When people hear the phrase “long-distance relationship,” they often think of high school sweethearts who try to stay together after graduation after they go away to different colleges, or couples who meet at some far-flung locale, hit it off famously and try to keep the chemistry going in spite of the miles that separate them.
I’m prepared to say up front that these situations rarely work out, and I could take up a lot of space explaining why (though you could probably guess several of the more obvious reasons). Instead, what I’m thinking of today is something else entirely: established relationships that turn into long-distance relationships, at least temporarily. Maybe one partner relocates for work and moves months ahead of the rest of the family so the kids can finish out the school year. Or one partner travels almost weekly for work and is home primarily on weekends only.
How do you keep the relationship on track in spite of the physical separation?
KEEP PARENTING ON THE SAME PAGE
If you have kids, make sure you’re both on the same page about family rules, discipline and other decisions about what’s expected. This creates consistency for both the kids and the adults.
Remember that for the partner who’s frequently away, they probably already hate feeling out of the family loop. If, on top of that, they return from a business trip and find that their partner has stopped enforcing, say, limits on computer time that they’d established together, they’re liable to feel even less relevant as a parent… or they just feel like the bad guy for swooping in and enforcing rules that go unchecked during their absence.
The opposite, of course, is also true. Sometimes the parent who stays at home tries to be diligent about maintaining the status quo during the week, only to have their partner come home to complain that the kids’ rooms are too messy, they’re being too boisterous in the house, or whatever it is. If you find yourself being that parent, remember that your partner has borne the sole responsibility for holding down the fort in your absence. Cut him or her a little slack if they don’t have the kids lined up at attention like the Von Trapps the moment you walk in the door.
PROTECT YOUR CONNECTION
Continue to make special time for each other just as you would when you’re physically together. Along with regular phone (or video) calls, send little texts or emails to let your partner know you are thinking of them. I knew a man who wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, which takes about six months from start to finish. He finally did it, with his wife’s blessing, and she loved starting every day with a new picture he’d sent of a breathtaking vista or sunrise.
FOCUS ON THE TIME YOU HAVE TOGETHER
Remember that the separation is hard on both of you. For the one at home caring for the kids, pets or just household chores, it’s easy to feel pangs of resentment and jealousy of your partner’s “glamorous” life in hotel rooms with peace, quiet and room service. For the one who’s away from home, though, the loneliness can be excruciating, not to mention the travel hassles of flight delays, getting lost in strange cities, missing home-cooked meals and sleeping in their own bed, next to their love. So when you talk or, better still, have a long weekend together, don’t waste precious time complaining about how hard the separation has been for you, because you’re both making your share of sacrifices. Save that time for enjoying each other’s company and appreciate the time you have together.
After all, one of the silver linings of spending a lot of time apart is that you the value your time together even more. So make the most of it!