Two of my friends are in dating relationships that will soon be tested by a long period of separation. I can relate to their frustration and dread over the upcoming goodbye, because my husband Andy and I have had to endure being apart for long periods of time twice - once for six weeks when we were dating, and once for five months after getting married. Looking back on those experiences, I can see what assisted in the success of our time apart, as well as what had the potential to harm the bond we had worked hard to form.
Growing in a relationship when you’re together takes effort — doing it apart is extra work! Being separated by distance will test many aspects of your relationship, particularly commitment, trust, communication and time management. These are all important things to think about before you enter a LDR (long-distance relationship).
How committed are you to this relationship?
Your first step is to carefully consider how committed you are to the other person. Neither Andy nor I doubted whether or not we’d be willing to endure those six weeks apart while we were dating, because by that point neither one of us had any interest in being single or dating someone else. (In fact, he proposed the day after we were reunited!)
If there is any part of you that wants to explore the many “fishes in the sea,” don’t jump into an LDR. If you really like the guy but you’re not convinced he’s the one for you, let him know your hesitations and talk it through before deciding to move forward. Some couples thrive on having a LDR early in the dating stages (such as people who meet online), but it doesn’t work for everyone. Remember, you want to be growing in your LDR, not simply keeping it alive.
Do you trust each other?
Trust should be simple, right? Sadly, as imperfect people we have let others down and have experienced let downs ourselves. It’s natural to be tempted to doubt another person’s words or actions, but God’s Word encourages us to be trusting in our relationships.
1 Corinthians 13:7 reads, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (ESV) The New Living Translation of the same verse reads, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
The Greek word for believe in the ESV version is pisteuō, which means to place confidence in someone or something. Is the person you’re with worthy of your confidence? Are you worthy of theirs? You might struggle with wondering if your boyfriend or husband is going to be faithful to you when he’s alone with a computer or out with friends at a bar. If he has a history of addictions, you might worry that he’ll give into temptation. If he’s bad with money, you might worry he’ll overspend. Satan will use whatever insecurities you have to make you doubt the strength of your relationship.
During college, Andy was stuck working a summer job in Virginia while I gallivanted around Ireland for six weeks during a study abroad program. Most of the other students in my group partied often, and Andy didn’t like picturing me in that environment. He had to choose between fretting about my decisions and trusting me to stay loyal to my character.
Hopefully your relationship already has a strong foundation of trust. If not, work hard to establish that foundation while you’re apart instead of allowing the separation to push you further apart.
How well do the two of you communicate?
A LDR will only make things harder if you’re already struggling with communicating well with one another. Talking on the phone or video messaging simply isn’t the same as being in the same room. The circumstances of your LDR might also put restrictions on the amount of time you have to chat — such as if your boyfriend is deployed or you’re trying to get through med school.
Andy and I had our fair share of communication problems when I was studying abroad. It was hard for Andy to hear how much fun I was having without him, but it was also hard for me not to gab about all the new things I was experiencing. We put a lot of pressure on the moments we had to instant message and video chat, because the time difference and my busy schedule made it impossible for us to talk every day.
Try not to place expectations on the time you have together — that will set you up for potential disappointment. Instead, go into the conversation with an open mind and a positive attitude.
During our five months apart while married, we stuck to quick and happy phone conversations throughout the day. We were able to see each other nearly every weekend, which made it possible for us to save important topics for when we could chat in person.
Try to keep conversations light-hearted and encouraging.“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” Proverbs 12:25 (NIV)
You’re both imperfect people and will let each other down — even from far away! Forgive quickly. “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9 (NIV)
Men often get overwhelmed by a lot of chatter, and women who talk a lot can be careless with their words. Think about what you want to share before the conversation occurs, and remember to include plenty of time for listening. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Proverbs 10:19 (NIV)
Do you have a plan for how you’ll spend the time apart?
From our experience, the LDR tends to be hardest on the person being left behind. Keeping this in mind, I lined up several coffee dates and visits from out-of-town friends for those five months that Andy worked in another part of the state. I knew I needed to keep myself busy in order to not mope around the house missing my husband. Of course, it was a huge help that Andy and I were able to spend the weekends together!
When I wasn’t on a “friend date,” I used my time to organize closets, read, take long walks with the dog and dance around the house, singing at the top of my lungs. I began to embrace my alone time and became more confident in myself in the process. Those times alone prepared me for moving to Maryland, where it took several months to make friends.
“She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” Proverbs 31:27 (ESV)
If you’re the one left behind, start filling up your calendar so that you’ll have things to look forward to. Make the most of your time by diving into ministry or charity work. During our five months apart I was able to meet more often with girls in my Bible study and dedicate more time to the cleaning ministry that I was overseeing at church. My relationship with the Lord grew stronger because I threw myself into studying and fellowship (and I wasn’t as distracted by my cute husband).
If you’re the one with the more hectic schedule, encourage your boyfriend or husband to think of ways to keep busy and try not to dump your stress on him. Make him feel like a priority by scheduling specific times to call each other or video chat, and maybe surprise him now and then with a sweet e-mail or text.
Some final thoughts to leave you with: God did not design us for long-distance relationships. Being separated from a person you love is not easy! Talk with each other about your relationship goals and how you plan on growing together. Don’t forget to pray, pray, pray!
Laura Rennie lives in Maryland with her hilarious husband and constantly shedding dog. She loves reading, writing and playing word games. Her greatest desire is to share Jesus through her words and actions as she learns how to be a better wife, daughter, sister and friend.