10 Tips for Making a Long-Distance Relationship Work
In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.
DEAR DR. JENN,
I met an incredible guy while on vacation over winter break and we ended up spending most of the trip together. We FaceTimed almost every day after going back home and decided to take the plunge and make things 'official'. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. We live 3,000 miles away from one another and our plans to fly to visit each other are now on hold indefinitely. I feel more connected to him than I have with anyone else I've dated in recent years, but it feels like we might be doomed to fail. How can we make this long-distance relationship work? —Long-Distance Lover
These are difficult times for affairs of the heart. More and more couples are being forced into long-distance relationships by this invisible viral enemy we are all battling. But it's important to remember that even before the coronavirus, there were plenty of couples who made long-distance relationships work. Military couples are used to being apart for months, or even years, at a time.
Of course, there's another challenge that stands before you: getting to know one another. Unlike long-distance couples who began dating while living close by and then had to separate — for a job, school, a family obligation, or corona-related circumstances — you don't already know your S.O. all that well yet, and it's harder to find out who a person truly is, to the core, when they're 3,000 miles away. It's not undoable, though.
Here are some tips to make your long-distance relationship work during coronavirus, and beyond.
1. Take time to consider your endgame.
Partaking in an LDR is not crazy—but it does take effort. Before diving into a long-distance relationship, I suggest taking the time to consider your endgame. If this is just a fun fling, go forward and have a blast! But if you're looking at a long-term relationship, you'll want to have a conversation about the what-ifs: If this should work out, would either of you be willing to move? If neither of you can or would, is it worth staying together? You may want to cut your losses now before you get even more attached. But if this is a means to an end that's actually in sight, why not? What's a few months, or even years, if you found your forever?
2. Set clear boundaries.
You may think you know what's inside your partner's head, but be sure you are both on the same page. You don’t want to have a Ross and Rachel “we were on a break” misunderstanding. Set clear boundaries about commitment and monogamy. Even if you are both pristine about physical distance from other people, you want to clearly define what are considered violations of the relationship. For example, is it ok to engage with webcam girls? What about DMing an ex? During lonely times people can get sloppy about their boundaries so it is important to define expectations together.
3. Stay connected using technology.
It should come as no surprise that staying connected is key for any long-distance relationship to work. In a study called Using Technology to Connect in Romantic Relationships, researchers found that texting to express affection was associated with higher reported partner attachment for both men and women. This is particularly important for long-distance couples. Doing this face-to-face via Skype, FaceTime, or anything else that lets you look into each other’s eyes (and, hey, other things if you feel like it) and connect without distractions is also key to forming stronger attachments to one another.
4. Share your schedules and respect one another’s commitments.
With that said, it's important to get on the same page about when you're free to talk, so you can avoid any potential conflict. If your partner knows that you have a two-hour conference call, they won't freak out if you don’t respond to their text. Respect each other's commitments, whether it's work, parenting, helping family members, or having Skype happy hour with your bestie.
5. Make a conflict plan.
These are stressful times. We are all feeling worn down and emotionally depleted at a time when we most need our highest level relationship skills. You are likely to have some fights. Make a commitment never to hang up on each other and to always return phone calls or texts. If things get too heated commit, in advance, to take a “time out.“ When that happens, let your partner know you are too upset/triggered/pissed to have a productive conversation. Make sure to set a time when you will revisit the conversation, as soon as possible (“Let me sleep on this and let’s plan to talk tomorrow at 7:30 before my morning Zoom meeting”).
6. Connect at the beginning and end of each day.
It may sound juvenile, but a good morning text first thing in the morning and a FaceTime right before bed can go a long way in keeping you connected, even if the rest of your day is over-scheduled. Since you can't fall asleep and wake up in the same bed, making your partner the first person that you talk to at the beginning of the day and the last one you speak to at night deepens your bond.
7. Keep things sexy.
Have phone sex, watch porn together online, send fun photos (I recommend headless horsemen, so they don’t come back to haunt you), and read erotica to each other. Try experimenting with sex toys or vibrators that can be controlled from afar through smartphone apps. Consider investing in vibrating panties, vibrators, dildos, prostate massagers, butt plugs, rotating pleasure beads, and more to get each other off in new ways, from afar. (These are also fun toys to play with even when you are not long-distance!)
8. Have long-distance dates.
In addition to regular contact, plan long-distance activities that you would normally do together if you were dating in the same city. Watch a Netflix show while keeping each other on FaceTime, play Facebook scrabble, or make the same dinner in each of your homes and open a bottle of wine. You can also create new rituals like a two-person book club, keeping an online journal together, or even participating in a weekend religious service online as a couple, if that's important to you. Having these fun and meaningful moments together will help you create new memories from afar, while bonding over the things that you each enjoy.
9. Send handwritten letters and care packages.
When you can’t be together in person, it's even more important to remind your partner you care through words of affirmation and acts of service. Now is the time to flex your creative and romantic side. Try writing an old-fashioned love letter, or send a thoughtful gift or care package.
10. Ignore the naysayers.
Don’t listen to what other people think about your relationship. It is very possible to make LDRs work. Years ago, a woman called my radio show for advice on her long-distance romance. She recently tweeted at me to thank me for the advice ... and to inform me about her engagement!
Ask yourselves: Who do we want to be as a couple at the end of this experience? Use this time apart to deepen your connection and focus on emotional intimacy. Getting through this together, while being apart, will show you that you can handle anything as a couple.