On top of the usual romantic challenges, long-distance relationships come with their own set of issues. Whether you’re 100 miles apart or 10,000, there will likely be times when things feel particularly distant.
“It’s only natural for two people who aren’t living in the same area to experience feeling the distance at times. To expect otherwise, you’d be kidding yourself,” said Neely Steinberg, a dating coach and founder of The Love TREP.
When issues like work stress, family problems or health struggles arise, it may feel easier to pull back from someone who isn’t present geographically. Or there may just be stretches when things simply feel off between the two of you.
“People sometimes forget that the primary purpose of a romantic relationship is to provide comfort and security, and most people need physical closeness in order to feel comfort and security,” said Seth Meyers, a psychologist and author of “Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.”
“A long-distance relationship can be a happy and fulfilling one, but the distance will cause occasional moments when the individuals have pangs of loneliness.”
There are ways to work through this, however. Below, Meyers, Steinberg and other experts share their advice for what to do when a long-distance relationship starts to feel extra distant.
Work on your communication skills.
“Relationships may start to feel extra distant when one or both partners aren’t communicating enough,” said Alysha Jeney, a therapist and owner of Modern Love Counseling in Denver. “Maybe they are struggling external to the relationship and don’t want to communicate about it and resort to pulling away to cope. Maybe partners are struggling with building intimacy from a distance and need to prioritize the uniqueness of their relationship.”
She noted that transparent and vulnerable communication is important in a long-distance relationship, so it’s important to express what you’re feeling while you’re living apart rather than let things fester.
“Couples may struggle when they make assumptions about each other and begin to build insecurities or assumptions,” Jeney added.
Talk about what’s happening in your day-to-day life. That way, your partner will know what challenges you’re dealing with outside the relationship rather than fill in the blanks with unhealthy assumptions.
Ask difficult questions.
“Be curious,” advised Jeney. “Ask questions that are not accusatory, such as ‘I wanted to check in and see how you’re feeling in general and about us.’ Or ‘How are you feeling about how things are going in our relationship? What can we do to bridge any gaps or disconnects?’”
Steinberg echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that you have to be willing to face any issues that arise head-on but should avoid being overly accusatory or jumping to conclusions. And don’t let your fears about what the answers or consequences might be prevent you from asking the tough questions.
“Bring up your concerns and feelings in a sensitive, mature way ― to let the other person know how their behavior is affecting you,” she said. “Say, ‘When you go a few days without checking in, I start to feel disconnected from you. Is there a way we can make this work better for the both of us?’ You will learn a lot about the person and how important the relationship is to him/her by his/her response to your requests.”
Set expectations together.
“Trust is huge with long-distance relationships, and you both need to express your expectations and make fair agreements so both of you are on the same page about your connection and responsibility to each other,” Jeney said.
Do a bit of housekeeping by setting expectations together. This involves discussing each other’s needs and feelings so that you can agree to a schedule for visiting each other, as well as how often you want to be communicating with each other via text and video chat.
Talk about your long-term hopes and expectations as well. Meyers noted that it’s helpful for couples to “mutually remind each other of their shared goals for the relationship.”
Make tangible plans.
“Relationships thrive off of anticipation of things you might do together or moments you may create,” said Damona Hoffman, a dating coach and host of the “Dates & Mates” podcast. “If there isn’t a specific plan to be together that you are working towards, a relationship can feel distant and aimless.”
She advised building moments of anticipation in the relationship ― whether that’s an in-person meet-up or a fun virtual date night.
“Knowing you have special time together coming up can give you both a sense of purpose in the relationship,” she explained.
Take stock of your needs and feelings.
“Individually, you can work on mindfulness and be really attuned to your own needs and feelings throughout the day,” Jeney noted. “If you miss your partner, how do you respond to it? Do you reach out to your partner excessively, do you suppress it and move on? How can your feelings and needs be congruent with your behavior?”
Understanding yourself will make you better able to communicate your needs and feelings when you have big conversations and set expectations.
Try to be a better listener.
In addition to better equipping yourself to express what you want and need, you should also work on your ability to process your partner’s needs and feelings. Showing interest in what your partner has to say goes a long way.
“From a self-improvement perspective, make sure you are focused on building your listening skills so your partner feels connected and supported when you speak,” Hoffman suggested.
“The key to a fulfilling long-distance relationship is a relationship that offers tremendous emotional intimacy,” Meyers said, adding that showing curiosity in what is happening in your partner’s daily life is one way to increase that emotional intimacy.
Distance poses unique challenges, so it’s important to think outside the box while you’re apart.
“Couples who are separated by geography must work harder and be more creative in order to sustain a sense of closeness,” Meyers noted. “Sending tiny gifts on a regular basis and designing fun, creative theme dates on the phone or virtually can go a long way in keeping two people connected.”
You can also spice up your standard video chat, Hoffman suggested.
“Instead of the boring usual video chat, play a game together or do an activity like sip and paint night to give yourself an additional interaction point than just the conversation,” she said.
Blissed Connections is an editorial series that explores practical ways to strengthen and deepen the relationships you have — or want to have — with the people in your life.