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Hard Truths About Long Distance Relationships And How To Manage Them

You’re “talking” ( you know what I mean) to this person and already, all the long distance alarms are going off in your head about whether to pursue this any further and whether a long distance relationship will survive.
Or …you’re already in love…the relationship is official but you are apart…now realizing that you totally underestimated the complication of long distance.

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What to do .
Talk to people who are in this boat and they will have stories for you. The building up or tearing down of trust, the surfacing of securities or insecurities, the frustration of not being able to see each other anytime you want to, the constant questioning of the validity of the relationship, the patience…or impatience, and so on. It’s another beast on its own.
Issues of the heart and mind are escalated in Long Distance Relationships (LDRs) and the people in it will tell you…things are sometimes not as simple as the rest of us may think. This article should hopefully help shed some light for those who may consider, are considering or currently in a Long Distance Relationship (LDR)
Now…as usual, I am going to keep it very real with you. I know that your experiences will vary…your job as you read this is to look out for the parts that resonate with your situation and apply the wisdom as you see fit.
Some of these realities will be a relief…some will be ugly, but they will all be true.

Brace yourself: Here we go:
1) The initial Red Flags are harder to see: This is especially true if you did not spend a good amount of time with/around the person before the relationship started. What makes it worse is that we have the habit of quickly filling in the blanks with our imagination.
Let’s talk about the Halo Effect. We are more prone to it in a long distance relationship. Someone has a nice smile in their picture, a nice voice on the phone, a decent job, and we think “What a responsible and kind person!” …we identify one or two traits, and fill in the blanks for the rest of their character.

What to do:
a) DON’T fill in the blanks. Don’t assume things. If you find yourself assuming most of the good things about this person, it’s a red flag…one caused by YOU. People in long distance relationships should be KEENER on showing and telling so if someone is not showing and telling….

b) If you can help it, get to know this person IN person before you start a long distance relationship. (This isn’t always possible, but preferably be friends before your start a LDR)

2) You get an overload on how this person operates with you, but you don’t get to see how they operate with others or in their natural environment: They love YOU, they are kind to YOU, they are polite to YOU, patient with YOU and so on. Great stuff. What I have seen is that while it’s good to see how great someone is with us, it’s also very important to see how they are with others. Especially others who are not meeting core needs for them like we are. How kind are they with others? How patient are they with others? How _____ are they with others.

What to do:
a) Keep your eyes open when you do spend time: To see how they function around people and how people respond to them. If someone is faking it with others, it’ll be easier to tell.

b) Listen for their narratives when they talk about their relationship and interactions with other people: This isn’t to say they won’t have negative interactions…but when this person is not able to maintain healthy relationships with others…when they never have something nice to say about people…when they are always the victim…see where this is going?

3) If done well, Long distance Relationships (LDRs) can actually be great training for what a REAL relationship or marriage is ACTUALLY like. SURPRISED? Think about it! It involves doing something that many people in marriages fail to understand but was so clearly and simply broken down for me by a mentor of mine:
Trust is built when you each operate according to each other’s standards (or better) when the other person is not there.
That means that when Jill is away from Jack, she will operate at least by Jacks standards or better, and when Jack is away from Jill, he will operate by Jill’s standards or better. LDRs can really teach us how to do that if done right.

This is soooo important. In the real world, when you get married, the idea is that your standards have to merge with (and sometimes give way to) another person’s. In the real world, saying “WELL,THAT’S JUST WHO I AM” is not the right default answer to things and if done right, LDRs can be great training ground for operating by another person’s standards.
Do you know why this is soooo critical to understand???
BECAUSE MORE THAN 75% OF A MARRIAGE IS SPENT IN A MINI LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP. Think about it. Most spouses don’t work in the same office. Most don’t spend ALL their time together. Quite the opposite. That means that most of the day, in the absence of the other, a spouse has to operate in a way that will be honorable to the other.

What to do:
a) Express and discuss your values and standards. Not in an “ultimatum” tone but in a sharing tone. If you bring it up, make sure you are willing to offer that same deal to the person. In fact, I suggest that if this concept of operating by each other’s standards thing is important to you, first ask them what is important to them in how you represent them. Acknowledge their thoughts, discuss and if it fits with your values, let them know that you intend to honor that. THEN bring up your own “representation requests”. IF IT IS IMPORTANT, DO NOT MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT IT.

4) Sure it might keep us from having sex, but it doesn’t keep us from being IMPURE: Even though being physically apart can prevent sex for the Christian single couple that has made the decision to be abstinent, LDRs don’t prevent impurity. That’s the thing…as a Christian, “not having sex” is not the same as purity. You can be very impure and yet not be having sex.

What to do:
a) Have the same standards in electronic communication as you would in person: While a physical barrier exists, don’t assume that there is a mental or spiritual barrier. Let me put it this way. There may be a physical screen between you and someone on skype…but there is no mental or spiritual screen.

b) When you are away, lust is obviously a bit more manageable. However… one of the most slippery situations for a Christian Long Distance Couple practicing abstinence, is when you do get together …when one person comes into town for the weekend…that moment when you see each other for the first time in 4 months…that’s when the “purity” struggle gets real.
This is really important …
Why is it that a person who eats one heavy meal per day, will gain more weight than the person who eats several small meals a day? Well, in basic terms its because very quickly, the body figures out that it won’t get another meal for a while and so it stores up what it is getting now as fat “to save up for later” since the next meal won’t come for a while. So it tries to get in as much as it can now, because its not sure it will get any more soon.

The opposite happens with the body that gets many small meals. The body realizes that it doesn’t have to have hustle to store up fat or hoard nutrients now because it KNOWS that very soon, a meal will come.
Our need for physical connection is the same. Read this carefully:
A Long Distance Relationships can put you in a position where you will both try to get in as much physical connection as you can. It’s natural. What will make this worse as Christian couple, is when there is “no end in sight”…when you are both not on the same page at to where this is going and when the nature of the relationship is not defined.

My advice is this. When you come to see each other, when you get together for that “visit”, start the time…or the weekend, actually feeding each other emotionally and spiritually…reminding each other about where you are going, what you are doing, what you are trying to achieve by abstinence and so on. Remind the other person they are loved and cared for, and that even though the physical part is not there, the feelings are intact.
When you do get to see each other, the hormones are going to be raging. Go the extra mile to create a “spiritually safe” environment

5) If done well, Long Distance Relationships can actually teach delayed emotional gratification: YUP. A major skill/trait needed in marriage. “Knowing that someone loves you but is not able to show it right now in the way that you would like them to show it” is a concept that will be very familiar in marriage, and knowing how to still exist in a space of love, without the immediate return on your love investment, is a great foundation for a “real world” relationship.

In the real world, Love doesn’t always have to be spontaneous …it can be scheduled.
People in fantasy believe that real love or passion is only possible as we flow with the moment or only possible in the moment we feel it. LDRs (again…if done right) can actually teach a couple to be comfortable scheduling affection.  That’s great…because in the REAL world, married couples sometimes need to schedule sex, postpone affection, sync calendars for date nights, and schedule flowers to be sent out.

What to do:
a) Don’t be disappointed that you can’t express love or connection at the moment you feel it. Still share the emotion you were feeling with your partner and even though it is 3 hrs later, or impossible to make happen right now, they will appreciate hearing you narrate that positive thought you had about them.

6) LDRs can create a false sense of independence. Even though you are in a relationship, a LDR gives you a lot of control over your time and many other things. It’s like being in a relationship but at the same time not. You go to see the movies YOU want to watch, eat out where YOU want, spend your time however YOU want and so on.
That can actually be a good thing if done well and with balance.

The problem is that we get so used to that level of false independence, that when we actually come together in marriage or live in the same city etc, we find that we can’t handle the accountability in a REAL relationship. It’s like the difference between “watching a movie” and, and “acting in one”. We see the cut …clean version for 90 minutes but the actors in it go through grueling rehearsals and take after take to get the shot right.

What to do:
a) Learn to BOTH be accountable to each other early: Find ways to incorporate that into your relationship. This is really about opening up and expressing your values and expectations, discussing them and being fair with them. (See 3a above). Its about being ok answering to someone else about even little things. If you learn it well in LDRs, it will be a breeze in marriage.

7) As a Christian….Don’t start with the end in MIND. Start with the end in SIGHT: Here is what I mean. The end…where you would both like to end up… the goal of this Long Distance Relationship …the destination of this Long Distance Relationship, should be clear to BOTH of you…not just in YOUR mind.

I know that unless you are engaged, it’s tricky to totally define the relationship in marital terms but you should be able to articulate your desire to get there all “things” being equal, and you should both know what those “things” are.
Don’t enter a long distance relationship blind.

8) They say lack of communication can slowly kill a relationship. In LDRs, it is a fast death: -It will be miserable if one or both people can’t communicate well. Communication issues are HEIGHTENED in Long Distance Relationships. You struggle to express yourself? You bottle emotions? You are too conflict averse? Then think long and hard before you enter a LDR. Communication is essential in relationships but REALLY essential in Long Distance Relationships. For LDRs to work, BOTH people must be open to and consistently keep lines of communication open. I’m not just talking about being able to keep skype or phone appointments …I am talking about being able to discuss…to share deeply what is on their mind…to not let things fester. To be open. To fight in love….

What to do:
a) Don’t just declare your state …describe your feelings: Simply declaring your state (e.g I am just frustrated!!), does nothing for you or anyone. What you should do, is learn to describe your feelings( e.g, I feel overwhelmed and I feel as though I am alone trying to figure out this important aspect of our wedding planning and I would really appreciate it if you helped me out more. This is important in any relationship but even moreso in a Long Distance Relationship.

9) In LDRs, the compatibility red flags can actually REALLY come out: Wait… what? In number 1 above, I said that the initial red flags are harder to see. Now, I’m saying that LDRs can actually make them clearer? Don’t worry you’re not crazy. There is a difference though. You see, the “initial” red flags may be harder to see…but relatively quickly, the relationship and compatibility red flags will start to show. WHY? Because there is no fluff. Here is what I mean:
If someone has trust issues but gets to see you all the time, that trust issue has a place to hide. With you 900 miles away, trust me those trust issues will come out…it’ll come out.
Someone has commitment issues, it can go undetected for a while because they can really stall you with activities…hanging out and so on. With you far far away, there is no fluff…much quicker, there is an urge to “define what we are”.
Someone can’t handle talking through conflicts or can’t have uncomfortable conversations, it can hide…cos they can have you guys hang out instead…movies…dinner, parties and all sorts…anything but have that conversation. But with you far far away, none of that fluff. You have to talk it out.  Talking is the ONLY thing TO do. Can’t hide behind hanging out or anything… “talking about it” becomes the only way to resolve conflict. If they can’t handle it, it’ll show.
What to do:
a) Don’t ignore the signs. Address them. Lovingly, tactfully, but address them and if they are in denial or get very defensive about stuff like that, well, there’s your red flag blowing in the wind.

10) In LDRs, it can take a while to realize when a relationship is really in trouble: Compatibility was right, the relationship started great, things seemed fine…but something happened… a change happened. With in-person relationships, the signs can sometimes be easier to tell. With LDRs however, it’s possible to go almost a month before the other person starts to really smell that rat. With in-person relationships, there are only so many excuses they can give for not being able to see you or hang out for the fourth time this month…because you are there to VERIFY their environment. However, with LDRs the disengaged person can really stall for a while with so many unverifiable excuses that it becomes a bit difficult to see when the relationship is in trouble.

What to do:
a) DON’T rush to conclusions…instead, when you suspect that something is off, ask open ended questions that will pull the information out rather than make the person defensive. Never start off by accusing (That might lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy situation)

11) Breaking off/up is not as easy as you think: You would think that just because it’s a long distance relationship, it should be easy to call it quits right? No. It is not. Why?
Because delayed gratification in any area of life, breeds more commitment. Fact of life. Whatever you invest in for a future payoff, will always have more commitment from you until you derived your perceived worthy return on investment. That’s why business people throw good money after bad. Not wanting to admit that their business is going down the tubes, they continue to invest when everyone clearly sees it’s a bad move.

No different with our emotions. When long distance relationships don’t work, it is harder than most think, to come out…because we feel (more so than normal) that we are taking a loss on our investment of time, delayed gratification, hours of skype calls, the defending of the relationship to other people who have asked us a million questions about this person we are dating…and all the other “investments” we think we have made.

What to do:
a) While you are in a LDR, (I know this is hard) don’t be too eager to share every little detail of your relationship with people: I know people can be very “in your business” when you’re in a long distance relationship and will ask a ton of questions because things can be a bit complicated….it takes a little bit more faith to step into a LDR. So what happens is that in an attempt to feel SANE in front of them…to not look crazy, we tell those “people” every little detail…. especially the good ones so we can indirectly say “see! its working!!” …but you don’t need to constantly defend your relationship to them simply because its long distance. I’m not saying you shouldn’t share your life with those that are close to you. What I am saying is that with LDRs, pick those people wisely. If you don’t, your fear of “I told you so” (from people that don’t even matter) will keep you fighting for a relationship longer that you should

b) If you do decide to break up, ensure that there is proper closure: There is nothing worse than being far away and not knowing or understanding exactly “why we broke up”.

Good luck with everything!

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