By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
As I think about long-distance relationships, the following image comes to my mind: Partners living across from each other in two high-rise apartment buildings that are very close together, and these partners cannot easily visit one another for some reason that never made it into my reverie about the image. The man – let’s call him John—leans out of his window and reaches toward his partner – let’s call her Robin – who is leaning out of her window. Their fingers touch and – with focused effort – they clasp hands. They feel wonderful as they connect, but it’s essential that they remember to keep their balance so that they don’t tumble down. The distance between them is never quite comfortable, but I imagine that they make it work by taking some essentials steps:
Picking the right partner: John and Robin have chosen wisely in deciding to be with each other. They are both loving, loyal, trustworthy, and respectful of each other.
Actively work in their lives to stay centered and happy: By having full lives, they don’t ruminate about missing each other or place too high of a demand on each other, which is important because they often can’t be physically together.
Set aside time each day to connect: While John and Robin enjoy time with friends and many aspects of their lives, they have also committed themselves to connect with each other every day. The whole reaching out the window thing can be tough, so they sometimes just yell over to each other. (Of course, they also phone or text each other at times.)
Make sure to visit each other: No relationship is full and healthy without the partners sometimes being together physically. Robin and John take turns visiting each other for holidays. But their favorite times are when one or the other of them visits “just because.” Whenever they are together, they value that time – they clear their days so that they can really focus on each other.
Toss over a paper airplane: John will sometimes write a loving message on a sheet of paper that he folds into a paper airplane; then he floats it over to Robin through her window. This never fails to make Robin smile. And she will sometimes show her love and that she misses him by sending him an unexpected card or gift.
Talk openly: John and Robin talk about everything. They tell each other about their days, share how they miss each other, express concerns about their relationship (no accusations), and talk about their hopes and expectations for their relationship.
Long-distance relationships are usually like this. They are sometimes exciting and fulfilling, but they always have the possibility of being tenuous. The key to keeping them alive and healthy is to consistently give them the attention they require.
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