Long Distance Relationship Guide

You may remember our post: To Be or Not To Be (Together): Long Distance Relationships well, in honor of Valentines Day, one of our Global Ambassadors decided to write a guide on long distance relationships:

One of the hardest things about living so far away from home is living 15,000km from the man I love. It’s common to have a tough time with long distance relationships, especially when you’re used to seeing each other everyday. Long distance relationships are not for the faint of heart, and require a great deal of work and very sound coping mechanisms. In fact, according to the Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships, 60% of relationships fail when one partner goes on exchange! You may think your love is strong, but can it stand the test of a long distance relationship?

1. Download Skype!

Skype is a long distance godsend. You can instant message and videochat with ease, and it’s free from anywhere in the world! You can also call cell phones and landlines with skype, but that costs money (albeit not very much – about a dollar an hour) that you can purchase in the form of skype credits on the website. Videochat is kind of like being together in person, but is no replacement – touch and smell are of course not part of the experience, yet are an integral part of in-person relationships. Also, a huge break in routine (i.e. the routine of seeing each other in person on a regular basis) can cause a lot of uncertainty and insecurity. Compensate by planning skype dates every so often that you both keep, as a reminder of your commitment to each other and a preventative measure against feelings of neglect.

2. Discuss your mutual expectations

The most critical issue in long distance relationship survival is the mutual meeting of expectations. What often happens,  is that one partner wants to talk a lot more than the other. This leaves one partner feeling neglected and the other feeling annoyed and smothered. My boyfriend attended an international school for eight years, he grew used to people coming in and out of his life and developed healthy long-distance coping mechanisms.  I have a hard time dealing with the distance, so I feel the need to compensate for the lack of physical touch and presence by contacting him more often than I normally would.

My apparent neediness and his perceived apathy eventually put a strain on us, so we decided to set aside some ground rules and explain our behaviour. The key is to compromise. If your significant other wants to contact you every day but you want to contact them every week, you can meet halfway and contact each other every three days. It is also important to reach an understanding of where you are both coming from. This means explaining what your needs are, and why they are so.

3. Avoid misunderstandings

Miscommunication is another huge problem in long distance relationships. 85% of contact between people is nonverbal, and that number is probably much higher for those in love. It’s no wonder things can go awry once that component is eliminated. Avoid sarcasm and jokes that might be seen as offensive or mocking without the proper emoticons when using email or instant messenger. Reserve that kind of behaviour for video chat.

4. Don’t freak out when your significant other asks who a newly-added Facebook friend is!

It’s perfectly normal to feel disconnected from your significant other’s life. This feeling is especially magnified when she or he makes new friends whom you don’t know about. When you don’t share details about your daily lives with each other, it is easy to feel severed from your lover, as if you are living on distant planets. Misunderstandings, if not promptly dealt with, can easily lead to jealousy and even mistrust. To solve this, make sure to be as open and candid at possible with your lover about your day-to-day lives so that he or she can picture you in certain contexts and feel connected with you. And if he or she questions a facebook add, do not get upset or feel it is a sign of mistrust – it may merely be an indicator that he or she feels disconnected from your life and wants to learn about the new friends you made since he or she left.

5. Don’t freak out if your significant other questions an interaction you had with a member of the opposite sex while away.

Being disconnected from each other’s life can be daunting, and it’s so easy for minds to run away, especially among us creative types (I am a born story weaver, which unfortunately extends to me imagining crazy stories about what might be going on in my boyfriend’s life, which, not surprisingly, drives him crazy). Don’t make a big fuss and just tell the truth. And if you’re the type who has a crazy imagination, try to maintain awareness that these thoughts have no logical basis.

6. Don’t let misunderstandings turn into mistrust.

Keep communication consistent. Picture your day to day life as a giant portrait. The more blank spaces you keep in your partner’s portrait of you, the more space he or she has to fill with his or her imagination, which can be quite pessimistic. If you’re the pessimistic type, start a journal of all the nice things your significant other did or said to you. Next time you feel neglected, look at that book and remember the good parts of your relationship. Hopefully that’ll help you realize it’s all in your head. Trusting your partner is the best thing you can do for your relationship!

7. Send gifts.

Presents are a huge way to show your lover you care about them and miss them. Try to mail packages for special occasions such as birthdays and definitely Valentine’s Day. Think of the extra cost of airmail to be equivalent to the amount you’d spend on treating your significant other to dinner anyway. In my experience, mail services almost always suck, so take the amount of time it estimates the package will get there, multiply it by 3, and that should be approximately the amount of time it will actually take (in business days, excl. Saturday and Sunday).  A big mistake is to underestimate the impact of gifts. Even if your lover says he or she does not want to receive gifts, assume she is lying out of politeness. Everyone wants to feel special, especially at such a distance where everything feels so up in the air and uncertain.

8. Always give the benefit of the doubt.

Cheating: I learned this the hard way. If you accuse your lover of cheating, there are two possible scenarios:

  • If they are cheating, they will deny it (there’s no proof anyway) and get mad at you for exposing them (they will claim they are mad at you for “not trusting them.”)
  • If they aren’t cheating, they will get very mad at you for not trusting them. People who are faithful find being accused of cheating the same thing as a nasty insult to their character. They are upset you don’t expect better of them.

So the best thing to do is, unless the evidence is clear as day (video footage, obvious photos, separate tips from a few trusted friends, etc.) assume they are not cheating. Not only will that give you peace of mind, it will also avoid unnecessary conflict. If they cheating, you’ll most likely find out when you get back anyway. Furthermore, an interesting statistic: people in long distance relationships are equally likely to cheat as their more proximal counterparts.

9. Care more than usual.

Not caring enough: Another way people in long distance relationships fail to give each other the benefit of the doubt is by assuming their loved one does not care about them. Some people keep their love inside or show it nonverbally, therefore making it nearly impossible for long distance lovers to notice. This is why it is important to compensate for lack of nonverbal communication, physical touch, and quality time with words of affirmation and acts of service – this can mean posting cute things on your lover’s facebook to remind him or her you are thinking about them, for example (see Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages for more information on seeing eye to eye on expression/receipt of love or lack thereof, which is a common occurrence in long distance relationships due to ineffective means of communication).

10. Beware of jealousy.

Jealousy surfaces even more with lack of certainty, which can come with inadequate communication. As I said before, the more blanks you provide, the more your partner can fill them with crazy ideas, especially when their passion gets the best of them. At the same time, many people are super-insecure and thus get jealous for no substantial reason. Encourage them to see a counsellor or psychologist to deal with their jealousy if it’s getting out of hand. At the same time, try to avoid activities that might be misinterpreted by your significant other. For example, a lot of behavior at parties is a lot less acceptable when your significant other is not around, as photos with no context can lead to plenty of assumptions and heartache, so it’s important to be extra careful and respectful to your significant other, especially since they’re away.

Jealousy is a sign of attachment and difficulty handling the distance, especially if your partner wasn’t jealous before you went abroad, so it is important to try to fill in as many blanks as possible to prevent jealousy. If your partner is not usually the jealous type, a bit more affirmation, affection, and communication on your part will work wonders.

If you are the jealous one, take two steps back and think about positive scenarios that might have happened. Seriously, most of the time, your partner has a good reason for weird things they do, such as random logging off of skype, lack of communication, that bother you understandably since you just can’t see what’s going on. The key is also to talk to your partner about how you feel before your feelings spiral into jealousy. Had you set expectations properly, you should be able to avoid jealousy for the most part, especially if you and your partner keep your promises.

11. Don’t let your long distance relationship get in the way of you enjoying your study abroad experience!

It’s one thing to miss your partner, but a whole other thing to spend your entire semester on skype when you should be out enjoying your new surroundings and making the most of your study abroad experience – not to mention actually getting good grades at your host university! While it may be inappropriate to exploit the red light district or nightclub scene, it is also extremely limiting and unhealthy to spend too much time cooped up in your dorm Skyping.

Studying abroad is a wonderful opportunity to meet new people from all over the world, explore a new culture, and have a nice change of scenery. It would be a real pity if you let your worries about your relationship get in the way of it all! Just relax, enjoy, and absorb all your study abroad experience has to offer! After all, you’ll be able to talk to your partner when you get back, and have plenty of interesting stories to tell!

The bottom line is that long distance relationships are tough because of both the physical separation and fear of the unknown. Just because there is a physical separation doesn’t mean there has to be an emotional separation, as the latter can be prevented by open and consistent communication, giving the benefit of the doubt, and coming up with mutually agreed-upon expectations.

I hope this helps. All the best, and happy Valentine’s Day!

Submitted by Alex, Abroad101 Global Ambassador in Singapore