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How To Make A Long-Distance Relationship Work In College, According To Experts

Long-distance relationships are becoming quite the norm for Gen Z. There are no exact stats on how many long-distance relationships actually work out, but here’s what we know: Time differences, attending separate universities, and contrasting work schedules can all cause tension between partners. 

With all of these outside pressures plus trying to balance your own schedule, you may be wondering: Can long-distance relationships work? Is being in one possible for a college student committed to starting their career? Is it even rational to think you and your partner can coexist while physically separated? 

Through open-minded communication, boundaries, and putting consistent effort into supporting your partner even from miles away, not only can they work but you can come to understand your relationship on a deeper level, though sometimes that means recognizing when it’s time to let go. We talked to psychologists, sex and relationship advisors, and college students in LDRs about the sustainability of long-distance relationships and their tips for making them work whether you’re in or out of college.

Understanding your partner’s communication style goes a long way

One of the most common difficulties in LDRs is finding time to support your partner by communicating openly. Being in college, you’re most likely on a completely different schedule from your partner. Even if you text, call, or FaceTime all day long, a majority of your LDR is spent separated from your partner, especially if you’re both in different time zones. 

Maria, 21, has been in a long-distance relationship since October 2021 when her boyfriend’s military deployment started. She tells Her Campus that the hardest aspect of their long-distance relationship is being physically separated. “My boyfriend and I are on an eight hour time difference,” she says. “We’re so used to holding hands and physically feeling each other’s presence. Seeing him on a screen just doesn’t feel the same.” Talking about the next time they’ll be together — summertime — makes the distance less overwhelming for Maria. 

focus on your individuality, too

But while physical separation can be challenging, it’s also important not to sacrifice your personal life away from your partner, either. Nathan Hockley, creator of an LDR advice website called Lasting The Distance, acknowledges the importance of maintaining independence and individuality. “It can be all too easy to become immersed in a long-distance relationship, but this can also negatively impact your work, studies, social life, and overall well being. Being able to use your alone time effectively, bettering yourself, and being your own person allows you to be you and not just be defined by your relationship,” says Hockley. 

Anna, 20, has spent six months in an LDR and also recognizes the importance of both partners putting their independence first. “I have found that the most successful long-distance relationships are the ones where each person is committed to growing individually, so when they come back together with their partner, they are both the best versions of themselves,” Anna tells Her Campus. 

Work together to create a reliable sense of trust

While it’s incredibly important to focus on individual growth while in an LDR, you must establish mutual trust between yourself and your partner in an effort to grow as a couple. Without trust, your bond might be strained by jealousy, anxiety, and constant suspicion toward your partner.

Ray Sadoun, a London-based mental health treatment provider, acknowledges that long distance relationships require more effort than a regular relationship. “There will be times that you don’t know what your partner is up to, you need to have confidence to handle this in a healthy way; trusting your partner and communicating their concerns instead of panicking and bottling it up,” Sadoun tells Her Campus. 

This is especially true for college students, who might find their schedules overwhelmed with classes, clubs, and friendships outside of their relationship. To better understand how often you and your partner can connect on a daily basis, you can share Google calendars, have a set time each morning and evening to call and check in and always set aside a specific time each day to FaceTime — just so you’re making that physical connection along with an emotional one. By understanding your individual schedules, you can have a stronger trust instilled in your relationship by always being aware of what each other is up to. You definitely don’t have to go as far as tracking your partner’s cell phone — we’re not aiming for a Joe from You vibe, but you also have a right as their partner to want to know what their day looks like! So don’t be afraid to share your schedule and keep your partner up to date on the big and small parts of your day. 

When you focus on creating trust and reliability between you and your partner, you can focus on the things that matter the most — making time for each other, communicating frequently and openly, and establishing a relationship that can use the distance to become stronger, instead of drifting apart. 

How to keep the romance alive in a long-distance relationship

In an LDR, you lose the opportunity to have frequent in-person dates. Some couples rely heavily on the physical element of scheduling weekly, monthly, or even daily dates like going to museums or having a spa day together. But who’s to say you can’t transfer these date ideas to a virtual setting?

Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist specializing in couples counseling and creator of  Keep the Glow, an app developed for couples, emphasizes the importance of utilizing video chats or FaceTime to connect with your partner. “Prioritizing regular video chats to share about your individual days will allow you to stay close,” Dr. Fisher tells Her Campus. A virtual date night can be whatever you and your relationship needs at that point in time. Whether you schedule a FaceTime and send your partner their favorite DoorDash meal, watch the latest episode of Euphoria together on Zoom, or both individually go to a peaceful park and FaceTime for a virtual picnic, you can still create romance apart from each other. 

When Rachel, 21, finds herself craving a date night, she uses technology to her advantage by FaceTiming her boyfriend and taking a bath together. “We have the opportunity to unwind and spend quality time together while doing something relaxing and warm — which is how he makes me feel. It’s a good reminder that even though he’s not here physically, he still is mentally, spiritually, and emotionally,” Rachel tells Her Campus. 

Yes, you can still be intimate (with some creativity)

If you want to sexually connect with your partner, you can use platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, phone calls, or even Snapchat. You can even use audio erotica apps like Quinn to experiment with virtual sex with your partner. Sexting and sending nudes is definitely not for everyone, so if you don’t feel comfortable with this form of sexual connection, don’t sweat it. Yes, virtual sex can help you feel closer to your partner, but it’s totally understandable to want to save this aspect of romantic connection for the bedroom. 

Hockley acknowledges that being intimate online is an adjustment for any relationship, one that should be approached slowly and carefully. He says light-hearted intimate games and conversations, like Truth or Dare, are a perfect way to set the mood between you and your partner. Hockley also suggests the use of connected sex toys, in order to feel as though you are giving as well as receiving direct pleasure from your partner — even if you’re physically apart. “If couples want to level up their intimate moments, long distance sex toys are the answer. These devices use touch-sensitive technology, which allows the movements of one device to drive the movements and vibrations of the other,” Hockley tells Her Campus. 

Companies like Lovesense specialize in specific sex toys for long distance couples. Whether you’re arranging a virtual date night, having a long, healthy cry together on FaceTime or even using a long distance sex toy, virtual connections can help make the time apart pass faster. 

Make time to be together for the big moments

For long distance couples, it can be difficult to physically connect for the bigger moments: holidays like Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays, and graduations. Barbara Santini, a psychologist and sex and relationship advisor, recommends “creating a working game plan on when and how you will be keeping your relationship alive” — whether that be meeting once every three months, spending the holidays together, attending each other’s college events, or even scheduling a vacation away together.

Giselle, 19, and her long-distance boyfriend have never missed a milestone together. “Last year, I drove out to Indiana with his parents for his 20th birthday and he came home early from a family vacation to surprise me for my 19th birthday,” she says. This February, Giselle plans on flying to see her boyfriend to celebrate Valentine’s Day, her boyfriend’s 21st birthday and their anniversary, all in one weekend. “Our time together may be short during the year, but it’s always worth it,” Giselle tells Her Campus.

Try to think logically about the future

After a certain period of time, you and your partner might consider taking the leap to move in together and end your separation, even if you’re not emotionally ready for that big step. Maybe you’re adjusting to post-college life, preparing for graduation, or making another career or life change. Whatever the case, taking the time to consider what the future of your relationship is can show you what your relationship needs, and if it’s time to say goodbye.

Cheryl Grace, an executive lifestyle coach and founder of Powerful Penny LLC, a lifestyle firm providing clients with empowerment resources, encourages people in an LDR to pay attention before you take that next big step in your relationship, so you’ll understand if it’s time to let go. “If you and your partner always speak three or four times a day, and suddenly it’s one time a day and they keep blaming it on school or classes, these changes will allow you to pay attention to the patterns [of inconsistent, distanced behavior],” Grace tells Her Campus. 

Approach your LDR with an open mind

Hockley, who is now engaged to his once long distance partner, suggests relying on patience, independence, persistence, creativity, and optimism to grow stronger within your relationship. “If you go into a long distance relationship with a pessimistic view, you’re destined to fail. You will need the optimism that many people don’t have, to see it through,” Hockley tells Her Campus. It’s possible, with the right amount of devotion and persistence, that your careers and personal lives will grow with your love story — whether it be long distance or not. 

Dr. Fisher recommends finding aspects of your life that both of you have in common. “The more in unison you feel about the future, the closer you’ll feel in your relationship. For dreams you don’t share, think of creative ways to integrate other elements into those dreams, so they work for both partners,” Fisher tells Her Campus. By evaluating where you and your partner are connecting and disconnecting as you move forward in your career, life and relationship, you will be able to decide if furthering this relationship is beneficial to you as well as your partner. 

Being in a long distance relationship in college can be a beautiful way to see yourself grow and evolve through the eyes of your partner. Even though being physically separated from your partner takes confidence and determination, you can use this time to figure out who you are as an individual while relying on the support of your partner. Anna wants to see everything that goes on in her partner’s life, but because of the distance, she can’t experience everything firsthand with him. “The most exciting part about being together again is seeing how much we’ve both changed,” she says. “The best part of long distance is coming back together, and falling in love with the new parts of your person over and over again.” 

Meguire Hennes is a Her Campus Editorial Intern and a senior at Montclair State University. She is majoring in Fashion Studies. Meguire is excited to share her knowledge of pop culture, music, today's fashion and beauty trends, self love/mental health, astrology, and musical theatre. When not writing or in class, Meguire can be found living her best Carrie Bradshaw life in NYC, singing 70s/80s classic rock a little too loud in the shower, or watching her favorite rom-coms over and over again. Coming from a small town in Wisconsin, she's excited to see what adventures await her in the big city!