Long distance relationships are difficult to maintain. Your family may discourage it, and some of your friends may advise you not to get your hopes up, lest you get your heart broken. Long distance relationships (LDRs) include romantic relationships between partners who are geographically distant. Partners may need to stay in different locations for various reasons such as job or studies (Borelli., Rassmussen, Burkhart, & Sbarra, 2014). Sometimes these relationships may even be formed virtually and partners may seldom meet each other in person. Although such relationships are becoming increasingly common, the common perception still remains that the success rate of such relationships is low.
LDRs are common as people are moving from their hometowns to fulfill their academic or career goals (Pistole, Roberts, & Chapman, 2010). Though access to internet and other mediums of communication makes maintaining these relationships easier, there are other stressors that can still make them difficult to manage. For example, research suggests that awareness about lack of physical proximity itself can make relationships seem difficult along with concerns regarding the quality of the relationship in general (Pistole, Roberts, & Chapman, 2010). While the general notion is that the lack of proximity and constant communication are the only major challenges when it comes to LDRs newer studies show that these are only a small part of one’s relationship satisfaction (Shrivastva & Burianova, 2014). Studies now seem to suggest that differing views about commitment among partners, having unrealistic ideals of the ‘perfect relationship’, and becoming avoidant in communication are the bigger reasons why LDRs become difficult to sustain in the long run (Pistole, Roberts, & Chapman, 2010; Maguire & Kinney, 2010). In case you are in a long-distance relationship presently or likely to get into one in the near future, the following are some of the challenges you can anticipate.
- Jealousy: It is possible that partners in LDR can experience jealousy because one’s partner spends more time with other people which can cast doubt over the partner’s loyalty. The first thing to understand is that jealousy is an instinct that can arise due to insecurities which might be present in any relationship. It is natural to feel jealous and to express it. Sometimes jealousy arises from feeling of insecurity or lack of trust in your partner. In such situations being honest about one’s feelings can help both partners to manage their relationship better. It’s advisable that partners discuss their anxieties and fears regarding LDRs. These discussions will not only help in gauging whether both partners are on the same page but also make them feel understood by each other. It is better that one acknowledges jealousy and openly expresses it rather than worrying about being labeled as needy or over possessive, as keeping such concerns bottled up will only make matters worse
- Insecurity: The oft-quoted “Out of sight, out of mind” continues to create insecurities in long-distance relationships, (Borelli, Rassmussen, Burkhart, & Sbarra, 2014). Insecurity can be related to future concerns over with the presence of significant others in respective partners’ life which can make one feel neglected and insecure about their importance in their partner’s life.
It is advisable that partners quell such anxieties by dedicating time towards planning near future events such as next vacations and get-togethers and starting at least tentative planning about future goals such as marriage or living in together etc. if so desired. Such planning can improve the attachment between partners and give sense of security to both (Maguire & Kinney, 2010). While it is important to think about future, at present setting ground rules for relationship can be useful as well. These ground rules can be unique for the couple however general aspects to be considered can be a discussion over how much transparency is expected, how much and when to contact each other, sharing or allocating responsibilities and general expectations and concerns regarding this relationship.
- Being open to change: When partners live away from each other it can be difficult to keep track of the numerous changes happening in their partner’s life. As one’s life circumstances change, one’s way of relating to the world too may change. However, the latter is seldom anticipated by both partners. Thus when partners meet each other in person after long time these changes can come across as revelations and one might feel like their partner is a new person altogether.For a partner who has moved to different location, the new destination would warrant significant lifestyle changes which in turn may change their views regarding future aspirations, relationships, etc. In such situations, the partner who continues to live in the same place, may view these as a reflection of who their partner ‘really is’ as opposed to a natural consequence of moving to a different location It would help both partners if change is treated as par for the course, and that one differentiates the person from the attributes when one comes across a change that they do not like.
- Lack of Physical intimacy: Distance definitely affects physical intimacy among partners. LDR partners might face issues with managing physical intimacy between them as meeting each other frequently may not be possible. Lack of physical intimacy can cause moral dilemmas for partners if they opt for satisfying their sexual needs by other means such as masturbation or non-committal sexual encounters (Borelli, Rassmussen, Burkhart, & Sbarra, 2014). One may also feel disappointed that they need to resort to masturbation to manage their sexual needs with thoughts such as, “Why do I have to masturbate even when I am in a relationship?” or feel frustrated that one cannot engage in sexual activity with other available partners as a consequence of being in a committed relationship. Though lack of physical intimacy is seen as LDR specific issue, partners living under the same roof too at times have relationships devoid of physical intimacy. In other words, long-distance is not necessarily linked with reduced emotional and sexual intimacy. However, irrespective of one’s relationship status or the proximity of one’s partner, it would be unreasonable to assume that one’s sexual needs would always be satisfied by one’s partner and that one would never have to resort to masturbation or other self-satisfying activities to do so. Though other alternatives such as phone-sex and video-chatting may feel awkward and uncomfortable for a host of reasons, and not feel as satisfying as sex in person, exploring different options together to find what feels closest to ‘the real thing’ itself can be a process that brings partners closer. Depending on the comfort level of both partners, it would also help to have clear and open discussions regarding having other sexual partners outside of one’s relationship.
- Challenges in Communication:Often in LDRs, partners may engage in regular conversation but such discussions would predominantly involve factual everyday happening and be devoid of feeling. It is therefore important to ask and express how both partners are feeling on a daily basis in order to keep the communication meaningful. Monotony in communication can be tackled by using different modes of communicating such as email, video chats, or handwritten letters (Stafford & Reske, 1990). LDRs partners can make use of “Relational Savoring” which includes focusing on positive times spent together and observing how it affected the person emotionally and physically. Thus it creates an experiential memory. Relational savoring is helpful for partners to relive positive memories and help strengthen the relationship (Borelli, Rassmussen, Burkhart, & Sbarra, 2014).
- Sharing responsibilities: For couples who are living away from each other managing responsibilities can be a task. One may feel pressured to take care of certain responsibilities since they cannot share it with their partner such as, household work, finances, parenting etc. This not only puts a strain on their relationship but also makes it difficult for partners to give time to each other. Partners can decide what kind of responsibilities they can still share and what are the other responsibilities they cannot, what they are ready to negotiate with and what they aren’t in this. Such discussions can help in reducing uncertainty in relationship and make it easier for partners to work together towards relationship goals (Shrivastva & Burianova, 2014).
All said and done, sometimes conflicts can be too complicated to deal with on your own. Such times call for the intervention of an unbiased and qualified third person like a counselor. If your partner and you are having a hard time coping with the challenges long-distance relationships throw your way, reaching out to iCALL can be of help. You can reach out to us at 022-25521111 between 8AM to 10PM from Monday to Saturday or at firstname.lastname@example.org Help is just a phone call away!
Borelli, J. L., Rassmussen, H. F., Burkhart, M. L., & Sbarra, D. A. (2014). Relational Savoring in Long Distance Romantic Relationships. Journal of social and personal relationships, 1-26.
Maguire, K. C., & Kinney, T. A. (2010). When Distance Can be Problematic Communication, Coping, and Relational Satisfaction in Female College Students’ Long Distance Dating Relationships. Journal of Applied Communication, 38 (1), 27-46.
Pistole, M., Roberts, A., & Chapman, M. (2010). Attachment, relationship maintenance, and stress in long distance and geographically close romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24 (4), 553-552.
Shrivastva, A., & Burianova, A. (2014). Attachment styles, Physical Proximity and Relational Satisfaction A Study of Working Professionals. Aviation Psychology and Applied Human Factors, 4 (2), 106-112.
Stafford, L., & Reske, J. R. (1990). Idealization and Communication in Long-Distance Premarital Relationships. Family Relations, 39 (3), 274-279.