Many of us have been in long-distance relationships (LDRs), and some go better than others. In my experience, there’s certain telltale signs that something’s off, like less communication, being “too busy” to talk, lying about one’s whereabouts, etc. (We've all seen He's Just Not That Into You, right?!) But, sometimes people are genuinely busy… how do we know if one missed phone call is a red flag and pointing to calling it quits? I think red flags in long-distance relationship are similar to red flags in relationships we have with someone in the same city, since there are certain core relationship traits we should have no matter how much physical distance is between us, five miles or five hundred: trust, communication, shared values, etc.
“I think, in any relationship, if I don’t feel honored and made important or prioritized by my partner, that’s not going to be a long-lasting relationship where I get my needs met,” Jeffrey Sumber, MA, MTS, LCPC tells Bustle. “Whether it’s a relationship with your partner living under the same roof or a long-distance one, we all need basic needs met and need to feel special and valued.”
I thought back to the LDRs I’ve been in and thought of common warning signs that I knew the end was near (either on his part or mine) — and I also talked to some therapists and relationship experts so that you, too, can recognize when certain behaviors are NOT cool and it’s not all just in your head.
I also spoke to Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka "Dr. Romance") about the most common red flags that occur in LDRs. “Lack of communication is a big problem. If couples who are apart don't make a special effort to keep their communication open and honest, they can both feel unloved and unappreciated. This will lead to a breakdown in the relationship.”
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Now, we all have doubts from time to time (didn’t he/she say they’ll be home at 10 p.m. to talk?!), but sometimes we need to be reminded of bonafide deal-breakers and signs that are waving in the wind, like the following.
1. They're Less Available
At the beginning, they wanted to talk to you every waking second — in text, gchat, email, phone calls — but now they’re hard to reach. You call and call, or text and text, or both, yet it becomes harder and harder to reach the person you’re supposedly dating. Is it just you, or is there something else going on?
“Communication is important for every couple, but even more for those who are long-distance, since they miss so many cues they would get in each other's physical presence, that it's difficult to tell what is really going on,” says Dr. Tessina, who also wrote a book related to this topic, The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You're Far Apart. “I advise couples who are apart to use email and texting to transmit facts, and save telephone or video chat for romance and intimacy.”
But what if you are genuinely too busy? “You can say, ‘I’m so sorry I can barely talk to you this week, but it has nothing to do with how much I care about you and I can’t wait to talk to you,’” says Sumber. “I don’t care how busy you are, you find the time — you find 30 seconds to text or email. We make all kinds of excuses in our busy, busy world, but it doesn’t muster up to a worthy excuse as to why someone can’t reach out and stay connected.”
2. They Start Missing Phone/Skype Dates
They used to tell you everything (and you, them) and you’d have set (or perhaps spontaneous) days, nights, and times to talk. But not anymore. Now, like above, they’re MIA more often than not. Plus, they stumble over their words when you ask what they’ve been up to lately (a very benign question that they shouldn’t get paranoid over, ya know?) or why they missed your latest phone date.
For instance, years ago, I was apart from my then-boyfriend for a few months when I took a job out of town for a few months. We decided to keep dating and all was great… until he started missing more and more phone dates, or calling me later and later versus at our scheduled “date” times. Then, one night, he didn’t call at all. He’d gone to dinner with an ex (who happened to live in his apartment building!) and I bet you can guess what he did after dinner… and it did not involve me. Needless to say, that was that. (He also admitted to my suspicion, so it wasn’t just my assuming the worst; rather, good old instincts mixed with affirmation from him.) So, pay attention to when your communication patterns change.
3. Phone Calls Are No Longer Fun
You used to enjoy talking to your significant other, and now you don’t — it feels more like a chore than the highlight of your day. So, maybe you pull away, and then the other person comes on even stronger. “All healthy relationships are rooted in a strong attachment, and when the attachment is compromised, everything starts to break down and we feel less valued and less safe,” says Sumber. I agree. Once the relationship starts to derail, it's difficult to get back on track, so to speak. (Btw, if you're avoiding your significant other's calls and texts, why are you still dating?!)
4. You Start Making More Future-Oriented Plans Without Them
Oftentimes, when an LDR is going well, you have virtual dates (via Skype or phone or Facebook Messenger) in between IRL ones. You also plan trips and decide when you’ll see each other (once a month? more? less?). But when the planning stops, or one of you has a bunch of excuses about making plans, watch out. Maybe you truly are “growing apart,” as they say. Maybe you’ve realized you never want to move to their state, they never want to move to yours (this happened with me and my college ex), and you’re letting things fizzle instead of overtly saying it’s over. All I know is, if you’re excited about someone being in your life, they should be in your head when you envision your future, too.
5. You Are Happier Alone
Yes, all the time without them has made you realize that you like being alone better than being with them, even with them in another state. Yes, maybe it’s the distance that’s causing strife, but if in-person meetings are not helping convince you, either, that’s probably a bad sign and it's time to be single.