How To Maintain Long-Distance Relationships

Trying to maintain a relationship with someone you can’t spend time with can feel impossible. Communication gets a lot different when you can’t interact in person, which is why physical separation can break up friendships, romantic relationships and even family ties. Plus, our minds are constantly being stuffed with rhetoric that says things like "moving out means moving on," and the statistics aren’t in our favor either.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before when transitioning into a new phase of life — someone probably told you not to feel bad about the friends you were leaving behind, that you’d forget each other and meet new ones soon enough.

In the time of COVID, I think we’ve all gotten a taste of what it’s like to be in long-distance relationships. They’re simply put: the worst.

Unless you know how to navigate them.

I was 15 when my best friend moved abroad with her family, and there were times I thought that that might be the end of our friendship. We went from seeing each other almost every day to suddenly being thousands of miles apart, but six years later not only are we still besties, but our friendship has also gotten stronger.

While my personal experience pertains specifically to keeping up platonic relationships, the skills I’ve developed can apply to romantic relationships and familial ones as well! So whether you’re moving, graduating, or just struggling to stay connected during COVID-19, here are some dos and don’ts I’ve learned over the past six years for maintaining a long-distance relationship:

DO make time for each other.

Be intentional about making time to hang out or talk — whatever that looks like for you. If you want to stay close to someone, it's important to schedule time for that person, the same way you would plan a date, a movie night or any other get together, even though you can’t see each other in person.

DO treat your friend or partner like they're still a part of your life.

Keep them updated on what’s going on in your personal life. Tell them about your family, friends, school, work, etc., the same way you would if they were still around. Be sure to ask them questions, too. It’s only natural that you’ll start to develop more independence from them, but keeping each other up-to-date and familiar with the new people and things that come into your lives will make both of you feel like a little less distant from each other. If you don’t keep them current, it can start to feel like the two of you are living in totally different worlds.

image of three friends watching the sunset Photo by Simon Maage from Unsplash

DON’T obsess over every aspect of their life without you.

While it’s important for you to be open with each other, it's equally important for you to recognize that you can’t know everything about the life they are living independent of you. When you’re constantly obsessing over what they’re doing, where they’re going, and who they’re hanging out with, the relationship will start to become unhealthy for both of you. You need to have your own lives and continue developing other relationships without dwelling on what you’re missing out on, otherwise, you will never adapt to being separated from them.

DO create common interests.

When you’re not hanging out together or participating in the same activities, it’s useful to come up with common interests that give you something to talk about. It could be anything from watching the same TV show, to reading some of the same books, to trying out a new hobby.

DO text each other somewhat regularly and respond in a timely manner. 

If you want to keep up a long-distance relationship, maintaining open communication is key. By messaging them regularly, you are showing that person that you are still thinking about them even when you’re far apart. When they text you, you can keep things casual, but do your best not to keep them waiting too long for a reply. You’ll find that it’s going to be hard to stay close if it always takes 24+ hours for you to reply to each other.

man and woman on bikes at sunset Everton Vila

DON'T try to stay in contact 24/7.

This is one of the worst things you can do for a long-distance relationship. You may feel the urge to do so early on in the shift to long-distance, but after a while, the only thing this is going to do for you is cause burnout. You need to give each other space, and if you’re trying to keep up a conversation nonstop, it will eventually become a lost battle and you will start to find yourselves drifting farther apart.

DO be there for your loved one.

It’s inevitable that your relationship is going to change while you’re apart, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. What’s important is that you make sure they know you’re still going to be there when they need it. Be a good listener, hear them out and give them thoughtful responses, and don’t be afraid to hit them up for advice or a good old rant. You don’t have to redefine your relationship by the distance, just adapt to it.

DO mix things up from time to time.

Diversifying the ways you communicate is a healthy way to stay in contact while continuing to strengthen your relationship, and today’s technology makes it super easy to do this! It’s fine to stick to the basics like calling and texting, but getting creative will make the time you spend together much more exciting and interesting. Sending pictures, videos and voice messages is one way to do this. I have a long-running Instagram group chat with some long-distance friends where we just send each other memes and funny pictures. Skype, FaceTime and Zoom are decent substitutes for face-to-face communication, which is important for maintaining your bond, and it creates many more possibilities for you. You can also find all sorts of games to play online like Cards Against Humanity and Pictionary, or you can watch movies and TV shows together using browser extensions like Teleparty. You could even get a little "vintage" and experiment with writing letters back and forth!

two people holding hands Photo by Albert Rafael from Pexels

Keeping up a long-distance relationship isn’t going to be easy, but when you go about it in the right ways, you’ll find that it can be just as rewarding as any other relationship!

Remember, even when the world tells you differently, parting ways never has to mean goodbye.