Long-distance relationships are easily romanticized. Who doesn't enjoy a story about star-crossed lovers? Unfortunately, the reality of them can be...less glamorous. Time differences, missed calls, buffering videos, pricey plane fare, visa restrictions...these can all get in the way of a relationship. Add a pandemic, and the odds of surviving as a couple can feel insurmountable.
If you're in a long-distance relationship right now, you're not alone. Due to travel restrictions all across the world, many loved ones are separated because of COVID-19. Luckily, a lot of people are reevaluating what it means to be "present". Kiaundra Jackson is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the resident therapist on "Love Goals" on OWN. While her advice is generally geared toward romantic couples, many of her tips are applicable to platonic relationships too.
1. Switch It Up
Apps and social media are great for providing an instant connection, but we don't have to rely on them alone. Jackson says to "switch it up" because using the same mode of communication can get boring while you're apart. "Don't be a one trick pony," she says. Everything from audio memos to GIFs help "bring that person into your world a little bit more."
If and when using technology starts to feel like work, go analog. Try sending a letter or mailing a small gift. Embrace the idea that not all communication or connection needs to be instant.
2. Less Is More
If you're more introverted, or if work, school or family is getting in the way of quality time, embrace a more minimalist approach to communication. This doesn't mean communicating as little as possible, but instead choosing to make the most of the time you do share. If constant texting with your long-distance partner will only tire you out, tell them you need a break from that mode of communication for a while — and set aside time to talk when you can be more present.
3. Just Say What You Want
There's so much pressure to keep conversation light and to relive your relationship's exhilarating early days when you never knew what to expect from a partner. But at this point, if you want to talk about something specific, or if you prefer a certain communication style, just say so!
"If something is truly bothering you ... [or if there's] something you desire from your partner, it's okay to verbalize that. It's okay to literally say what's on your mind," says Jackson.
Maybe one of you prefers a "good morning" or "goodnight" text and the other person has never sent one. Talking about your needs and communication styles can feel a little like a workplace exercise or therapy session, but discussing this together will save you a whole lot of hurt if you don't yet realize your communication differences.
"It's okay to have these boundaries, markers and expectations because when we don't, we just default to assumptions. When we start to assume things, that doesn't really land us in a good place," says Jackson. "Avoid those assumptions and get back to the basics of communication: stating your thoughts and feelings."
If it's difficult for you to speak up in a relationship, try being more straightforward about smaller, less consequential things before being more direct about the important stuff. "That's just what you need to make sure that you feel safe, secure, respected and loved in a relationship," says Jackson. "And I'm sure that your partner has their preferences you can accommodate as well."
4. Understand The Limits Of Physical Touch
There are many virtual ways to mimic the intimacy of physical touch and spice things up.
But if you're frustrated you can't be together in-person, prioritize your emotional connection so when you're together, you're stronger as a couple than when you were before. Again: it's better to focus on what you can control instead of all the things you can't.
Non-monogamy may be an option for you or other people you know, but if you're thinking about opening up your relationship in order to solve an existing issue, Jackson warns it's not for everyone.
"You have to be an extremely confident person to bring another person into your relationship in any aspect. So, if you have low self-esteem or if there's some...personal development that you need to do, I wouldn't advise someone [like that] to be in an open relationship."
"If you think that bringing another party into your relationship while it's already rocky is a good idea because you think that's going to solve something, you are asking for a lot of trouble."
5. Prioritize Maintenance Over Repair
This advice applies to all sorts of relationships: Don't wait for issues to fester into full-blown problems before you address them. "Oftentimes we wait until things are horrible in our relationship to try to repair them versus...nipping things in the bud as they happen along the journey," says Jackson. When a rupture happens in a relationship, address it as quickly as possible to avoid bringing something up that happened six months ago.
6. Don't Just Grin And Bear It
Long-distance relationships come with so many obvious challenges that it's easy to think of them as something you just have to endure and not enjoy.
But Jackson says that's no way to think about long-distance relationships at all. She says you don't want to look at any relationship that way, regardless of if you're physically together or not.
"You should be growing as an individual but also collectively. If you're finding yourself not doing that...you need to reevaluate," she says.
7. Don't Lose Sight Of Who You Are
Jackson says that she often sees people in long–distance relationships who have let their relationship consume their entire life. It dictates their schedule and attitude on life.
You can become a homebody or both morph into having the same personality. Regardless of who you're in a relationship with and if you can physically be together or not, you should never stop living your own life.
This podcast portion of this story was produced by Clare Marie Schneider.
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