Lost jobs and foreclosures aren't the only fallout from recent economic woes. In my practice, I'm noticing that more clients are struggling to manage long-distance relationships. In most cases, one of the partners had to relocate to another city or state to take a job that they simply couldn't find locally.
Keeping a relationship vibrant and healthy when you live in the same house is challenging enough. But when couples are separated by geographical distance, it puts extra strain on the partnership. Issues surrounding trust, commitment, communication, household management, children and finances are exacerbated and complicated in long-distance relationships.
Here are eight strategies that can help you thrive in a long-distance relationship.
1. Define the parameters -- together.
Sit down together and map out this new long-distance arrangement. For each of you, what are your concerns? How often will you visit? What about the kids? Are there domestic issues (household upkeep, car, finances, etc.) that may require a new plan? What about relationship worries, such as intimacy, jealousy and trust? Get everything out into the open from the get-go so you can both begin this new adventure on the same footing.
2. See its benefits and look at the upside.
One or both of you may feel distressed about this unwelcome separation. One way to transform your negative outlook is to "reframe" the situation. That is, try to view the long-distance relationship in a positive light. How might living apart for a finite amount of time be beneficial? For example, you'll have more time to do your own thing. You won't take each other for granted. Your reunions will be sexy and exciting. It's a vertical career move. And so on. See if you can each come up with at least three benefits.
3. Make a future plan.
Ask your partner: Where do you see us in one year? How about five years? Talk about what each of you can do, in the context of living apart, that will make this future vision come true. Having shared goals is one of the keys to a happy relationship, and doing this activity subtly reminds each of you that you're working as a team. Living in separate homes does not mean you have to lead separate lives and have separate futures.
4. Establish frequent and regular contact.
Set up regular phone or Skype dates. Communicate every day, more than once, if possible. It's critically important, when two people are unable to have physical intimacy, to maintain an emotional bond. Even if your partner isn't really a "talker," find ways to stay in touch. If she hates being on the phone, then email, text or instant message each other. Share your little triumphs and tragedies, or just something funny that happened during the day. Ask about each other's day. Get to know what a "day in the life" of your partner looks like.
5. Schedule face time.
Talking, video chatting and writing are all great. But to maintain a romantic relationship, you need to make the time to see each other face-to-face. Together, go over your work, family and other obligations and then schedule times when you'll visit. It's also important for the stay-at-home partner to visit the relocated one so that he or she has more than a verbal description of the partner's other home, city and favorite haunts.
6. Don't keep secrets.
Transparency and inclusion are the two most important defenses against jealously, suspicion, and paranoia. Tell your partner about the people in your life. Don't omit events or interactions simply because they might inspire a twinge of jealousy. It's natural that each of you will experience loneliness from time to time. But you can keep yourself from acting on it -- and keep your partner from worrying that you will -- by disclosing your feelings and giving lots of details about your life.
7. Be there for each other.
It's so very important for each of you to feel that the other one is there in the event of a family tragedy, a family celebration, or a personal crisis. Show her you care by flying home for her oral surgery, even though she says it's no big deal. Turn his cousin's wedding into an opportunity to relax together, even though he wasn't thinking he'd attend. Supporting each other through all those high and low points in life is reassuring to partners and strengthening for the relationship.
8. Keep reinventing the romance.
This is my favorite strategy, because it's the one that's the most fun and rewarding. Surprise your partner with a love letter or a gift. Send him a spontaneous email letting him know he's the sexiest man alive, or telling her you love her more now than the day you met her. Find creative -- and frequent -- ways to keep things spicy between you. Keep each other smiling!