NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Can a Long Distance Relationship Survive?

There are many couples who are in long distance relationships.  Long distance relationships occur either by choice or, more often, of necessity.  Having a long distance relationship can be a challenge, but if you're honest with yourself and your partner, you each know what you want, you set up certain parameters for yourselves, you make an effort to make time for each other, and you're willing to renegotiate with each other if it's not working out, it can work out. 

Can a Long Distance Relationship Survive?

It Makes a Difference If It's an Established Relationship vs. a New Relationship
Of course, it makes a difference whether you've been together for a while and you have a loving, trusting relationship vs. trying to have a long distance relationship when you've just met each other.  For established, stable relationships, there are still challenges, but you have a foundation of love and trust to see you through, especially if your time apart is limited to a specific period of time.

Knowing that there are challenges ahead, here are some guidelines that can be helpful:
  • Be Honest With Yourself and Your Partner Before You Enter Into a Long Distance Relationship: If you've just met someone who lives a plane ride away and neither of you plans to move to the other's city, consider whether you want to be in a long distance relationship.  Only you know what you need.  If you know you like having your romantic partner around to cuddle with every weekend and your long distance relationship will only permit for occasional visits with each other, you need to communicate this.  Likewise, you need to be able to hear this from this new person in your life.  It will probably get lonely at times, especially if you've decided to be monogamous with each other, so you need to know this in advance and have realistic expectations.
  • Be Clear About the Status of Your Relationship: This brings me to another issue that couples in this situation often don't discuss:  Be clear about what each of you wants from this relationship.  Are you dating this person as well as others?  Are you exclusive with one another?  Knowing this in advance can save a lot of heartaches if you're each on a different wave length. Of course, if you're married, that's usually a different story, unless you have an open relationship.  Still, you don't want to assume that you're both on the same page when you might not be.  Communication is key to help avoid misunderstandings.
  • Make Time For Each Other: With the advent of Skype and Face Time, you can, at least, see one another when you talk, assuming these services are available to both of you.  You're going to have to be better organized than couples who live near each other about making time for each other.  It will require some planning, so don't assume that the other person will be available spontaneously when you're ready to see each other online, especially if you're in different time zones.  While you're making time for each other, it often helps to have some shared activities that you can both engage in at the same time.  It might mean setting up a Skype session while you're each having dinner or engaging in other activities, if possible.  Shared activities, even at a distance, can help bridge the gap.  No, it's not as good as having the person right next to you, but it can help.
  • Plan Visits In Person With Each Other: If possible, plan some in person visits to spend quality time together.  As much as  possible, when you're together, avoid other distractions so you can dedicate the precious time you have to each other.  You want to make the most of the time you have together. You will probably need to negotiate who will come when and how often.
  • Be Aware that Unrealistic Romantic Fantasies in New Relationships Are Often Part of the Long Distance Experience: When your in a new relationship that is a long distance relationship, thinking about each other and looking forward to the next Skype call or the next rare visit, you could fill the gaps with romantic fantasies about who this person is and how it would be if you were living together in the same location.  When a new relationship is a long distance relationship, you miss out on the day-to-day interactions that can tell you so much about the other person and how the two of you would be together.  Let's face it--you won't know each other as well as compared to if you were living near each other.  It's easy to imagine that the two of you would be perfect living together, and maybe you would be.  But recognize that, even with occasional in person visits, the relationship remains in that exciting, fired up, in love stage longer than it would if you were living in the same location and seeing each other more often. "What's wrong with that?,"you might say.  There's nothing wrong with it per se.  It's just that that the heady, in love stage isn't the basis for a long term relationship.  When you get beyond this stage and you're in a more mature loving relationship, you have a better sense as to whether the two of you would be good living together or married.  Once again, I do know of instances where it worked out just fine.  But knowing in advance that this might be a pitfall can help you avoid mistakes.
  • Be Willing to Re-Evaluate Your Long Distance Relationship If It's Not Working:  Over time, be willing to re-evaluate your long distance relationship.  Is it working for each of you?  If you're married and, for instance, one of you took a job in another city out of necessity and this doesn't look like a short term arrangement, consider if one of you can move to the other city (or country), especially if your current arrangement isn't working out.  More and more couples are having to make these decisions for economic reasons, a lack of jobs in certain fields or military service.  So, you're not alone. If you're married and you've both decided that you'll deal with the challenges of a long distance relationship for only a certain period of time, consider your priorities.  If finances make it so that you don't have a choice right now other than to have a long distance relationship, think about what you each can do to make it easier.  Keeping in mind the long term goal can be helpful.  It will take time and effort.  But, often, when couples go through challenges and come out of it successfully on the other side, their relationship is stronger.  Only you know your relationship and what you and your spouse can deal with in terms of a separation.  If the relationship is new, you each might have thought originally that a long distance relationship would work out between you.  But if one or both of you feel it's not working and there aren't any changes you can make to improve the situation, you might need to consider that, at this point in time, you can't be in a relationship together--even if you love each other.  Sometimes, timing really is everything and this can be frustrating.  Maybe if you had met at a different time and under different circumstances, it might have worked out.  But it's better to acknowledge what's happening than pretending that it's working out when it's not.  Communicate your feelings, be honest, compassionate, and tactful.

We Don't Always Fall In Love With "the Girl or Boy Next Door:"
Love can be mysterious, and we don't always fall in love with someone who lives conveniently nearby.  So, at some point, you might find yourself in a long distance relationship.

Whether you choose to be in a long distance relationship or it's occurring out of a necessity, being aware of the potential pitfalls can help you to plan and overcome them.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.