- Set expectations. Understand your partner’s communication style and set clear expectations.
- Have some fun. Be playful and get creative about how you stay emotionally connected.
- Stay intentional. Make sure you and your partner are both clear about why you’re choosing to do long-distance. Stay intentional about growing your relationship.
Being in a long-distance relationship (LDR) can have its upsides, like independence, more time for your friends and work, and excitement about seeing your partner.
But LDRs also come with their own set of doubts, fears, and challenges. Keeping the connection strong and healthy requires some effort.
This article looks at research behind long-distance relationships and provides actionable, expert-backed tips to help you make yours last.
What’s the success rate of long-distance relationships?
Not much information is available on relationship survival in LRDs, but the research available suggests that about half of LDRs may stay together.
One survey by a private company found that long-distance relationships studied lasted in 58% of couples. As far as we could find, this study didn’t say how long couples were geographically separated.
The 2018 study looked at 1,000 Americans who have been in long-distance relationships. It found that participants found the 4-month mark to be the hardest point in time for the relationship.
Participants also reported specific concerns about their LDRs, including:
- no physical intimacy
- worry that their partner would find someone else
- communication difficulties
Similarly, another private company surveyed 1,200 people from the United States and Europe. The survey found that of all the people studied, 50% had been in LDRs that ended, 27% were still in an LDR, and a further 23% were still in the relationship but had reunited with their partner and were now living geographically close.
If you’re in an LDR, you’re part of a growing crowd. The number of people in LDRs is rising around the world, research shows.
More than 2.9% of marriages are long-distance in the United States, according to research.
The good news is that people in LDRs can have similar relationship satisfaction as people who are in geographically close relationships, some research suggests.
What kills long-distance relationships?
According to the research we reviewed, these challenges often contribute to LDR break-ups:
- lack of progress in the relationship
- lack of sex and physical intimacy
- lack of communication
- difference in opinion on mode of communication
- growing apart
- differences in social life
- financial strain of traveling
- not willing to make the sacrifice
- interest in other people
- no set plan to reunite
LDRs can also end because couples haven’t been clear on their “why” — that is, why they started having a long-distance relationship in the first place — says Erin Davidson, a registered clinical counselor and certified sex therapist in Vancouver, Canada.
She adds that it’s very common for people in LDRs to enter autopilot mode. Mindlessly going through the motions of keeping in touch can eventually lead to relationship breakdown.
“It still needs to be a very intentional relationship,” Davidson says.
4 tips for How to Have a Good long-distance relationship
A long-distance relationship can absolutely be healthy — if you work on it. Davidson says that it comes down to a few key factors: communication, clear expectations, and committing to an element of lightheartedness.
1. Communicate, especially about your issues
As a couple, you need to understand each other’s communication styles and agree on how you’ll approach difficult conversations.
Like all couples, you’ll hit bumps in the road. But in an LDR, it might be trickier to rely on your actions and behaviors to get you through these moments than it would be if you were in a geographically close relationship.
Set up a time to talk with your partner and lay out a plan for dealing with issues that come up. Agreeing on a blueprint for how you’ll speak to each other and verbally work through challenges is important.
2. Set clear expectations
In her book Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution, TED-Talk-famous researcher Brené Brown, defines disappointment as unmet expectations.
Often, we write stories in our heads about how things should and will go, without sharing these narratives with anybody else.
In all relationships, unmet expectations can lead to disappointment and sometimes heartache. In a long-distance relationship, it’s especially important to share your story with your partner and have similar expectations in mind.
One of the expectations you should make sure to be clear about is how long you’ll be apart. You should both have a clear date in mind for when the long distance element of your relationship will come to an end.
And if there is no end date, you both need to be on the same page about that, too, says Davidson.
3. Build and maintain your emotional connection
Emotional and sexual intimacy can be a challenge when you’re miles apart from your partner. Here are a few suggestions for keeping an emotional connection from afar:
- Answer “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love” together. The New York Times published this series of questions in 2015 as an exercise to spark deep emotional and romantic connection between two people. As you answer them in order with your partner, they’ll become increasingly intimate.
- Try the Gottman Card Decks app. The Gottman Institute, which offers a research-based approach to relationships, has an app with downloadable card decks and flashcards featuring questions, statements, and ideas for improving your relationship.
- Find out and discuss your love languages. Love Nudge is another app that can help you emotionally connect to your long-distance partner. The quiz helps you to identify your love languages so you can express love in intentional and meaningful ways. Davidson says that in a long-distance relationship, knowing these love languages doesn’t only inspire better communication, but also brings in an element of creativity and fun.
- Learn more about sexting and other sex topics. What’s My Body Doing? is a YouTube channel about sexuality and relationships that is pleasure-inclusive and evidence-based. Davidson suggests it as a resource for long-distance partners who want to learn how to sext effectively and maintain that spark even while physically apart.
- Consider trying sex toys together. And finally, there are plenty of sex toys available you can use together from a distance. App-controlled toys can allow you and your partner to have a shared sexual experience in seperate spaces. Keeping that intimate part of your relationship alive will help to maintain your physical and emotional connection.
4. Keep it fun
Davidson says that a key element of a healthy long-distance relationship is to make space for fun.
When your relationship is built primarily on talking to each other rather than doing things together, it can be easy to default to sharing the big parts of your day and unloading about the heavy things.
But there may be less focus on everyday activities and creating shared experiences.
Fun and lightheartedness are critical to a healthy, happy relationship. For some long-distance date ideas that will be fun and help strengthen your relationship, think about how you can mimic the types of dates that you would go on if you were together.
Need some inspiration for how to make things fun from afar? Here are a few long-distance date ideas for you and your partner to try:
- Go to the movies. Use an app like Teleparty to watch a movie at the same time, and stock up on the same snacks and drinks.
- Play online. Play virtual board, card, or video games together.
- Dine in. Surprise your partner with a long-distance dinner date by having a meal delivery service drop off the same takeout you’re eating.
- Set the mood. Get fancy for a video call by dressing up, lighting some candles, and putting on some music.
The final word
You can have a happy, healthy long-distance relationship. While going long-distance presents a unique set of challenges, you can maintain your relationship by being mindful of a few key things.
Strong communication, clear expectations, and an element of fun set the foundation for a good long-distance relationship.
Keep the spark alive by planning dates, finding new ways to stay intimate, and learning more about each other.
Most importantly, if you’re embarking on a long-distance relationship, make sure you’re doing so with intention. You and your partner should both know your “why” and be clear about when you’ll be together in the same place again.
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