Maintaining Long Distance Relationships
Being separated from a partner can put enormous stress on a relationship. Here are problems associated with maintaining long-distance relationships and some solutions.
Table of Contents
This is an online guide directed toward couples who plan on or already are separated due to a work or study experience abroad. Although a majority of resources exist for the traveler to cope with the experience, there are few referring to the significant other that is left behind. For couples to get through an "abroad experience", attention must be paid to three key areas (communication, the relationship itself, and emotions), then the time apart becomes bearable.
Similar to most long-distance relationships, a key component is communication, which is also a universal requirement for any successful relationship. Recent technology makes keeping in touch easier, despite the distance apart between partners, but there are still pros and cons to every method of communication. Some of the most successful methods include writing letters, using long-distance calling cards, using e-mail and Instant Messaging, and sending care packages.
Couples separated by work or study abroad experiences rely on communication methods because like all relationships, communication is key. The most often used methods are calling, e-mail, and Instant Messaging. The reasons for these being most often used involve two important factors for any person: time and money. Although it is not time-consuming to send an e-mail or do Instant Messaging, one key to success in any relationship is variety and spontaneity, especially when separated by an ocean. Also, not all of these methods may be available to both partners, depending on where each person finds themselves.
Communication Methods (Pros)
|Writing Letters||Calling||Instant Messaging||Care Packages|
Communication Methods (Cons)
|Writing Letters||Calling||Instant Messaging||Care Packages|
-Searches for calling cards
-Time zone differences
|-Time zone differences
|-Time zone differences
Due to the growing population using the Internet for communication needs, the idea of writing letters is easily lost, but not forgotten. Letter writing and sending mail is considered inexpensive whether by first class or priority mail standards, but it only depends on how quickly one partner wishes to send the letters. Also, since each letter sent is handwritten, there is something more personal about it possibly because it shows how much one partner cares through the time and effort it takes to write letters. However, frequency of writing and how a person sends the letters (in groups) may result in only having the local post office as a place to mail it.
Another popular method of communicating for couples is the telephone. Making a telephone call is still fast, no matter what the distance involved is, but again there is also a personal element in it because partners hear each other's voices. Not surprisingly, there are numerous ways of attempting to maximize the telephone for long-distance calling ranging from internet phone lines to calling cards. Usually these methods greatly restrict the amount of time partners talk with each other due to time zone differences.
With the invention of the Internet, e-mail has become a popular method for communicating, similar to writing letters. E-mail is also accessible anywhere as long as both partners can get to a computer.
Further advancement of e-mail and Internet capabilities led to the birth of the Instant Messaging service. The fastest and arguably best method for being with a significant other abroad, it is inexpensive and accessible almost anywhere, as long as both partners are at a terminal. Allows voice and video conversations when both people have microphones or webcams.
This is a more creative method of sending mail to a significant other working or studying abroad. When used properly, this technique may assist the traveler with re-entry shock, commonly experienced by people who go abroad. The reason is because it not only includes written letters, but also tokens from things partners usually do together; serving as a portal into the world the traveler temporarily left. The more creativity each couple has, the more effective this method becomes.
Another key consideration are issues involving the relationship itself.The difficulty with this is it requires both partners to evaluate the status of their relationship. The importance of understanding such viewpoints is because it makes facing the tougher challenges proposed by the time abroad easier to deal with.Some specific areas to consider discussing with your partner are: possibility of growing apart, dependency, lack of physical interaction, and lack of support from partner.
Prior to attempting the maintenance of a relationship complicated by a work or study abroad experience, there are preliminary elements that must be present and healthy. Those elements are trust, honesty, and communication. With those in place, couples should consider issues that being abroad raises such as: possibility of growth together or apart, dependence versus independence, lack of physical interaction, and lack of support from partner.
Possibility of Growth Together or Apart
An issue needing to be addressed prior to the abroad experience is the possibility of growing together or apart. It is important for the partner left behind to understand how the experience may influence the traveler by broadening his or her mindset outside of our own culture. It is also possible for partners to become so different that continuing the relationship seems pointless. However, through the use of good communication skills and understanding, this outcome is avoidable if both partners commit the time and energy upon departure and return.
Dependence Versus Independence
How dependent partners are on each other in a relationship may become stressed while living through an abroad experience. Dr. Kenneth J. Davidson, sociology professor and co-author of the textbook, Marriage and Familyat the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire describes three types of dependency in marriages (chapter 10): A-frame, H-frame, and M-frame. Although these types are discussed in the context of marriage, they are also an excellent model for relationships.
Frames of Marriage (Types)
- A-frame marriage - A marital relationship in which one partner is too dependent upon the other.
- H-frame marriage - A relationship of total independence in which very little couple identity develops.
- M-frame marriage - A relationship which balances dependence and independence to form an interdependent marriage.
The M-frame marriage is the ideal style partners are encouraged to strive for, and considering couples in relationships separated by an ocean, this same style applies. It is important for couples to remember they have separate lives and that it is acceptable for them to have experiences outside of the relationship, but it is equally important to understand one another as still available for support whenever possible. This does not mean the other styles are doomed to fail surviving a work or study abroad experience, rather, it means partners must take additional time and effort in adapting to the experience. Good communication and coping skills are important toward this cause.
Lack of Physical Interaction
The term "physical interaction" in the context of relationships refers to not only sexual acts, but also affectionate acts such as conversation, praise, facial expressions, and body language. This obstacle is inevitable and allows couples to work on their interpersonal relationship outside of physical acts.
An alternative method of interaction is Instant Messaging. In addition to being able to engage in conversation textually, this method also allows the use of emoticons (computer symbols resembling emotions). Using these, it becomes possible to share common feelings like: smiles, laughs, kisses, frowns, and a host of others using picture representations. Users can also establish audio and video connections through instant messaging services.
When using any method of expressing emotion, remember that something must be left to the imagination, proving technology has still not evolved beyond humans.
Lack of Support from Partner
This is another stumbling block for partners who decide on attempting a long-distance relationship. However, the problems are magnified by the work or study abroad experience because of the ocean separating the partners.
Because of the inability to both share and provide support during good times and bad, it is important for the couple to find (or maintain) other avenues of support, most commonly done through friendships with people who care. Through these friendships, partners find the support they may be lacking due to the absence of their significant other.
The last type of issue couples should prepare themselves for in a work or study abroad separation is emotions. Although life for the partner left behind might not progress or change as rapidly as the traveler's, there are common emotions he or she needs to work through, including loneliness, depression, anxiety, and jealousy.
Being separated in a relationship is difficult physically due to the lack of being close to one another, but it is also mentally difficult due to the possible emotions experienced by the partner left behind. Some of the most common are: loneliness, depression, anxiety, and jealousy.
Combating the feeling of loneliness may seem like a lone battle, and it is. No matter how close a network of friends is, those people are not always around, which forces partners to find alternative methods of dealing with that emotion. Looking forward to being reunited and becoming involved with clubs and social organizations also helps to overcome this emotion.
An effective alternative is becoming involved (or re-involved) with hobbies. During the course of a relationship, it is possible for partners to find less time to devote to hobbies (determined by the amount of dependency), but the interest in them never extinguishes. It also helps partners pass the time until they are reunited rather than concentrate on their loneliness.
One of the most common emotions experienced by both partners is depression. From the traveler's perspective, overcoming this emotion is less difficult because he or she becomes immersed in the host culture, but for the person left behind there are additional supports.
Having a network of close friends is helpful because it provides the companionship a relationship lacks during a work or study abroad experience. It also provides the necessary support for partners to express their feelings in a healthy way, knowing they can do so freely without worry of being judged by people or society.
Unlike loneliness and depression, anxiety is not an emotion that can be dealt with successfully alone. Both partners need to be open and honest with each other about issues this emotion raises which includes exclusivity.
Discussing and making mutual agreements, or setting boundaries about exclusivity is a way of alleviating the effects of anxiety (fear and paranoia). Boundaries include how far interest in a guy or girl is allowed to go, acceptable behavior with opposite sex friends, and whether or not to see other people. However, the boundaries created must be upheld and respected, which happens when partners build a strong foundation of trust.
Although discussion and creation of mutual agreements alleviate initial fears and worries, it is important for partners to revisit these problems associated with anxiety together, in order to provide reassurances and support when needed.
The result of partners who fail to deal with anxiety properly is jealousy, which leaves one or both partners to misunderstand different situations they may find themselves in, but this is an issue partners can work through if both people are willing to put forth the time and energy.
During the time apart, it is only natural for both partners to make new friends, possibly of the opposite sex. Acceptance of that initial fact is a step toward overcoming the negative emotional destruction jealousy causes.
Something that helps free a partner from the negative and damaging effects of jealousy is reassurances from the other that their misunderstanding is simply that. Doing so reinforces trust in the partner's mind and slowly forces him or her to evaluate the situation in a more rational sense. Once that happens, the partner overcomes anxiety, and the feeling of jealousy leaves him or her.
Staff, H. (2008, November 3). Maintaining Long Distance Relationships, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, January 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/healthy-relationships/maintaining-long-distance-relationships