Nonstop texting. Late night phone calls. A desire to climb through the computer screen. All of these things are bound to happen when you and your partner live far apart. But they're also prime examples of why it's so important to remember to give your partner space in a long-distance relationship (LDR), and vice versa.
It's so easy to overcompensate when you don't live close, or only see each other a few times a year. So if you catch yourself trying to make up for distance by being in constant contact — or if you've noticed tension or signs of codependency — take it as your cue to strike a better balance.
"While you do have to work a little harder to maintain a strong connection [in an LDR] the expectations and boundaries don't have to be different than if you lived in the same place," Shemiah Derrick, LPC, CADC, a licensed professional counselor, tells Bustle.
By creating space, you'll both have time to decompress, reset, and maintain your individuality — something experts say is important, regardless of distance. And if you make it a habit, Derrick says, you'll notice that you'll feel more mindful and connected, instead of scattered and stressed.
There's also the issue of unrealistic expectations, which tend to run rampant in long-distance relationships. It might look like constantly calling and texting each other throughout the day, Dr. Donna T. Novak, PsyD, a licensed psychologist, tells Bustle, as well as getting upset when a message goes unanswered. Lack of space can be the root of stress, anger, and hurt feelings — and it could even end up tearing your LDR apart.
Define What "Space" Means In Your Relationship
Since everyone has different expectations, the best place to start is by defining what "space" will look like in your relationship. Talk about how often, and when, you'd like to chat, as well as whatever else you need to feel loved, respected, and connected.
From there, go about setting up a few guidelines. Derrick suggests agreeing to scheduled "offline hours" where you aren't expected to text each other back right away. It might be during designated times, like a work shift, or during certain situations, like when one of you is out with friends. That way, no one will need to ask for space — it'll just be a given.
You can also agree on a code word or phrase to use on days when life feels extra overwhelming. If your partner says it, you'll know they're only stepping back in order to decompress, not because they're ignoring you. And that, Derrick says, can make all the difference in reducing conflict, confusion, and hurt feelings.
Prioritize Quality Time
There's also something to be said for focusing on quality versus quantity, Novak says. Instead of sending countless texts throughout the day — which could start to feel like a distraction, and maybe even a burden — save all your stories for a daily Zoom call. Use this time to really and truly focus on each other, and chances are the convo will be more meaningful.
Spend Your Time Apart Wisely
Perhaps most important of all, though, is what you both do with your time apart. "Take notice of the things that you enjoy, that make you who you are," Derrick says, and do them as often as possible. By maintaining friendships, hobbies, and downtime, you'll be bringing your best selves to the relationship. And that's key for any couple, whether you're side-by-side or far apart.
Dr. Donna T. Novak, PsyD, licensed psychologist
Shemiah Derrick, LPC, CADC, licensed professional counselor