The Ups and Downs of Long Distance Relationships: How to Make It Work

How to make a relationship work when you’re miles apart—and when to walk away.
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Keeping Love Alive In Long Distance Relationships

You never know where or when you’re going to find love. It could be with that cutie you bump elbows with at your local coffee shop or someone you met through an online dating site who lives in the next town over. Or it could be with a man who lives halfway around the world—and then what do you do? You can’t just turn your back on love because of a few hundred miles, can you?

As the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. And with long distance relationships, the anticipation of a reunion can be thrilling. It’s no wonder that Tim Loving, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-editor of The Science of Relationships, found that “love,” “idealistic distortion” (the tendency to see a relationship in an overly-positive light) and “intimacy talk” all ranked stronger from people in a long distance relationship.

“If you’re only seeing each other every couple months, it’s like you’re always going on a first date again,” Loving notes. “Who doesn’t love the uncertainty and arousal of the first date?”

Loving also points out that long distance relationships can offer an incredibly appealing, best of both worlds kind of work/life balance. During the week, you can focus on your job and friends, while on the weekends, you can focus on your partner.

Jackie*, 37, couldn’t agree more: “I liked the freedom of the long distance relationship and how I always had time for my girlfriends and myself—it was like being single and in a relationship at the same time. And when you saw each other, it was exciting and felt ‘new.’”

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Staying Close When You’re Far Apart

But how do you sustain that spark from afar? “If you want to get a long distance relationship working,” relationship expert Rachel Sussman advises, “you do need to have some rules as far as how and when you’re going to communicate with each other.”

Thanks to technology—from texting and emails to video chat—communicating is easier than ever. But you still have to devote a lot of time and energy to reach out and (virtually) touch someone.

Jennifer*, 34, has been calling or Skyping her boyfriend in Ireland every day for a year, while Christy*, 28, felt tethered to her phone, constantly texting her boyfriend for six months. And Ben*, 33, instant messaged his girlfriend everyday for four years until they finally moved to the same city to be together.

As Jackie, a three-time LDR (long distance relationship) veteran, can attest: “Your relationship is only as good as your partner—meaning, it’s wonderful if you’re both putting in that effort. It’s awful if they—or you— are not.”

And the distance can make anyone extra anxious. Without proximity to bring you together, you might wonder about a lot of big questions very early on. Where is this relationship going? Will they ever move to be with me? Am I investing more in this relationship (financially, emotionally) than they are?

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