“I feel like you’re a different person I don’t even know,” I told my boyfriend the first time I saw him after several months apart. I felt incredibly confused, conflicted, and frustrated. Why wasn’t I happier to see him? Why was I almost reluctant to spend time with him?
Occasionally throughout our three-year relationship, my boyfriend and I have done long-distance when he visits his family abroad for months at a time. During our last round of long distance, I noticed that I was quick to react negatively to events rather than trying to positively effect change, and my primary coping mechanism was to detach myself emotionally. Consequently, upon his return, it took time to rebuild our relationship back to the way it was before he left. Dissatisfied with how resentful I felt toward him when he was gone and how distant he felt when he returned, I decided that next time we were long-distance, I would be more intentional in keeping the emotional bond alive.
One of our primary pitfalls, exacerbated by the time difference, was not communicating enough with one another. By not planning ahead or prioritizing the relationship over other demands, our primary method of contact became messaging each other with only a handful of phone calls the entire time we were apart, which did not promote a sense of closeness. When it came to daily happenings in life—positive or negative—it became easier to share these matters with people physically closer to us, further aggravating the situation. This resulted in a sense of drifting apart and disengaging from one another. To fix this, I decided to set some ground rules so that we still communicate at the same frequency as if we were a normal couple.
Since we live in different time zones, we say good morning and good night to each other every day to preserve a sense of starting and ending the day together. We also tell each other about our plans for the day to understand what’s happening in each other’s lives. In addition, every day I try to pick out a question for us to discuss, ranging from the light-hearted (“What superpower would you have for one day?”) to the more serious (“Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?”).
While we have been dating for years, there is always more to learn about each other. Sometimes we can get into a rut of talking about the same topics, so asking a question a day leads to really interesting conversations. Finally, we plan out “dates” and do things together in real time, such as video-calling, listening to music or playing games together to maintain a feeling of closeness.
While we were in a long-distance relationship, I noticed that since it was difficult to know what my partner was doing, it amplified insecurities that I had in our relationship. Because of the time difference and prior commitments, my partner was not able to support me at the same level as usual or at the level that I would like. This sometimes caused me to take my frustration out on what was concrete (him) rather than the actual cause, which was more abstract (the distance).
Feeling guilty for causing turbulence in our relationship by displacing my frustration with the distance on my partner, I am now trying to be mindful of my emotions, always checking in with myself about what I’m feeling, what’s causing that emotion, and whether I am being fair to my partner, rather then acting out of impulse. Furthermore, I am also attempting to empathize more with my partner’s situation, giving him the benefit of the doubt when I am worried about something rather than jumping to conclusions.
All in all, I aim to approach a long-distance relationship with a different mindset. It’s a common sentiment among couples that last that relationships take work. Instead of just drifting through the experience and hoping it will work out in the end, I am being more proactive and planning for the entire duration, as well as monitoring my own reactions. Though we still have several more months to go this round, I believe this approach makes a difference, and I look forward to growing as an individual and in my relationship through these challenging times.