So this doesn’t have much do with Jesus, beer, or cooking directly – though I think marriage is a gift from God, and Jesus is God, so you could make that connection, I suppose, and you’ll probably find friends who take Proverbs 31:6 to mean getting you drunk – but I’ve been seeing posts on different websites (Reddit in particular today) about people and their misfortunes with long-distance dating. I’ve seen good relationships crumble under the pressure and bad relationships cause nothing but pain and unhappiness trying to make long-distance work for way too long.
I saw this post today on Reddit and I knew, from the start, what caused this and why it didn’t work. I know because Nora and I had similar things blow up on us. I know it’s going to cause them to question if their relationship – and engagement as the case is in that story – is worth the struggle and the pain. I know how to prevent that. I know, because I made the mistakes already.
So I decided to put my thoughts on the subject out there for all to read. This is deviating from the norm of this blog, but yet it still seems relevant if I can salvage one relationship and prevent pain and hurt from anyone.
Note: Some of this is going to seem familiar if you have ever seen The Dating Doctor. I will admit, some of it boils down to affirming what he says (and I try to give him credit where I can remember him saying it). Others, though, are my own thought.
Note 2: This is just specific relationship advice to getting into, being in, and coming out of long-distance. There are times when I thought of just basic relationship advice to put but I’m absolutely not qualified to advice on general relationships and every relationships weirdly different, so I stuck to what I know.
Robby’s Long-Distance Relationship Rules
0. I do not ever recommend anyone getting into a Long-Distance relationship
I know one married couple that was successful long-distance. I’ve seen a bunch of couples try long-distance for a variety of reasons and fail. Notice a difference there? One (or two if you include me) vs Many. It doesn’t work most of the time.
0.1 If you are married, most of what I say is irrelevant, and I can’t recommend you ending your marriage because you have to be physically separated for a time.
Never done long-distance married for more than a weekend. If I pretend to know what I’m talking about long-distance marriage, then I am failing. Period.
1. If you are in Long-Distance, or getting into Long-Distance, the immediate end-game of that relationship has to be marriage/lifetime commitment or it won’t work. Period.
If you are just dating, testing the waters, trying to get to know someone more and see if the relationship progresses to a point where you could consider marriage, don’t go long-distance. Yes, that person may be great. Yes, that person may be a good match for a marriage partner. No, that person isn’t the only person you could ever marry successfully. As much as I believe in marriage and finding your soul mate, I’m not delusional enough to believe that out of 7 billion people (3.5 in your preferred gender), there is only one that matches you. I believe that love is kindled, built, and maintained and part of what makes marriage is how good of a fire you build with what you two bring to the table. I could meet someone nearly identical to my wife and I wouldn’t love them the way I love my wife because I haven’t built a fire with them. I love my wife both because of who she is and the experiences we’ve had.
What I’m basically saying, there are other fish in the sea. If you aren’t already planning on committing your life to this person, don’t go into long-distance.
2. Two years. Period.
I know I stole this one from The Dating Doctor but I can affirm it 100%. Nora and I were in long-distance for two years, three months. The hardest time frame of that was the last 3 months, which was also the only time when we knew exactly when we were no longer going to be in long-distance.
If you look at the calendar that is your life and you plan on being apart more than two years, don’t do it to yourself. How long past two years you have to go will have a lot to do with it – don’t jump ship for ten days after two years – but I will guarantee the hardest times you have in long-distance are after two years.
3. Surprise trips are for Rom. Coms. only. In real life, they all mostly all fail.
I’m going tell you a little story. I was living in Sioux City but I had a wedding to go to in Milford, IA. I had it on my calendar as the correct weekend; somehow, in telling Nora, she had it as the weekend after. As I’m preparing to go to this wedding (and leave within the hour I believe), I get a call from Nora saying she is on her way to Sioux City. She decided to surprise me for the weekend, and I wasn’t going to be there for most of Saturday.
If I were to pinpoint a point where I thought we weren’t going to make it, and it wasn’t in those last three months, that’s the point I would pinpoint.
The problem with surprise trips is that you are dating but you lead two completely different lives that happen to intersect occasionally. To assume that you can force them to intersect without planning is romantic, thoughtful, loving, and stupid. Really, really stupid.
Real life doesn’t work that way. When you try to make your live intersect without planning and fail fantastically, it creates trust issues – especially if they are busy with someone that could be a potential mate if you weren’t in the picture – and pretty impressive delusions about commitment issues that the other party has even though there is probably no truth to it.
Plan trips. It isn’t as romantic, it doesn’t fit into a romance movie, and it doesn’t blow up in your face. You pick which one your are most worried about.
4. Talk to each other at least once between sleeps.
I’ve been in two long-distance relationships; one lasted 6 weeks, one lasted the duration and now we’re married. One major difference between the two:
When we are apart, Nora and I talk every day without fail.
We do that even now that we are married. The only time we didn’t do that is when she was on a cruise ship and I was in Southwest Iowa, and it was horrible. She actually couldn’t make it the entire cruise and called me before they got back.
This needs to happen.
4.1 Though it takes work, talking every day should never be a chore.
If talking every day to the person you are in a long-distance relationship with is a chore and you don’t want to do it, that is probably the best sign you should break it off. You aren’t committed to each other enough to make this work. That isn’t to say you couldn’t work if you were in close proximity but long-distance isn’t design for this relationship. Stop dating. Keep in touch if you want, but just stop putting yourself through the struggle when your heart isn’t into it.
5. Long-Distance requires more trust then marriage under the same roof.
I don’t know if anyone else will agree with me on this one, or if I just trust my wife an inordinately high amount because of long-distance, but I haven’t tested the depths of my trust for her since we got married, and we live two very different schedules and she works with men and drives some of them home sometimes. Long-distance, on the other hands, tested the depths of my trust on a nearly daily basis.
It’s the nature of the beast. If you are going to trust someone to live a completely autonomous life and yet remain loyal and faithful to you, it requires a level of trust that I don’t know how I did. I can’t even describe how much I had to trust her.
5.1 You also need to be trustworthy
About the only things in this world more loyal than Nora are labrador retrievers and Subaru wagons. About the only thing more honest than me is a voice recorder. We each have a laundry list of faults but in these two areas, we were set up to be perfect for long-distance.
5.2 Communication builds trust. You should be the best communicating partners of all time to make long-distance work.
When we went through Prepare and Enrich, we got the highest possible score on communication. Kat was super-impressed. We have lots of other weaknesses, but by God we can communicate!
Successful long-distance relationships foster that naturally, but there should always be an effort to do improve communication at all times. Trust me, it can change breaking up over driving four hours to an empty house to shifting plans and making the most out of a bad situation. And increase trust and sense of commitment all at the same time.
6. Being a strong conversation partner is super freaking helpful.
The majority of your time together is going to be spent talking. In 2014 your can see each other while you talk, but that’s about all you can do. Maybe synchronize a Netflix movie and hope your internet connection is reliable enough to handle both at once. Beyond that, the bulk of your relationship is going to be talking. It’s probably a good idea to know how to have a long conversation with someone, and be with someone you enjoy long conversations with.
6.1 You are going to burn through most, if not all, of your stories while you are in Long-Distance.
Nora likes to have me tell her stories. I like to tell her stories. She’s heard almost all of my stories. The ones she hasn’t heard, I don’t recall without prompting of some sort. We’ve been married for nearly a year, been in the same city two years longer, and last month was the first time in those three years I had a story she hadn’t heard that wasn’t something that happened within those three years.
Just a heads up. No idea what to do about it besides get really good about talking politics, religion, and other hot-button topics so you can keep talking and not get bored (or let TV be how you interact).
7. It sucks.
If this weren’t a Christian website, I would have put a explicative on that, or maybe ten. It is probably the worst thing that you can do to your relationship. Here’s a few examples of why:
Like physical contact of any sort, especially the romantic kind? Once a month, if you are lucky. Like doing activities together? Once a month. Like cooking together? Once a month. Like to do silent things in the same room as that person (work, write, read, draw, etc.)? Never, because you are too busy during that once a month you have with each other having physical contact, doing activities, and cooking. you don’t have a normal relationship because all of your time together is distilled into one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Actually probably less than that. Yup, you have less time with your significant other than the Guard has with its people.
It sucks. Having a relationship that you can’t live without and is ending with marriage is the only reason to tough it out.
8. This is a short list.
This is just the stuff that is specific to being in any kind of long distance relationship. On top of all of this, you are also in a unique relationship that you have to foster in the same way that everyone else does. Long distance isn’t a special kind of relationship; it’s an additional hardship placed on a regular relationship. Relationships are tough; long-distance just is a specially level of tough.
Caveat: There are exceptions to every rule. For some reason, super-busy people who don’t have time to date tend to work really well in long-distance because they can have that connection, that permanence, and yet live an autonomous life. I’ve seen that more in marriages than dating but it applies. And it’s weird. But it works and their happy, so who am I to judge.
Caveat to the Caveat: If you feel the need to express that you are the exception to the rule, you aren’t. If you feel the need to defend your relationship, you aren’t the exception to the rule. If, though, your relationship works, you both are happy, and there isn’t resentment, you are the exception. Pat yourself on the back, give each other a hug when you see each other, and know I hate you for being an exception to the rules.
I hope this helps someone. I don’t want to claim God status or to have supreme knowledge, but this is some stuff I wish I had known going in. And don’t break up because some guy on the internet told you to; I don’t know you or your relationship. Take it with the grain of salt it deserves, weight what it means to you, and try to learn from the many times I messed up.
To love, happiness, marriage, and the blessing that Skype had on long-distance relationships,