Long-distance relationships are hard.
It is so easy to feel frustrated, misunderstood, and generally disconnected. So what makes a long-distance relationship worthwhile? Should you stay in it? Should you go your separate ways? Before I continue, I should note that I am not familiar with every one's circumstances and am not presenting a diagnosis or prescription. Bad things can proceed from what appears good, and good things can proceed from what appears bad.
So this is not so much of a "how-to" as it is a "how we"-- how we made it. It is part of the story of how my husband and I survived (and thrived) through four years of dating long distance: years of great joy and great pain, but mostly joy. If you are considering going the distance, here are some good reasons to give it a try.
1. You have a relationship trajectory. This does not necessarily mean that you have agreed to get married, but you do have an idea of where the relationship is going. You know why you are with this person. You both desire the same things in your lives and in your relationship. You've got a shared direction.
2. You can thrive without them. This does not mean that you won't miss this person, sometimes deeply and painfully. It also does not mean that your life isn't greatly benefited by their presence. But you do know that you can grow in the ways you want to grow, succeed in your work and play, and genuinely experience joy, even when the other person is not around. You can build friendships without him or her. You can enjoy community without him or her. You see yourself content even when you miss him or her. This will help you survive the distance in a healthy way.
3. You're not interested in other fish. Some people land their finest and forever love in their first relationship. This was true of my husband. Others would like to date more than one person before settling down. I'm not talking about unfaithfulness; just the stage of being genuinely unsure. If this is not a nagging doubt in your mind-- even in the deepest recesses-- then long-distance is on the table. But if you want to meet more people and be open to the possibility of seeing others (one at a time, of course), then a long-distance relationship will stand in your way, and breaking up later will be painful.
4. You are disciplined and have good daily habits. This is a tough one but an important one. We are created to be in close physical proximity to those we love, but long-distance relationships require a certain type of attentiveness that normal relationships do not. With regular daily rhythms and the ability to stick to a schedule, you can commit to chatting with this person on a regular basis. You can make time for them and listen to their needs and experiences. And, most importantly, you can keep those habits that make you who you are-- so that when they see you again, they'll still recognize and know you.
5. You are practiced at conflict-resolution. Conflict is inevitable in long-distance relationships (and relationships in general). Miscommunications happen, as do surprises. One of my biggest struggles during long distance was that we were unable to share close friends. For some time I felt misunderstood and unknown by his community. These are natural and painful aspects of the long-distance season. But being able to healthily and gently resolve conflict can help rebuild that trust and closeness. "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you" are words you can become accustomed to saying. And as time goes by, your conflict-resolution skills will improve for the better. My husband and I spent the year before our wedding in the same neighborhood. What a huge relief it was!
Still, in so many ways I remain grateful to this day that we were apart for those years. We learned so much. Many people have asked me how I knew that he was the one I wanted to marry. While I would love to tell that story some other time, I'll share this piece by Olive Chan on how to know whether you've found the man (or woman) to marry. Now that I am married, I know that I couldn't agree with her more!
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