How to Keep Good Communication in a Long Distance Relationship
Communication problems can lead to relationship issues in long distance relationships. Learn to keep your relationship alive and growing while you are apart.
I first met my wife online while living 10,000 miles apart. She lived in Japan and was learning English. I lived in the USA and was learning Japanese. It would be three years before we married and one year before we even saw each other. The way we communicated in our long distance relationship made all the difference, because that is all we had.
You too, can keep your relationship growing while physically distant from your spouse or significant other. It’s not just a matter of keeping in touch. The fact is, long distance relationships are prone to many problems and present the biggest challenge to keeping a married couple connected.
The main problem in long distance relationships and how it happens
Emotional distance is the main problem in any relationship–period. People often take it for granted when they have it. For a successful long distance relationship, careful attention must be paid to maintaining the emotional connection. Emotional connection is the desire to be with the other person again. It can be impacted by three types of communication problems in long distance relationships.
1 Emotional mismatch causes long distance relationship issues
It is very difficult to maintain or build a relationship when your partner feels differently about the relationship than you do. With single people, for example, one person may feel very strongly in love and fantasizing about being married to the other. Meanwhile, their partner thinks of the relationship mainly as a fun connection, similar to others that he or she has. Over time, this can make one person feel pushed and stressed by the person with more intense feelings. The person with more intense feelings can become anxious and upset because their partner doesn’t seem to be as interested in the relationship.
I commonly encounter this problem with people that I am helping to reconcile. They are very much in love with their spouses, who are not at all in love with them. As a result, they chase their partners, who run away and shut down communication. If your significant other seems to be running away from you, it may be that you are too far ahead of your partner. As a result, your partner creates some emotional distance.
2 Boring communication decreases the desire for contact in long distance relationship
I once had a girlfriend who talked my ear off. She lived a couple of hours away and we met on some weekends because of our busy schedules. But she would call me every day and talk non-stop for an hour while I tried to stay focused. Occasionally, she would test me to see if I was listening or had fallen asleep. She told me about every facet of her day. For her, talking equaled connection.
This problem happens frequently with married people whether distant or together. Their talking becomes like giving a report on the days events, which usually don’t vary much. If your significant other seems tuned out, responds minimally, and makes excuses to end your communication, there is a good chance that he or she is bored by your communication. Boredom definitely creates emotional distance. Better to have no contact than boring contact.
3 Disagreements cause difficulties for long distance relationships
What draws people together is similarity. What keeps them together is similarity. When your partner starts to feel that the two of you are very different, the loving feelings disappear. Just because you have a different opinion doesn’t mean that you need to share it. While intellectually stimulating, it emotionally disconnects.
People who want to impress often disagree. It is a way of showing off their intelligence. In terms of building connection, it is far better to show off the other person’s intelligence. That means agreeing and empathizing. These validate the other person and make them feel good about themselves. The better you make some feel about their self, the better they will feel about you.
Increasing emotional connection in long distance relationships
There are a few simple changes that you can make to improve the emotional connection in your long distance relationship. These all relate to helping your spouse or significant other to look forward to communicating with you and enjoy it. If he or she will find it more enjoyable to talk with someone else, then it can be the beginning of the end for your relationship. If you are married, don’t think like a husband or wife. Think more like a boyfriend or girlfriend and communicate more like that with your spouse. People never lose their desire for that.
Frequency, more is not always better–How often you contact each other
There is not standard amount that you should contact each other. It does not depend on whether you are married or single. And, it does not depend on how much you want to contact your partner. For building your relationship, what matters is how often your partner enjoys talking/texting/emailing with you.
Think of it like feeding someone. For someone to enjoy your cooking, they should be a little hungry. If they are not hungry at all, they may still eat to satisfy you, but they won’t enjoy it as much. Less enjoyment means not looking forward to your cooking so much next time. And, if you overfeed them, they will start to avoid you. A good rule of thumb is not to contact your partner more than he or she contacts you. The same rule applies to your friends. Contact them too often and your friendship may suffer.
Duration–how long you talk (or write)
You may love to say a lot. Or, you may be a person of few words. Just as with frequency, you need to pay attention to what your partner enjoys. You can get a good indication of that from two things: 1) how much he or she communicates, and 2) a shift in tone during the communication.
In a long email for example, you will see some really good content, followed by filler and reporting. This is because people think that more is better. The same goes for conversations. The first 5 minutes may be really good and then 15 minutes of boring communication follows. If you want your relationship to build, eliminate all of the boring stuff. This will result in shorter, but more enjoyable exchanges. It will leave your partner wanting more rather than less. If my old talkative girlfriend had realized that, our relationship would have lasted longer, I’m sure.
Content–what you talk about
What you talk about should always be of interest to the other person. Otherwise, why talk about it? If your spouse asks you about your day, talk about the part of your day that appeals to your spouse’s interests. For example, if your spouse is a people person, talk about the people where you work. If your spouse is practical and analytical, keep away from the office politics.
This is something we do quite naturally with others. For example, we talk to old people about health, weather, and relatives. We talk to children about games, friends, and imaginary stories. We talk to our friends about the fun things we have in common. Why then, do so many people talk about mundane things with their partners? Many people do it to keep the communication going, but as shown above, communication should stop when the other person stops enjoying it.
How you communicate while away from each other is not the only important thing to do for your relationship. What you do when you are together can be just as important. You especially want your spouse to feel like every departure is something sad, and every get together is something joyful. If your spouse or significant other feels every departure is joyful and every get together is stressful, you need to reverse this right away.
Coming together requires more connection than other relationships
When my wife comes back from a long trip (say visiting her mother in Japan), I always meet her at the airport with a dozen roses. I make her feel like I haven’t seen her in a year, even if it has only been a couple of weeks. That’s not because I am so needy (I literally wrote the book on neediness!). It’s because it is my job as a husband to make her feel like she is the most important person to me in the world.
Many couples treat their spouse coming back as a changing of shifts. Their spouse comes back and immediately gets handed the kids, bills, laundry, etc. For the returning spouse, it is like leaving one job to come home to another. On top of that, these couples often have stopped dating, spending daily time together, or enjoying their sexual relationship. When this happens, time apart start to become better than time together.
Controlling your thoughts and behavior while apart
We all have needs that don’t go away when our partner’s do. With a long absence (spouse on deployment, for example), it is easier to find yourself more attracted to those you have regular contact with (such as coworkers or classmates). Even if you never act on these temptations, they erode your feelings for your significant other.
Boundaries are required. Not for our spouses, but for us. Don’t play around with being friends with people of the opposite sex. Don’t use pornography or fantasize about others. Fantasize about your spouse. I’m not talking just about sexual things. Relive happy memories of you and your spouse together. Review pictures of you and your spouse. Keep his or her picture on your desk. Talk to that picture regularly. Maintaining our love for our spouse has more to do with guarding our hearts than it does with what our spouse does.
Putting a relationship on hold
Relationships cannot be put on hold. Many people have found this out the hard way. They put off dating or spending time with their spouses. They try to get their business going first. Or they work to finish their degree first. People who do this often find they have no relationship to go back to once the business is successful or the degree is earned.
Put your work or school on hold regularly. No matter how much you want to achieve your goals, take time out from them to maintain your relationship with your significant other. This problem also happens with people who live together. They focus on raising their child, while putting their relationship on hold. Or they focus on building their business while neglecting daily time together when they don’t have business talk. Both of these are recipes for marital disaster.
If you have forgotten how to help your spouse enjoy talking with you
There are five types of resources for you on this website. Whether you need to learn just a few skills to enhance your relationship, or a lot to revive it, you will find what you are looking for.