Friends and fellow long distance relationship peeps (which is basically ALL of us right now, am I right??)… what crazy times these are.
I’m a psychologist who specializes in stress, trauma, and resilience. I work mostly with humanitarian and emergency relief organizations. I’ve ventured into more than one emergency setting. I’m married to someone who’s made a career out of working in places like refugee camps and hard-to-reach villages in remote places. Between us, we have a fair amount of experience dealing with disasters… and what is unfolding in the world right now still seems strange and surreal, even to us. So if you’re feeling shell-shocked by the events of the last month or two, you are not alone.
And if you’re feeling cut off and separated from people you love right now, you are MOST DEFINITELY not alone. Pretty much the whole world is in a long distance relationship right now (or several of them). Not for the first time, I’m in a long distance relationship with my own husband (although, oddly, for the first time we’re actually living in the same CITY and in a long distance relationship.)
My husband, Mike’s, been in the Solomon Islands for most of the last two months. He’s back in the Australia now, but spending 14 days of self-isolation in our house. To keep everyone as safe as we can, I’ve taken the boys to live with my parents, down the road for now.
Never ever did I dream of a long distance reunion where we couldn’t even give each other more than a wave after he arrived home, before separating again for another two weeks. Plus it was my birthday the day after he got back. The featured image above shows us celebrating. I have a husband on facetime, half a cake (I still don’t know what happened to the other half), and one child who is WAY too fond of matches.
Like I said, crazy times.
So. When I haven’t been breaking up fights about the iPad, supervising the kids school, and writing resources about coping with stress, anxiety, and isolation for work, I’ve been thinking about you guys and wondering what tips I can offer you–offer all of us–on keeping our long distance relationships strong during this epic and extended season of uncertainty and anxiety.
So, in no particular order, here goes…
1. Talk about how you’re feeling and what you’re doing to cope
This is a really stressful time for almost everybody. You might have lost your job (or be about to). You might not know when you’ll see each other again. You might be stuck somewhere, unable to get home. You might be out-of-your-mind-worried about friends and family. You might be feeling out-of-your-mind-bored and cooped up. You may be feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and sad. Bottom line, we’re all going to be feeling out-of-our-minds some of the time in coming weeks (and probably, sigh, months).
Talking about it can help. So talk to each other about your fears and frustrations and the severe ups and downs we’re all experiencing right now. Talk about what you’re grateful for, and sad about, and scared of. Talk about what this makes you remember and wonder. Talk about the little bright spots in your day. Talk about how life is changing and what you’re learning. Talking (and writing) about this journey will help you understand it, and feel more connected to each other even if you can’t be together in the same room.
[Sidenote: Stuck for things to talk about? check out the Great Dates Bundle for LDR couples, which is on sale during this pandemic for 50% off]
We are all going through this journey together emotionally, even if we’re not together physically, and even though we’re unlikely to be at exactly the same point on that journey at the same time. In some ways, being a different emotional points on a similar journey can be a kindness. It means you’re unlikely to be feeling low-low-low at the same time, and this point leads into my next tip…
2. Accept you can’t fix things for them right now, and focus on listening
Being in a long distance relationship is particularly difficult when your partner is struggling and you feel like you can’t be there to help them. But guess what? We’re ALL going to be struggling sometimes in the coming weeks and months. Probably in big ways. And we won’t be able to be there physically to help and comfort. So what does that mean?
It means we accept these truths and don’t try so hard to fight them. We accept that our partner’s going to have bad, hard, days when they’re crying on facetime and we can’t fix it for them. We accept that sometimes they’re going to be on struggle-street when we feel like we’re doing pretty well that day, and vice versa. We accept that the best thing we can do for each other right now is show up, share, listen (really listen) and try to understand what we are each going through. And, also, accept that it’s not within our powers to “fix” this for the one we love. We may want to, but we can’t. Not in a “change the situation” sort of way.
But here’s the trick. Once we accept that, we learn how powerful a gift our presence and attention really is. When we show up and listen and care, it helps. It just does. It’s like magic. So know this… when your partner is having a bad day and you listen and tell them you love them and that you wish you could be there… that will help. It’s that simple.
3. Talk about more than Covid-19
Definitely talk about Covid-19. In fact, it’s probably impossible NOT to talk about what’s happening at the moment, and it would be weird not to. After all, it’s the stuff of dystopian novels. Health care systems buckling, markets threatening to collapse, unemployment soaring, scientists and researchers racing to craft a vaccine or treatment, schools and borders closed for who knows how long… What is happening right now is history in the making. We’d be crazy NOT to be talking about it together on a global level, and we should definitely be talking about it on a personal level.
But… and this is important. It should not be ALL that we talk about.
Mike and I instituted a rule for ourselves in the last week… no COVID talk after 7pm.
For the sake of our work, our sanity, and our children, we need to sleep, people. And I don’t know about you but sleeping has been difficult this month. This morning I was wide awake at 5am, even though the kids were still out of it. Of course, I got up and started working, because when you work from home work takes over. That, however, is a topic for another post. Here’s my point on this one… protect your sleep and your sanity as best you can by sometimes talking about normal stuff.
Talk about your parents, or your kids, or your dog. Talk about what you’re reading. Talk about a future trip you’d like to take together. Talk about what you’re watching on TV or netflix. Whatever it is… talk about regular stuff for some of the time when you can.
4. Expect to feel really boring some of the time
I’ve just given you lots of ideas of things you can talk about other than COVID-19, but I also want you to hear this: You are probably going to feel really boring a lot of the time.
The reality is most of us are at home most of the time at the moment and there’s only so far that crazy dog (or parents) stories will carry you. A lot of days are going to feel similar, and a lot of the time we’re going to feel like we don’t have much to say.
That is OK. That is normal. Take a deep breath and try to take the pressure off.
Which leads me to my next point…
5. Expect to mostly have quick check-ins rather than extended video calls
There’s also another reality at play here that we really need to explore, and that’s this: Being really stressed makes it hard to focus and concentrate and sit still.
Have you noticed that in yourself this month?
And it doesn’t just apply to work. It can make it hard to concentrate on anything. I’m an avid reader. I mean, AVID. But I don’t want to read at night at the moment. All I seem to have bandwidth for is fairly light TV. Something with some beautiful scenery in it, and some relationship dramas, but nothing too scary or intense.
My point here is, that struggling to focus also means that you and your partner will also have days (probably lots of them) where you just can’t focus properly on each other… much as you love each other. You’ll be on facetime and find yourself checking your work email or the news websites. You won’t be able to sit still. You’ll definitely not have the patience or stamina for an hour-long heart to heart.
That’s OK. This lack of focus is a normal stress reaction. When we’re stressed and feeling threatened our body and brain are driving us to pay attention to the threat. This is because our body and brain would quite like us to stay alive, you see? But what that can look like in a relationship is that we don’t care, that we’re not there for each other, that we’re not engaged.
We do care, people. But we are super stressed. Try not to take it personally when you catch your partner checking their work email in the middle of a video date. It’s not cool, but cut them some slack unless it becomes a pattern.
And go for quick check-ins for a while rather than long video dates. Touch base. Say hello. Catch up briefly, and then say goodbye. Trying to sit on video with your partner for hours on end and actually connect deeply with each other day after day is unlikely to work well at this time. Treasure those extended conversations when they do happen, and don’t expect them to happen every day.
Do, however, try to touch base at least once a day, even if it’s just by text. What works for you to get in touch in a regular way, even if you’re too tired or stressed to talk deeply? Do you send a good morning text, or a good night one? These little connection points mean so much to the person on the other end of the line.
6. Get creative for those weekly (or twice-monthly video dates)
So I hope I’ve sent you the reassuring message that IT’S OK NOT TO BE HAVING BIG INTERESTING TALKS EVERY DAY. In fact, if you’re having them once or twice a week at the moment, you’re doing great.
But just because things are harder than ever when it comes to bridging the distance in your LDR, doesn’t mean you can’t stretch out of your comfort zone and get creative every once in a while. So, to get creative if you can and look for other ways to connect.
[To help with this, check out our new page The Ultimate List of LDR Activities To Help You Connect During Coronavirus Lockdown.]
Remember, some days you won’t be able to do this, because you’ll be feeling super depressed and irritable and talking about anything else will feel crazy-trivial and that’s OK, too. Try again tomorrow. Or next week.
7. Look to the future
This season will end, folks. It’s not going to end nearly as quickly as we want, and it’s going to get ugly and lonely and very sad, particularly in some places. But it will end, and life will resume a more normal pattern.
You can make it through this.
It won’t feel like that some days, but trust me, you can. Humanity has survived pandemics before, and relationships have survived long stretches apart and lots more distance and frustration and waiting than anyone wanted. In fact, some couples will tell you that they’ve emerged from times like these closer, stronger, braver, and surer of the foundation that their love rests upon. They trust and respect one another more. And they value every second and every day they get to spend together.
So hang in there (and visit this page for some inspiring long distance relationship quotes if you need a further boost). I know it’s scary and lonely times for so many of you. But I am wishing you bright moments of joy and peace and contentment in the midst of it all. Those moments won’t negate the sadness, but they will help keep you afloat, and that’s our main mission at the moment… to stay afloat with as much grace and good humor and patience and generosity as we can.
Wishing you all those good things during dark days.