12 Tips For Your First Long-Distance Relationship, According To Experts
At some point, you may find yourself in a long-distance relationship (LDR). Of course, this can happen in many ways: you meet someone while you’re out of town, you meet someone in town, but then one of you moves away for something like school or a job, or countless other ways you suddenly get into an LDR. Some people learn how to make it work the hard way while others do by trial-and-error. After all, usually, few people plan to be in an LDR, so any advice on how to have a long-distance relationship helps. In any case, LDRs are definitely doable, but the more you know going in, the better.
“Long-distance relationships are seldom easy to maintain,” Dr. Suzana Flores, clinical psychologist and author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives, tells Bustle. “The distance between you and your partner can make your relationship complicated, but it can work out if you keep a few things in mind. Plus, remember that distance makes the heart grow fonder. The nice part of being involved in long-distance relationships is that even the simplest things — spending time together, holding hands, or going for coffee — can be all the more meaningful when you are together.”
It's true that the little things can actually be big moments when you and your significant other are together again. Meanwhile, when you two are apart, certain things are a given in LDRs — like having good communication and trust — yet other things are not as apparent in the LDR rule book. Below, relationship experts weigh in on things you should know before your first long-distance relationship that you may not have necessarily thought about before.
1. Agree On Expectations
Miscommunication with your partner is the worst, right? Well, add some distance and not having them readily available for a face-to-face conversation to the mix, and miscommunications can get magnified even more. Therefore, Dr. Flores suggests discussing your expectations. “Before you decide to get involved in a long-distance relationship, sit down with your partner and discuss what you expect from each other while you are apart,” she says. “Decide on the ‘rules’ within the relationship. Will you both date other people — or will you be exclusive? Such conversations can be difficult, yet they are necessary in order to avoid being blindsided by assumptions and misunderstandings.”
Terrie Lewine, relationship and communication coach, and founder of BACK TO LIFE Urban Sanctuary, who's been in long-distance relationship for 17+ years now, also believes setting expectations is important. “Build trust with well thought-out agreements,” she tells Bustle. “How often do you intend to talk? How often do you intend to see each other? Who travels? Who pays for what?” She also stresses that if you want to change the expectations you and your partner set up, say something. “If you notice that you are feeling dissatisfied, immediately communicate with your partner and begin to renegotiate. The clearer you are about what the benefits (and the struggles) are of a long-distance relationship, and honest about how to navigate them, the more likely you will enjoy the time together and the time apart. If you cannot enjoy the time apart, then reconsider having a long-distance relationship.”
2. Be Consistent, Especially With Communication
Even though you know communication is vitally important in a relationship, especially one that’s long-distance, the other key is making sure it is consistent. “Consistency is very helpful in long-distance relationships,” Sameera Sullivan, Founder of Lasting Connections, tells Bustle. “Find a time to talk that works with both of your schedules — speaking before bed is a nice time to aim for so the conversation is less rushed and recaps the whole day.” Sullivan also suggests changing things up via texting, calling, FaceTiming, voice notes, snapchatting, Google Hangouts, etc. “Commit to keeping in touch and making it fun — none of this should feel like a chore! If it does, something isn’t right and you may need to ask yourself why.”
Sullivan also advises to keep your partner updated on your schedule in order to help avoid hurt feelings and unrealistic expectations. “Let the other person know so they’re not upset or worried when they don’t hear from you,” she says. “Doing so is an opportunity to let the person you care about feel like they’re part of your life, which is always a good thing.”
3. Maintain Some Distance
Though you are already inherently dealing with distance in an LDR, it doesn’t mean you need to communicate 24/7. After all, you want a healthy balance of communication — you don’t want it to burn out by talking too much. “Despite the distance, you may still need some distance,” Dr. Flores says. “You may feel the need to compensate for the distance between you and your partner by communicating more often. However, if you’re communicating too much, at times it can make the relationship seem burdensome. It’s OK to take time to miss your partner. Otherwise, you could both end up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted at keeping up the relationship.”
4. Be Kind And Honest To One Another
Once you ensure that you and your long-distance partner are on the same level, commitment-wise, stay committed. Along these lines, Antonia Hall, psychologist, relationship expert, and author of the Sexy Little Guide books, also stresses that you need to trust each other and not behave in ways that may break that trust. “You have to be able to trust the person, or it’s not going to be a happy, healthy experience,” she tells Bustle. “If you have questions, it’s better to ask than to head-trip... Behaving kindly and compassionately shows you are trustworthy and caring, and hopefully your significant other will do the same.”
5. Don't Avoid Conflict
It’s no secret that communication is key in any relationship, long-distance or not. However, regarding the latter, communicating may be more challenging, which makes it all the more important. “Some couples in LDRs skip the everyday talk and jump to more important things,” Grant Langston, CEO of eHarmony, tells Bustle. “However, by talking about everything in your day, you are recreating a similar situation in which most geographically close couples would be in, and you will be getting to know your partner more. LDR couples tend to avoid conflicts in their conversations because they can’t spend the time to resolve them. However, conflict can be good in that you get to know how your partner deals with stressful situations in their lives, and you two can work on certain areas before reuniting permanently.”
6. When Not With Your Partner, Get To Know Yourself Better
Although this is a given, that you will have more “me” time when you are in an LDR, the idea is to use this time constructively. “Perhaps the most important thing you should know going into a long-distance relationship is that your current relationship with yourself will become very clear, very fast,” Shannon Smith, resident dating expert at Plenty of Fish, tells Bustle. “When you’re left with significantly more time to yourself, use it constructively! Invest in self-care and your own development! When you’re the best version of yourself, you’re a better partner — and your relationship with yourself is lifelong!”
7. Not Every Trip May Be Amazing
As much as you look forward to seeing your long-distance partner, the reality may not always live up to the expectations, and that’s OK. Chelsea Leigh Trescott of Breakupward.com, a breakup coach, advice columnist, and the host of the podcast Thank You Heartbreak, agrees. “Not every trip to see each other is going to live up to your expectations and dreams,” she tells Bustle. “You’ll need to cultivate a stunning degree of realism, resilience, perspective, and patience in order to withstand what could wind up feeling like a letdown when it comes to parting ways again. Don’t make the mistake of buying into the all-or-nothing mentality.” Trescott also says not to assume the relationship is doomed if the trip does not go as planned.
“If the entire trip wasn’t perfect, it doesn’t mean you must mean nothing to your partner now,” she says. “Believe in yourself and in your relationship. And remember, that one fight or one off moment together shouldn’t make or break a healthy relationship.”
8. Start An LDR Budget
As romantic as LDRs can be, they can also be costly. You may want to begin an LDR budget, whether this is a jar for spare change in your room or a bank account that you open. Margaux Cassuto, relationship expert and matchmaker at Three Matches, who was also in a long-distance relationship with her now-husband tells Bustle it's important to have an accommodating schedule and well as money you can spend on travel.
Trescott agrees about money being another component of LDRs you may not initially think about — but should. “When it comes to long-distance relationships, the reality that your finances will need to be in place is often an oversight,” she says. Although she says there are many everyday costs involved with in-the-same-city relationships, Trescott says those costs trickle out over time more so than buying a plane ticket.
“For the relationship to have the best chance of lasting on a logistical level, you’ll need to not burn out your cash early on trying to appease each other with extravagant efforts," she says.
9. Remember That Your Partner Will Have A Life You May Not Be A Part Of
As connected as you and your long-distance partner may feel, you will still lead separate lives, too. “Be aware that your person has a life outside of you where they live,” Laurel House, dating expert and resident sex expert for My First Blush, tells Bustle. “Meaning, it is not like living in the same city, where you can see each other all the time. Instead, they will have their own friends and family there who they spend their time with that have nothing to do with you.” In addition, House says you may miss out on certain things in your city when you go to theirs, and vice-versa.
“LDRs can be a sacrifice,” she says. “You will also miss out on events in your own city because you are traveling to be with them, and when they travel to be with you, they will miss out on stuff, too.”
10. Stay Realistic, Not Idealistic
You know how you know you should break up with someone, but then you start thinking about all the good times, forgetting that you two actually have more *bad* times than good? Well, when it comes to LDRs, too, you need to stay realistic, not idealistic. “At times, some partners tend to idealize their relationship and remember it as better than it actually was,” Langston says. “Research has shown that couples with more idealization in their relationship are more likely to break up due to an unstable relationship. This can happen when you build up your partner to be better than they actually are in your head, so the reunion between you two may get ugly. You can feel like you’re being reunited with a complete stranger rather than someone you really know and understand.”
Langston suggests an easy solution to the idealizing-your-partner issue. “Spending quality time together and interacting in person is the best way to get to know somebody and see the reality of your relationship status,” he says. “Research has shown that more face-to-face time with a long-distance partner will lead to a less likely chance of idealizing your partner. In turn, this will lead to a less likely chance of instability in your reunion.”
11. It's Important To Be Flexible
Catherine Silver, LCSW, a psychotherapist in NYC, not only helps clients in LDRs, but was also in one herself — with her husband for three years before they got married. “LDRs are HARD,” she tells Bustle. “They require effort and patience and, while it can definitely be worth it, be sure that you go in with your eyes wide open. Commitment is necessary in any relationship, but this commitment will be larger. A long-distance relationship is not convenient, so both parties need to really want the relationship to work. Find things to do together — maybe you both read the same book or watch the same show at the same time.”
While you schedule certain activities together, you also need to be flexible, she says. “Things don’t always go as planned, so it’s important to be able to go with the flow sometimes.”
12. Have A Game Plan In Place
No matter what stage of an LDR you’re in — right before it begins or several weeks or months in — it’s good to have an idea of when you will be together again, not just in the short-term, but in the longer-term. "It’s so important that both partners discuss their game plan in the early stages of an LDR,” Amie Leadingham, Amie the Dating Coach, Master Certified Relationship Coach, tells Bustle. “If they are or were to fall in love, what would happen next? How will the LDR become an in-person relationship in the future? In my opinion, the biggest mistake is to date someone without having a discussion about the future, because sometimes one partner fears they’ll appear needy or get rejected. It’s important to remember that your partner cannot read your mind, so it’s up to you to take the risk and clearly communicate what you want and see if they’re on the same page."
As you can see, there are several things you should know before your first long-distance relationship. However, the above will definitely help you so you have the best LDR ever.