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Distance Relationships and How to Handle Them

The majority of our clients live within the NW but a few are trying to make long distance relationships work - read on to hear Christopher's tips for a successful long distance relationship.

So, your relationship has developed into a long distance one or perhaps it was always on the cards for that to happen. Maybe you met on holiday or an extended work trip. There is no hiding it, long-distance relationships comes with its own challenges, risks and opportunities.

I haven't started or been in a long-term relationship; I'll be open and honest with you on that one. Where I am experienced is in helping people as a Life Coach with this exact problem. Now where there are problems and people involved, I can and have helped. Basing my advice on this experience, here are my top tips on how to handle a long-distance relationship and make it work.

Create an identity as a couple

As both of you are hard-wired into different cultures, a couple's identity is crucial as it becomes the culture that you both create for yourselves. An equal playing field for you both to explore and enjoy as your own. Your friends will find this a challenge, that's okay, they mean no harm but you have made a choice to move forward as a couple together, and ultimately you and your partner are responsible for the relationship. Think of this as your relationship livingroom. Other people such as your friends and family are invited to visit, but this safe space and culture are predominantly yours.

This requires time, effort, understanding, acceptance and time together to develop. As mature individuals you are placed well to grow a mature romantic relationship, and you will quickly learn what is going to feed the relationship going forward, avoid the things that will starve it. With an identity that the couple share can the couple, as one, explore what is best for the relationship and not guess and baffling yourselves respectively about what could be favoured by one, or the other.

As common interests or parallel passions emerge, they can be shared by engaging in them at the same time. Such as reading the same books, watching the same TV series in a shared timeframe. Don't rule out sharing and talking about local stuff that you would have attended together if location allowed it.

Continue to enjoy the things you did before and share them with your partner. As distance can be the vacuum of all tone, intent, and the "x-factor" remember to share silly smiles with one another or disappointment for that matter.

Appreciate that Your Understanding of Things Will be Different

Everyone has different levels of comfort with emotional (and showing it) closeness, and distance. Take note of what experiences augment or adulterate those feelings for each of you, and how you reply to alternating thresholds and triggers points. It's useful and powerful to appreciate how your personal coping mechanisms are diverse. One person may want to dismiss and deflect, assuming that the constraints commanded by distance are imaginary or at least transcended merely through a phone call or electronic contact. The other may need to analyse and discuss their views and emotions linked with separation and reconnection.

Increase the Closeness in Every Way Possible

It's important to identify different kinds of closeness; be it emotional, mental, spiritual, cultural, and even physical. Together explore ways to increase each of them.

It can be believed and argued that physical closeness can be the glue of the relationship, however with a long-distance relationship, it is naturally not available when you are apart from each other.

Try sharing a movie together or solving a puzzle (on a piece each basis) together, share your reactions to experiences of your days or those coming up in the future. Are you excited, worried, disappointed about what is coming up? Discuss current events in your local area, or sharing what you can both have an eye on at the same time, politics for example. World politics can be dry or uninteresting but taking an interest will help you learn and grow as an individual.

React to the Good

Let's not ignore the bad stuff, but don't fail to recognise and tune into special moments during geographical separations that offer positive emotions. A welcomed surprise such as a relative finding out that they are having a baby, or someone graduating school/college. Tune into the feelings of happiness, laughter, when they are presented.

Develop methods to cultivate these moments and ensure they are always on your radar. Picture your partner's reactions when you share them over a phone call or an email or an instant message of sorts. Hear their joy when you deliver the news.


You can't live your life in fear so start trusting each other when the distance separates you. It's critical. Agree on what behaviours or habits are and are not acceptable. If an agreement is made, honour it like you would if you were face to face, and hand in hand. If problems arise, don't call it a day, iron out the creases out and manage the expectations accordingly. Each of you must be aware and accept that you are not perfect and breaking a promise is going to happen, and that without the proper communication the integrity of the relationship will be damaged. Damage can always be mended.

Time Zones - Learn to Love Them

There are benefits of different time zones, start appreciating them. They can reinforce the positive aspects of one's anticipation and can offer reassurance that delayed gratification can, in fact, be achieved. Therefore the difference in time zones can help both of you develop patience and perspective. It can also curb impulsive behaviour and a sense of urgency that is not required.

Recognise a Cry for Help

These cries can be different and require a different kind of response. At the same time, be aware of cries of “wolf.”

A need to feel closer could be supported in written words or discussed on the phone, rather than acted out in a manner if you were geographically close to each other. Remember before we looked at reacting to the good? Well, you can't have the good without the bad. Never forgetting the trust, or to be more explicit, do not abuse the trust if you are the one that is in need. Not everything is a big deal, it doesn't require a knee-jerk reaction so don't expect one if you are in a long-distance relationship. If you are answering a cry for help, now is the time to show that you can listen, and ask questions to confirm your understanding.

Rituals can Help the Disconnect and Reconnect Process

Authentic and straightforward ways of saying “hello" and “goodbye" can help facilitate the shift between being together and separated. Rituals can offer comfort.

My Auntie Teresa has a dog, Cheeko, and if she is going away a for a few days, she will ask me to house sit and look after Cheeko. He understands that suitcase means my Auntie Teresa was leaving for a while. It's certainly not often, but with every time it happens, Cheeko becomes visibly upset. The excitement, relief and joy are 10-fold when she returns after the long weekend.

I'm not comparing you guys to dogs or wee Cheeko but letting go of your inhibitions with every goodbye and hello will ultimately keep your connection strong.

Appreciate that Distance Destroys Communication

This isn't exclusive to distance relationships. However, it's more potent when distance relationships are involved. You must check and recheck the meaning of words you receive. Emails, SMS text messages and Instant Messages are usually typed quickly, and therefore typos become more prevalent. Don't under any circumstances make assumptions about meaning or a message. This can be poisonous, especially when entering a new relationship and a partner assumes that they understand what the other intends.

As a Life Coach, I truly believe that no one is broken and no one has bad intentions. But still don't assume you know the intent; ask questions to confirm the understanding and then proceed. Until the relationship has developed long enough and there is a foundation of trust, each of you needs to verify understanding repeatedly.

Until each of you is confident that you are both understood. Take a beat and remind yourself that you don’t always automatically understand and then check with your partner, and recheck.

For me, over time I have grown to appreciate the complexities of distance relationships are just as plentiful as those that are not strained by distance. The complexities are just different.

The solutions to the problems, however, are very much the same. Respect each other. Take responsibility for your mistakes and achievements. Communicate well and often. Don't expect the impossible, have patience. Always ask yourself if you can do more.

Thanks for taking the time to check out this blog. Next time I’ll look at dealing with your first fight.

Cheers, Christopher McPhillips

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