How to Make a Long-Distance Relationship Work

So, you’re navigating your first long-distance relationship and it’s scary as hell. That’s because most people assume long-distance (LD) relationships are doomed to fail. The reality is, you’re dating someone who lives across the state, country, or world with the hopes you’ll continue to dig each other despite being physically apart. That’s intimidating. The good news is that a slew of researchers have proved distance truly does make us like the other person more, and LD couples may be more successful in the end over their regionally-close counterparts.

In fact, long distance can be incredibly fun and prompt one of the greatest bonds in your life. Here are eight important tips for how to make a long-distance relationship work, including easy dos and don’ts to keep your relationship (and self) healthy.

1. Believe in the Long-Distance Relationship

You may get shit from family or friends about being in an LD relationship, but let them chirp. Science is on your side. Research proves LD couples aren’t at any disadvantage compared to other duos. Ironically, being physically separated can create stronger levels of intimacy. Better still, both of you won’t feel as “trapped” in the relationship while simultaneously feeling more dedicated to each other.

long distance relationship video chat
Caiaimage/Chris Ryan/Getty Images

2. Know You’re Not Alone

It’s not the perfect scenario to be away from your boo, but you’re also not alone. In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 3.9 million married couples in America living apart from their spouse. That’s a jump from 2.7 million couples in 2000. What many are now calling “commuter marriages” have perks, like being able to foster your individuality and focus on your career while still having the support of a relationship. Rest assured, people do long-distance, and if you dig the person enough, it’ll be easy. I mean, easy as falling for someone and being in a relationship.

3. Set Your Terms

I know this sounds terribly obvious (and possibly square), but have an open and legitimate discussion about LD expectations. Being in a long-distance relationship can mean different things for different people. Don’t assume their definition will be yours. Go into this talk being honest about what you want and need. Only then will your LD plan be beneficial for both people.

Important questions to ask:

  • Will you be completely monogamous?
  • How often will you see one another?
  • If you hook up while away, do they want to know? Do you want to know??

4. Establish a Timeline

You probably didn’t choose to live apart from your S.O., but it happened due to work, family, etc. Create a timeline together (rough or detailed) that outlines a plan and duration to your distance. This usually means having one person pack up and move to the other, or both people moving to a new place. This step doesn’t have to be big and scary. People move all the time. Know that just because you move it doesn’t mean you both (or alone) won’t possibly move back. Be flexible yet realistic. If you have an amazing job you don’t want to sacrifice, let them know right away that you plan on living there for the next X months.

couple relationship hugging
Justin Follis

Pro tip: It’s OK to have your own plans. In fact, it’s good to be two distinct, independent people. If you want to be together (and it’s obvious you do if you’re going through the struggle of long-distance), you’ll both make concessions to bunk up.

5. Trust Your Partner

After you set your terms, flip the “trust switch” in your brain to ON. Trust issues, as Drake knows, will ruin any relationship. If the other person is willing to be with you from a distance, they obviously like the crap out of you. End of story.

6. Get Close

Once you’ve admitted you’re both crazy about one other, put in the effort to show you care. This part can be ridiculously fun. Long-distance creates the space to develop rituals of intimacy. Think up new habits and virtual dates that spark emotions and plan surprises that sweep them off their feet.

Here are a couple ideas to keep your LD relationship fun and healthy:

  • Say “goodnight” every night. This simple act lets them know they’re the last person you’re thinking about and gives the day a sense of closure. Of course, you’d rather be cuddling and slip into sleep without a word, but this is the next best thing until then. Some companies make long-distance bed pillows that glow when your S.O. is on them, but we think those are sort of weird. (If you like the idea, grab a pair.) But definitely stick with the “goodnight” text. Some couples say “good morning” also, but it’s not essential. Trust that you’ll talk later in the day and get your a.m. moving.
  • Light candles. This is extremely simple yet super effective. Buy two matching candles (like the hand-poured matte black Billy! candles — we love the amber, sandlewood, oak moss, orris root, cedar, and musk smell) and light them at the same time when you get home from work. Without needing to text, talk, or Skype, you’ll both be present in the other’s space.
  • Watch movies. The hardest time apart will be evenings and nights. Have a weekly movie date scheduled where you both queue up the same Netflix show or blockbuster and watch at the same time. If you both prefer music, press play on the same album so you’re listening (more or less) together. Really, this isn’t too different from sitting and watching on the couch together. Double up by opening the same bottle of beer or whiskey and sip “together.”
  • Plan epic meet-in-the-middle trips. Instead of having one person fly to the other and swap back and forth, plan weekend trips where you meet in the middle. Rent a sweet hotel or Airbnb and explore a new city together. Being LD means your dates can be adventurous, so take advantage of that.
couple relationship fun beach
Roberto Nickson
  • Plan trips, period. Buy plane tickets for birthdays, Valentine’s Day, and the holidays. Spend your credit card points on direct flights. Just be prepared for the eventual goodbye at the airport, which always feels like crap.
  • Write letters. You’ll text and FaceTime nearly every day, but take a minute to sit down and write a letter, especially if you’re missing them extra bad. You’re a man of few words? Write a postcard. Slap a stamp on it and drop it into the mail. They’ll get a surprise note and, in turn, that surge of giddy endorphins.
  • Ship surprise gifts. Similar to writing letters, mail or ship small gifts. These don’t have to be lavish or expensive. Send a Starbucks gift card so they’ll think of you when ordering their afternoon espresso or mail a funny toy they mentioned in passing. If they’re sick, have pho delivered. Pay attention to the details of your conversations because remembering the small, seemingly trite details matters.
  • Video call. Skype, FaceTime, Facebook video, Instagram video — there are a dozen and a half ways to video call someone. Do it regularly, because they miss your face and you miss theirs. Don’t put a time limit on your call, but keep in mind that you can video too much. Don’t get into the habit of keeping Skype on all night.
  • Sext. There, I said it. There’s nothing wrong with expressing your, ahem, longing. One suggestion: don’t send nudes. This is a general rule for life.

7. Enjoy the Space

Every relationship needs breathing room, even (and especially) if you live close. As a member of the LD club, you’re forced to have space, which is a blessing in disguise. Distance is healthy. Time alone is good. Obviously, there’s a point where, if you and your boo haven’t talked for days, too much distance can signal a need to discuss your arrangement again, but this emotional distancing can happen in geographically close relationships too. Remember that wanting to be together is so, so much better than wishing you didn’t live as close. Once you finally get closer and end your LD streak, keep space and independence. You’ll have the best relationship you could dream of.

8. Take the Risk

Yeah, long-distance can be scary. Whether you’re close or far, it’s really hard to be with another person because it involves risk. But it’s so worth it. If you meet someone who lights your life on fire, be with them. Make it happen, learn new habits, change your way of thinking. Because the alternative is safe and lame.

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