7 Things You Learn in a Long Distance Relationship

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Being in a long distance relationship sucks. Even when the relationship is good—even when you are madly in love with someone and are absolutely certain that the distance it worth it—it still sucks, because all that goodness and all that love just make it that much harder to be apart. I should know; I was in a long distance relationship (or an LDR, if you’re fancy) for two years, when my now-husband, then-boyfriend had a fellowship in the UK, and I was finishing my grad degree in California. This was not an LDR for the faint of heart: California and England are 5,400 miles, a 12-hour flight, and 8 time zones apart. Ouch.

But we made it work. Lots of people do. In fact, 14 million couples in the U.S. are in LDRs right now. A long distance relationship, no matter the specifics of each one, is invariably an educational experience for the people involved. I’m not going to go so far as to say that going through a period where you have distance between you is good for a relationship, because it’s actually terrible and I hope I never have to do it again. But there are some important lessons to be learned, about yourself, your partner, and your relationship, lessons that come in handy when you’re (FINALLY) back together.

Note: This list might bring back traumatizing memories of endless LDRs for some readers, so I've included puppies to take the edge off. You're welcome.

1. Keeping Your Connection With Your Partner Alive in Creative Ways

When you’re in an LDR, it can be hard to keep conversations fresh. It’s important to talk to your S.O. a lot, but on the phone, things can get stilted and boring. Skype inevitably becomes your best friend. I found that being able to see my S.O.’s face—pixelated though it may have been—really helped us to have more natural conversations, to joke, to talk about all of the random things we’d normally chat about in person.

2. Juggling Time Zones

Relationships stretched across multiple time zones can be especially tricky because, when you do get to talk to each other, you might be in very different states of mind. When my guy was in the U.K., and I was in California, this was real issue—we’d talk during my mid-morning, when I was just getting into my studying/writing/grading groove, and during his evening, when he was coming down from his own work day. It took some real time and effort to learn to communicate on the same wavelength—without my stresses about the day ahead conflicting with his exhaustion from the day he just had.

3. Communicating Clearly and Effectively

Without the advantage of being able to read each others’ body language, both partners in the relationship have to get good at saying what they mean and what they want. You learn that you can’t expect the other person—thousands of miles away—to know how your feeling or what your thinking.

4. Being Alone

Whether you're in a relationship or not, being able to be comfortably, securely on your own is an incredibly valuable thing. In an LDR, you can’t rely on your partner to fix your life or keep you company all the time. He or she can support you from afar, but there's a limit to how far that can go. You know that when you get out of bed in the morning, it’s up to you to make your life work. Over time, you learn that there are certain joys to being alone, like being the one to decide where you go and what you do. And having control of the DVR, which never stops being the silver lining to this whole LDR mess.

5. Nurturing Your Other Relationships

You may become a pro at being alone, but that doesn’t mean you should be alone all the time—sitting at home and moping is bad for both you and your relationship. When you’re in an LDR (and when you’re not, frankly), it’s important to build a fun and satisfying social life outside of your romantic partnership. Those relationships are great and all, but they aren’t the only relationships you have. Friendships can be deep, powerful, and fulfilling, too. When your romantic partner is far away most of the time, you learn to really value the other amazing people in your life.

6. Trusting Each Other

When you and your S.O. are hundreds or even thousands of miles apart, there is simply no way that you can police each others’ lives, nor should you. You just have to trust each other. Ideally, this is how all relationships would be, long distance or otherwise, but when you have no way to know where each other is at all times, or who each other speaks to, you learn what trust really is. You'll carry that awareness throughout your relationship, even after your time together is over.

7. Making the Most of the Time You Do Have Together

Couples who are in LDRs get really good at making the time they have together count. There is simply no time for taking each other for granted—you’re too busy catching up and making out.

(I hope the puppies took the edge off.)

Images: chiarashine/Flickr; Giphy(4)