My Love Lives So Far Away

What does it take to have a ‘long-distance’ relationship that works? For those of you who are thinking of having one or are already in one now, this post will outline a few ideas that could help you make it work.

Remember, love is a ‘uniting force’ in us. This is why when you are separated from someone you love for a while, and then get back together, you spend as much physical time as possible with each other until you have to separate again. Simple enough.

With that in mind, here’s a little secret to having a successful long distance relationship. In a ‘normal’ love relationship, a mix of ‘time together’ and ‘time apart’ are needed to make the relationship grow. Only in a long distance relationship there is too much time apart to make this formula work.

If you and your lover live together or at least have proximity to each other, the formula of time together and time apart would work quite well. You’d do your thing, he’d or she’d do his or her thing, and you would have plenty of time together. No one would feel ‘suffocated’ or ‘alone’ in the relationship. Plenty of intimacy time and some time apart to pursue whatever your individual interests are. Sounds normal, right?

In a long distance situation this natural love-life formula is unnaturally skewed toward too much time apart. Again, that’s why when long distance lovers get back together they usually (depending of course on personality and depth of love) can’t get enough of each other. Here’s the secret, in order for a couple to ‘rebalance’ time together with time apart in the relationship, they should plan to have fewer short visits and more long visits when they do get back together.

A longer visit would allow time to be re-bond to each other, and this is the important point, also have some time to do their own thing, while with each other. This will ‘normalize’ their time together a bit and permit their relationship to deepen and grow while the couple has to have a long distance relationship.

Now let’s consider a few other things that will help keep a long distance relationship healthy. First, I’d suggest that the two of you really understand what the phrase “quality not quantity” means for people in a long distance relationship.

We’ve all heard the phrase and we all pretty much know what it means. In this situation, ‘quantity’ simply means spending time together. In fact, most people judge the ‘quality’ of a love relationship by the amount of ‘quantity’ there is in the relationship.

On the surface it is understandable why this is so. If we look into it a bit deeper we see other possibilities. For example, you can spend a lot of time with a person and not have a very good relationship. ‘Quality’ is a matter of intimacy and love. If the love (chemistry) is there, a good measure of quality is guaranteed.

The rest is a matter of working on the relationship. Taking the risks involved in working through problems and communicating feelings. As a general principle, if you work on quality, the relationship deepens and grows even when the quantity is low.

The next item I like to call ‘democratic visitations.’ What this simply means is you and your lover work out an agreement regarding when you’ll visit him or her and when he or she will visit you. No big deal? I think it can be. I would recommend that there be an effort at fairness. As long as one of you doesn’t live in an isolated or dangerous place that’s hard to visit, shared responsibilities to travel make people feel respected and loved.

Here’s one, what’s the difference between “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “out of sight out of mind?” This simple riddle holds the key to whether or not your long distance relationship will survive the test of time. If your absence from each other makes your heart grow fonder, you have the love required to survive a period of physical distance in your relationship. By the way, the absence or distance is not destroying your relationship because the distance the two of you are coping with is not emotional, just physical.

If not seeing your lover for a while makes you forget him or her until the next time you see him or her, your relationship is in trouble. I would guess that the love quotient is the problem. If your love for each other is not strong enough for either one of you or both of you, time away from each other will deteriorate the bond you have with each other.

Closely related to this and obvious quite relevant for a long distance relationship is the question whether to “love the one you’re with” or “save yourself for the one you love (who is not around at the moment).” Again, it seems to me that the depth of love will predict which of these will determine the fate of your long distance relationship. Other factors like your tolerance for loneliness, the quality of your friendships, strength of your needs, and ability to control yourself will probably come into this as well.

It goes without saying that a successful long distance relationship requires an ability to ‘keep a love promise,’ or simply, keep a commitment. If keeping promises in love relationships is not your strong card, I would suggest you stay away from long distance relationships. At certain points in life, love commitments can be complicated enough in a relationship with lots of proximity, never mind one where you don’t get to see your lover very often.

You know, the digital revolution has certainly had an impact on long distance relationships. Nowadays, with texting, cell phones, computers, and who knows what’s coming next, the physical ‘distance’ between two people in love is being redefined. If you are in frequent digital contact with someone you love who is physically distant from you, are you apart?

OK, you’re apart but in digital contact? You’re apart but you’re face-timing so you’re not really apart? Whatever, the point is the long distance landscape is changing. My guess is, these technological innovations will make long distance easier for motivated lovers now and in the future.

A couple more points. Some long distance lovers complain about the “emotional roller-coaster” that occurs in a long distance relationship. Re-uniting and parting over and over again can create it’s own special brand of stress. For this reason alone, some people bow out of a long distance relationship. They complain that it simply hurts too much.

On a more positive note, Victoria has taught me over the years about the importance of ‘planning’ for things. I don’t wish to take anything away from spontaneous activity and the excitement that can bring. I just want to highlight the importance of, what Victoria would call, “having something to look forward to.” For her, plans make it easier, much easier in fact, to get through the day to day stuff.

I’m sure that most people in love are quite adept at making a plan for the next time they see each other. For those of you long distance lovers who haven’t considered the importance of planning, take a lesson from Victoria, and get out the calendar.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan








Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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