By Gigi Engle
When it comes to long-distance relationships, people Google far and wide for tips on how to handle the pressure. Because, if you’ve ever tried one, you know it’s not easy. Can long-distance relationships work, really? And if so, how can you make a long-distance relationship work?
Look, we’re not going to sugar-coat it for you; long distance is tough. You miss your partner, might often feel lonely and don’t have anyone to join you as a plus one on game night with your friends.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
In fact, a 2015 study from Queens University showed that long-distance can actually lead to stronger, happier relationships overall. So, it appears the whole idea that long-distance relationships are more likely to fail isn’t necessarily accurate.
Yet, it’s commonly thought that distance is the nail in the coffin of a relationship. You’ll find an excess of chatter online describing why long distance doesn’t work for most couples. I’m here to say: Don’t believe the hype. While long distance isn’t always easy, you can definitely make it happen if you’re willing to put in the work. This goes both ways; both partners need to be willing to commit to making it happen.
How you ask? Here are some of the best tips on making a long-distance relationship last for the long-haul.
1. Be clear about the boundaries of your relationship.
To start, you need to be crystal clear about the rules and boundaries within your relationship. Monogamy should not be assumed but stated and understood. If you leave anything ambiguous, this will lead to issues down the road, says Moushumi Ghose, M.F.T., a licensed sex therapist. “If you’re open and/or dating and you’re allowed to date or be intimate with other people, set clear guidelines as to what this looks like. What is allowed? Flirting? Kissing? Oral sex? Penetration?”
Whatever works for you is great, but you need to communicate and understand the limits. These conversations aren’t easy, but they’re necessary if you want the relationship to thrive.
2. Create a daily ritual.
There are so many factors that keep long-distance couples from feeling connected. You’re not a part of each other’s daily activities and that can feel isolating. To combat this, Holly Richmond, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., a somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist suggests creating a daily ritual that allows you both to connect and feel grounded in your relationship. “I often suggest that my clients bookend their days with something that feels intimate and connecting for them both,” says Richmond.
This could be anything you want. For some couples, it may be a FaceTime or Skype chat before work and right before bed. For others, it might be a photo in the morning and at night. It’s a simple reminder that your partner is there for you and is thinking of you. It gives you a sense of control in the relationship that is somewhat difficult to tether. (Setting boundaries is just one of many important lessons that monogamous people can learn from open relationships.)
3. Get creative with sexting and video chatting.
Richmond says that getting creative with your virtual chatting is especially important in long-distance relationships because you don’t have the same face-to-face intimacy on a daily basis.
When taking sexy photos, try different places around the house to change it up. “Create mystery with lingerie or make your partner guess where you are, as you send a sexy pic from a restaurant bathroom, for example,” suggests Richmond. “If you’re video chatting, mix up the location for mutual masturbation sessions, and bring in props like ice-cubes, warm lube, whipped cream or anything you dream of using on your partner.”
Clinical sexologist and sex educator Sunny Rodgers suggests keeping a journal of sexy thoughts, phrases, or fantasies to then use in your sexting conversations. This way, you won’t keep using the same phrases over and over again. “Writing down words, phrases, meaningful lists, and other items can make it easier and more enjoyable to have fulfilling long-distance conversations,” she says. (Plus, sexting might help you have better sex IRL!)
Creativity isn’t just about sexy photos—it’s also about real acts of intimacy, says Lucy Rowett, a certified intimacy coach and clinical sexologist. “How about sending your partner something small but thoughtful by mail? Ordering them the book they want from Amazon? Think of all the ways you can communicate and show each other you care,” she says.
4. Get sex toys in on the mix.
Sex toys are a fantastic way to spice up long-distance relationships. Rowett suggests ordering each other a sex toy the other might like and then using them together on Skype or FaceTime. This can help create a sense of closeness when you’re far away.
You can even get toys that allow you and your partner to control each other’s sensations. (Thank you, modern technology!) For example, the We-Vibe sync (Buy It, $137 $229) lets you control vibration patterns through an app from anywhere in the world. Kiiroo and Lovense, two teledildonics companies, have toys that allow you to control the vibration and thrusting patterns of their toys over distance.
“For example, as your partner speeds up on the vibration of her toy, the thrusting motion in his toy will coordinate with that. Or, you can tease your partner by controlling the speed, pattern, and vacillation of their toy, which is a little dom/sub and can make things really hot,” says Richmond. (Also try these other best sex toys to use with a partner, virtually or IRL, and read these tips for how to introduce a toy into your relationship.)
5. Don’t tune out the outside world.
While your relationship is important, it’s also crucial that you continue to live your life. Don’t spend all day long with your head down, eyes stuck to your phone screen. Keeping up communication is needed, but if you let it completely envelop you, you could end up losing yourself.
It’s also helpful to focus on the positives of having your independence, instead of being hung up on missing your partner. It gives you a chance to thrive outside your relationship, which could help you lead a more balanced life overall. (We should, as a society, celebrate independence and stop putting so much “value” on being in a relationship in the first place!)
“Make sure you’re keeping up with your friends and loved ones and hobbies right where you are,” says Pam Shaffer, M.F.T., a licensed marriage and family therapist. “This helps you keep your sense of self healthy and separate from the relationship, which in turn will make your LDR (and all your other relationships) better.”
6. Visit each other consistently.
Shaffer says that consistently visiting each other helps build security in your long-distance relationship. “Sometimes in LDRs, you can forget that you aren’t apart forever and can become depressed or fixated on being together again,” she says. “Reminding yourself that you will see each other in X amount of weeks can both create anticipation but also help you keep from obsessing over the relationship.”
Instead of leaving a TBD on the calendar for a visit, create a schedule that works for both of you. It may be once a month, every two months, etc. Just be sure you know exactly when you’re going there and when your partner is coming to you. It may sound hard, but if you want a long-distance relationship to work, you need to put in the time.
During your visits, pick a routine activity (like making dinner together or going for a run) that can breed a sense of normalcy. But also relish the novel, exciting things you can do in your respective cities because the other person doesn’t live there. It gives you a chance to explore and see new things, which you probably wouldn’t get in a regular relationship. It keeps things super fresh.
7. Say “I love you” every single day.
“With meetings, traffic and life in general, it’s often hard to keep the focus on why long-distance partners are grateful for each other, and they tend to forget the reasons they fell in love,” says Rodgers.
Long-distance relationships require reminding each other that you’re a priority. You’re making the commitment to each other again and again, every single day. Don’t forget to tell your partner that you love them and to remind them why they’re important to you.
8. Make plans for the future.
While long-distance relationships can work, they do need an end date (or a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak) in order to last. You and your partner should be making plans for the long distance to end, whether that means you move, they move, or you both move somewhere new together.
“I find the healthiest of long-distance couples know where they’re going and what the dream is, which makes the distance much more tolerable,” says Richmond. “Ambiguity in any relationship can cause anxiety and disagreements, and having it long-distance amplifies that equation.” Ask your partner what they envision for the next year (or however long the time period might be). Don’t make assumptions about where their head is, but invite them to join in a conversation with you about what the future holds. LDRs don’t have wiggle room for a: “I’m just not sure,” mindset.
If you’re with someone who isn’t willing to figure out the future with you, you may want to reconsider having them in your present. Life is too short to waste on someone who isn’t on the same level as you are (and also isn’t physically where you are).