Long-distance relationships are generally perceived to be hard or perhaps even impossible, and it’s been suggested that they almost inevitably fail. This is quite a bleak perspective for all those starting university while in a relationship, or those having found love on campus and planning to go on a year abroad. Since no long-distance relationship is exactly like the next one, whether or not it fails arguably has a lot more to do with the characteristics and dynamics of the individual relationship, than with long-distance relationships in and of themselves.
Long-distance relationships can exacerbate pre-existing problems within a relationship
This starts with the defining factor of these relationships: the distance. It can range from a one-hour train ride that allows couples to see each other every weekend if they wish, to spanning entire continents or oceans. It’s probably safe to say that relatively short-distance long-distance relationships are less complicated and easier to sustain, but physical distance isn’t the only factor at play here.
Long-distance relationships can exacerbate pre-existing problems within a relationship, and issues that might be solved relatively easily in a face-to-face conversation can get lost in conversation, turning from molehills into mountains in what feels like mere seconds.
You have to actively make an effort to include your significant other in your schedule
Communication itself can become an issue: how much contact should there be? Is it necessary to talk on the phone every night, or is it enough to text each other ‘good morning’ and talk once or twice a week? It is important here that couples communicate openly about their preferences and boundaries, instead of simply jumping into ‘long-distance relationship mode’, emulating what they believe a long-distance relationship should look like without taking the time to sit down and discuss how their specific relationship can be adapted to a long-distance situation.
As this example shows, the main reason long-distance relationships are so hard is that you are not part of each other’s everyday routine anymore, and in a way, not even of each other’s lives. You have to actively make an effort to include your significant other in your schedule, and be part of the highs and lows that life throws at them. It can be hard to bring up the motivation to do this when your memories together are slowly starting to fade, and you’re about to forget why you fell in love with that person in the first place.
A long-term perspective is needed that involves being in the same place again
There is also the question of why a couple find themselves in a long-distance relationship: Was this a decision unilaterally taken by one of the partners – for example, their decision to move to another city or country for university while the other one stays behind? In this case, it can be hard, not to say impossible, to communicate that a decision in favour of a certain degree or a new city is not necessarily a decision against the relationship you are in. Was it, on the other hand, a mutual decision because it is clear from your plans that there will be other phases later on when the other partner will be abroad for an extended period of time and you will be the one staying behind? Or, is it even the case that no one is left behind because both partners are moving to new cities for university? In these cases, it will probably be easier to sustain the long-distance relationship because there is no guilt or blame involved.
It is nevertheless clear that in all of these scenarios, a long-term perspective is needed that involves being in the same place again. This can be because your year abroad has a natural expiration date after two semesters, or because you’re planning to do your postgraduate studies in the same city. What’s hard to deal with, on the other hand, is when one partner is at a point in their life where they’re not quite sure where they’re headed. As understandable as it is to feel disorientated as a young person, springing all of that on your partner hardly seems fair.
Evolving in different directions can happen to any couple
The late teenage years and early 20s are an age where people evolve and change quite a lot, and so some couples grow together, while others grow apart. Evolving in different directions can happen to any couple, but it is a lot more likely when you are hardly part of each other’s lives anymore. This isn’t exactly a sunny outlook, and one that might make you want to swear off long-distance relationships for good. However, we do have to ask ourselves what the alternative is – tying yourself to your partner with a bottle-green cable tie? Yes, you won’t grow apart (because you’ll physically be unable to), but will you be happy this way? Surely it would be unwise – and potentially much more damaging to the relationship – not to chase your dreams at 18 years old because of a relationship and possibly regret it later. Compared to this, growing apart seems like a small risk to take – but a risk nonetheless.
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