Even in a world that is increasingly connected, long-distance relationships can still be challenging. What are keys to a good long-distance relationship?
As our planet grows more and more interconnected, distance seems to be a thing of the past. Meetings have been replaced by video chats, snail mail has been replaced by instantaneous email, shopping has been turned into an online experience, and other transformations have taken place that make distance seem irrelevant.
Until you start dating.
When you enter a dating relationship, suddenly distance dominates everything. It’s not that a long-distance relationship is a bad thing. It can be very positive, uplifting and life-changing. But it is very different from traditional dating and has to be treated a little differently.
What is long-distance dating?
Distance dating, also known as a long-distance relationship, is a romantic relationship where face-to-face contact is limited by geography for a significant amount of time.
In a time of increased globalization, these types of relationships are becoming more common. People are meeting on the Internet, at conferences, on vacations, in organizations, camps, etc. Sometimes there’s an attraction, and a relationship starts.
Long-distance relationships: the same, but different
Starting a long-distance relationship can be intimidating. How do you form a positive, romantic relationship with someone you can’t be with and talk to in person? A vital point to remember when dating over long distances is that the foundational relationship principles are the same.
Some of these foundational principles are:
These qualities are essential for any healthy relationship, whatever form it may take. In a long-distance relationship, they may manifest themselves differently than they would if you were with the person face-to-face, but they are still vital.
In person, respect is shown through our tone of voice, eye contact, full attention and words. When the person is not physically present, some of these don’t apply. This makes choosing the right words essential. Your words must convey the respect that you have for him or her, whether in a text message, on social media or on a phone call.
With a long-distance relationship, honesty takes on another dimension. With the other person being so far away, it’s easy to hide secrets even if no actual lie leaves your lips. While such secrets are easy to get away with initially, they can compound and later create deeper issues. There must be a firm foundation of honesty so that both people can trust each other not just to tell the truth, but to act with integrity.
Gentleness is shown through our words and actions. Like respect, gentleness comes across primarily through the words we use and the tone we “say” them in. Gentleness must come across in our terms of endearment, our approach to insults (whether real or perceived) and our typical conversation.
People need and want to be thought of and cared for, whether they’re within arm’s reach or in another country. Thoughtfulness can manifest itself in a loving text, a considerate gift, a gentle note or how we address our sweetheart.
It’s important that they know we are thinking about them throughout the day and care about their needs.
Being around people often requires patience as people trigger certain pet peeves, say things out of line on the spur of the moment, or do something thoughtless. But these are not common concerns when someone lives hours away. Instead, patience can be required to deal with delayed response times, lack of comprehension of text messages, restrictions on talking and the challenges of moving the relationship forward.
Problems will arise. They might involve finances, family troubles, personal problems, mistakes and any variety of errors made by human beings. Sometimes those problems will directly affect and hurt you, while other times they will solely involve the other person.
If you are hurt, then you’ll need compassion to forgive the offense and move on in the relationship. If the issue just affects the other person, then an understanding ear may be all that is needed. This is true regardless of the distance involved in the relationship.
With these foundational principles at the basis of the relationship, it will be steady in spite of the time and distance involved.
In addition to these principles, there is one key that, while vital for any relationship, is absolutely essential for a long-distance relationship:
Communication, communication, communication
Open and honest communication is perhaps the single greatest factor in having a successful long-distance relationship. Unlike traditional dating, you can’t go out and do an activity together. The relationship survives mainly on communication.
Open and honest communication is perhaps the single greatest factor in having a successful long-distance relationship.Long-distance communication, though, is more limited and challenging. In-person communication includes not just words but body language, facial expressions and verbal cues. When dating over a long distance, all of that communication must be done through messages and calls.
Texting and instant messaging are great ways of instantaneously reaching out and talking to each other at any moment during the day, but they can be a limited mode of communication. The few words in a text message can easily be misconstrued and vague.
Due to this, a relationship is helped by video calls and phone calls. The opportunity to hear each other’s vocal inflections and to see each other can help you get to know one another more. This mode of communication is also more natural and spontaneous than a text or instant message usually is. Not only is the communication over a call of a higher quality, but it also allows more communication.
One of the reasons that many shy away from the phone calls or video chats is that they expose us more, making us more vulnerable. While intimidating, this vulnerability is what is needed to advance the relationship. You need to see each other in both vulnerable and personable moments. This openness is how we get to know each other well enough to move forward in the relationship.
What to talk about
One of the things that trips some up in a long-distance relationship is the question, “What do you talk about?” The answer to that question is everything and nothing.
As a couple, you must be able to talk about the important matters. Beliefs, hopes, dreams, struggles and sensitive subjects all must be discussed.
Sensitive areas can include past relationships, family life, pet peeves, bad habits and other topics that you generally wouldn’t share with others. This part of the relationship should be eased into, as the relationship strengthens and the trust between the two of you increases to the point where these issues can be addressed honestly and openly.
But deep subjects shouldn’t be all that you discuss, of course. You must also be able to discuss the small things, even if they seem absurd. Favorite foods, opinions on movies, completely random questions and thoughts can all be helpful to discuss.
Why? Dating is a process to determine if this is a person you want to spend the rest of your life with. Life isn’t made solely of big moments, but also consists of many little moments that can add up to mean a lot.
One of the characteristics that you need the most in your communication is reliability.One of the characteristics that you need the most in your communication is reliability. Text messages and calls should occur throughout the day to show each other you’re thinking of the other person and that you care.
If there’s a scheduled call, text or video chat, then make sure that you attend to it, or send a message as soon as possible giving notice and apologizing for your absence.
Long-distance can’t be forever
While a long-distance relationship can work well, it is not something that can last forever. In fact, the ultimate goal of the entire relationship is to remove the distance. One of the best ways to get to know someone is to spend time together. While texting and video chatting help you get to know a person, there is no substitute for being together on a daily basis.
The end goal of a romantic relationship is marriage, spending your lives together for as long as you live. A solid marriage will naturally require both of you living together, but the process of reaching that goal should involve one or both of you moving, so you live in the same area several months before the engagement.
That can be a challenge and may require some sacrifice, but the marriage relationship is very important. So if the relationship is worth it, so will any sacrifice be! Seeing each other day by day—interacting face-to-face on good days and bad days—is vital to building the solid foundation of a lifelong marriage.
But please take careful note: there is a big difference between moving into the same area and moving in together. Moving into the same area doesn’t compromise your reputation or purity as cohabitation does. For more on the reasons that God forbids cohabitation, read the article “Living Together Before Marriage.”
The struggle for purity doesn’t begin when you move into the same area. Even if you aren’t in each other’s physical presence and thus aren’t able to have sexual relations, it is still possible to compromise and sin.
Christ said that His followers are to be “pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8). This purity includes our thoughts and attitudes.
There are different ways that this purity can be compromised. One of the most common in our modern society is through the use of nude photos and videos. Even assuming those photos were never seen by anyone else (a dangerous assumption, many have found), the taking and sharing of such pictures is still sinful. Fantasizing about your intended—with or without the use of pictures—is spiritually the same as the actual deed (Matthew 5:27-28).
One of the traps that couples in long-distance relationships can fall into is using sensual language. While this can seem fun and exciting, it can lead to fantasizing and stir up passion before it should be stirred. The Song of Solomon explicitly states, “Do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Solomon 3:5).
The two ditches of long-distance dating
With long-distance dating, there are two ditches that couples can fall into. Both can have consequences farther down the road that can prove to be damaging to the relationship.
One of the ditches is moving too fast. It’s easy to go so fast in a relationship that you’re married before you really know the person. Ideally, you should know each other well before you enter a serious relationship. If you don’t, it may be advisable to start with less exclusive dating (see “Another Approach to Dating”).
The second ditch is moving too slow. Since the distance is such a factor and communication is limited, there can be a tendency to drag the relationship on for a number of years. Consistent communication is needed to keep the relationship alive. It’s also important that you spend as much time as possible together in person. A healthy relationship shouldn’t stagnate.
Practical tips for long-distance relationships
While there can be challenges along the way, it is certainly possible to have a long-distance relationship that leads to a happy and successful marriage.
Here are some practical tips for dealing with long-distance relationships:
- Reach out throughout the day so that the other person knows you’re thinking of him or her.
- Take advantage of video conferencing.
- Schedule conversations and plan virtual dates together.
- Make plans for when you see each other in person.
- Take personality tests so that you can understand each other better, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Gary Chapman’s “5 Love Languages.”
- See each other in person as often as possible.
- Communicate creatively.
- Know each other’s schedule and text during free times.
- Send each other gifts.
- Play 20 questions (although you don’t have to limit it to 20).
With a strong foundation and these practical points, it is possible for a long-distance relationship to thrive and become a happy and successful marriage.