Ask a Guy: Long Distance Relationship… How To Make It Work? post image

Ask a Guy: Long Distance Relationship… How To Make It Work?


I’ve been with my boyfriend for the past year and nine months. We have been in a long distance relationship for the last three months.

Prior to being in a LDR, we did everything together – we would see each other almost every day and talk all the time. We were always comfortable together and the relationship was always very loving.

Recently, I have started to fear that he’s slipping away. I can’t tell if it’s just me being crazy or if this is my instincts picking up on him losing interest… Can you please tell me how to make a long distance relationship work?

Whether you’ve read anything by me or not, I should start out by saying my motto with long distance relationships (LDRs) has always been: Long distance kills relationships.

I continue to stand by that, but there’s another side to this, which is: Long distance forces you to become excellent at relationships.

Let me explain…

The “stuff” that makes a relationship work is the same whether you share the same bed or live 3,000 miles apart.  The “stuff” that makes a relationship magical, profound, and amazing is the same.

MORE: The Most Important Relationship Advice You Will Ever Receive

In a long distance relationship, the relationship is stripped down to its core essence. A lot of distractions are removed, as well as a lot of luxuries, which can make a relationship easier.

In many ways, being in a long distance relationship can be the greatest thing to happen to your relationship…

At this point, you might think I’m crazy, but think about it…

I get messages all the time from women who are in dead-end relationships that just drag on and on because of one thing: convenient sex.

In a long distance relationship, sex is anything but convenient. And if the relationship is exclusive, you never have to wonder if he’s just with you for the sex.

Moreover, long distance relationships take significantly more effort to maintain than a regular relationship.  If both people feel strongly about each other, the relationship won’t feel like work. It will be effortless and talking to each other will be the highlight of both your days.

If it feels like more trouble than it’s worth to one or both of you, then the relationship will soon fall apart.  This isn’t as depressing as it sounds, and it has nothing to do with your relationship being long distance. Really, it’s an advantage: instead of a relationship dragging on and on for years (despite it lacking the “it” factor for one or both of you), it ends.

Sure, a relationship ending is sad… I fully understand this and I have personally experienced the heartbreak of a long distance relationship ending, so please don’t mistake me for being overly positive because I don’t understand the pain and worries of a LDR.

MORE: How Guys Deal with Break Ups

Believe me, I know what it’s like to be worrying and wondering, “Is this really going to last?  Am I kidding myself?”  You think about the other person losing interest or cheating on you.  You fear that someone else will come along and take the person you love away from you.

My point in all of this is that there’s an empowering way to look at your long distance relationship, one that will set you up to win. I’m going to give you the best possible answer on how to make a long distance relationship work, I just need to make sure you’re looking at things in a way that will help you win (and avoid the common pitfalls).

Bottom line:  You need to look at your LDR as a positive test for your relationship. If it’s meant to be, the distance will make your relationship much stronger, much deeper, and much more fulfilling.  If your LDR isn’t meant to be, it will be for the same reason it wasn’t meant to be even if you were living in the same zip code… only thing is that you’ll find out much quicker (and that’s a very good thing).

I approach long distance relationship questions like I’m doing emergency first aid – I need stop all of the damaging behaviors immediately and set you on the winning course immediately.  There’s no time to waste and no room for error.

In a regular relationship, you have room for error… sure you might have some habits that push him away or turn him off, but there’s plenty of things you do when you’re together that make up for it.  In a LDR, when a relationship starts to head downward, it usually won’t come back unless your intervention is quick, powerful, and on-target.

So let’s get to it…

How Do You Make A Long Distance Relationship Work?

If you want your long distance relationship to work, you’re going to need to shift your focus outward.

Whether you’re in a LDR or not, relationships fall apart when your focus stops being on the person you’re with and starts shifting to you.

This is harder to see than you might think.

There are many times where I’ll say to a woman, “You need to start putting energy into your man and your relationship and stop thinking about yourself.

She’ll look at me like I’m crazy, then retort, “ALL I do is focus on my relationship and him.  It’s ALL I think about!!

I explain, “No.  You are focusing on your fears, your worries, and your wishes.  You might be thinking about them constantly and wasting all your energy on these concerns, but that does not equal putting effort or energy into your relationship.

That’s a big thing to consider – worrying about your relationship is wasted energy.

Actually, it’s worse – it’s a ritual that drains you of your happiness and replaces it with fear.  It removes your enjoyment of the relationship and creates a suffocating sense of emotional starvation, where you are begging for him to prove that he cares.

In this scenario, you’re systematically poisoning your own mood and it will quickly begin poisoning your conversations, your trust in him, and your relationship as a whole.

You can’t afford this in a long distance relationship.  The quality of your relationship is entirely dependent on the quality of your interactions… and the quality of your interactions is determined by your mood.

Stop “Caring” And Start Enjoying Your Long Distance Relationship

I say caring in quotes because when women tell me they care a lot about their relationship, most of the time they mean they stress too much about their relationship… or worry too much about their relationship… or fearfully obsess over losing their relationship.

If you really care about your relationship, then you need to stop “caring” about your relationship.

When you stop stressing out and obsessing about your own fears, worries, and nightmare-scenarios, something great happens: you give the relationship room to breathe.

Usually it’s at this point where both of you start enjoying the relationship a lot more.

One of the easiest traps to fall into with a long distance relationship is fearing you’ll lose him.

That fear of loss grows into an obsession and, at that point, your once light and fun conversations take on the feel of an interrogation.  It starts to feel like you’re constantly probing his feelings for you and fishing for signs that he still cares about you as much as he used to.

This is exhausting for the person on the other end of the conversation and the strain will quickly take your relationship to a very bad place.

Sure, we all need to reassure our partner from time to time… it’s part of what being in a relationship is all about.

However, the occasional need for reassurance isn’t what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about letting your own worries and fears grow into an out-of-control monster in your mind… a monstrous thought cycle that you can never satisfy… a thought cycle that grows and grows and you focus on it more and more.

The antidote to this poisonous habit is counter-intuitive, but extremely effective:  You need to let go.  

That might sound extremely scary, but just remember – you’re doing it for the relationship… let me explain:

When I say let go, I’m talking about a mental exercise.  This is something I did in a long distance relationship and it ended up saving everything and returned the relationship to the fun, happy, loving place it was when it started.

Letting go means that you imagine that the relationship has already ended.  You are no longer in a relationship – he’s single, your single.  There’s nothing to lose and you do not “have him” in any way.

The more upsetting this thought is to you, the more this mental trick will help you.  The reason  you worry so much about your relationship ending is because you falsely believe that you won’t be OK if it ends.

The fact is:  You were 100% fine before and if your relationship ends, yes it will be sad, but it won’t be the end of the world.
You’ll still be OK.

Find the place inside you were you can just be OK talking to him and enjoying him without needing to feel like he belongs to you or that you “have him.”

Your fears of loss and worries about losing the relationship are poisoning your LDR.  When you can show your mind that you’d be OK even if you weren’t in a relationship with him at all, your mind stops poisoning the relationship, you relax, and you are finally able to just enjoy him as he is without needing him to be something.

MORE: A Guy’s Take on Neediness

This is actually true for any relationship, whether you share the same bed or you live 3,000 miles apart:  If you are truly compatible with someone, you’re able to love them as they are, even if you’re not in a relationship with them at all.  You just love that they exist in the world and you enjoy them as they are.

So let go – enjoy them while they’re around, but be OK with the fact that someone could come along on his end or on your end and, if the relationship with that new local person happens to be better than what you have in your LDR, the relationship will end.

That might sound sad and tragic, but the reality is that it’s no different than if you lived in the same town.  We often torture ourselves with the idea that we could have prevented the end of the relationship if circumstances were different.  This ignores the fact that relationships and love are not permanent fixtures – they are chosen and created every day by both partners.

Regardless of distance, once one person decides they no longer want to be in their current relationship, that’s the end.

So enjoy the present moments as they happen for exactly what they are, right then and there.  Don’t get caught up in fantasies or thoughts of what could be – enjoy the present moment as you’re in it and don’t worry about anything else.

If you really want your long distance relationship to work, you need to be growing your relationship, not growing your fears.

Growing Your Relationship

I’ve said before that I don’t believe relationships are meant to make us happy (that’s our own personal responsibility).  I also don’t think relationships are meant to make our lives easier (in fact, they make life harder in many ways…)

do believe our relationships are meant to help us grow and, in this sense, they are incredibly valuable.  

We talked about how important it is to let go of your fears and worries about your long distance relationship and letting go in order to give your relationship room to  breathe.

Now we need to talk about how to grow your long distance relationship in such a way that when you and he think about the relationship, you smile and say that you’re better people because of it.

A lot of people go into relationships focusing on what they will get from the relationship.  They say to themselves, “Well, this is worth it to me as long as I get what I want.”

If they get what they want, they put in effort and everyone’s happy.  If they don’t get what they want, they start obsessively chasing it while the other person puts in less and less effort.

Either way, if your focus is on what you “get” from the relationship, then you are selling yourself tremendously short. And you can’t afford second-rate relationship habits in a long distance relationship.

The best mindset have in a relationship is one where you focus on how well you’re serving the relationship, rather than focusing on how successful you are at  “getting” things out of the relationship.

Serving your relationship is a different mindset than most people have, but it’s the only relationship style that actually leads to long term success and mutual satisfaction.

When your focus is on serving your relationship, you give yourself freely without needing to receive anything in return. In that way, you don’t give anything you wouldn’t be willing to give away freely… so you don’t have any craving for a certain response or reaction from him.

You take pride in how you’re supportive of him.  You enjoy doing little things for him regularly that make him feel special.  You learn from each other and listen to each other.

Again, this is much more comfortable than the suffocating energy of giving in order to receive something in return, whether it’s a reaction, validation, or a sign of love.

Doing Things Together

In a long distance relationship, you can’t actually do things together physically, but you can do things “in sync” with each other.

Music, movies, TV shows, and Youtube videos can be a great way to bond and be together since they cause you and him to have a similar emotional experience at the same time.  This is an easy start-point for conversation.

For example, you might share a Youtube video and watch it with him while you’re on a call.

Sharing your favorite songs (many of which you can easily find on Youtube) is another great thing to do.  Watching a movie at the same time is also great.

This is assuming that you and he have similar tastes and experience the world in similar ways.  If he doesn’t enjoy the kind of music, videos, and movies you enjoy, you may need to dig deeper to find the things you both enjoy and can experience together from a distance.

You’ll want to communicate every day in some small way – even if it’s something as small as an e-mail, a text message, or a Facebook comment.

When possible, Skype video calling is great for experiencing face-to-face contact.  Video calling on Skype is free – you can download it on your phone or computer, just go to Skype.com.

If you’re busy, another great way to communicate efficiently is to do things while you’re on the phone.  Cooking and cleaning are great things you can do while you’re on the line together. You’re apart, but you’re doing the same thing, so in a way… you are together.

In the longer term, if you have similar interests, you can pursue them and update each other on your progress. For example, if you are both into fitness, you could both pursue that together (plus, I wouldn’t mind having my long distance girlfriend sending me pictures of her fit body… just saying).  This would work for anything though – art, learning an instrument, pottery… anything.

Saying things to stimulate his imagination never hurts either.  If you’re sharing something with him, you might even throw in comments that would have him imagining you there, like:

“I wish I was listening to this song with my head against your chest” or…
“I wish I was there snuggled up against you on the couch, watching this together” or…
“I wish I could have seen the look on your face when you watched that.”

(In general, a few racy comments here and there certainly don’t hurt either… they certainly work on me… but I’ll leave those to your imagination.)

People (men and women) don’t fall in love while they’re in the physical presence of the other person.  People  fall in love when they’re thinking of the other person.  That’s why having him imagine you with him deepens your bond. It triggers his imagination and has him thinking of you and what it would be like to have you there.

Lighten His Load, Don’t Add To It

The world can be a negative, disappointing, and exhausting place for everyone.

In that way, one of the greatest things we can strive for in a relationship is to be the person who is the safe-haven for our partner.

Everyone else in your partner’s life piles on demands, requests, and pressure.  If you can be his confessional, his escape, and his inspiration, you will have a role in his life that nobody can replace – even if you live on the other side of the world.

For some reason, most people fall into the trap of doing the opposite. Instead of serving them with our best, we demand the best from them.  Instead of bringing our most loving self to the relationship, we grill them for not giving us enough of what we want. Instead of focusing on all the things we love about them, we try to change them or make them into someone else.

In a regular local relationship, this can be uncomfortable and unpleasant.  In a long distance relationship, this can be enough to make him not want to talk to you anymore. Why would a guy want to be around a woman that makes him feel like he’s not enough? And why would he want a relationship that leaves him feeling pressured and drained?

If he feels like you are the light of his life and that you understand and encourage him in a way that nobody else does, he will let nothing stand between you and him. He will make it a point to make you feel loved and will go out of his way to do things that will keep you coming back to him… you just need to actually lighten his load and make him feel better about life, not worse.

Moreover, see him as the man he wants to be and don’t waiver from seeing him as that man.  See him as the success he aspires to be.  See him as the type of guy he aspires to be.  See him as his best self.  When you can do this, he’ll say that being with you makes him a better man… and this is something he’ll never want  to lose.

Every man has his process for how he feels empowered, inspired, and happy about his life. Pay attention to what this is for your man and silently find ways to bring this energy into your conversations.

Being on the Same Page with Your Long Distance Relationship

If you’ve agreed to being an exclusive relationship, then the issue of trust has probably come up already within your relationship.

Someone once told me that trust in a relationship is like car insurance – if you’re going to have it, you have to have it all the time… not just when the roads are clear and driving conditions are good.

The reality is whether you live together, one mile apart or 3000 miles apart, you have to trust them.  If a better match comes along, you’ll lose them regardless of distance. This is liberating, not depressing.

Avoid falling into jealous/distrustful thinking  - it’s equally as destructive in non-LDRs.  Plus, there’s no way that you could monitor him 24/7, even if he was  local. At some point, you have to realize that you can’t know what the other person is up to or what they’re thinking.  Trust is letting go with the knowledge that you really have no other choice.

When it comes to trust, this goes back to what I was saying before about letting go: you might as well assume that they are seeing someone else or even sleeping with someone else, and find out how to be OK with it and accept it.

Again, that might sound insane, but my point is that it’s the fear of loss, unchecked fear and insatiable suspicion that destroys relationships… but if you find the mental place where you don’t care and you just enjoy them, it doesn’t come up as an issue and your relationship will be as good as it’s going to be.

Making A Long Distance Relationship Work

So let’s talk about how you’re going to make your long distance relationship work with the rest of your life, so that it’s an effortless addition to your life and not a worrisome burden.

I should just make clear that I’m not recommending long distance relationships as a relationship style.  Having a long distance relationship is an absolute last resort and should be avoided at all costs.

So in that spirit, if you’re going to go “long distance”, you had best have an exit strategy clearly worked out – for how things will be if the LDR works out and for how you’ll move on if the LDR does not.

If you’re in a long distance relationship, it stands to reason that you both believe in your relationship so much that you can clearly picture a future together.  So talk about this future often and make a clear plan about how you will be together, as soon as possible.

One of two things will happen: One of you will move as soon as possible and you’ll live happily ever after… or you’ll both realize that neither one of you is truly willing to move and that the LDR you have is just a comfortable shared fantasy, but never going to pan out.

The second scenario is sad, but it saves you both a lot of time.  Think about it: If the relationship will never become something, how much time do you want to waste fantasizing about it instead of finding a local relationship where you can have a real, loving relationship and grow with another person?  How much more heart do you want to invest into something that you’ll eventually have to end anyway?

For every moment you spend chasing a fantasy, you allow the real opportunities that are all around you to slip away.

So if you’re going to pursue a LDR, make sure it’s one that both of you are 100% committed to making into a local relationship as soon as possible.

Assuming that you have a long distance relationship like this, then the only thing left to do is spend your time in the best way possible.  In many ways, being in a LDR allows you to enjoy your life freely while knowing you have someone out there who loves you.

If you really want your LDR to succeed, then you need to … [Click here to keep reading...]

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Bri September 5, 2013, 8:08 pm

First of all, thank you so much for this article, it helped me to process the long distance relationship I am in now. My concern with my long distance relationship may be different from others since it wasn’t something either me or my boyfriend chose; I am away in graduate school while he is back home working. We have mutually decided that we want it to be a local relationship soon & that he will move up here within the next year. But with the stress of our individual finances & a lack of support for our relationship from my family, our ways of communication & seeing each other to keep the love alive are limited & is something we’ve both agreed is taking a toll on our relationship causing him to pull away to sort things out. While I’m trying to be supportive & give him his “psychological” space because I do realize this is a lot to deal with even if we both knew it was coming, I can’t help the irrational fears of the relationship ending because we’re not local or what have you. I’m not sure what to do…& I’m not sure if this is too vague to generate any advice or help which I’d really appreciate to help me cope & learn to live with as you’ve advised.

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aurora August 19, 2013, 10:48 pm

my boyfriend of two years just left for japan to go to school yesterday and we talked about all the fears you have listed and I was perfectly fine with him leaving, I even feel excited for him because its an amazing place…. but those thoughts are getting to me, even if I take your advise, I can only fallow it for so long I’m bound to slip up after a month or so.

i really like this article you have some great idea’s like cooking together (even though josh and I are at a 14 hour difference)
You’ll be happy to know this article stopped me from sending a very confusing message to him :P something like ” if i miss you this much now i can’t imagine how painful it will be in a month”
on that note is it really okay to tell him i miss him ? knowing there’s nothing he can do about it… or to tell him i want him to come home? even though Japan is the place wheres he’s wanted to go even before he met me…. do i just say ” i love you, have fun ” and go on with missing him one sided ?

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Giselle June 11, 2013, 4:34 pm

My boyfriend is a marine and is in town for less than a month. Hes an old friend of the family but we started talking/dating online. This is the first time we met as a couple. Hes leaving for another 5 months and has plans to moving back here in NYC. We both came out of nasty relationships recently and have a great understanding of what we want in a relationship, which is why we are confident with having a long distance relationship. Ive never done this before but am up for it. This article really helped me because I know i have many fears (due to past experiences) and i recently let my fears get the best of me and created an issue that could have been avoided had I focused more on the relationship and not my fears and concerns. The issue i created has raised a red flag for him..but i am hoping we can get past it and work on things so we can be in a good place. I dont want to waste the time he is here with negative energy.

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Miranda May 2, 2013, 2:55 pm

Eric: As usual, this is excellent advice.

I have always been extremely skeptical of relationship psychologists and self-help “gurus” – I am a scientist and there is a lot of derision about psychology/self-help in my field. About a year and a half ago, I was actually having a conservation with my friend about how silly a lot of the advice given by relationship columnists is and was looking for an example… and that’s when I stumbled upon “Ask a Guy”.

Despite my bias against these sorts of sites, I couldn’t help but to really think about a lot of what Eric was saying and found myself reading through all of the previous posts.

Now I am in a relationship that is so healthy and fulfilling that I can’t even believe it sometimes. A lot of the credit goes to my awesome boyfriend, but in the past I would have found a way to screw things up. I have really internalized what Eric has to say and it has really impacted my relationships in a positive way. I never realized that by constantly feeling like I wasn’t enough for my boyfriends, I was making them feel like they weren’t enough.

Sometimes I find myself slipping back into irrational, needy thoughts but if I just read the posts here it helps me get grounded again. Also, because I am generally very focused on the relationship instead of focusing on my insecurities, my relationship has more of a buffer for when I occasionally lapse into unhealthy thoughts.

Now that my relationship is going long distance in a month, I have found myself worrying about it a bit. And once again, Eric’s advice managed to ease my concerns and helped me have a more constructive outlook on things.

Ladies: Listen up, because I truly believe that Eric’s advice can change your life for the better.
Eric: Keep up the good work. I have seen some people attacking you in the comments before, but don’t let it faze you! And thank you for yet another insightful and helpful post.

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Eric Charles May 2, 2013, 3:21 pm

Thanks Miranda, I really appreciate that.

One of my greatest mentors and teachers was a great scientist / inventor. Who knows, maybe all those years of learning from him rubbed off and made me palatable to other scientists. :)

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Kendra May 2, 2013, 12:10 pm

Excellent article. I love having permission to let it go and just let it be what it is. A lot of advice adds pressure to make the relationship be a certain way, but this is really refreshing. Plus, I know it takes a lot of work, confidence and esteem to be happy with your own life, and it’s essential to building any kind of successful relationship. Thanks Eric! You are the man!

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Eric Charles May 2, 2013, 3:11 pm

Thanks a lot. Glad you found it helpful… and yes, sometimes it really is amazing how gripping emotional-investment can be, in a negative sense. Relationship success requires a special kind of “caring”…

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Joanne April 22, 2013, 12:56 pm

Thanks for your thoughts on this, Eric! Long distance relationships are difficult. I’ll try to keep this article in mind.

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Eric Charles May 2, 2013, 3:11 pm

You’re welcome, of course. :)

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Rain April 18, 2013, 12:50 am

Good article. I think the points you make are really spot. I was just wondering though….what are your thoughts on LDRs that start out as LDRs? For example, my bf and I originally met online and we’ve been in an LDR for 2.5 years now.

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zaarah April 23, 2013, 3:41 am

Rain

you and i on the same wave length, i would also like to know the answer to that.
Could we chat privately? i am really looking for a friend right now, one that would understand my situation and Wow, had i not stumbled across this website, I would never have come across your question. How can i share my email address with you?

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Lana April 17, 2013, 2:51 am

Great article, in LDR myself and completely agree that if you have a definite plan for future together meaning you both know you want this future then it is effortless and doesn’t spoil life or love. Sometimes it just happens that you cannot avoid spending some time apart, and for us this time is not a problem. Of course we are missing each other a lot, but it’s bearable, we have our ways to feel closer and to stay connected. And this time apart made us even more sure we are the ones we want for the rest of our lives. I haven’t seen my love for 4 months and will see him next time in 2 months only (so excited!). But these months apart are so worth it, cause we know we have a long happy life together ahead : ) and we both have happy and full lives while beeing apart too : )

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Ellen April 16, 2013, 5:18 pm

This was a good relationship article… but I still would avoid being in a LDR at all costs even if it meant breaking up with a man I love. I just don’t think they’re a good idea and if you really believe in your relationship being “the one”, you wouldn’t let it become a LDR in the first place. Just my 2 cents.

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Candice April 16, 2013, 5:17 pm

Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve wanted you to write a LDR article for a while now.

Your articles are so deep and so thorough, I would say they are better than almost all of the books out there. Thank you for making this great info available to all of us for free. You are an angel.

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