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Let me get this out of the way: long distance relationships are hard.
Whether you’ve suddenly found yourself managing a long distance relationship, or recent events have made your in-person relationship a long distance one… there’s a lot of negative talk behind why long distance relationships don’t work. That’s because things are just harder.
There are four major challenges for long distance relationships:
- Trust: You don’t know what your significant other is up to.
- Communication: There’s always a barrier between you when talking to your partner.
- Intimacy: There’s no physical touch (obviously!).
- Activities: No in-person cooking, going to the gym, holding hands in the park, or anything that involves closeness!
So, do long distance relationships work? I know for a fact they do! Why? Because I’ve experienced it myself.
My husband and I were in a long distance relationship for an entire year before moving to the same city together. We’ve been together 14 years!
Talk about a relationship upgrade!
Now I’m not guaranteeing that all online relationships can be happy-ever-afters like mine and my husband’s, but here’s what a 2018 survey by KIIROO says:
60% of couples in a long distance relationship will stay together.
While long distance relationships are great for starting out, you need to maintain a long distance relationship for it to work in the long run. Here are the best tips to manage a long distance relationship
Create a “Me and You” Routine
You know that old saying where communication is key? In a long distance relationship, communication isn’t only the thing—it’s everything.
That’s why Scott and I created something called the “Me and You” routine. Creating this routine involves 2 key steps:
- Block time for communication. This can be a set period every day, every other day, or even every 3 days (try not to go longer than this) where the two of you talk to each other (video call is preferred). This is essentially a scheduled time period where you are able to devote 100% of your time to each other.
- Commit to your block. This is crucial in a relationship. Make sure you can fully commit yourself to this set schedule, and remember—the better and more frequently you two communicate, the more satisfying the relationship.
The most important part of your Me and You routine is sticking to it. The two of you might feel like you are worlds apart, so don’t worry about overcommunicating.
It’s more important to overcommunicate than undercommunicate.
That’s because if you don’t communicate enough, you run the risk of losing trust with your partner (more on that later).
You can also keep your partner updated throughout the day by using a variety of communication channels:
- Text messaging
- Video calling
- Playing games
- Sending a picture
- Leaving a voice note
- Sending a handwritten letter
So how do you create a great Me and You routine in your long distance relationship? Here’s how…
- Start with Trust. There’s no doubt trust is the first step to managing a long distance relationship. After all, the two of you might feel like you are worlds apart! When you’re in a long distance relationship, you could have no idea what your partner could be up to.
- They could be flirting with other people (he smiled at the Starbucks barista for too long!)
- You might not know the “pretty girl” he’s talking to (it might actually be his cousin)
- There’s long gaps in the day unaccounted for (did he really take a nap for two hours?)
First, don’t assume the negative. Don’t automatically assume the worst when your partner doesn’t text you back. Have a little faith! Understand that he/she has their own life, and things just happen.
Second, produce more oxytocin. If you’re having trouble building trust, you may be chemically low in the trust molecule, oxytocin. Check out our research on oxytocin and how to improve it!
Effectively communicate. You may be thinking this one’s obvious, right? But it’s not just about talking. There are 5 steps you need to follow to make sure you’re communicating well with your partner:
- No hard limits. Be open with your partner and leave all topics up for discussion, and accept the same in return.
- Actively listen instead of waiting for your next turn to speak.
- Avoid emotional vomit. Your feelings are important, but you should learn how to control your emotions before releasing it all on your partner.
- Use a little humor. Humor is an amazing ingredient to foster a positive mood!
- Forgive and forget. Not everybody is perfect!
Action Step: Every long term relationship needs a Me and You routine. If you don’t already have one, talk to your significant other and create one now!
Leverage Your Love Language
Dr. Gary Chapman coined the term “love languages” to explain how we express and receive love. But the love languages aren’t just for romance! Love languages are extremely important in a long distance relationship. You could be showering your significant other with one type of love, when they really respond well to a different kind of love.
What love language are you and your significant other? Take our Love Language quiz to find out which of the following categories you and your partner respond best to.
- Do you or your partner value quality time? Quality time lovers need to spend the most time with each other. Whether that’s through video calling, trying out different activities (see Tip #7) or just texting throughout the day, make sure your partner feels loved by spending time with them!
- Love to give or receive gifts? Then send gifts to each other! See the next tip for more.
- Do they love acts of service? Here’s what you can do: let them choose the movie. Pay for a bill. Ask them how you can make their day better. Buy them a gift card to a local spa. Plan for the next vacation. Get creative!
- The hardest love language to satisfy between long distance couples is physical touch. There’s no real replacement to actual touch, but there is a good alternative (more on that in Tip #4).
- Love to hear words of affirmation? Make sure you’re getting the words you want to feel loved. You may need to constantly hear from your significant other how much you’re loved for reassurance, or want compliments from your partner to feel unique and special.
Most people have one main love language and one secondary one. It is important to take a test or ask your partner so you can leverage them to your advantage!
Gift a Surprise!
What’s one of the best ways to keep a long distance relationship exciting and fun?
Sending a surprise!
Surprises can be anything from a simple gift you order online, to actually showing up in-person for a short visit. Surprises are so fun because they say a LOT more than just receiving a text or even a phone call. My husband absolutely loves when I send him a small gift if I’m on a long business trip—and I get the added benefit of feeling good when I give, too!
So is giving a surprise that easy? Just sending any kind of gift? Well, according to science… no.
- Let’s say you go online, find some nice dark chocolates and think, “Sweet! My partner will absolutely love this!” So you send it to your partner as a surprise gift…
- Only to find out they hate dark chocolate. No take-backs!
According to research by Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada–
Giving undesirable gifts to a partner can sometimes cause them to think negatively of a relationship’s future potential.
They might be thinking something along the lines of this: “___ doesn’t understand me! Why would he/she buy me ___? Doesn’t ___ understand me at all?”
It doesn’t have to be like that—as long as you find the perfect gift!
But here’s the thing—it’s hard to find the perfect gift for your long distance lover.
- Spending more doesn’t mean better. One study found that gift givers expected their receivers to appreciate the gift more if it was more expensive. So were they more appreciative? Nope. They weren’t.
- Being unique isn’t the best, either. Another study was focused on what happens when we choose a gift while focusing on the gift receiver’s unique personality traits. Were the gifts any better? Nope. They were worse, since we tend to ignore other aspects of people’s wants and needs.
So how do you buy a perfect gift? Does a perfect gift even exist? What I’ve learned over my years of gift giving is…
The perfect gift comes from mutual interests. Give something you both love!
Here are some great long distance relationship gifts you can surprise your significant other with:
- A small pendant, ring, or keychain that resembles a hobby you both enjoy or movie you like to watch.
- Create a productive playlist that you both can enjoy while working.
- Give them “love coupons” that you both can redeem when you’re together.
- Send them a ticket to see a concert by an artist you both love.
- A bottle of cologne that reminds them of you.
- Send a postcard by using a site like Sincerely to create a postcard and send it anywhere in the world.
- Virtual hug: Send an online hug whenever you feel like hugging your partner!
- Care package: send a themed care package to each other. Or, set a budget and go wild!
- Write a letter by hand and snail mail it.
You can send anything small or big, but find the things that you’ll both enjoy to make a surprise gift that lasts!
Find Your Cuddle Buddy
Let’s get real: it’s a little hard to touch your long distance partner. That’s why managing a long distance relationship is great when you have your own cuddle buddy (aka a stuffed animal). Getting a stuffed animal for your significant other is a great way to cherish them whenever you two are far apart! Think of it this way:
Your cuddle buddy represents your significant other. When you’re far apart, your cuddle buddy is there. It offers them a source of physical intimacy for long distance relationships.
Plus, they can be really cute and fluffy!
You don’t have to find the perfect cuddle buddy (just listen to your heart!) but here are some ideas:
- Get a plushie from your favorite movie or book!
- Browse your local arts and crafts fair for a handmade one.
- Channel your energy and buy a plushie that best represents your spirit animal.
- Create one from Build a Bear!
- Got your own idea? Get a custom one made on Etsy.
- Build your own!
A big fan of mine told me a story of how he and his girlfriend were successful in their long-term relationship. He sent me a picture of the cuddle buddy he gave to his significant other before they left for their own countries:
Now, they still cuddle with Momo and even took him on a weekend camping trip! How cute!
Start a Relationship Journal
You’ve got people in your life. Your significant other has theirs. How do you manage to keep track of all these people without actually knowing them?
You can start what I call a People Journal! This is an exciting, fun way to keep track of the different people in your life and avoid confusion. It’s especially helpful if you:
- Love creating things
- Are a visual learner
- Are a highly conscientious person who is organized
- Want to get to know your partner’s social connections better
Fully knowing your significant other’s social relationships helps you get to know them better as a person.
A Relationship Journal can be created by taking an empty journal and putting down the name of one person in your life who you are close with. You can then list out everything you’ve experienced together with them:
- How you met
- Your closest moments together
- Your favorite things about him/her
- Sports or hobbies you two play together
- Common problems and goals you two share
You can do this with all the major people in your life, as well as friends that you and your partner normally hang out with. You can even take a photo you have of them on your phone and glue it onto their specific section of your journal!
The key to making a great Relationship Journal is sharing with your partner. Managing a long distance relationship is a lot easier when you feel like you’re also connected to your partner’s friends!
Psst! Speaking of people, did you know research shows that being more interested makes you interesting to other people, too? You can read more in our article How to Be More Interesting: 5 Steps You Can Take Today!
You can also try other types of journals:
- Daily grateful journal. My husband and I LOVE keeping a grateful journal. I write down what I’m grateful for every night before I go to bed. Some obvious write-downs are big things like when we find the time to go on vacation, whenever we have an amazing date night (yay, Netflix!), or whenever we hit a personal milestone or goal. We also write the small stuff (like if he made an unusual comment that uplifted me or bought some almond milk when I didn’t ask)… because being grateful for the small things makes relationships even more magical!
- Bucket list journal. Create a list of the awesome things you want to accomplish together! Which places do you want to go someday? What are the once-in-a-lifetime things that you want to do together, instead of experiencing separately? Even something silly! What about having a wild deer eat out of your hand? You can use an online resource like Bucketlist.org for more amazing ideas you can add to your bucket list journal!
- Challenge journal. Another great journal idea you can try is to create a Challenge Journal! Write out challenges for each other, such as running 3 miles or attending a cooking class. This is a great way to get out of each other’s comfort zones outside of the normal “video chat and talk” routine!
Go on a (virtual) date!
Long distance does NOT mean no dating. You can still go on dates by cooking your own food, setting up a nice glass of wine (or water), and lighting some candles! This is the best time to eat dinner while staring at your phone.
Did you know that you can also go on a virtual tour with your significant other?
- You can take a virtual walk around the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Guggenheim Museum
- You can also try perusing through Google Arts & Culture which has a collection of virtual walkthroughs for dozens of international museums, from Paris to New Delhi.
You can even ask your long distance partner which ones they would like for each room of their house. It’s a fun game, and you learn a lot about the tastes of people in your life!
Not a fan of museums? There are other awesome experiences you can check out online with your partner, too!
- Into aquariums? Boston’s New England Aquarium has Facebook Live tours!
- Love performances? Check out Philharmonie Berlin’s library of performances!
- Can’t go to Disney World? You can go on virtual roller coasters, too!
Check out a comprehensive list of virtual tours here.
Want more ideas on how to stay sane away from your partner? This tip comes straight from our article: Social Distancing: 20 Ideas for How to Stay Sane.
Do something new!
A study by love expert Arthur Aron showed that new experiences enhance satisfaction in marriages. With a long distance relationship, doing new activities can be a little difficult (but not impossible!)
Try these amazing new activities for a long distance relationship:
- Work out together. Researchers at Yale and Oxford studied over 1.2 million Americans and found that people who exercised regularly felt as happy as those who earned $25,000 more a year! You can exercise together using YouTube videos or going to the gym and sharing your fitness progress. If you’re an avid runner like some of my friends, you can use an app like Strava to share your running progress with each other!
- Surf the web. You can use a site like Mix to find interesting articles to share! I love doing back-and-forth article sharing with my friends, and you can do it with your significant other to share your interests, too!
- Read a book. I just finished reading Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yes and it’s an amazing book for those introverted couples. Reading to each other is an amazing way to share knowledge and create intimacy at the same time.
- Listen to music! A 2013 study from Freie University Berlin even found that listening to music increases social bonding and strengthens attachments.
- Netflix and actually chill. Use an app like Synaptop or Kast to watch movies with your long distance partner and even watch his/her live reaction!
- Couples outfits! One way you can stay fashionable together is to coordinate outfits. Pick a stylish (or hilarious!) outfit to wear together on the same day!
- Truth or dare. I’m a truth or dare wizard—I’ve probably played more games than I care to admit. And the best part? You can play Truth or Dare online!
- Learn something new. Online courses like EdX and Coursera offer free courses you can take right now! I also have 3 courses on LinkedIn Learning you can check out.
Avoid the Lazy; Share the Details
There’s a big problem in the texting world when it comes to long distancing. I call it the Lazy Update.
This happens when you text your long distance significant other what you’re up to that day, but only send a lazy text:
Talk about enthusiasm, right? We’re all guilty of sending over lazy texts because we fall under one of these categories:
- We’re in a rush.
- We feel like we’re just doing the same thing.
- We’re doing something “unimportant.”
- We don’t think texts are important.
But texts are SO important. Even if you’re going to talk to your significant other later in the day, sending out detailed little texts sends a deeper glimpse into your life to your significant other who is miles away. I make sure to send my husband these detailed text glimpses so that when he sees my text, he feels much more connected to me:
If you’re a lazy updater, change up your texts! Add your feelings. Note the time. Observe something new in your surroundings. Be more descriptive!
Getting to know your partner is difficult when you spend so much time apart. Want to know a great way to get to know your partner? Take an online quiz! Here at Science of People, we’ve got a ton of online quizzes you can take to get to know yourself better. Try these quizzes with your partner:
- Want to know who reads body language better? Try our Body Language Quiz!
- How do you both come across to others? Find out in our Charisma Quiz.
- How do we connect and form relationships? Take our Attachment Style Quiz.
- Want to understand your personality? Take our Big 5 Personality Quiz!
Tip: Take these separately first THEN have your partner retake the quiz AS YOU. Then compare results. You will see how you see yourself versus how your partner sees him or herself.
Plan (and Savor) Your Next Visit
Can you guess how long the average length of time a long distance relationship lasts?
- 7 months
- 1.5 years
- 2.9 years
- 5 years
According to a 2010 German study, 2.9 years is the average length of a long distance relationship! If you’ve made it past that point.. congrats! You’ve won the relationship lottery.
The truth is, not everyone can manage a long distance relationship and make it last forever. That’s why it’s crucial to always have a plan in mind for when you’re next going to see each other. And if you don’t have a plan, now’s the best time to make one.
Action step: As soon as possible and reasonable, coordinate a time with your long distance partner to meet up with him/her.
Here’s the key:
Savor the upcoming trip.
Savoring is one of the best ways to extend the pleasure of a trip. Think about your trip, dream about your trip, talk about your trip, make reservations for your trip. Enjoy it before you even go on it.
While being in a relationship is hard, adding that extra hard factor of long distance doesn’t have to turn your relationship cloudy. Being in a long distance relationship gives you a special edge.
With distance, you learn to love your partner in a new light.
Use this time as a time of gratitude
See it as an advantage.
You got this!