How to make a long distance relationship work

How do couples survive being hundreds of miles apart? We speak to the women who have made it work and reveal the secrets to surviving long distance love.

You’re the perfect couple, in an imperfect situation. You love each other and want to be together but for work/life reasons there’s a good few hundred miles between you both, most of the time.

Long distance love can be painful. So how do couples keep going when life is keeping them apart?

‘We appreciate the simple things’

Firle with her partner Darren and their two children

Firle, from Eastbourne, has been with her partner Darren for 13 years. They have been married since 2011 and have two young children. They are currently experiencing a long distance relationship for part of the week as Darren’s job needs him to spend time in London, Rome, Paris and California.

Firle says the toughest parts can be co-ordinating her own work schedule around Darren’s while factoring in childcare for their little ones. ‘Making sure that you’re coping well without each other, doesn’t mean you don’t both still need each other,’ she says.

But it’s the simple things that they both love to appreciate when they’re back together again. These days a perfect night in involves ‘catching up on whatever box set we are watching together, with our dinner on our knees,’ laughs Firle. Pure parental bliss.

‘We enjoy each other in the moment’

Sarah and her partner Al

Sarah, from London, met Al, the night before he was moving to Cornwall. It was his leaving do. ‘I didn’t notice him until my friend pointed out that Al looked like Ray Liotta, she says. ‘I noticed his eyes and was smitten…’

She was training to be a psychologist at the time and needed to stay in Guildford to complete her Masters, so the couple lived apart for the first 18 months of their relationship. When she took a five-month sabbatical in Brazil before starting work, Al went out to visit her for three weeks and she knew she had a big decision to make.

‘Regular phone calls definitely helped while we were apart,’ says Sarah. ‘Back then there wasn’t any FaceTime or Skype but that made the build up to seeing each other all the more exciting. The first time you meet after time apart is so brilliant, it’s like the first time.

‘There are no quibbles about housework or chores as you are there just to have fun – and whoever is hosting has usually made special plans. It feels like there is more time to just be rather than worrying about commitments. You can really enjoy each other in the moment.’

After Brazil, Sarah made the big move from London to Cornwall to be with Al. With no job or car (one of her best friends drove her down there) it was a huge life-changing moment and she remembers being incredibly nervous.

Fifteen years later, the couple now have three children aged eight, six and one and are loving life by the sea. ‘The long distance relationship worked well for us,’ says Sarah. ‘Back then we could prioritise our time around just the two of us!’

Maintaining a long distance relationship

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Hilda Burke is an integrative psychotherapist, couples counsellor and life coach who regularly advises couples in long distance relationships. She says great communication is the most important factor in keeping a long distance relationship alive – and advises couples not to leave it longer than three months between visits if they can.

Having fun together, even if you’re not physically together, is absolutely essential in long distance relationship survival. ‘Movie dates are a great way to make things feel a little more normal,’ says Hilda.

‘A friend of mine who’s in a very long distance relationship (London and Singapore) uses a combination of Dropbox and FaceTime – and there’s a new app called letsgaze.com, which makes long distance movie dates even easier.’

Sometimes it all gets too much being apart from the one person you want to be with. When that happens, get perspective, advises Hilda. ‘Sometimes you’ll feel irritated by the distance between you and there’s a risk you’ll take that out on your partner. When you feel like this, take a breath. In fact, take several and notice how you’re projecting your feelings of frustration onto them and blaming them unfairly.’

Likewise, don’t think it’s all over if you don’t want to jump on each other the moment you first see each other again. ‘If you don’t feel like having instant sex, don’t panic that there’s something wrong,’ says Hilda. ‘Give yourselves time to acclimatise to each other.’

Most importantly, know that you are both in this because you want the same thing.

‘Have a goal in mind,’ Hilda advises. ‘I think in any relationship both parties should have roughly the same goal as to what they want the relationship to be – whether that’s just something casual, a long-term partnership, children and/or marriage. In a long distance relationship this is even more important as there is so much time apart, it’s good to have the comfort of a sense of a shared vision for the relationship.’

Romantic ideas for a long distance relationship

Use snail mail: Send each other stuff that belongs to you – having something physical that belongs to/smells of/reminds you of your partner will be a massive comfort when you’re both apart. Letters/presents are also a romantic way of showing how much you care and are thinking of each other.

Do stuff together, while apart: There are cool apps out there that allow you to watch Netflix in sync together, and loads of online games that can be played so you can have fun/get competitive/mess around while apart. You can’t build memories from dates in the same way that couples living in the same cities do, so get creative with how you can spend time together while apart.

See each other as much as you can: Even if you are selfie-shy, your other half wants to see you more than anyone else in the world, so send them pictures to let them know what you’re up to. And use Skype and Facetime as well as the plain old phone.

Be part of the crowd: When you see each other, go out with your friends too, so that your other half can picture them and feels part of it when you say you’re out with the guys/girls that night.

Talk about the minutiae: What you had for lunch/the wasps nest you saw that day/the gossip in the office – it’s what you’d talk about if you were together so don’t leave it out – all the tiny stuff is what makes a relationship feel full.

Get real with the mundane: Don’t treat every meet up as a holiday, make sure you take time to chill around the house, do the food shopping together and make time to just hang out. Doing ‘normal’ stuff will make the relationship feel all the more real and stronger for it.

Be strong as individuals, as well as with each other: Make sure you keep hold of your own goals. This is true of any relationship, not just long distance. But when emotions are heightened with the constant anticipation of meeting and the sadness at leaving, it’s important not to become dependent on your other half for a sense of complete happiness. Invest in yourself and your own achievements and you’ll feel more supportive of your partner achieving theirs too.

Plan your time: Have tangible dates in place for when you’re next seeing each other and set aside time when you know you’ll both be free to talk. If you’re both in demanding jobs – this time can actually be made more special than when you’re living together, both fielding off work emails in the evenings and not actually communicating.

Finally, when times get tough remember how wonderful it is to have someone you love and how the fact that you are missing them just goes to prove that.

Winnie the Pooh put it best when he said: ‘How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard’.