Making Long-Distance Relationships Work

By Jocelyn Voo (LifeWire) — Developing emotional closeness with someone is hard work. Imagine the challenge if there are thousands of miles between you.

Whether it is the war in Iraq or a career move to a new city that separates lovers, there are several ways to maintain a long-distance relationship.


"The first and most important strategy is good communication," says Kate Brauer-Bell, whose nearly two-year, 450-mile romance with now-husband Chris Bell inspired their book "The Long-Distance Relationship Survival Guide: Secrets and Strategies from Successful Couples Who Have Gone the Distance."

"In a long-distance relationship, you can’t rely so much on physical contact, so e-mail and phone communication is the primary backbone of the relationship itself," she says.

Indeed, modern technology like instant messaging and webcams are granting long-distance lovers some semblance of immediate and face-to-face contact.

"Webcams make a huge difference in our morale," agrees Kelly Cooksey, a 31-year-old mother of two. She’s been waiting in Ft. Hood, Texas, for her husband, Army Spc. Gerrod Cooksey of the 1st Cavalry Division, to return from Iraq, where he is an avionics communications technician. "He gets to see the baby getting bigger, and we get to see him to make sure that he is okay."

If your time apart is especially significant — as it is for Cooksey, who will have been away from her husband for at least 15 months by the time his tour of duty ends around the beginning of 2008 — seeing your significant other change over time is crucial to making you feel included in his life, and vice versa.

Tap your creativity

Sending flowers or hand-written love letters shows you care but mixing up the gift bag keeps it interesting. Put together a package containing more personalized items, like mix CDs, scrapbook pages or crossword puzzles with clues depicting treasured memories you share as a couple.

But let’s face it: Mix CDs are not going to meet all your needs. The lack of physical intimacy is a major hurdle in long-distance relationships. Some couples engage in risqué phone calls, online chats or webcam sessions to sustain their sex lives. There are even Internet-enabled sex toys that allow your lover to control the device from a computer.

Trust each other

When the cat’s away, do the mice play — or is that just paranoia? "Trust is the cornerstone of a solid relationship," says Brauer-Bell. "Without trust, a long-distance relationship doesn’t have a chance at survival, because you can’t be there to look over each other’s shoulders every minute of every day."

When Carolina Mejia, 23, decided to teach English in France, she had no qualms about leaving behind her boyfriend Paul Olsen, whom she’d been casually dating for several months. Although they left open the possibility of seeing other people while she was away, "we were emotionally exclusive," she says. "I trusted how much he loved me, and vice versa."

Set goals for reuniting

Mejia’s instincts were correct — during her seven months abroad, she and her boyfriend’s relationship solidified during his occasional visits, and when she returned to the U.S., they moved in together in Washington, D.C., where she works for an international development firm and he is an aspiring writer.

If you’re aiming for longevity, "it’s absolutely essential for partners to get on the same page from the beginning," advises Brauer-Bell. "You have to both agree that at some point, if all goes well, the relationship will one day move to local turf."

Keep it real

When you only get to see someone in person once every six months, it’s easy to maintain a honeymoon atmosphere during the short time you’re together. But if you had to endure the kind of quirks that can come to light during more mundane moments with your partner would you still be together? One way to get a better sense of how you’ll both handle these issues is to build some downtime into your visits.

"No relationship can be a vacation all the time," says Brauer-Bell. "The next time you’re together, kick off your shoes, throw on your sweats, order a pizza and just hang out. There’s no better way to know if your relationship has what it takes to go the distance."

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