Tips for a Healthy Long Distance Relationship

As college ends, one of the most difficult aspects of the transition into post-grad life is the change in your social life. Typically, young people develop close friendships during the college years and the thought of leaving them behind can be a tough one to bear.

This is especially hard for romantic relationships. When it comes time to don the robes and tassels, many college couples ask themselves — can we make this work?

My boyfriend and I had been dating for about 4 months when I graduated, and we had dated a semester before I studied abroad as well. We cared for each other deeply, and decided to try long-distance over the summer after my graduation.

The summer was tough. I had an internship in northern Massachusetts while he lived at his family home in North Carolina. We spent a total of 10 days together over a four-month period.

My boyfriend was a year behind me in school, so that fall he went back to my alma mater while I lived and worked in Chicago. We were long distance for about one year.

During that time, I learned a lot of the ins and outs of maintaining a long distance relationship. It takes hard work, but with these tips, you and your college sweetheart may be able to go the distance.

1. Talk every day. One of the first mistakes my boyfriend and I made was only talking on the phone or Skype a few times a week. Without the extra effort to make time for each other, we found we were talking less and less and thus felt less and less close to each other. Relationships take lots of communication, even in person. If you have to be long-distance, make and keep a schedule to talk to each other, even if just for a few minutes to check in.

2. Find special occasions. These can be birthdays, anniversaries, the release of a movie you both want to see, or even Pi Day. Sharing in the celebration of something across the distance gives you a shared experience — something that’s harder to get when you’re long distance. Send care packages or make a point to be in communication throughout the day via text message to make the celebration extra special.

3. Watch movies together. Stream the same movie on Netflix and text each other throughout. Afterwards, talk about it through Skype or on the phone.

4. Don’t say “I miss you” all the time. It can be really easy to focus in on the parts of your relationship that are missing while you’re committed long distance. But if you and your partner find yourselves constantly bemoaning your loneliness, you’re going to end up with a lot of negative emotions about your relationship.

5. Lead your own life. In my opinion, this is one of the most important components of a successful LDR. Even people who are not long distance need to develop their own identities outside of the relationship. If you spend 99 percent of your time concerned with what your partner is doing, when you’ll see them next, whether or not the relationship is working, or how they’re feeling, you’re denying yourself the chance to learn and grow as your own person. You risk resenting your partner, never having a good time and developing a boring personality.

6. Learn a skill together. A great way to build intimacy is to learn a new skill together. Maybe you’ve both been interested in becoming better cooks, maybe you’d like to be able to run a half-marathon. Pick something you’re both interested in, and make a plan for mastering it. This will give you something to talk about, and a great way to spend your time.

7. Visit each other. When it comes down to it, relationships grow faster when you’re in person than when you’re long distance. It may mean working extra hours so you can afford to travel or putting extra effort into scheduling around potential conflicts, but an in-person visit is a vital component of the LDR. When my boyfriend came to visit me during my internship, we really reconnected. We had both been feeling more distant and less committed, but spending time together in person reminded us of why we had decided to do long distance in the first place. Afterwards, we were both willing to work harder to make it work. I recommend a visit halfway through the duration of your time apart, or as often as is financially and logistically possible.

8. Make a plan. One of the pitfalls of many long distance relationships is an unclear future. If you never work out a plan to eventually get back in the same zip code, you never will. You can’t wait for things to magically fall into place. One of you will probably have to compromise. When my boyfriend graduated college, I took a leap of faith and moved with him to the city where he would be attending graduate school. Once that decision was made and we had an end in sight, the LDR was much easier to manage.

9. Be realistic. It can be tempting to assume that to break up is to “fail” a relationship. This is not the case. Remember, people who aren’t long distance break up too. If you’re going to be long distance for any serious amount of time, it’s important to be willing to discuss how things are going. Do you both want the same kind of relationship? Do you share long-term goals? People change as they grow older and as they have more experiences. Be realistic about who you are and what you want, and be willing to call it quits if it’s just not working out.

10. Don’t give up too easily.  Number 9 having been said, I think it’s important to point out that successful LDR’s can be completely worth the hard work it takes to maintain them. With a realistic plan for reconnecting, commitment and patience, a long distance relationship can build the foundation for a strong in person relationship. You’ll be a better communicator, more innovative in ways to keep things fresh, and confident in your relationship’s ability to be tested and to last.

My boyfriend and I now live together in Washington, DC. To be honest, our year of long distance was really hard, and at times, seemed like it was going to fall apart. If you and your partner choose the long distance relationship, be prepared to work for it. I don’t really believe couples are “meant to be.” I think they choose to be. If you and your partner both choose to make it work, in the long run, it will.

More on Dating and Relationships

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Long-Term Relationships and Mental Health

Schedules and Significant Others: The Balancing Act

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