It’s no secret that navigating long-term relationships and marriage can be hard… like trying to assemble IKEA furniture without the instruction manual, hard. Add long-distance into the equation, and it’s like assembling that same furniture with a remote-controlled robot from across the room.
Whether here or there, every couple has to figure out how to overcome their everyday struggles; it’s not a matter of where but how.
Long-distance relationship lessons
When my now-husband, JB, and I were dating and engaged, we faced this exact situation when he had to move across the country for work. For a year and a half! Our long-distance relationship (playfully dubbed “LDR”) was a long flurry of emotions, frustrations, and too many Facetime video calls to count. Yet, through it all, we actually found ways to not just sustain our relationship but grow closer from 1,300 miles away.
We now look back fondly at this pivotal chapter in our story and recognize all the lessons that shaped our relationship. These tips aren’t just theoretical advice; they are tried-and-true strategies we still use today!
Whether your partner is across the globe or across the room, these practical tips can help strengthen your relationship. And as a very happily married woman today, I can speak to their effectiveness.
7 LDR Relationship tips we still use today
Tip 1: Be intentional with your time
In our busy lives, it is far too easy to overlook quality time with your partner in between jobs, household responsibilities, and taking care of children. But when your partner is many miles and a time zone away, you have to be intentional with your time (or not have any time together at all).
While apart, JB and I maintained our relationship with nightly check-in calls, weekly virtual dates, and scheduled monthly visits. The timing might vary daily and month-to-month based on other obligations, but we would always find a way to prioritize our time together. Without establishing a plan, we would simply not have been able to stay connected.
Fast forward a year or so, we found ourselves spending our blissful newlywed evenings … on opposite sides of the couch, each scrolling our phone. (It happens to the best of us, okay?)
You see, once we were “together” all the time, we quickly forgot to be intentional with our time. We would get busy doing things around the house or distracted by a TV show — and we would completely forget about connecting with the person we had waited so long to sit on that damn couch with!
Luckily we quickly recognized this bad habit and started implementing our trusty old LDR tricks to get us back on the marital bliss track. Now we happily prioritize dedicated time to talk, connect and date each other several times a week.
Tip 2: Always have something to be excited about
When everything has to be planned and scheduled, it’s relatively easy to ensure there is always something to be excited about on the horizon. But when you have the rest of your lives and nothing but time ahead, you might naturally forget to plan for these special occasions.
Back in our LDR days, we always had our next trip or visit planned. Even when just visiting each other’s homes, we would always incorporate a quick day trip or special dinner to celebrate being together. It was only by having these upcoming events to look forward to that our day-to-day separation felt tolerable.
Once we were always together, we quickly slipped into an old married couple routine. Same routine day in, day out. We were just happy to be together finally, but … even being together can get boring after a while.
Now we are better about planning for special occasions, whether it’s just a date night out to our favorite bar to play trivia or a long weekend trip just the two of us. Science backs the theory that positive anticipation directly correlates to happiness and well-being, so ensuring we always have an upcoming special event on our calendar helps us stay excited in our relationship.
Tip 3: Prioritize listening and understanding in communication
Communication, communication, communication! Obviously, most of us know communication is essential to success in a relationship. Unfortunately, we often forget that communication means much more than talking; effective communication requires listening and understanding.
From across the country, my husband and I had to prioritize clear communication just to be present in one another’s lives. But somehow, sitting across the table from one another, bickering over whether someone actually told them about plans with one’s parents that weekend — something seemed to have been lost in translation.
The truth is, it’s easy to get caught up in communication overload in our daily lives. Especially when you coordinate a family, household, and other adulting responsibilities together. There is so much going on and so much information shared, details can get missed or unspoken altogether (I swear I told you about the A/C maintenance appointment. Or did I?). And sometimes the little missed details become much bigger issues when compounded over time.
We now find it’s most effective to pick the best moments and methods for communication. This means setting aside time (without kids, phones, TV, and other distractions) to discuss the things that matter. If we have an urgent issue, we preface our conversation with that so that we are both tuned in. A joint calendar helps us keep track of schedules for social events, appointments, and four kids’ worth of activities.
It’s not always romantic or fun, but it makes life so much easier to establish these guidelines and tricks for effective communication. And using this approach has decreased the frustration and tension in our house, which ultimately makes the romance a lot easier to integrate as well.
Tip 4: You should maintain and respect each other’s autonomy
When you’re in a serious relationship and living together, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing everything together. Eat dinner and watch TV together every night. Run errands together. Go to the gym together. Attend social events and double dates together. Sounds great, but — is it always?
Maintaining your autonomy has a lot of benefits for your relationship. Time apart allows you to focus on your own interests and hobbies, and create your own friendships outside of your little relationship bubble.
When he was alone on the East Coast, my hubby used his free time to join a local woodshop and taught himself how to do all kinds of home repairs and projects (which was very helpful when he finally moved home!). I used my spare evenings back in Texas to repaint the interiors of almost our entire new house and catch frequent happy hours with my girlfriends. We had autonomy, yet could still prioritize time together every day.
In a long-distance relationship, you are forced to maintain separate lives and choose how to spend your own time. But in close proximity, you have to be deliberate about creating space in your life as an individual while also prioritizing your life as a couple. Make sure you allow each other the opportunity to maintain your individual interests and passions. It makes the time you spend together so much more meaningful because …
Tip 5: Distance makes the heart grow fonder
Corny, but true — distance truly does make the heart grow fonder. This is as true living in the same house as living 1,300 miles apart.
Too much of anything is bound to get old. Think of your favorite food. Can you honestly tell me you would enjoy eating mac n’ cheese every meal of every day for the rest of your life? Yeah, I thought not.
Separation is good in a relationship. On top of maintaining your autonomy (#4, ahem), you create that empty space to miss your partner. The recommendation for a couple to create distance is one that relationship expert Esther Perel touts, stating, “Desire is rooted in absence and longing. And the experience of ‘not having’ increases our ‘wanting.’”
Within the distance, you and your partner create anticipation, mystery, and desire — which only makes the time together so much sweeter. We felt this anticipation when JB and I could only see each other once a month, and we still feel it now after just a few days of separation.
Tip 6: Be creative and try new things to keep it exciting
I’m going to be real with you — long-term relationships can get stale over time. Establishing a comfortable routine with your partner is both a perk and a curse in a long-term relationship.
There’s “your show” that the two of you binge a few times a week. Your weekly chore rotation. Your tried and true sexual repertoire. The same restaurant or movie theater you visit on your occasional date nights. It’s enjoyable, it’s easy, it’s comfortable … and it gets old after a while.
Separated by half a country, we had to find ways to keep things fun and exciting. Otherwise, all we would ever do is a nightly Facetime check-in before bed. (Yawn) To keep things interesting, we had to plan frequent Facetime dates with new ways to (remotely) connect from a distance. We sent each other surprises in the mail. We always had our next visit or weekend trip scheduled. Being apart, we HAD to be creative to keep things fresh.
But if you never mix it up, you are bound to get stuck in a rut — the relational boredom pitfall that so many long-term relationships encounter. Do both of you a favor and try something new ASAP. Embark on a twilight walk and chat about your days instead of plopping on the couch tonight. Listen to live music or see a comedy show instead of your usual dinner/movie date night agenda. Switch up positions or locations during your next amorous encounter. Visit that psychic shop you always drive by and joke about someday visiting.
Try something different at your next opportunity. I guarantee, even if the new activity isn’t something you want to do again, you’ll still have a great experience (and maybe even a great story!) to reflect on.
Take it from us, the couple prophesied as “destined to fail” during a Tara (actually tarot, but spelling is not urgent when you speak with the spiritual realm) card reading one fateful Saturday. And we’re still enjoying proving that psychic wrong three years later.
Tip 7: Relationships require work, no matter where you are
So maybe Tip #7 isn’t as much advice as a lesson — a lesson we had to learn the hard way.
When JB and I committed to prioritizing our relationship during that long-distance period, we did so with the goal of finally getting to live our life together at the end of it. We understood that long-distance relationships were challenging and required effort, but we knew it would be worth it in the end. Everything would be so much easier once we could finally be in the same city for good. Or so we thought …
The truth is healthy relationships always require work. You have to put in the effort to truly listen to your partner, to be present in their lives, and actively engage in activities that strengthen your connection. You must be intentional in your actions and decisions, prioritizing your relationship over other distractions or commitments.
It is only by putting in the work that you and your partner can create a solid foundation for a healthy and fulfilling relationship. But trust me, it is absolutely worth the effort.
Prioritizing your relationship
Now that my husband and I are happily settled into our life together, finally married and living under the same roof, we rarely have time to reflect on those difficult 17 months we were forced to be apart. But the lessons and tips we learned through that challenging period are present in our relationship every day — and we are stronger because of it.
I hope you can use these practical relationship tips to maintain a healthy and happy relationship for the long term, no matter your physical location.
What relationship tips have you found most beneficial with your partner? Give us your best advice in the comments!