My husband and I got married on January 14th, 2020. We didn’t see each other in person for nearly a year afterward. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Nearly a year later, I’ve learned countless hard lessons about myself, our relationship, and love that I wish I hadn’t needed to — but that have made me a better partner in our relationship, long-distance marriage or not.
I’m the kind of woman who thrives on constant reassurances of love and affection. I’ve had to become the kind of woman who can deal with a long-distance marriage because the alternative is unthinkable. Here’s what it taught me.
Spending time together became a chore.
When we lived together, my husband and I frequently did what we called “independent hang out time.” This meant we’d be hanging out together but each doing our own thing, like painting or playing video games.
In our long-distance marriage, that low-effort, high-quality source of time together went out the window. We replaced it with video calls, which I find approximately ten times harder than in-person conversations. There are awkward silences, interruptions, misunderstandings.
Suddenly, a fount of joy that I never thought twice about became a chore. We had to remember to pick up the phone, call each other, ask about our days. Even this was harder than normal because, under quarantine, our days had all the interest of a bland bowl of porridge. I got tired of asking, “So what did you get up to today?” and having to answer the inevitable, “Oh, not much, what about you?”
The solution turned out to be group calls with friends. I’m not a social butterfly by nature — when my husband and I lived together, it was always easier for me to stay at home than to go out with him and our friends. In a long-distance marriage, that changed.
It sounds weird to say that it was more painless to interact with my husband when there were other people around, but it’s true. Daily one-on-one conversations are hard over the phone. With others around, it relieved the burden of conversation while still letting us hang out.
Easy avenues of choosing love were taken from me.
The saying “Love is an action, not a feeling,” is a cliche so ingrained in our cultural subconsciousness that I was actually shocked when it turned out to be true. In a long-distance marriage, I couldn’t just be and stay in love with my husband. I had to keep pursuing the feeling through my actions.
When we were together, I could do this on autopilot: pick up a passion fruit at the store (his favorite). Make dinner when he was working late. Give him a hug because I was thinking of him and I loved him.
In a long-distance marriage, these easy avenues of choosing love were taken from me. The choice was no longer: spend an extra minute or two at the store, or don’t. It became: go out, buy a card, go to the post office, pay for postage, and send a letter that won’t arrive for another two weeks, or… don’t. And the latter option became a lot easier to take.
What saved me was finding mutual hobbies. When we lived together, we’d go for walks, swims, and played video games. Living apart, we tried to read similar books, watch similar TV shows, and play similar games. This made our conversations more frictionless, and in the case of movies and games, gave us something to do together. It’s possible I owe Stardew Valley and Divinity: Original Sin my marriage.
Different coping mechanisms were stress points.
When I’m stressed, I look ahead to the future. I’d paint vivid pictures of our life together: a house in Boston, a greyhound dog, an open plan kitchen and living room, the cricket club he could join, the visits from friends we’d enjoy.
By contrast, my husband struggles to look ahead when he’s in a tough spot. Instead, he takes things as they come.
When I wanted him to help me plan our future, we both got upset because our coping mechanisms were diametrically opposed. It took me six long months to realize that — during which we fought more than normal because we were unknowingly causing stress in each other’s lives.
The solution for me has been to plan with friends and family, instead. My mom and I spend afternoons in front of our laptops, scoping out potential apartments. My dad and I put together a budget for Boston expenses. But with my husband, I spend our time focusing on the present. It’s a sacrifice, but one that’s better than the alternative.
Long-distance marriage was always going to be nearly impossible.
We knew it would be a tough year. The original plan was for me to move back first while we waited for him to get his visa, which meant we’d be 4,000 miles apart most of the time but interspersed with visits and holidays.
We couldn’t have anticipated that instead, a pandemic would keep us physically apart for nearly a year. After being together for six years, and living together for three of those, losing him was a jarring shock to my system.
Throughout the year, we overcame hurdles that hadn’t existed when we were together physically, and found solutions we wouldn’t have needed a year ago. The answers weren’t always obvious or intuitive, but doing the work to find them made our long-distance marriage possible.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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