We’ve all heard stories or seen movies of couples who went from a loving relationship to a break-up when one moved away for work or school. But are long distance relationships doomed to fail? Absolutely not. The key is knowing how to stay emotionally connected in a long distance relationship.
What is a long distance relationship?
A long distance relationship isn’t when your partner is away on vacation for a week or two. Nor is it when you’ve agreed to be separated. A long distance relationship is defined as “people who are not in close proximity to one another for a period of time with a plan to eventually be in the same geographic area,” said relationship expert Marisa T. Cohen.
However, long distance relationships can also come without a certain end date or even before two people have met in person, as seen with couples who first connect virtually.
“It has definitely been complicated for people to be able to see one another,” Cohen said, “so I wouldn’t make the distinction between online or offline because … there are people who could have had some very deep, fulfilling relationships who maybe never met in person.”
Why emotional connection is important in a long distance relationship
If you’re just calling your long distance partner to see how their day is going, this type of small talk probably isn’t helping you and your partner bond on a deeper level. To make your relationship last, you need to be attentive with your partner to keep the fire burning. In other words, you need to know how to emotionally connect.
“(It’s) important,” Cohen said, “because you’re getting to know one another at a deeper level and you’re really assessing for compatibility and whether or not there’s going to be this long-term, committed relationship.”
How to stay emotionally connected in a long distance relationship
While it’s a common belief that long distance relationships are less satisfying and doomed to fail, it’s completely untrue, Cohen said.
“A lot of research has actually shown that people in long distance relationships tend to report greater levels of relationship quality and dedication to the relationship,” she said, “and that they feel less constrained within their relationship.”
The key here is deeper connection.
Here are 15 ways to try and stay connected in a long distance relationship.
1. Set an end date
Whatever the reason you found yourself in a long distance arrangement, it’s important for both of you to know it’s not going to last forever. Setting a date to meet also gives you something to plan and look forward to.
“If you have the means and the ability to travel to see one another,” Cohen said, “make sure that you are prioritizing one another and you’re scheduling it at a time that is convenient based upon what’s going on in each partner’s life.”
2. Go on virtual dates
If you can’t meet in person on a regular basis, you should be connecting virtually. That doesn’t mean a quick call before bed to talk about your day.
“Make it a date night just like any other couple would,” Cohen said.
Cook dinner together and create a mood by lighting candles while you eat in front of the screen, for example.
3. Get creative
Technology means it’s possible to emotionally connect online. Besides Zoom and FaceTime, there are interactive digital events, whether it’s live chatting while watching Netflix together or taking a cooking class together.
4. Schedule regular meetings
This varies for every couple, but it’s a good idea to schedule your virtual meetups in advance rather than calling spontaneously all the time. Doing this will give the other person something to look forward to.
“If you’re scheduling that date night or that time to connect on the phone or via Zoom or whatever platform you’re using, make it sacred, make it a ritual,” Cohen said.
And when you do meet, don’t interrupt it with work calls or by checking your Instagram Stories at the same time.
“When you do find that time,” Cohen said, “really make sure that you are fully engaged with your partner.”
5. Be open about thoughts and feelings
It can be tempting to only talk about positive things when you’re connecting with your long distance partner, but Cohen said it’s important to share the negative things, too.
“It’s really important to share all of yourself—the good and the bad,” Cohen said, “because that’s what allows the relationship to go deeper.”
6. Be there for them through life’s big challenges
Did you get laid off? Are you having a fight with your brother or friend? If you want to be in a long-term relationship with someone, you need to be there for them during the good and the bad times, and they should be there for you as well.
“It’s not realistic to only present the good aspects of your life,” Cohen said, “because, no, sometimes things will be difficult or challenging.”
7. Validate one another
Being there for each other also goes for life’s big achievements, so don’t hesitate to share the stuff that excites you.
“Even if the reason that you are long distance is because your partner moves for a job and you’re upset about the fact that you’re long distance,” Cohen said, “they’re taking it because this is a good opportunity for them and hopefully eventually you as a couple. “When they get their promotion or whatever it is, be there to celebrate their success.”
8. Respect why you’re apart
Why you’re in a long distance relationship in the first place should be discussed beforehand. If ultimately your partner decided to go away for school or work or whatever, that’s their decision and you should respect it. If not, the relationship might already be over.
“Presumably if you’re bitter about it or you’re upset about the reason why you’re apart,” Cohen said, “the relationship is likely ending.”
9. Maintain intimacy
Emotional connection is important, but that doesn’t mean other aspects of intimacy need to stop. Keep sending those flirty texts and even have fun teasing each other via pictures and videos. If you do, that can keep your relationship at a slow burn until you’re able to finally get together.
“It can make it so that when you do see each other in person, they’re looking forward to it,” Cohen said.
10. Understand your partner’s love language
If you’ve been seeing someone for a little while, you should know what gets them excited and what they think is romantic. That’ll help you know if you think they’d like a spontaneous gift or maybe a love letter in the mail to keep the relationship going.
“Understanding what’s important to your partner and how they want love and affection to be expressed is imperative,” Cohen said.
11. Explore deeper topics
Calling to chat about your day every night is OK if that’s what you both want, but it isn’t great if that’s all you talk about. Cohen said to spice up your conversations with deeper discussions.
“It could be about your future together: where the two of you will be in a couple of years, whether that’s still long distance or not long distance, or what your hopes and dreams are,” Cohen said. “You’re having those more in-depth conversations because that’s really getting to whether or not the two of you are compatible as partners.”
12. Make them part of your life
Sure, it’s easy to make fun of people who pull their phone out to seemingly document every moment of their life but honestly, it’s OK to send your partner food or activity pictures or anything you see that reminds you of them if you want them to feel included in your life.
“You’re keeping them in the loop of your life,” Cohen said, “both through what you tell them and what you show them, so they don’t feel like they’re missing out on any important life occasion.”
13. Respect boundaries and space
That said, don’t update your partner on every minute of your life. It’s OK to have space—in fact, it’s very healthy. Make sure you discuss what works for you and be respectful of their life.
14. Explore new things together
When you do finally meet, it can be one of the best moments in your relationship. If they come to visit you, make the best of it by introducing them to new experiences and all your favorite spots.
“You’re essentially getting the opportunity to play tour guide,” Cohen said. “Expand your horizons together and build shared experiences but then also you have a chance to show each person, ‘This is how I live.’”
You could also plan to travel together when either of you visit.
“If you meet up somewhere where neither of you have been,” Cohen said, “then you’re exploring things together, which is building new experiences and you’re creating shared memories.”
15. Incorporate family and friends when they visit
A common issue when people finally meet up with their long distance partners is they keep their partner all to themselves. Cohen said it’s important to bring your partner into all aspects of your life, including letting them see you interact with your friends and family.
“You might have this tendency where you’re just kind of like, ‘Oh good, my partner is coming to visit me for the weekend, I want to spend as much time with them as possible,’” Cohen said, “but like you would with any other long-term relationship, you would want your partner to know your friends and family.”
No question, long distance relationships have their challenges. You’re away from your partner, whether you both want to be or not, so you’re not getting that physical intimacy.
But being in a long distance relationship isn’t a death sentence for your relationship. In fact, it could even be good for it.
“Perhaps it’s because they kind of know, ‘It’s a little bit more challenging to be with my partner so I’m going to really be intentional about how I choose to spend time with them,’” Cohen said.
If long distance relationships do put in the effort, it’s possible they can be happier than couples who spend every day together.
“They’re getting more bang for their buck when they are spending time together,” Cohen said.