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Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But do long-distance relationships have the same effect?
It depends on who you ask. I have treated couples who run the gamut of long-distance love affairs. Some of these clients, such as bicoastal couple Anne and Kevin, have survived the separation and turned their relationship into a successful marriage. Others, such as Billie (Chicago) and John (Milwaukee), were unable to survive the time away from each other, even though they were separated by a much smaller distance.
So why are some couples able to successfully troubleshoot the issues that accompany long-distance relationships, while others flounder and fail? It all comes down to effective communication skills and trust. Consider the following common long-distance woes and resolutions:
Problem: ‘Where were you last night!?’
Solution: Agree on a time, every time
When your partner is miles away, it is easy to jump to conclusions when he doesn’t answer his phone. You can’t help but wonder: Is he out with another woman? Is he dancing with some other girl at a bar? Has he been in some kind of accident? Your mind goes into overdrive as you come up with every possible — and awful — reason for why he is not answering his phone. Even after you find out the truth (he was taking a nap and didn’t hear his phone), the stress and anxiety you created during those incommunicado hours have already taken their toll. To avoid this problem in the future, agree on a time when you and your partner will call each other, no matter what comes up. Pick a time that is convenient for both of you, whether it is first thing in the morning or on your respective lunch breaks. Keep your phone date at all times, and if you must break it, be sure your partner knows ahead of time.
Problem: ‘You never come visit me!’
Solution: Always trade off
I once treated a long-distance couple who had only one major problem: She hated to fly and refused to do it, even if it meant that her partner had to pack up his stuff and pay for a plane ticket every month. After a while, her refusal to come visit him began to represent much more than fear of flying. It began to represent a fear of commitment and a refusal to leave her comfort zone. The relationship eventually ended, as will most relationships in which one partner refuses to come visit the other. All relationships are about give-and-take, especially long-distance ones. So take turns coming to see each other, even if it means facing your fear of cramped airplane seating and stale peanuts. If you are truly committed to your relationship, it will be worth it.
Solution: Stay connected There is nothing quite like the feeling that rushes over when you finally see your partner for the first time in weeks. The loneliness you usually feel seems like a distant memory — until the weekend is over and you have to drive your partner back to the airport for a tearful goodbye. How can you survive these gut-wrenching goodbyes and weeks of pseudo-singledom? By keeping your intimacy strong.
Invest in a little technology, such as a webcam or Skype, a free online telephone service that lets you call land lines and cell phones all over the world. All you need is a microphone and speakers to make it work. You could also consider having a little online diary or blog where you can post pictures and stories for your partner to read so that they can stay updated on your life, even when you are not able to talk.
And never underestimate the importance of romance! Long-distance relationships provide the perfect opportunity to send your lover little hand-written notes, cards, and even care packages, which you can stuff with your partner’s favorite candy or music. Little gestures like this can keep your relationship intimate, and it will also brighten the days of both the sender and the receiver.
Author Kahlil Gibran once said, “Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” Consider this temporary distance as a true love test for you and your partner. Here's to passing with flying colors!
Dr. Laura Berman is the director of the in Chicago, a specialized healthcare facility dedicated to helping women and couples find fulfilling sex lives and enriched relationships. She is also an assistant clinical professor of OB-GYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. She has been working as a sex educator, researcher and therapist for 18 years.