Last week, we talked about how distance can sometimes make you feel needy, and some tips on workarounds so you and your partner can support each other without feelings of guilt and abandonment. This week, we continue on that path, and offer some things to remember when you might feel lonely when apart from your partner. Also if you read Dr. Clark’s piece, there’s actually a hidden FOURTH article, on how to deal with loneliness.
Remember, you’re not alone. As Dr. Clark (and statistics) says, LDRs are growing, as we become a much more global society. It’s not easy, but working with your partner on making sure the connection is maintained can actually be extremely beneficial not only to your relationship, but also to your own emotional well-being:
by Dr. Alicia H. Clark
Love doesn't always respect geographic boundaries, or easily take a backseat to educational pursuits, familial obligations, and career opportunities.
With an unprecedented number of dual-career couples in the modern world, being near the one you love is no longer always a guarantee.
Long-distance relationships (LDR) are proliferating, with an estimated 14 million couples defining their relationships as such, and a staggering 75 percent of engaged couples reporting having been in a long distance relationship at some point.
Even as they become more common, in no way is a long-distance relationship easy.
They are hard ... really hard. Living every day without the person you love most is like living on one meal a day instead of three. You can’t help feeling the gulf, the disconnection, the absence. You know 'this is what it takes' to keep the relationship going, and you don’t want to give up ... but some days that pit in your stomach aches.
You wonder if, and for how long, you can keep this up, or worse, are you crazy for even trying.
Surely no sane person could handle this, you tell yourself.
This is the unavoidable doubt and anxiety that accompanies all long distance relationships. Each day you consider how to make things work — and you wonder how many compromises you must make or how many other priorities must take a backseat before "too much" is just truly too much.
And then you remember how much you love this person, and like an alarm clock that snoozes, but won’t turn off, you push the anxiety away for awhile, delay thinking about it. But it's always a part of the landscape of your relationship.
So, on the tough days when missing your far-away love feels like more than you can take, here are some ways to reframe the struggle to help make coping a bit easier:
1. Your relationship is stronger than you think! A 2013 study found that long-distance relationships are capable of being stronger and, even more intimate than those that are more proximate. Long distance forces communication skills to develop and improve if a relationship is to survive. Not only is writing to each other a fantastic way to drill down into your true feelings and express yourself (which helps you), it is also builds needed intimacy with your partner and strengthens the relationship.
2. You're defining and redefining your core values. Values are sometimes tricky to define and yet, they play a fundamental role in decision-making. Being away from your partner forces you to decide every day whether it's worth it to continue, and ultimately helps you decide how to prioritize being together — these decisions are strengthening your values and personal sense of self.
3. The glass is half full. Instead of focusing on the separation, try celebrating the connection and love you feel. Research shows that gratitude strengthens relationships by promoting a cycle of generosity and other pro-social emotions. Yet another study found that gratitude boosts happiness ... something that helps offset the misery of being alone. Next time you're feeling like you can't take another moment alone, redirect your attention to your blessings — that you feel love and connection with a partner who loves you. This a tremendous gift — one many never experience.
4. Novelty is boosting your bond. Doing something novel and interesting with your partner boosts your relationship satisfaction. What could be more novel than navigating the vicissitudes of connecting across time zones, and continents? You're in this together, and that sense of teamwork creates a bond between you that deepens your relationship. If you can handle this, you can handle anything.
5. Overextending isn't necessary. Long-distance relationships require costly sacrifice that may tempt you to forgo your needs for the sake of the relationship. Skype sessions at extreme hours, expensive plane tickets, maxed out vacation leave, telling yourself that you're "OK" being alone (when some days you just aren't). You risk putting your wellbeing (and the relationship) in a dangerous place when you continuously overextend yourself. Just like we put on our own oxygen mask before helping others, apply that logic to your everyday life; taking care of yourself is critical to maintaining healthy balance in your relationship. Any partner worth keeping will understand and support you in this.
6. It’s OK if long distance isn't for you. Long distance isn't for everyone or every relationship — in fact, 20 percent of relationships are ultimately negatively impacted by distance. If your relationship breaks under the pressure, it's not necessarily the distance's fault ... or yours. This just isn't the right relationship to fight that hard for. No matter how painful it feels at the time, this is an important truth for both of you to know. Recognizing the wrong relationship is a crucial step in finding the right relationship.
With our global culture, expanding professional opportunities, and technological advances ... long-distance relationships are here to stay.
The good news is, both you and your relationship will gain strength through these obstacles — IF you allow yourself to engage with your struggle and channel any anxiety into healthy choices for yourself, as well as the relationship.
In strengthening yourself, you'll not only survive the distance, you'll be better for it. Absence can indeed fan the flames of your passion, even if it's for yourself and your own future.
Dr. Alicia H. Clark is a licensed psychologist and professor who specializes in relationships and anxiety, parenting, and helping people cope with stressors ranging from the mundane to the extremes of modern life. If you feel like you could use a bit more help with balance in your relationships, sign up for her blog, or check out her website, where you'll find more information on maintaining connection, stress management, and wellness.
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