Long-distance partners often have to work harder at their relationships than couples who live together or close to one another.
And though this arrangement can be a struggle at times, putting in that extra effort can really pay off in the long run.
So what can you do to a better partner in a LDR? We asked couples and therapists alike what actions or habits make a big difference in the relationship. Here’s what they told us.
1. Communicate consistently, but at a cadence that works for both of you.
For some couples, that might be scheduling set times to talk twice a day, once before bed, or a few nights per week. Others might prefer a looser structure for their check-ins. Figure out a rhythm that makes you both feel secure in the relationship but also leaves time for the other important parts of your life, like family, friends, work, hobbies and downtime. Then try to stick to whatever you decide.
“Every couple is different — some find it helpful to have set times to talk while others may feel this is too controlling,” psychologist Rebecca Leslie of Living Fully Psychological Services, who was in an LDR before she got married, told HuffPost. “It is important you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to communication. Have an open and honest conversation about what works for you and why it works for you.”
And don’t feel like you have to keep a text conversation going all day long just for the sake of talking; for some couples, that much communication might be overkill.
“Keep in touch often but don’t overdo it,” said Simone Ferriero, an illustrator and comic book artist who is in an LDR. “Everyone needs personal alone space to recharge or do the things that they love. Being constantly in contact with your partner can be a mistake and it could drain the relationship in the long run.”
2. Be honest with your partner when you’re not up for talking.
Some days you might be too drained, distracted or overbooked to make it to your hour-long nightly Skype sesh — and that’s OK, too. Just be upfront with your partner about what’s going on so they don’t take it personally when you ask to cut the call short or reschedule.
“If you’re not going to be present and intentional when you’re on a call together, it’s best to avoid it altogether,” said clinical psychologist Therese Mascardo, founder of Exploring Therapy. “Otherwise, you can unintentionally hurt your partner’s feelings and make them feel disrespected.”
When you’re not physically together, what you say during these calls (and how you say it) holds extra weight — for better or worse.
“Words have power,” said Stephen Maraffino, who is currently in a long-distance marriage with his husband. “The way you speak to each other can have a major impact on each other’s day.”
3. When your partner misses a call or doesn’t text you back right away, give them the benefit of the doubt.
Even the most reliable partners among us drop the ball sometimes. When they do, remember it was most likely an honest mistake and give your partner some grace.
“There will be times when your partner’s phone runs out of battery or they fall asleep and forget to respond to a text,” Leslie said. “Trusting your partner is key to long-distance relationships. Without trust, your brain will likely go to a lot of ‘what if’ questions. Trust leads to feeling more at peace in a long-distance relationship.”
4. Always have your next visit on the books.
COVID-19 travel restrictions and changing public health guidelines make it tricky to plan much of anything for the future. The good news is that many airlines are offering flexible cancellation and rebooking policies at this time. Planning your next trip together — and being able to count down until the next time you’ll (hopefully!) be able to see each other — should make the distance easier to bear.
“This will allow both of you to plan and have something to look forward to,” said marriage and family therapist Anabel Basulto, who is currently in a long-distance relationship. “You can plan and budget expenses for travel. The fun part is to anticipate the next meet-up.”
5. Come up with fun activities you can do together from afar.
Supplement your usual calls and video chats with bonding activities you can enjoy together.
“One thing that really surprised me was how fun it was to do things together, separately,” said Missy Eames, who was in a long-distance relationship with her now-husband for more than two years. “We would enjoy watching the same TV series or movies and then discussing them after.”
“Being constantly in contact with your partner can be a mistake and it could drain the relationship in the long run.”
In addition to Netflix nights, consider sprinkling in some other activities like preparing the same meal together, baking your favorite treats or playing board games online, said therapist Juan Olmedo of Avanza Therapy Practice.
6. Learn to speak your partner’s love language from a distance.
Is your partner’s love language quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service or receiving gifts? If you don’t know the answer, direct them to the online quiz. Then ask them which specific gestures would make them feel the most cared for.
Because you’re not living under the same roof, you may need to get a little creative. Mascardo offered some ideas for each love language to get you started.
Quality time: “Plan a thoughtful Zoom date with your partner,” she said. “Send them Uber Eats, and be intentional about making the time special and different from your everyday calls.”
Words of affirmation: Shoot them an encouraging email reminding them how smart and capable they are before a big presentation at work. Or comment on how good their hair looks or how cute their smile is when they send you a selfie. “Be as specific as possible,” Mascardo said. “Try to say in detail what you love and appreciate about them. For example, instead of saying, ‘You’re so kind,’ say, ‘I love the way you always smile and say hello to people when they pass you on the street.’”
Physical touch: This one can be challenging from a distance. Since you can’t actually give them a hug, hold their hand or give them a back rub, “send them something for physical comfort when you can’t be there — such as a gravity blanket, stress ball or a fuzzy pillow,” Mascardo suggested.
Acts of service: Figure out a way you can lighten their load or shorten their to-do list. “This might take a little more research when you’re not in the same city,” Mascardo said. “For example, you could offer to schedule their laundry to be picked up for cleaning.”
Receiving gifts: Send your partner a thoughtful gift in the mail — whether it’s for a birthday, holiday, anniversary or just because. And remember that the care and effort that goes into picking the item for them is more important than its price tag. “It doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive to count,” Mascardo said. “It could be a book or a candle that you think they will enjoy. Show that you pay attention to their interests and preferences.”
7. Before trying to fix their problems, ask if they’re looking for solutions or if they just want to vent.
When your partner is telling you about an issue they’re having with a friend, co-worker or relative, your well-intentioned instinct might be to rattle off suggestions about how they could handle the situation. But if your partner just wants you to listen and validate their feelings, your input could backfire. Instead, ask upfront what they need from you.
“This can be an issue in relationships when one partner wants to ‘fix it’ or solve the problem but the other is looking to understand it better or simply to vent,” Olmedo said. “In other words, get in sync with what your partner is needing in the moment.”
8. Use technology to connect in unconventional ways.
When lifestyle blogger Torera George was in an LDR with her now-husband for four years, their app of choice was called Couple. It had a feature that allowed two people to touch their screens at the same time and do “thumb kisses.”
“When our thumbs landed on the same spot, we would both get a vibration,” George said. “It made me so happy and I looked forward to this cheesy thumb play. Taking advantage of technology in some way can definitely bring you closer.”
9. Try to figure out an end date for the long-distance part of the relationship.
Come up with a plan for when and how you’ll go from long distance to living together — or at least closer to one another. Though the plan might change over time, knowing you have a shared goal will give you both some peace of mind.
“Having an end date gives you something to look forward to and work towards,” Leslie said. “It also makes the challenges of long distance feel a bit more bearable because you know it is time-limited.”
Long-Distance Love is a HuffPost series all about long-distance relationships and how to make them work, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll feature advice for romantic relationships and friendships alike, with tips on how to keep your connection strong despite the distance.