People often meet potential partners far away from home with online dating, but do long-distance relationships work? If so, how do you make them work? Does it become easier or harder to have long-distance relationships as you get older? Let's have a look at answering some of those questions, shall we?
Do long-distance relationships work?
To answer that, you need to ask yourself if you would be OK with a long-distance relationship? If the answer is yes and your partner's answer is yes, then it can most certainly work.
However, you also have to have a look at various factors. For how long would you be happy to have a long-distance relationship? Is it for a year or two where you get to know each other? Or is one of you planning to move somewhere for work, and you won't be able to relocate just yet? Or is the long-distance due to one of you being away travelling for parts of the year?
In our later years, we aren't always looking to move in with someone either. I know people who prefer to have separate households. But is it OK to have different homes if it takes five hours, or more, to get to each other's places? Is it OK for a few months or years, with a plan of moving closer further down the line?
If the two of you share a vision of why you want a long-distance relationship and know how long you're OK with having one, a long-distance relationship can work very well.
In short, you need to ask yourself two questions. Firstly, ask yourself if you and your partner know why you have a long-distance relationship. Secondly, ask yourself if you and your partner have a shared vision for when the long-distance relationship will end. In other words, will it end, and what will happen when it does? Will you move in together, or move nearer one another?
How to make a long-distance relationship work
Long-distance relationships and any other relationships work because the different parties work on the relationship.
Six of the most vital things for a great relationship are:
- Speaking each other's love languages
- Supporting each other's goals
- Understanding and supporting each other's emotional needs
- Understanding and supporting each other's sexual desires
- Choosing positive re-enforcement over nagging
- Not taking each other for granted (incl. staying inquisitive)
When it comes to having a long-distance relationship, some of these elements need to be tweaked to make it work. So let's have a look at each component.
Speaking each other's love languages
According to Gary Chapman, we all have different love languages. To feel loved, someone needs to speak your love language. The five love languages are:
- Quality time
- Physical touch
- Acts of service
- Words of affirmation
If your love language is quality time, you feel loved when your partner spends quality time with you. Such as taking the time out to go for a stroll while having a lively conversation. Jogging next to each other while listening to your playlists, on the other hand, is not spending quality time together.
Physical touch is any form of physical touch--you feel loved when touched.
Acts of service can be anything from taking care of a leaky faucet in the house to cooking dinner or bringing home a takeaway meal.
Gifts are, well, gifts. However, a gift can be as simple as bringing home a cake for dessert or picking up a flower and gifting it when out walking.
Words of affirmation include compliments and saying "I love you," whether in spoken words or through messages.
When you are far away from someone, you cannot physically touch them or go for a walk together. However, you can ensure to go for a walk together over a video call or have a candlelit dinner over video—that' quality time. You can also ensure that when you do meet, you spend a lot of time holding hands. What's more, in messages, you can say that you'd like to hug your partner, hold their hand and so forth.
Acts of service can also be a tad tricky when far away, but you can order them a takeaway or get on the phone to find them the perfect mechanic if their car has issues.
Gifts are more straightforward, as you can buy small gifts online and send letters with little tokens in them. You can send words of affirmation via text, you can give compliments when speaking over video, and you can send cards.
With all the different love languages, you have to get creative when speaking them from a distance. And when you do get together, you need to make sure to speak them, too.
Supporting each other's goals (The shared vision)
It's hard to pack a lunch for your partner as they set out on their weekend hike with their mates. They're training to be able to spend a week in Scotland over summer, climbing mountains and enjoying mosquito-filled sunsets. But, even over the phone, you can support their goal by encouraging them and letting them know that come summer, you'll be happy to see them set off on their hike. This, as opposed to moping that you won't see them on their precious week off.
You and your partner will have some goals together and some goals as individuals. Talk about this to create a vision for your shared lives. A shared vision is the foundation for making your lives together work.
Even if you've just started dating someone, if you find out their goal is to move to Spain, you might realise you aren't a fit if you want to stay in the UK for another five years, then move to Costa Rica.
Your big life goals need to, so to speak, "gel." You have to be able to pursue your dreams and still live side by side.
Likewise, the small everyday goals need to complement each other. Is your partner as keen as you are to stay at home doing gardening at the weekends? Or do they prefer excursions with friends, road trips with you, geocaching, or something else? Can you create weekends together and apart where you're both happy.
How do you see a relationship unfolding? What things should you do together, and what things should you do apart? What are things you can both get excited by and participate in together? What areas can you grow in together?
You need to have a shared vision for your lives. And even if you have a long-distance relationship, this needs to apply. You need to know if you think you should call each other twice a day, or twice a week, how much time you should spend together in real life, and if you have a set goal for living in the same place, what your lives will look like then.
Understanding and supporting each other's emotional needs
Are you big on surprises? Would you like to surprise your long-distant partner with a visit? Maybe even sweeping them away somewhere for the weekend? Sounds perfect. Only, what if your partner doesn't like surprises? People who have safety as their primary emotional need aren't always happy to have their plans thrown up in the air, especially if they don't know the new plan in detail and have the chance to get their head around it before it happens.
There are four primary emotional needs--safety, experience, value and achievement. Each emotional need comes with various attributes.
Those motivated by achievement tend to be driven. Some will climb mountains; others might become a school governor. They also enjoy places and things that are a bit of a status symbol.
People driven by value like to know that they get quality in return if they invest their time and money into something. They also like good deals of any kind.
Those driven by experience are drawn to new experiences, love to learn, and are spontaneous by nature.
On the other hand, people motivated by safety like plans, routine, and above all, the knowledge that they are safe.
Everyone you meet is driven by these four primary emotional needs to varying degrees. I had the pleasure of story editing Sandy Gerber's upcoming book "Emotional Magnetism", where she explains this and how to communicate with your partner effectively. You can find out what main emotional appeal you and your partner have by taking this quiz.
Supporting each other's emotional needs is partly about supporting each other's goals - both the big ones and everyday ones. Your goals will depend on your emotional needs. It's also about creating great experiences together. Is your next vacation about Instagram worthy hotspots buzzing with celebrities or a jungle challenge (achievement)? Or is it a spontaneous trip to China where all you bring is a map (experience)? Or perhaps it's a meticulously planned trip to the great sights in Europe (safety)? Or is it a cheap deal or an exquisite hotel where you're served caviar and champagne and truly treasure every moment (value)?
Just simply understanding your partner's emotional needs will help you when speaking with them over the phone. You will understand why some things excite them and others stress them out. You can be there for them. And also help them see when they get irrational - each emotional need has both pros and cons.
Understanding and supporting each other's sexual desires
To understand your partner's sexual desires, you first have to be comfortable enough to speak about them. With all the different pointers given in this article, respect for one another and communication is paramount. Understanding is fostered by communication. Communication in which you seek to understand instead of judging, comparing things to your own life, or solving the other person's issues. We will talk more about listening in the coming points, but sufficient to say, you need to have a conversation about your sexual desires.
For most people, sex is about having a positive relationship. By complementing each other and treating each other with respect, you know the other person respects and desires you. Plus, by making an effort to dress up, act sexy, and send each other sexy messages and give sexy compliments, you set the mood. You also have to set time aside to create a sexy date night.
Beyond that, what sex means to each person is individual. You have to find out what you and your partner both enjoy and what you're willing to try if there are differences.
With a long-distance relationship, you also have to decide what you wish to experience sexually. Are sexy messages and hinting at what's to come as far as you'll go? Or is sexting, phone sex, or even video sex something you'd consider? You can keep the spark alive with hints of attractions to come when you next see each other, but some want to take it further.
If you feel up to it, you can read the same erotic novel or watch sexy movies together online. It all depends on what your sexual desires are like.
You might also want to make a plan for when you do meet up. What do you wish to experience sexually? A nice date followed by time in the bedroom? Or something else?
Choosing positive re-enforcement over nagging
Saying, "I'm so happy when you call, it's been a while, and it put a big smile on my face to see your name on the screen," is an effective way of making someone call more often.
Saying, "You never call, it irritates me, do you even care about me at all? I think I should just stop calling you," is an excellent way of ensuring someone calls you a lot less.
Explain your wants and needs (yes, you have to spell them out as people aren't mind readers) and when they're taken care of, lavish the person with praise. It's a lot more effective than nagging.
Not taking each other for granted
Know that there will be a day when you don't wake up to smell the coffee (or tea). There will be a day when you, or your partner, is no longer around. Having this as a daily reminder will make you forget the minor annoyances and focus on the great things. It will make you treasure one another and lavish each other with praise.
What's more, realise that your partner is forever changing and evolving (or regressing, help us all). Don't just ask how their day was. Ask what happened today? What did they learn? Did they have any insights? Did their work/day stimulate them? What do they wish to change or create more of?
When you get a new shirt, it's that new flashy thing you wear. A few weeks, or months, down the line, it's just a shirt. You stop seeing it as something that brightens your day and makes you look nice.
The same applies to relationships. You need to remind yourself of just how special your relationship is. You also have to learn to continuously find out about your partner. Stay curious. Otherwise, someone else will have more stimulating conversations with your partner than you will.
Conversation is essential for long-distance relationships to work
You're far away from each other, so walking down the road holding hands is not possible. You can turn on Skype/Zoom/WhatsApp and cook together. But you still have to have stimulating conversations.
The first part of this entails learning to listen. When your partner speaks, don't pepper them with questions, make judgments, or compare it to your own life. Listen. Ask clarifying questions. Ask if you understood correctly by rephrasing what was just said and saying it back to them. Hear them out. For real.
This is called active listening, and you probably want to google it to learn more.
From there, learn to ask open-ended questions. "How was your day?" often leads to "Good" or "Bad" as a response. "What did you get up to today?" usually leads to a longer answer. Then you can ask clarifying questions. "So, what was the thing that made you smile the most today?" "Did you learn anything from what happened?" "What will you do differently tomorrow, so this doesn't happen again?"
Ask about your partner's dreams, goals, and passions. What stirred their soul that day. Speak about what you just read in the news (preferably the more positive news), a book you are finding amazing, or a TV show you can't stop watching. Engage in topics you can actually discuss, as opposed to telling each other about the weather today. Sure, you can mention the weather, but the conversation shouldn't stop there.
Do activities online
There are board games you can play online. You can watch videos together on Messenger. You can also partake in various online challenges or simply turn on the video as you are doing things around the house.
Of course, online date nights are also a must if you're in a place where video chatting is possible. Light the candles and cook a meal together. Or order from Uber Eats - you may even be able to have the same dinner if it's from a restaurant chain!
Plan your meetups
If you've met while living in different towns, then you probably want fun-filled meetups at first. Discuss what you'd both enjoy doing when meeting up. Partake in things that will create beautiful memories. And appreciate that depending on your different emotional needs, you might have to compromise by finding something that suits you both. You can also let the other person go off on their own to explore a few things. Be clear about what you expect from the meetup.
If you get along, other meetups should be more casual--show each other your day-to-day life. Also, try activities where you get to see each other's personality a bit more. As the story goes, most people are friendly until put under pressure.
Don't underestimate old fashioned letters and gifts
There's something to be said about a letter in the mail. It is more personal than an email or text message. And while it's not the same as seeing someone on the screen during a video call, a letter is something you can touch. You can also include tokens, like a memorable quote, a crystal, or a dried flower. A small token that symbolises something in your relationship.
Of course, surprising someone by sending flowers, a book, or chocolate also works. However, it lacks the personal touch a letter can bring if ordered online, so alternate between the two.
You can add small surprises along the way, such as for your next scheduled online dinner date, order your partner a bottle of wine.
Long-distance relationship success
So yes, long-distance relationships can work. Whether you just met or are a couple considering spending time apart, you need to have a shared vision for how your relationship will work and put in place the foundation. From there, you can work on having an exceptional long-distance relationship by engaging in online activities, having in-depth conversations, and ensuring that when you do meet up, it's time well-spent.