Navigating Distance: The Big Learnings of the LDR
I am no stranger to an LDR (long distance relationship).
Over the years, based on various unique circumstances as well as being someone who has spent the majority of my 20’s moving around quite a bit, I have found myself in long distance relationships far more often than I would have chosen.
You meet someone, and then you have to follow-through with a commitment to something else, or they move, or you never lived in the same place to begin with, or any other infinite number of possibilities causes you to have to be away from your lover(s) for an extended period of time, but the heart wants what the heart wants, and so you push through and hope to come back together when the timing aligns. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.
Along my personal journey with different partners over the years, I’ve had a wide range of long distance experiences and outcomes, and what I can say with certainty is that no matter how many times you find yourself in an LDR, it simply does not get easier. It may be easier with some partners than others, but at the end of the day it is always a challenge, even just simply because you miss them.
It is never easy to be away from those you love, and long distance comes with its own very unique and complicated challenges, aside from the already existent challenges of being in relationships to begin with.
While it never necessarily gets “easy” to be in distance with your partner(s), what I can say, is that if you let it, the experience of being in an LDR teaches you a lot, both about yourself; your own needs, desires, patterns and boundaries, as well as about relationships in general. It can be a frustrating, confusing, complicated journey, and it can also be an expansive opportunity for self-reflection, growth and self-regulation, and independence. Long distance is also a really beautiful way to develop communication skills, patience, trust, vulnerability, as well as a way of forcing us to check in with what we really want as we move through time.
Of course, everyone’s experience with distance is extremely unique and nuanced due to whatever circumstances you are facing and the nature of your relationship, so there is no one-size-fits-all for how to navigate LDRs with ease.
From my many personal experiences with LDRs however, I have compiled some of my learnings and tools that have helped me below, more so to offer a helping hand in your unique experience than to try and claim I know the answer to distance. I very honestly do not have all the answers. I can merely share what has helped me, and hope it allows you, if nothing else, to feel seen in the struggle.
The LDR As Teacher
Of all the lessons I have learned over the various years of various long distance situations, the main lesson I have learned is to practice radical patience.
When we are in close proximity to our partner(s), it is quite easy to go through time with relatively little patience toward our partner(s) and our relationships in general. Situations, conflicts, disagreements, complications, and even our showing love to one another, can happen at a quicker, more easily accessible pace, and we get used to more constant, instantaneous access to our partner(s) that doesn’t cause us to have to sit with things, or wait for things, in quite the same way.
When there is distance between you, and especially when there is distance that includes difference in time zones, access to one another becomes much more limited, which causes response times, conflict resolution, affection, and the relationship as a whole, to have to operate on a slower, more intentional, more forgiving, plane. Not to say that things are always dealt with immediately when partners are in close proximity, there is always patience needed to be in relationship, but relationships at distance just simply have a whole other level of logistics working against them that can feel quite frustrating, and this can cause small things to feel enormous when we are so used to living in immediacy.
Navigating different schedules, different time zones, and ultimately different realities, while striving to stay connected to one another can cause us to feel like we aren’t being prioritized in the way we may expect to be. This can cause feelings of restlessness as we are forced to sit with things that feel uncomfortable to sit with alone.
This discomfort of having to build our capacity for patience however, can actually be a very useful tool.
Rather than approaching the slower pace of communication solely from frustration and anger, being forced to sit in the discomfort of delayed communication can actually help us expand our comfort zone by teaching us to reflect on what we’re feeling.
Rather than becoming reactionary in our frustration, which ultimately leads to more frustration and anger, it can be useful to approach these feelings with curiosity:
Why am I so frustrated at this moment? Is this frustration actually directed at my partner(s), or am I really frustrated because I miss them? Am I feeling angry because I’m actually feeling lonely? Am I feeling heard? Am I needing more affirmation? Is there a way I can self-soothe until I can talk to my partner(s)? Is there someone else I can talk to in this moment?
When we receive the slower pace of distanced communication in partnerships with compassion and curiosity rather than immediately responding with anger and/or frustration, we actually find opportunities to get to know ourselves, our needs, and where our surface-level emotions are actually coming from, a little better.
This is one of the golden keys to any relationship really, but when distance is on the table, vulnerability, and being able to verbally communicate in a vulnerable way, actually becomes a make-it-or-break-it factor.
Many of us are familiar with The Five Love Languages (physical touch, acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time, gift giving), as coined by Gary Chapman, which claim that each of us have different ways of showing love, and different ways we need to receive love for our needs to feel met.
When we are in close proximity to our partners, there may be much more capacity to operate within the love language(s) that come most naturally to you and your partner(s). There is simply more options available, and the circumstances are more forgiving, when the limitations of distance aren’t working against you.
At a distance however, it becomes much more challenging to express love in the ways that come most naturally to us otherwise, simply due to not being in the same physical space. With thoughtfulness, there are creative ways to navigate within all five love languages at a distance if you try (perhaps this is a whole other article), but really, on the day-to-day, verbal communication is going to be the most prominent way of showing affection in your LDR.
The issue that arises here then, is that many of us are really not that great at verbal affection, because many of us simply aren’t taught that it’s okay to be verbally vulnerable. How many times do we notice ourselves really missing someone, and instead of sending them a text that says “I really miss you today,” we send them a meme instead.
To this, many of us will say that memes are our love languages, so that’s how we’re showing the love. That’s great for you, and I’ll admit, memes are definitely one of my love languages. But if you think about it for a moment, what brings you more joy when you look at your phone? A cat meme, or seeing an “I miss you” text from someone you love?
When you’re together more often, words of affirmation may feel less necessary when other love languages are accessible. When words of affirmation are your main access point to affection during distance, it becomes more more apparent when they are less frequent.
Sometimes, sending the more vulnerable text is exactly what your partner(s) need at that moment. Don’t underestimate the power of words of affirmation, especially from a distance.
Verbal vulnerability is also extremely important for LDRs where tension and/or conflict arises. Often, when we are apart from one another, small miscommunications can end up feeling enormous simply due to a lack of understanding where the other person(s) is coming from. When we are not in the same space, we don’t have the same way of picking up on one another’s bodily cues and little isms that usually orient us in their state of being.
The only way we can know what is going on with one another is literally by telling one another, there is simply no other way.
When most of our ways of showing affection are taken away by distance (referring to the five love languages), it is very easy to fall into doubt and insecurity if our partner(s) are not finding ways to offer affirmations in other ways. To show our love in LDRs, we have to be creative, but we also just simply have to be vulnerable as heck.
While it can be quite scary, I find it most helpful to be as literal and as verbally vulnerable as possible with what I’m feeling and where I’m at when distance is at hand. We all struggle with insecurities now and then, it’s just part of the human condition. The thought of my partner waking up in the morning and not feeling how extremely loved they are causes me to want to leave no room whatsoever for doubt. Not that I am endorsing love bombing here, you don’t need to be blowing up their phone at every moment. I’m just saying that sometimes a little goes a long way when it comes to verbal affection with distance.
Presence In Distance
This one may feel like a bit of an oxymoron, but hear me out.
Whatever the reason for your distance may be, the fact of the matter is that y’all are apart, doing different things with your days, leading separate lives. While it is very important to work at staying connected and finding ways of showing your love during this time apart, is it also extremely important to be present where you are, in your own life, at the same time.
There are a lot of opportunities for resentment to build within an LDR when you are spending all of your time and energy staring at your phone waiting for a text back or a Facetime call, meanwhile missing out on your own life as it is happening around you in real time.
Of course we miss our partners, of course we hope to hear from them and love to chat with them and update them on our lives, but it is also important to actually be living our own lives while we’re apart; being present with ourselves while we’re apart.
When all of our time becomes about how long it’s been since we’ve heard from our partner(s), or staring at our phone until they call, it is easy to fall into a spiral of doubt and insecurity, followed by resentment. We often feel we need more from our partners when we are not feeling fulfilled by our own lives, so when they don’t get back to us right away, instead of accepting that they may just be occupied, we immediately resent them for not prioritizing us, from a place of self-doubt.
The best way I’ve found to navigate toward a balance between connection time and presence in one’s own separate life, is to schedule times to connect, whether that be over the phone, Facetime, or just a good time to have a consistent texting conversation. And then actually stick to the commitment you’ve made. The frequency of connection time will vary for each relationship, as everyone’s needs differ in this area, but having a conversation about what feels good and sustainable for each person, and then sticking to that commitment, can allow us to go through the rest of our days without feeling worried that we’re not hearing from them.
Also, maintaining a stronger level of presence in your separate lives gives you lots more to catch one another up on when you do connect!
This one is lots of fun, and I find it brings another layer of connection to love at a distance that feels light and playful. And the best part is that it can really be anything!
Find something the two of you both enjoy, whether that be painting, reading, watching the same TV series, playing video games - and then schedule time to do it together, or discuss it together.
For example, if you like similar types of TV, you could choose a series to watch together (and watch it at the same pace, which is more difficult than it sounds), and then schedule weekly meetings to discuss the show you’re watching. If you like to make art together, schedule a time when you can do this over Facetime in your respective spaces. Get creative with it!
I love having something to discuss and connect over that is purely hobby-based. It’s a fun way to just hang out, without having to think about anything else.
At the end of the day, distance is damn hard, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. We’re all just getting through it until we get to see one another again, until it’s over, and we’re all just doing our best.
Give one another the benefit of the doubt as often as you can.
Choose to believe they’re doing their best.
Offer as much love as you possibly can, both to your partner(s) and to yourself.
And try not to judge yourself. No one is perfect. There will be hard days, and days that feel less hard, and that is absolutely okay. Just flow with the feelings, be patient, be vulnerable, and do your best.
I see you!