“How far do I have to go to get to you? Many the miles, but send me the miles and I’ll be happy to follow you, love.” ~Sara Bareilles
Long distance relationships can be so challenging at times, and might seem nearly impossible right now. COVID-19 is playing havoc with all our lives, in big and small ways. Couples separated by distance are both uniquely prepared for and challenged by the social distance, stay-at-home orders and reliance on technology to stay connected.
One thing so many LDRs rely on is the knowledge that they’ll be together again, and often the plans for when that’ll happen. Right now, all plans are out the window. People in LDRs are more like military on deployment than ever before. Their future time together is in something else’s hands, and it’s changing almost daily.
Creativity is so important right now
Managing to stay connected to each other from afar means being flexible, being innovative, and calibrating expectations. I think many of us have seen the story of the man in NYC who sent a drone with his number to a girl he saw on the roof of another building.
They had a dinner date, him on his roof, her on hers. They also had another date, with him in a rolling plastic bubble. If you haven’t seen it, you should! That’s some innovative thinking there! Now, I’m not suggesting you have to go to that extreme.
Here’s your chance to send love letters, yes, by snail mail. Don’t we all just love going to the mailbox and finding something other than junk and bills?
Something handwritten, maybe with quirky drawings or a favorite picture, means something totally different than a text or email. Spritz your favorite cologne on the page, and now your love has another way to connect to you, since smell is such a powerful sense. A handwritten love letter takes time, effort and energy that really says, “I’m glad you’re mine.”
Video happy hours and dinner dates are also great ideas!
I know a couple who both ordered one of those meal-prep kits, then video cooked and ate together. I know another couple who watches their favorite TV show together, and there are services that help you sync your videos perfectly.
I’ve suggested couples ask each other an unusual question or two, each time they talk, to get past the “how was your day?” conversation. There are lots of resources available online, just Google “questions for couples”. It’s guaranteed you’ll learn new things about each other, and yourselves!
With distance, misunderstandings and conflict are inevitable.
How you handle them is what matters most. I don’t have many absolute rules for the couples I see, but there are a handful that I think make all the difference in how constructive or destructive conflict is:
Julie’s Golden Rules for Conflict, Near or Far:
1. No fighting by text or email.
I feel so strongly about this one, I’ve had some stubborn couples sign contracts about it. It’s a bad idea, and if it turns out well in the end, that’s a fluke.
Technology has done lots of great things for us, but the ability to handle conflicts with words on a screen instead of words spoken to each other is not one of them.
It might seem to be less risky, like maybe you can be more rational and less emotional in text, but that’s usually the problem.
Tone and intention get misread and misinterpreted, things get written that you’d never say, and it’s harder to forgive and forget a snarky comment that you can keep re-reading. Just don’t do it! If it looks like a conversation’s going south, take a time-out until you can actually talk about it.
2. No difficult conversations when there’s alcohol involved.
This one can be hard, since often it’s when one or both people have had a couple of drinks that the issues come out. Drinking amplifies things: fun becomes more fun, flirting becomes flirtier, irritations become grating, frustration becomes anger.
For the sake of your relationship, push pause on any potentially hard talk involving alcohol. You’ll thank me in the morning, I guarantee it.
3. No hard talks after 9 pm.
This one might have you scratching your head, but follow me here. How often have you had an important and hard conversation that didn’t take at least half an hour, often much longer? And how hard have you found it to wind down from one, even if it went well in the end?
The adrenaline’s still pumping for awhile after, and that’s if it goes well. If it doesn’t, it can take a long time to get to a state of calm. Put these things together with fatigue from a full day of work and family life, and the hours our bodies naturally start to power down for sleep, and it’s a recipe for unproductive talks at best, chaotic messes at worst.
I realize this rule might be tough to keep to if you have children, so use your best judgment, but try to do all the hard stuff before 9 pm if you can.
4. You can be angry, but you can’t be mean.
Anger can be a really useful emotion. It’s a clear sign that something’s wrong and needs to change. No meaningful social change ever occurred without anger. It can be constructive and motivating, when channeled properly.
So, it’s OK to be angry…but it’s not OK to be mean. What’s the difference, you may ask? Anger says, “You left me waiting, not calling when you said you would! That was rude!” Meanness says, “You’re unreliable and inconsiderate!”
Anger says, “I don’t like your bitchy tone!” Meanness says, “You’re such a bitch!” Anger points out behavior and draws a line, meanness calls names and assassinates character. Take care which one you use with people you care about.
5. Apologize first.
Let’s say you both decide to adhere to the first four rules. You both agree to only address conflict by voice, sober, not late at night, and without name-calling or character assassinations. This last rule should be the one you need least, then, because you’ve probably minimized the things either one of you need to apologize for.
But let’s say things don’t go well. Be the first to say, “I’m sorry.” Now, think about this a sec. If you BOTH agree to apologize first…see where I’m going here? You show up after a fight with your hat in your hands and your partner meets you there, also ready to make up. Win/win! And it goes without saying that apologies are best delivered voice-to-voice if not face-to-face.
If you’re far from the one you love, give some of these ideas a try and see what happens. I’d love to hear from you, what worked and what didn’t, and any creative ideas you came up with!