An expert explains how likely your long distance relationship is to last
‘In theory we could communicate 24/7. In reality we have to live our lives’
The dreaded LDR. Many of us have been in one. Many have survived. Many of us wouldn’t even bother as they wouldn’t even last a day. We asked leading relationship expert Diana Parkinson to help us determine whether or not that long lost lover really is the one, and if they are, how to make sure they don’t run away.
Are long distance relationships sustainable?
Nowadays it’s a lot easier that it used to be. Now we have Skype, computers and tablets. We can stay communicated all the time without needing to pay for a stamp. The world is so small. Nowadays places like Spain and France are on our doorstep. Young people are so worried about Brexit, but I don’t think we’ll be in any trouble at all. However, if you are with someone in Australia or China, it’s another story.
How long can you realistically be apart from someone before you should be reunited?
It depends on the distance but once a month is reasonable. Long student holidays means you can catch up then. It depends on how much money people have got and not letting your love life get in the way of your studies. Some couples can last up to a year being apart, if they are really strong and determined, but that’s rare. I think six months is the limit, and even six months would be difficult for young virile people. If you are always seeing people who are attractive and friends are out having fun, who wants to be out sitting alone like a gooseberry? It’s the reality.
If you are apart for a year or more, it will be difficult making your LDR work, unless you have an end goal, for example being reunited and seeing each other a lot at the end of that year. Without that end goal, I don’t know how sustainable that relationship really is. Not knowing when you are properly going to be reunited with your partner makes you feel uncertain, anxious, and worried about whether he or she is seeing somebody else. That’s why the most important thing is knowing when you are both seeing each other again.
But it’s a problem when one of the partners is controlling that rather than both. So if you feel one partner is wanting to meet up and the other is less inclined and for petty reasons, that is a bad sign.
Do long distance relationships really make it harder to stay faithful?
Yes they do. While you may think you really love that person, your friends in the meantime are going out and having fun and it’s bound to make you feel really lonely. But I don’t think people are looking to be unfaithful, but more, they feel sad and lonely. Plus, if you are constantly around people who are being unfaithful, the anxiety you have about your partner far away is heightened. We all feel anxiety and insecurity.
It’s a normal thing, you see old posters of people sat by the landline phone waiting for it to ring. Even for people in a committed relationship for 10-20 years, separation for any length of time is still hard. And much as it’s nice to Skype someone, it’s not the same as being with them face to face.
In terms of trust, if we have grown up in a secure family we are going to feel more secure in our own relationships. If we have grown up with divorced parents we can end up more needy and insecure in our own relationships. But we shouldn’t blame and punish ourselves for the way we act because its normal. Understanding how we are as we are is important. We aren’t taught about relationships. We are just taught to pass exams, go through university and work. My advice is, if the couple is more open about their individual fears, for example “sorry I feel a bit needy because…” it’s better than saying nothing at all and then acting needy and causing more arguments and breaking up.
How involved should you be in each other’s day to day lives in order to make the relationship work?
One part of love is about ‘setting people free’, and we need to make sure we don’t stalk each other. It is good to chat to each other about how often you both feel the need to keep in touch, so that you are both comfortable. Often people don’t do that, so you have one person feeling really needy and needing to be in touch and wondering “why aren’t you phoning or messaging me?” and the other one is thinking “I do love you but I need a bit of space”.
Wherever you are in the world you should make an agreement about how often you talk, but without making a rigid, obsessive, compulsive regime of “at 6pm every day we must speak”. For most of us we will feel very trapped if we have set times to talk, not to mention the difficulties of different time zones in other countries. If you are starting to say “I want a photo right now of you in your bedroom” or “just send a video so I can see exactly what’s happening” that’s going to end a relationship instead of keeping it going. If you’re stuck in a lecture and thinking “oh god I have to talk to him” you’ll feel trapped and resentful and more likely to end a relationship.
But remember people impose or superimpose fears by listening to friends who can have a negative influence and make you overthink things. Don’t forget there are people who do that because they are jealous of your relationship. But it’s hard to differentiate between someone being bitchy or someone genuinely concerned for your wellbeing. Just remember that some people stir things up.
How should you treat the limited, precious time you have together when you meet again? Should you make an effort with their friends?
I would think that if you have that limited time together all you probably want to do is be together alone and be in bed together. If it’s really limited time, it’s normal to do this. Although if you are seeing someone every fortnight, its great to involve friends as well. But if a girl is going off to see her boyfriend every fortnight, and his friends are always around him, she might feel that she’s being a bit sidelined, and not special.
Just remember, having a balance is important. Perhaps ask yourself, are you having a one to one relationship with someone or with your friends? Also it’s normal not to always like the friends of your boyfriend or girlfriend, as we are all different.
Is it bad if you argue when you are apart? It is better to wait until you are together face to face?
You don’t really have much control over this. What is important is being able to resolve a problem rather than sulking and ignoring each other. Many people do the whole “you make me feel” blaming thing, and shaming, rather than having a proper conversation. What are the benefits from shaming someone and making them feel bad? If people are feeling like they are being separated they inevitably feel more sensitive to things due to anxiety, and your partner should get that.
However, WhatsApp and text messaging makes people take things out of context, and due to the instant messaging, you say things without thinking. The best thing for long distance is Skype. Problems shouldn’t be dealt with by WhatsApp – it’s way too impersonal and you can’t see the other person. At least if you can see each other by video chat, you get much more of a sense of the person. And you shouldn’t be able to text when you’re drunk, full stop. That’s the only problem with instant messaging, you send something in the moment and afterwards you think “oh shit, why did I send that” whereas if you had a to write a letter with pen and ink and have it nicely sealed and take it to the post box, you would have far more time to decide what to say.
Should couples be having ‘Skype sex’ in a long distance relationship?
Yes I’d expect couples to be doing that in an LDR. As long as people feel safe and in a secure relationship, I don’t see why not. But no one should feel coheres. And sadly it’s never the same as the real thing.
Is it normal for couples in a long distance relationship to watch more porn?
I wouldn’t say people in long distance relationships watched more porn. Besides, I think Skype sex would be far better than resorting to porn. You already have a relationship that has to work in one dimension, so porn would be something to consider very carefully. It could become less about being in a relationship with each other and more voyeuristic. It can be potentially more damaging for a LDR and I would question the relationship if a lot of that was going on.
Is it a good or bad idea to have an ‘open relationship’?
They are not good. It doesn’t bode well. If people are doing that, they can’t expect to have loving relationships because it’s not going to happen. It might be someone’s fantasy, but most of us need the one-to-one. Once you start that, then the original relationship is subordinate.
Related stories recommended by this writer:
● We talked to the couple who managed to make long distance relationships looks incredibly easy and disgustingly cute
● My boyfriend and I have an open relationship and you should want one, too