My partner and I live 9000km apart. He lives in Johannesburg and I live in London. We are incredibly fortunate that we can afford to make the commute to see each other, considering how far apart we actually live, and it’s something we never take for granted. We say we live in both cities, as both are home. We’ve been doing long-distance now for 18 months and although it is never, ever easy, we seem to have found the right ingredients to make it work.
Where other couples crave spontaneity, we crave normal. A night-in with takeout, a casual Saturday breakfast at our local, or a Sunday night movie. It’s rare that we get this, as most people who do long distance will know, when you’re together, there are also 100 other people demanding your time in town! Be selfish!
We are incredibly lucky to live in an age of boundless technology – Facetime and Whatsapp are our lifeline. We know so many couples who are doing or have done the same thing, either nationally or internationally, and there are several things we all have in common. So perhaps these words will help your relationship go the (long) distance, until such a time that you can finally settle down in one place together.
- Do you want to be together or not
This may sound obvious, but you need to be sure you actually want to be with the person. If you don’t, you’re wasting both their time and yours, and all the hard work of long distance will be futile. Any relationship takes a lot of consistent hard work from all parties involved. So, if you don’t actually want to be with this person, you’re not going to work very hard at it. Establish this early on if you can.
This is obviously the most important part of a long distance relationship. And it’s all we have. When you’re living so far apart, you have to rely on communication to keep your relationship going. And how do we communicate in this day and age? Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp, SMS, email, letters, Facebook, Instagram… you name it, we use it! Communicating isn’t just about having an actual conversation; it’s also about the small things, like on social media, to show your partner you’re thinking about them. We communicate with each other in any and every way; all having our preference of platform. When you’re in a long distance relationship, little things like that can make your partner feel loved and wanted. We’re definitely lucky to live in an age when we can do all of this. My own parents did long-distance for a while and it was much more challenging without so much technology at their fingertips.
If communication isn’t your strong point, it’s one of the things you’ll have to work hardest at. You’ll both need to find your feet and come to the party. Some people just aren’t natural communicators, and others really struggle not to be overly communicative. So you need to find your balance. Talk about it, set boundaries of what’s non-negotaible (i.e. you should always say goodnight to each other) and what you don’t have to do (i.e. let each other know your every move – that is exhausting, and relates to point 4 below). Perhaps reading my article about fair fighting will help with conflict?
In all relationships, trust is part of your foundation. Without it, you’re going to have a rocky journey. Some people struggle to trust because of previous relationships (partners or parents), mental health difficulties or past traumas. Working on trust from day one is imperative. You need to identify if this is something you struggle with and actively work on it with your partner. If you’re doing long distance and living 2 different lives, you need to learn to trust one another, and give your partner reason to trust you. If you do both trust each other, don’t forget to think about the bigger picture when you’re doing things. If you’ve decided to do something, ask yourself if you’d do it if you lived with your partner. So for example, if an old flame invited you for coffee, think about how it might affect your partner and if you would go even if you both lived in the same place. Always try and put yourself in your partner’s shoes: “Would I feel alright if my partner did X or Y?” If you aren’t ok with it, it could indicate that they won’t be either (this is of course a generalisation and every one is different. Again I reiterate, communicate!).
When your living far apart, you will have quite different lives. You might even feel that it’s their life, your life and your life as a couple, and managing 3 different lives can be really challenging. What’s so important in any relationship is interdependence – when a couple are involved with each other’s lives, but do so without losing who they are or compromising on their values or morals. It’s a balanced relationship where both people don’t sacrifice much of who they are. When you’re doing long-distance, you’re going to be doing different things when you’re apart, and this is normal. It’s not fair to expect your partner to not go out, see friends, travel etc. just because you live elsewhere. This implies lack of trust. Unfortunately life does need to continue for each of you, all while you build your life together from 2 different places.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
If you’ve been in a relationship, you’ll hopefully learn from each experience and take those lessons forward. Picking your battles and learning to not get upset by the small things can make a big difference in any relationship. If you’re upset about something your partner has said or done, take a moment to think about it holistically. What happened? How do you feel? How do you think you’re partner would feel in this situation? What would you do differently? You should be doing this in any relationship like I said, but in a long distance it’s even more important because you can’t be with one another following a disagreement. You can’t see what the person is doing or give them a hug to perhaps indicate its end. Try to remain in your adult as much as possible – that is remaining logical, rational, reasonable and mature.
- Expectations lead to disappointment
As a couple doing long distance, things aren’t quite the same as they are for our counterparts who see each other everyday or so. You need to be more patient, kinder and more understanding with each other; when you’re apart and when you’re together. For example, just because you haven’t seen each other in 3 months, you don’t have to have sex every day, or you might see each other during a stressful period and it might affect your time together. Just because you haven’t seen each other for a while doesn’t mean it will be perfect when you do. It may actually take a little while to adjust to being in each other’s space, and even sleeping in the same bed again. It’s normal, and it’s ok. Give it time and it should pass. If it doesn’t, talk about it with your partner.
- Know when you’ll be seeing each other next
For us, this is a big one, and as you’ll see from what other couples have said, it’s a big one for them too. Knowing when you’re seeing your partner again gives you something to look forward to and work towards. You can make plans for that time together and get excited about it. In our personal experience, we had a period when we didn’t know, and it was much tougher. Having tickets booked and leave submitted, you’ll be able to focus on other things.
I think this also relates to having an end goal. When you start long-distance, or when you establish that this relationship is serious and you’re both going to make it work, you should be talking about an end goal. It doesn’t have to be set in stone, but you should both have a rough idea of what you want and what you’re willing to do. Will one of you move to the other, or together to a new place? Will you do this for 6 months or 6 years? These conversations are really important and give your relationship purpose.
Of course every couple is different and what works for us, or the contributing couples in this article, may not work for you. What’s crucial is that you discuss your relationship, its boundaries, and find your own rhythm. Plan for things together, like travel or new experiences, and relishing in getting to know your partner emotionally and intellectually far sooner than most couples living together. Successfully navigating the distance can make your relationship much stronger, making other obstacles seem more manageable.
Connect everyday. My boyfriend and I have very busy lives and dont facetime often, sometimes making each other laugh or just a 5 minute debrief is more important that seeing each other.
Pick your battles and say sorry when you’re wrong, even if you’re only a little wrong. If long distance has taught me anything its that communication is a learning process, one never stops.
Always say goodnight (and for me good morning) This can make and break my days when they’re hard, knowing we are thinking of one another waking up and going to bed…
Jacqui (London) & Itamar (Israel) – together 5 years
The outcome of this relationship is dependent on whether or not you are able to accept that will be your reality. And with acceptance comes the realisation that a little extra work is required.
For many, long distance is a daunting experience, one where you have little insight into exactly what your partner is doing on a daily basis and this causes lots of anxiety and doubt. Long distance mean relying on what they tell you, believing them and trusting them.
Take it as it comes. Long distance relationship are hard enough without the added pressure. If you don’t have the answers to some of the more challenging questions, chances are that your partner might not either. Enjoy the moment and the experience. You will learn a lot about yourself and each other.
– MM (Johannesburg) & RJ (Cape Town), together 9 years
For me the most vital part of a long distance relationship is patience, communication and making sure you know the next time you are going to see each other.
Getting frustrated at the situation is natural and can tend to cause to unnecessary issues. Remember, this is the person that you are choosing to be with despite the difficult circumstances so be patient, be open and honest and enjoy the much deeper conversations you will naturally have!
Taryn (Johannesburg) & Maddie (Sydney) – together 6 months
Ensure that you use the time apart to get to know each other really well through communication and optimize the short times together by celebrating one another’s company.
Airports become your best friend and your worst enemy however, always having your next visit planned and at your finger tips seems to make it that much more manageable.
– Hilit (Cape Town) & Brett (Johannesburg) – together 7 years; now married
The relationship will work if both parties want it to work badly enough. That usually requires prioritising each other over everything else and doing what it takes to stay connected.
Communication is key too. Can’t have enough of that!
– KF (Johannesburg) & GV (London) – together 2 years, now engaged