Maintaining a healthy relationship might be challenging when it’s from afar. Communication is one of the five tips to follow to ensure the strength of your relationship. Graphic by Misha Mosiichuk.
We’ve all heard the saying “love knows no distance.”
Perhaps you’re dating your high school sweetheart who lives back home or the cutie you met during spring break who attends a completely different university across the country.
Whether the separation is 300 miles or 3,000 miles, maintaining a long-distance relationship with your special one requires your devoted time, effort and energy.
Here’s how you can maintain and nurture your long-distance relationship:
Always include your partner in your schedule.
Some days feel never-ending for college students. Having to balance classes, a job, homework, a social life and a relationship may even seem impossible.
James Stein, assistant professor of communication, said it is crucial that students who are in long-distance relationships plan ahead and set aside time to connect with their significant other, despite their busy schedules.
“Discuss and develop a schedule together,” Stein said. “That schedule can really help, especially with Gen Z, because Gen Z folks are super into structure and organization; getting that from your partner can be really helpful.”
Stein said students can set aside certain days of the week to FaceTime each other, Snapchat cute messages back and forth, or just take time to call and check-up on each other.
Justin Gordon, a marriage and family therapist, said: “When you’re in a relationship where you see each other every day, you don’t necessarily need to schedule time to connect because you typically find the times organically. Being long-distance, you need to put your schedules together to carve out a time where you can talk or have a video-chat session.”
Gordon also said once a couple agrees on a set schedule to connect with each other, the couple also needs to create rules and boundaries to ensure the time is devoted to the couple only, without distractions.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Then communicate some more.
Verbal communication is the only way your partner will understand how you feel mentally and emotionally since you aren’t physically around them.
Gordon said without constant nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language, your partner needs to constantly hear from you through text, phone call, FaceTime, and whatever else to be able to better understand how to meet your needs.
“Given that it’s 2020, we’re not as limited in ways [of communication] as we used to be; we can FaceTime our partner at the drop of a hat,” Stein said. “Increased communication has to be something that you’re up for because people need and require it.”
Kisa Smith, humanities and social sciences professor, said long-distance couples must have open communication that is not only frequent, but transparent. Open communication will help manage the expectations one person may set for their partner and the relationship moving forward.
“Try to avoid arguing or discussing emotional topics via text, as oftentimes, people text things in anger that they would never actually say to the person’s face,” Smith said. “FaceTime with each other often, as non-verbal communication can often lend insight about the person and relationship that we wouldn’t be able to observe solely by texting.”
Gordon said students should learn what their communication style is so they can effectively communicate with their long-distance partner in a way that they’ll truly be understood.
Gordon said: “Ask yourself, are you the one who brings issues to the front? Can you talk about your relationship issues comfortably? Or are you someone who likes to sweep them under the rug and move on?”
Have a conversation about social media boundaries.
Imagine scrolling on your social media feed when you come across a picture of your long-distance partner with someone of the opposite sex who you don’t know. This may raise a red flag to you, but your partner may just see it as an innocent photo with a friend.
To avoid the misunderstandings social media can cause in long-distance relationships, have a clear and distinct conversation about what is OK and what is not in regard to each specific platform.
“No matter what kind of relationship you’re in, you have to be deliberate about what you do on social media,” Gordon said. “What are the rules for yourself? What agreements are you making together as a couple as far as who you connect with through it or how you connect?”
Gordon said he has found it is even more critical that couples who are in a long-distance relationship come to an agreement about what role social media is going to have in their lives together because sometimes our partner’s actions on social media may send mixed messages.
“If you are 1,000 miles away from your boyfriend or girlfriend…, and you see on social media that your partner is doing a lot of fun things with a member of the opposite sex, this tends to step on the other’s toes more often,” Gordon said. “With long-distance, you don’t have some of the same security as you do when you’re together in person.”
Stein said once one partner detects that the other has certain ties with someone who they see as a threat on social media, it can produce jealousy. Jealousy does not allow a long-distance relationship to grow because it creates distrust and doubt.
“When we get jealous we start monitoring the behaviors of our partner more, and that’s a toxic behavior, so we want to avoid that,” Stein said. “One way we can avoid that is through asking a simple question to our partner about who their friend is on social media and if you can meet them one day. Bringing up that conversation is important.”
Gordon said most couples use social media as a way to present their relationship; when one partner is doing something the other is uncomfortable with, it can cause tension.
Couples should discuss who is OK to follow and who is not, along with what posts should be OK to like and what posts are inappropriate to like.
Work to be on the same page.
When couples communicate enough that they are on the same page about their relationship, there will be less disappointment to deal with as they continue to date through long-distance.
“If you’re in a long-distance relationship, it’s super important to be on the same page in terms of where that relationship is headed toward,” Stein said. “If one of you is just looking for someone to talk to and the other one is in love and hoping to get married and eventually live together, that kind of mismatch is going to end up resulting in some pretty stark conflicts.”
Gordon said students should really ask themselves if they are prepared to commit to the ups and downs that come with a long-distance relationship before they agree to be on the same page as their partner.
Students should have an open conversation with their partner about where they stand and where they see the relationship progressing in the future to determine if they are on the same page or not, Stein said.
Stein said if you start to notice your partner is putting off plans to visit you, connect with you, or if seeing your partner feels like a drag and not how you prefer to spend your time, these are signs that you may not be on the same page about your relationship.
Smith said to evaluate if you are the only person putting effort into your long-distance relationship. If you are always the first one to pick up the phone and call your partner or visit them instead of them coming to see you sometime, then you need to have a conversation about where they stand.
“If you feel like you are always the one compromising your values or goals and your partner doesn’t seem to be making similar [or] any sacrifices, it may be time to reconsider the relationship,” Smith said. “My dad always told me to find someone who would be willing to swim through shark infested waters to get to you! If you don’t feel like your current partner fits that description, then find the person who does.”
Value and respect each other’s trust.
Trust is essential to building a strong long-distance relationship. If your girlfriend or boyfriend shows they trust you to continue being a good partner while you are separated by distance, then it is essential to value and respect that trust, Gordon said.
“People tend to think that if they are in a long-distance relationship, infidelity rates are going to skyrocket,” Stein said. “Folks in [long-distance relationships] are no more or less likely to cheat on their significant other. It’s honestly about the person and their character, not the distance.”
Stein said students in long-distance relationships need strong verbal messages that allow them to build trust since that is the main way of communicating feelings to one another. Examples include texting a thoughtful paragraph to your partner about how much they mean to you, calling your partner and letting them know you appreciate them, and reassuring them you are there for them at all times.
“If you feel like you are losing trust in your partner, a conversation about it must happen,” Stein said. “Because [in a long-distance relationship] you can’t just have make-up sex, you can’t just have a day where things go really well and you cuddle your partner, you have to substitute verbal messages for those missing pieces.”
Gordon said he recommends taking a look at each other’s relationship history to see if you or your partner will have issues with securing strong trust in each other before committing to a long-distance relationship.
“It’s hard to have trust, particularly if there’s been unfaithfulness — if you or your partner has been cheated on in the past,” Gordon said. “That’s why it is necessary to constantly reassure your partner that you are serious about your relationship with them and that you value their trust in you.”
For more relationship tips and advice, listen to Red Rock Relationships hosted by James Stein, available on any podcasting service, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. You can also tune into Radio Dixie 91.3 FM every Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. to hear the podcast live.
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