You might think the hardest part of being in a long-distance relationship is not being able to hug, kiss, and touch each other. While the physical distance can be frustrating, another challenge of LDRs is fostering emotional intimacy. So, we asked an expert how to stay emotionally connected in a long-distance relationship.
“Living apart can be tricky,” says Dr. Jacqui Gabb, a professor of sociology and intimacy at The Open University and Chief Relationships Officer at Paired. “Physical affection is more challenging and it’s easy for insecurities and jealousy to form.”
And yet, more and more research points to the fact that distance is not a relationship deal-breaker. “In fact, it might even have its perks,” says Dr. Gabb. “A 2014 study by Emma Dargie, a professor of psychology at Queen's University, found that individuals in long-distance relationships are not actually at a disadvantage and that it’s the general characteristics you bring to a relationship, not the proximity, that counts.”
Other research shows that long-distance couples tend to have as much (if not more) relationship satisfaction as couples who aren’t long-distance, and even have higher levels of dedication to their relationship. That’s because staying connected while apart requires a bit more work, and all that distance forces you to communicate more.
“For example, a couple in a long-distance relationship who talk about the small stuff of their day via WhatsApp, and organize weekly Zoom comedy nights, might spend more 'quality time' getting to know each other and gathering trust than a couple living in the same house sitting side-by-side watching Netflix, or running errands together,” explains Dr. Gabb.
Now that you know long-distance relationships can work, read on for small, expert-approved ways to stay emotionally connected in a long-distance relationship, no matter the miles.
Emotional connection requires, well, connection — regular and frequent connection. That doesn’t mean you have to treat communication like a chore, but rather find small ways to keep a steady conversation with your partner.
“If you tend to miss your partner’s emotional support when you’re apart, make sure you make time to connect during the day to maintain closeness and intimacy,” says Dr. Gabb. “Send a sexy text, watch a movie together via Zoom, take an online class together or ‘digitize’ dinnertime.”
Another option is to download the Paired app, which has a library of daily questions, couple games, and relationship quizzes to keep you and your partner connected.
However you choose to connect, remember to make time for deeper conversations and relationship check-ins.
Just because you’re apart doesn’t mean you can’t have fun together. Find a new hobby you can both start, or pick a TV show you can both watch at the same time. You can even stay on the phone while you watch the latest episode, talking about it as you would if you were in the same room.
“You could also start an ongoing project together to work towards,” suggests Dr. Gabb. “Both buy the same jigsaw puzzle and keep working on it, maintain an ‘LDR playlist’, buy a photo album, and take turns being the custodian of it, adding to the pages while you’re apart.”
You can even spend your time apart by planning your next reunion, coming up with things to do when you’re in the same city, and counting down the days until you see each other again.
Spending quality time together is vital for a relationship to succeed, and that’s even more important when you’re long-distance.
Coming up with long-distance date ideas might require you to think outside the box, but it’s not an impossible task. From online games to cooking a new recipe together via FaceTime or doing a virtual escape room, make the most of what technology has to offer.
Even if you’re texting throughout the day, make it a point to see each other on-screen as much as possible and be fully present with one another.
“Body language can be an important substitute for physical touch when you’re apart,” explains Dr. Gabb. “Plan a video chat, give your partner your undivided attention, and make eye contact to show that you’re physically with them. You can even send them a T-shirt of yours or a personal memento so they can still enjoy your scent while you’re away.”
As hard as it might be, try to keep a positive attitude and make the most of the distance. “Even though it can be tough, take comfort in the fact that space can be good for relationships, allowing you to focus on yourself and bringing excitement and novelty to the relationship,” says Dr. Gabb.
Most importantly, don’t neglect your life outside of the relationship. “Remember, a relationship is about making a unit from two whole people,” she says.
“Go out to the gym, meet friends — your individual hobbies and interests help make you a whole person. Give your partner the go-ahead to do the same. It might seem counterintuitive, but it will enrich your relationship rather than detract from it, and bring you closer together as a result.”
For more advice on how to stay emotionally connected in a long-distance relationship, download Paired and complete Dr. Gabb’s “How to Love From Afar” exercise.