Long Distance Relationships: How to Make Them Work

Couple Video Chatting on Smartphone - Smiling Couple

Long-distance relationships get a bad rap. For most of my life, they were generally considered a fool’s errand – a big waste of time destined for heartbreak and failure. But technology has made the world smaller than ever and today it’s possible to maintain a near-constant connection to someone half a world away.

That said, technology alone isn’t enough to mitigate every problem distance presents. It still requires daily effort, long-term planning, emotional strength, and a range of other helpful strategies like the ones highlighted in this article.

I once spent 3 years of a relationship that ultimately lasted 8 doing long-distance. And those were during college, arguably the most challenging time to maintain a connection from far away. You never have more free time or temptations than in your first years of college. Everyone’s experience is different, but I know what did and didn’t work for us.

Before we get into the tips for making a long-distance relationship work, check out these eye-opening statistics.

Stats Related to Long-Distance Relationships:

  • 14 million American couples are in a long-distance relationships.
  • Almost 60% of long-distance relationships last.
  • 81% of long-distance couples say they feel higher levels of intimacy after an extended period apart.
  • 37% of long-distance couples break up within 3 months of living close to each other.
  • Most long-distance couples see each other an average of twice per month.
  • A government survey found that the number of married Americans living apart from their spouse jumped from ~2.7 million in 2000 to approximately 3.9 million in 2017.
  • A 2018 poll found that 27% of the long-distance couples surveyed had never lived near each other. 50% of those couples met online.
  • 75% of college students have been in a long-distance relationship.
  • 24% of internet users with recent dating experience have used the internet to maintain a long-distance relationship.
  • Couples in long-distance relationships exchange an average of 343 texts every week.
  • 70% of committed partners claim to communicate more often with their significant other while they’re apart.
  • 20% of men and 13% of women admittedly cheat (* I’m calling BS on that 13% for women; they’re just better at not getting caught.) Cybersex and online flirting are the most common cheating behaviors.

See, long-distance relationships aren’t the harbinger of doom they’re made out to be! A 60% success rate is right in line with your average close-proximity partnership. And judging by some of those figures, the distance perpetuates a bit of a “honeymoon” feel to the moments couples do get to spend together.

Maybe some people work better in a relationship with more space in their day-to-day lives, followed by short, periodic, more intense, bouts of intimacy.

Use a Mix of Communication Mediums and Technology

I touched on this in the introduction, but it can’t be emphasized enough the degree to which modern communication technologies have made long-distance relationships more feasible. Back when I was doing the long-distance thing, the most we had was cell phones and MySpace.

There were no smartphones with FaceTime, apps like Snapchat, or even basic videoconferencing software like Skype. A couple undertaking a stretch of long-distance dating relied almost entirely on (audio only) telephone conversations and the occasional treat through snail mail.

With today’s communications options, you can damn near feel every bit as connected as geographically close couples. Smartphones make constant interaction possible.

You can see each other live at a moment’s notice, or leave messages via text, email, voice, or video recording. Throw in social media updates and you can piece together a play-by-play of someone’s entire day.

Videochat / Background Skype

One of the best tips I’ve read was highlighted in an article in The Atlantic which featured a 29-year-old dentist named Jess Lam and her boyfriend. They used a strategy called “background Skype,” to maintain a sense of closeness through four years of long distance.

At the end of a typical day, the duo would get home and eat, then start a Skype video chat which they left open in the background for several hours as they went about their evenings. That way, they’d still feel each other’s presence, even if they weren’t directly interacting most of the time.

“We wouldn’t be paying attention to each other all the time, but we could see each other on the screen and say hi, so we always were connected in that way,” Lam explained.

Couple Video Chat Using Laptop

“Background Skype” has become a popular tool for long-distance couples today. According to Jason Farman, a media scholar at the University of Maryland with a background studying the history of communication technologies, passive video chatting “allows the banal to come to the surface,” allowing for “a level of intimacy that I don’t think people of previous eras had on the same scale.”

Group Watch Apps

Shared experiences are vital to the health of a long-distance relationship. If you don’t participate in different activities together, your communications become nothing more than current events and status updates. At that point, you’re just living separate lives and reporting back to each other. Couples who live near each other rack up millions of seemingly meaningless micro-experiences which play a critical role in developing “togetherness.”

Similar to the background Skype idea, you’d be smart to utilize the “Group Watch” feature available on most streaming apps like Disney Plus and Netflix. That way you can watch a show or movie together on your tablet or mobile device.

These apps allow you to see and talk to each other in one window, while the content plays behind it. It’s the closest thing you’ll find to vegging out on the couch together and watching TV to cap off your day.

I’d advise you to avoid watching anything alone that your long-distance partner might be interested in too. Each Group Watch session provides hours of passive interactions, the stuff that keeps the familiarity alive.

Traditional Mail

As instrumental as technology is for long-distance couples, I’d advise against relying on it exclusively. Having a litany of low-effort ways to stay in near-constant connection is a blessing, but over time, those methods of communication lose their luster. They become a habit.

And when you can’t bring home flowers, make dinner for each other, or treat them to a surprise night out, it’s harder to add those occasional sparks of romance that recharge the relationship batteries and keep things steady.

Routine is the death of relationships. The more predictable you are, the quicker boredom sets in. For couples in distance relationships, their options are limited when it comes to making the kinds of random romantic gestures that break up patterns and keep the flame alive.

Since most of your relationship takes place on your tablet or mobile device, I suggest sending the occasional surprise through traditional mail. It can be a handwritten letter, a gift or trinket that reminded you of them, or anything else that takes a bit more thought and effort than your usual correspondence.

Keep them on their toes with random unexpected gestures to keep your long-distance relationship healthy.

Social Media

I mentioned this previously, but social media is just one more platform on which to interact with your significant other. While your usual communications will be private one-on-one conversations, interactions on social media occur in the public square.

Couples behave differently in public than when they’re together in private. Often, they present a stable, healthy, and united front to the rest of the world – which is a good thing because it forces you to become a cooperative unit separate from everyone else.

So, use social media to do the same. The flirtier you are in public the better; it’s good for your friends and followers to see public displays of affection that reinforce your reasons to stay together. Otherwise, out of sight, out of mind — it won’t be long before their friends are applying pressure to come out, “have a good time” with someone new…and more importantly, local.

Make Plans for the Future

According to survey results, over 66% of the long-distance relationships that fail didn’t have a plan for their future together. That’s two-thirds of the couples who broke up deciding they could take on such an enormous challenge without specific timelines or goals or any kind of end in sight.

All they were able to plan for was being physically separated for the indefinite future. That would weigh heavily on anyone.

It’s kind of like how cheat days work in dieting. You can endure longer bouts of dietary discomfort when you know that when you reach your target, you enjoy a reprieve from the restrictions and satisfy cravings. Without them, most people fall off their diet eventually, then never recover.

When you agree to maintain a committed relationship over long distances, there must be a light at the end of the tunnel. You need short, medium, and long-term plans. Always have at least one upcoming visit scheduled on the calendar. Psychologically, target dates will boost your endurance and give you a reason to stay positive.

Love Calendar

Hopefully, you also have a long-term plan to stop living far away from each anymore. For many couples, it’s a matter of finishing college or graduate school – so they know the long-distance inconvenience is temporary. Maybe solving your long-distance relationship is only a matter of saving enough money or finding a new job near your partner.

As long you have reasons to be optimistic about the future and tangible goals for ending the distance challenge, you can keep hope alive in the relationship.

Don’t Grow Complacent, Keep Living

To this point, most of my tips for making a long-distance relationship work have dealt with staying in communication with your partner and keeping the romance alive. However, sometimes doing what’s best for the long-term prospects of your relationship can be counterintuitive.

For example, you shouldn’t forfeit your social life to always make yourself available to your significant other. They might get jealous or disappointed, but you can’t be a martyr and stay home forever just because your partner isn’t there with you. Plus, if you’re constantly accessible at their beck and call, they’ll end up finding you less attractive.

You must remain desirable and keep your social skills sharp. It’s good for you to go out and flirt a little just to maintain the qualities that attracted your significant other in the first place. I’m not suggesting that you cheat, necessarily. But receiving positive attention from strangers is great for your confidence.

The late Patrice O’Neal had a brilliant comedy bit on this topic. I cleaned up some of the transcripts from his comedy special, Elephant in the Room, to paint the picture of what he was saying:

Men like to fish. And sport fishing is different from catching fish for food. You just get it, you catch it, and you show your friends… so you can show people the fish that you have the ability to catch. And then you release it back into the water.

But a lot of women in here, you have boyfriends or husbands. You were fish that jumped back on the boat…

Now you’re stuck. Stuck with the last fish, who was loving you and fighting hard to be on your boat, then she got comfortable, and now she’s like, “so…We’ve been together for, like, a year now. Why do you still have a boat? Why do you need to catch a fish?”

“Because If I lose my ability to catch fish then you’re not gonna find me sexy no more. So, you gotta smell fish on me, so that you know I can catch fish, so you can act right”.Patrice O’Neal

Don’t let yourself get too rusty socially trying to be overly available. As long as you keep yourself feeling sexy, your mate will see you that way too. And a little jealousy goes a long way to keeping them attracted and committed.

Get Weird With It / Keep Things Interesting

This probably belongs in the “technology” section, but I thought it deserved its own. But since this is a respectable website, I’m going to keep it short and extremely vague.

All I’m saying is that you’d be shocked by some of the creative toys and gadgets for sale online that are marketed to couples in long-distance relationships looking for ways to spice things up. I’ve seen all sorts of clever appliances that have a moving part on one end that can be controlled remotely by a partner on the other end. Use your imagination.

For most couples, the lack of regular physical intimacy is the toughest part of long-distance relationships. To keep things exciting, you might need to go beyond your normal comfort zone and let your freak flag fly.

Open the Relationship

Personally, I don’t think I could handle being in an open relationship. However, some people can keep their physical and emotional needs separate. If you’re one of these lucky rationalists, the most effective way to maintain the health of your partnership may be by opening the relationship to other sexual partners.

Before you choose this path, you better be certain that you both can handle it. If you’re the least bit jealous or possessive, it’ll likely blow up in your face and destroy the relationship. To pull it off successfully, it takes a special bond with your partner, built on teamwork and shared interests, where the overall mission outweighs any sense of monogamy.

You should also make sure both parties are equally capable of finding sexual partners. Most open relationships fail when the guy realizes it’s harder to find casual hookups than he remembers. Meanwhile, his girlfriend is going buckwild. It’s about a thousand times easier for a woman to find a willing partner than men. Half the time, they can just ask the nearest stranger.

Don’t agree to an open long-distance relationship unless you know the risk and have the right disposition towards dating to handle it.

Matt Marino
Matt Marino

Matt Marino is an online content writer for DatingApps.com, specializing in trending blogs and dating app reviews. He is a graduate of Geneva College with a Bachelor of the Arts in Communications.