Some people enter into a long-distance relationship in order to avoid the depressing feeling that a breakup brings with it. And if the relationship doesn’t work out — which is true for most of them —it only prolongs the pain. Instead of love, happiness, and fondness, they instead deliver doubt, distrust, and agony.
But mine will undoubtedly be different, I thought!
And it could have been — had I understood what happens when one enters into a long-distance relationship. Here is what I have learned since then.
What happens when friendships develop
Don’t worry. We will get back to your relationship soon enough. But let’s figure out how friendships work, first.
When you get to know someone, you probably want to start by presenting your best side. You are careful with what you say and thoughtful about what you text. You make sure not to reveal everything about you and your personality just yet. It would be way too much and complicated for the other person to comprehend, anyway.
Instead, whenever you interact with that person, you are giving away small bits of new information of yourself. The other person is doing that too, of course. It’s like a dance. You are exchanging small drops of your personalities. So small that the other person won’t just run away if they dislike them. So small that you still have it under control.
Back to your relationship
Once you understand this pattern, you can see it in relationships, too. But you are also dancing around an additional topic: Your shared future.
The hinting phase
Throughout your relationship, both of you will drop hints about how — and if — you are planning to grow old with one another. The chances are that your plans will differ tremendously. One of you wants four children and live in California, while the other one dreams of a digital nomad life traveling through Bali together. Let’s call this first phase — in lack of a better name — the “hinting phase”.
The teamingf phase
Since you are still in love with each other, you decide to stay together, even with dreams and potential futures diverging significantly. As you are living and overcoming challenges together, you are forming a better unit. And through continuously dropping hints, you are influencing each other dreams and plans. Through constant bits of information, voluntary compromises, and shared growth, your goals may move closer together. For example, you now both want to live in Bali, but stationary and with two children. Great!
These compromises can be seen as a bad deal. I mean, in the end, no one got what they exactly wanted. But such arrangements can only be considered flawed if they are the result of a tyrannical relationship. However, this is not what happened in the example. Up there, you two participated in the same dance that also occurs in newly formed friendships. You negotiated fairly. And you didn’t only grow, but you grew together.
The problem with long-distance relationships
There are many, obviously, but let’s stick with this one first.
The earlier you are starting with your long-distance relationship, the harder it will be to enter into the teaming phase. You may be able to drop hints regarding your future goals and pick up the ones of your partner. But without living together, it becomes quite hard to make your plans match through shared growth.
This means that if your goals aren’t nearly entirely congruent from the get-go, you won’t have many chances to fix them.
And once you two realize that your futures don’t match — consciously or unconsciously — a staggering question arises. A question that has killed more long-distance relationships than any other cause:
Should I avoid the potential pleasures right now, to have a future with my partner once I see them again?
A person asking that question cannot decide in favor of a long-distance relationship when they know that this future isn’t going to work because of the difference in goals.
How to save your relationship
There is still hope. Now that you know about this threat, you can do something about it. Depending on your circumstances, though, you may have to adjust the following steps.
Step 1: Skip the hinting phase and use the time to form a team instead. Especially if you are starting out as a long-distance relationship. Tell them about your dreams straight away and ask them for theirs. You don’t have time to dance around now, but this way, you may be able to dance a lot, once you see each other again.
Step 2: If you have the chance to meet each other, don’t use it to stay in and cuddle all day. You have to grow together and team up! Go for adventures, seek out challenges, in other words: Experience life. Together.
Step 3: Make sure to have some time between the long-distance phase and your goals. Postpone your dreams for this, if necessary.
Step 4: Never discuss anything regarding your dreams with your partner over text. Discussions over text, in general, will never produce anything productive for your relationship.
Step 5: Lastly, you both have to want this to make it work. This means you two have to communicate about your relationship thoroughly and want to share a common future.
Many long-distance relationships are failing because they are approached like an ordinary one. Instead, you have to be more direct and open. Figure out what you want your lives to be like in the future. This may not only save your relationship, but it will also spare you from doubting the compatibility of your goals and your love.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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