-month face-to-face visits are impossible, you can still keep the bond strong by doing virtual face-time on the regular. “Things can get lost in translation over text or email,” warns DeAlto. “Seeing each other’s expressions and hearing each other’s voices are key for feeling connected.” And, it doesn’t need to be hours long. A Face Time goodnight when you’re falling asleep can be just as effective as an hours-long Skype session. That said, make sure you don’t get caught up in thinking quantity is quality. On days when you’re both swamped, checking in with quick texts and emails throughout the day can be even more effective than waiting to unload everything in an hours-long phone conversation or video chat.
4. Keep Your Closest Friends Close. When you’re missing your partner, it’s hard to ratchet up the energy to head out with your buddies, but keeping up with your everyday, in-person social circle is way better for maintaining your sanity and sense of self than weepily waiting for a long-distance call, says Syrtash. Plus, you need to have a rich, full life of your own, in order to be a good, solid, interesting partner to another person. And to be happy with yourself.
5. Be Honest About Where You Stand. If you’re never going to move to L.A., don’t assume you can “make” him or her move to NYC,’ says DeAlto. Unfortunately, at some point, geography is going to become an issue in the relationship, and the only way you and he can move past it is to be brutally honest about where you both stand. On that note, regularly checking in to see how you feel about the situation will make it less likely that you're holding on to a relationship that’s run it’s course. Small signals — like a tiny twinge of resentment when you see your significant other's name come up on your phone just as you’re heading out to a concert—will only become larger over time if you ignore them. So, pay attention to those. And be honest with yourself and your partner about the little feelings and the big ones.