Starting a long-distance relationship can feel terrifying, and no doubt you have a thousand questions about how to make it work. Maybe you’ve met someone online and have decided to make things official, or your partner has accepted a great work opportunity abroad, or you’ve had to move to take care of your relatives back home.
Whatever the scenario, knowing you’ll be apart from your partner is heartbreaking. But if you’re committed to making the relationship work and have decided to go the distance (literally), it’s helpful to know what to expect.
“Long-distance relationships can survive if both partners can be proactive and come up with a plan to manage the ups and downs that often occur,” says Kristin Davin, a licensed psychologist at Choosing Therapy.
So, with that in mind, we asked relationship experts for their best tips for starting a long-distance relationship, whether with your current partner or someone new.
Relationship expectations often get a bad rap in the dating world, but they can be incredibly helpful if you and your partner are starting a long-distance relationship.
“It helps to have clear expectations about the relationship, visits, communication, exclusivity, and future goals for the relationship,” says Martha Teater, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Choosing Therapy. Discussing the relationship logistics as well as each other’s needs sets you up for success.
“Make sure you are both on the same page,” adds Davin. “Talk about what you would need from the long-distance relationship so that you feel you can come up with a plan so that when there are challenges, you can have the opportunity to discuss these.”
Unspoken expectations are unmet expectations, which is a recipe for resentment and frustration. Be honest about your expectations and remember to be open to your partner's, as well — you’re in this together, after all.
“A long-distance relationship can survive the test of time and logistical trials, but this requires you to be prepared to accommodate the inconveniences and embrace the challenges,” says Dr. Jacqui Gabb, a professor of sociology and intimacy at The Open University and Chief Relationships Officer at Paired.
“It’s unlikely to be the fantasy long-distance love affair that you imagined — but that’s okay. Be realistic and pragmatic. Accept that things need to change and that you’ll both need to adjust.”
Different time zones, missed calls, lack of physical intimacy, and the cost of travel is all part and parcel of a long-distance relationship, so making a plan on how to deal with these challenges beforehand is crucial.
“The most important thing is to be proactive and not reactive,” says Davin. “This means coming up with a plan before you begin the long-distance relationship and make a plan to keep the lines of communication open so both people can feel and stay connected.”
Teater also recommends figuring out what the plan is going forward. “How long will the separation last? How will this phase end? Will the partner who’s leaving come back to town, or will the person who’s staying eventually move to where the partner went?”
She also recommends discussing the details around visits, such as how often you’ll see each other, where, and who will pay for travel. You don’t have to figure out all the minutia right away, or even come up with a super rigid plan, but it’s helpful to address these concerns early on.
Davin says one of the biggest challenges of long-distance relationships is making time for deeper conversations. “Long-distance relationships often require that you make sure both people want to have deeper, more meaningful conversations to make up for the time spent apart,” she says.
Dr. Gabb agrees, and also recommends scheduling regular catch-up time with your partner. “Set aside dedicated time to regularly catch up and share your day with them,” she says.
“Don’t make your catch-up all about your annoying boss or grumbles about domesticities, share the positives too, or discuss what you’ve been doing socially. This will help to make you both stay connected when there is physical distance between you.”
“Make an effort to stay connected,” says Dr. Gabb. “Text, WhatsApp, Instagram, FaceTime — any medium, any way. Let your partner know you’re thinking of them at different points in the day.” Technology is your friend in a long-distance relationship (the Paired app is a good place to start).
Kevin Mimms, a licensed marriage and family therapist, agrees that making space for casual interactions is key. “Share a call every day or at regular intervals that aren’t meant for a specific purpose,” he says. “Something that brings their presence into your mind while you continue your day, or talks casually about whatever is on your mind.”
“Open up to your partner about how it feels to not see them every day,” says Dr. Gabb.
“Acknowledge when it feels hard and talk through whether you can change something to make it feel more comfortable. It may be that you enjoy the time apart as you’re rediscovering yourself, and your partner can maybe follow your lead. The point is to let them know that these changes in you don’t mean diminished feelings for you or a withdrawal from the relationship.”