Why is it that a lot of long distance relationships fail? AW speaks to experts to find out the trick to maintaining a positive and fulfilling long-distance relationship.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or so the saying goes. The reality is, it's difficult to keep a relationship full of love, respect and trust when you rarely get to see one another, and you have to make do with an emoticon instead of a real smile.
Sure, absence can make the heart swell with longing for the first few weeks, but when you're talking about months or even years of being apart, it's a whole different concept altogether. Physical presence plays a huge part in a relationship. A hug can do so much more than an email monologue or reassuring words over the phone.
As challenging as it may be, it is not entirely impossible to maintain a longdistance relationship. UK-based relationship psychotherapist, Paula Hall, believes that with the right nurturing, it can not only be salvaged but can be nurtured into a loving, understanding relationship that will stand the tests of time and distance.
How can I miss you?
Whatever the reasons are for putting space between you, rest assured that it does not automatically mean that it's over. It's harder to maintain, definitely, but not impossible.
One thing is certain though – you must have a true interest in each other – a deep emotional connection. A physical attraction is not enough, which is why most summer flings fail.
Anjali Patel, from Dubai, met her fiancé in India while they were at college. After her studies were over, she moved back to Dubai, and they have been apart for three years now. Although she would love to marry him now and close the distance between them, he's still studying, and they have decided to wait until he finishes his education and is financially comfortable before tying the knot.
“Being away from each other isn't easy,” she explains. “The distance has definitely added some strain to the expectations we have of each other. Whereas before we were quite relaxed, now we're quite possessive and jealous, and we've placed restrictions on each other because of this.
For example, I used to encourage him to go out with my girlfriends and get to know them when I was in India, but now that I'm so far away from him, I get jealous when he spends too much time with them.”
Patel also goes on to explain that it's very easy to become disconnected with each other when you can no longer visualise the ins and outs of each other's lives.
“When I first moved away, and he started getting a new circle of friends, listening to his stories was a bit boring and tiresome, because I just didn't know who he was talking about. So the references to X and Y meant little to me and I just used to tune out. When you start losing the connection with your partner, it's easy to let them fade into the background, and then they become unimportant,” she sighs.
How to combat these issues?
“Communication is really important,” says Patel. “We make it a point to send each other lengthy emails every day, and I've made an extra effort to get to know his new friends so his anecdotes are not meaningless. In fact, I've even started to get to know them online, so I feel that I'm still very much a part of his life and his social circle.”
Compromise and understanding is also important, Patel explains. “You can't let yourself get wound up over every little thing, and you can't expect them to be perfect. For example, I don't like him hanging out with girls too much, but I don't want to push the boundaries by asking him to stop altogether.
Instead, I've drawn the line at him inviting his friends who are girls to his home.” In order for a long-distance relationship to work, it is essential to trust one another implicitly. After all, you're not there to see if they are actually respecting your wishes, so you just have to take their word for it.
If you stress over everything they tell you, wondering if they're lying or not, you'll be working yourself up for nothing. If they were trustworthy and faithful when you were together, give them the benefit of the doubt when you are apart – unless of course, warning bells start ringing. But until then, relax and trust him.
“Transparency is essential to help your partner trust you,” says Patel. “I make it a point to tell my fiancé everything – all the details of my life. I have nothing to hide and I don't want to leave any room for speculation,” she asserts.
Making it work
According to experts, there are 10 ways to make your long-distance relationship work.
1. Have a relationship plan for the future
Know where you are heading. Have a light at the end of the tunnel. What do you want to accomplish in your partnership? Have goals and a time frame when you want to be together. It is very important that you both have a hope to live for.
2. Meet regularly
Try to see each other at least once a month. Plan this in advance, and include some activities, like town visits, museums, a weekend in a fancy hotel, etc. Make it a celebration, an explosion, something very special. Soon these short meetings will be something you long for, something that you will align your life with. You only get a real connection by touching, feeling and smelling a person.
3. Use modern technology to communicate
You need all the help you can get, so why not use the glorious benefits of a modern world? Email each other everyday. Use Skype or something similar to talk to each other for free, use instant messengers, join a networking site like Myspace or Facebook, and use them to find out what's happening in your social network – the events you're going to, new friends, new interests and so on. This will allow you both to have a glimpse into each other's lives whenever you want.
Use digital photographs and videos of your daily activities and send them via email, use a webcam whenever you're online together. Using all this electronic stuff will make it much easier for you both. Imagine how it used to be 100 years ago, when a letter used to take months to reach its destination!
4. Give yourselves a free day
This one-sided communication – one with no physical interaction - can sometimes be very frustrating. This could lead to misunderstandings that are very difficult to resolve by email – and you do not want to have a fight over email or phone where things can be easily misinterpreted or blown out of proportion. Some experts suggest couples should occasionally have a day or two without any communication. What then happens is that you miss each other intensely, and you find yourselves invested at a higher level than you were before.
If the only interaction between you is cancelled for a day or two, you will either progress or doubt. In any case, you will know where you stand.
5. Write extensive and intimate emails
Open yourself up completely. Write about your inner state, what you are feeling, what you dream about, what you hope for. As a rule of guidance: describe in your emails your inner state and in your phone-calls your outer state. Writing is more intense than verbal communication, and allows you to be more intimate. That will create a tighter bond between you.
The most important thing here is: be honest! Don't pretend you are someone you are not. Don't put yourself in a better light. Long distance relationships only have a chance if both are completely honest and congruent.
6. Send a written letter once in a while
Don't underestimate the marvellous feeling, when you look in your letter box and find a letter from your love, open it and see his/ her writing. This is a pleasure we often forget about in this modern times. Not to mention that it's far more romantic.
7. Beware of jealousy
Jealousy is a very dangerous thing and can threaten every long-distance relationship. It's usually a lack of trust and understanding and it often reveals insecurities and bad experiences in other relationships. The keyword is trust. You can't control your partner, you can only have faith in your relationship and in the things you build together. Hold on to that and never give in to that green-eyed monster.
8. Avoid dangerous ‘situations'
As mentioned, trust is essential. If you completely trust your partner and also have faith in your relationship, you can pretty much do what you want without endangering your relation. However, why put yourself in a dangerous or compromising situation? Wild parties, hanging out alone with the opposite sex – simply avoid temptations that could distract you from each other.
9. Never lose faith
You will meet a lot of scepticism about your relationship. People will tell you that longdistance relationships never work, especially those who have had negative experiences about it. Don't listen to them. People tend to negate things they failed on. If you believe in your relationship and you try your utmost to nurture it – and your partner does the same – you have a great chance of success.
10. Always stay positive
Always assume that your partner loves you and cares about you. Never assume anything negative, whether you read something in his emails or you disliked how he made a weird comment on something, don't overanalyse it.
The problem with non-face-to-face communication is the lack of facial expression. It is so easy to misinterpret, and unfortunately, makes it harder to trust and stay positive.
Long-distance relationships really test a couple's commitment to each other, but when successful, prove that love, loyalty, and faith are the vital ingredients to a lasting relationship.