1. Prioritize your schedules well.
Different work or school schedules, sleep preferences, and time zones can all wreak havoc on even the most well-intentioned couples when it comes to making time for communicating with each other. Often, a couple can settle into a pattern through inertia, even when it turns out that pattern doesn’t work particularly well for one or both. When are you at your best? When can you devote private, unrushed time to conversation? How do you feel about spontaneous texts? Who has the more flexible schedule? What feels like your most intimate part of the day — or the time when you crave connection the most? Who should initiate the contact? Do you prefer a set time no matter what, or should it vary by the day? There’s no limit to the types of communication arrangements that can work, as long as they feel mutually satisfying. Be mindful about how you choose a rhythm that works for you, so that resentment and frustration don’t build after falling into a pattern that doesn’t feel convenient or supportive.
2. Make sure your goals — and potential endgames — are in the same ballpark.
If one partner views the separation as a temporary hurdle that will end in a major commitment — engagement or moving in together for good, for instance — while the other partner views the distance as a simple necessity that may have to be sustained for the long term, there is bound to be friction. Talk continually about the expectations of exactly what the outcome of your separation will be, and when.
3. Don’t rely solely on technology.
Many long-distance couples may thank their lucky stars for Facetime, video-conferencing, texting, and all the other technological advances that have made it so much easier to stay in real-time contact with their loved one. But let’s not forget the power of having something physical that reminds you of your partner. Keeping a piece of clothing around that still smells like your partner, having a special token that serves as a symbol of your commitment, or displaying a gift from them prominently in your bedroom can serve as proximal reminders of their presence.
4. Focus on quality communication.
Interestingly enough, research says that long-distance couples may actually be more satisfied with their communication than geographically close couples are. This may be because they realize how precious their communication opportunities are, and they generally don’t have to waste words on day-to-day logistics (“Why didn’t you take the trash out?” or “But I want Chinese food — we just did Mexican last week”). Use this to your advantage. If you are in a long-distance relationship, you lack the ability to have a high quantity of communication compared to couples that are together in close proximity, but you do have the potential to even exceed them when it comes to quality. If you have daily bedtime conversations, for instance, give a little thought beforehand to the most important parts of your day to talk about. Realize that since you may not have the benefit of facial expression or physical touch, you’ll sometimes need to be a little more deliberate in the words you use. Understand the deficits of a phone call — or even a Skype session — and plan accordingly to make sure you say the things you mean to say. That can help you make sure that the most important, intimacy-building conversations are still being had, no matter how many states (or countries!) separate you.
5. Let the “boring” details become connection.
Bear in mind that a focus on quality communication need not mean you are leaving out the smaller details of your day. It is easy to grow apart if you have no clue what the daily rhythm of your partner’s life is like: Who do they talk to on their lunch hour? What podcasts are they into now? What have they been trying out for dinner? How have they been redecorating their room? Who’s been driving them crazy at work? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the “boring” details of your day should be a mystery to your partner.
6. Don’t over-plan your time in person.
One significant way that long-distance relationships feel markedly different than geographically close ones is that when you are actually together in person, it often feels there is no time to waste. But this can be a double-edged sword. Yes, it may make you less likely to bicker about who forgot to change the toilet-paper roll, but it also might make you succumb to the urge to pack your time together so full that it stresses out one or both of you.