She Said, He Said: Being honest about long-distance relationships
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My boyfriend and I have been together for a year and are both approaching 30. We love each other and have talked about a “forever” future together. However, he was recently offered an incredible year-long career opportunity across the country. It’s not in a location that he would want to live in after, so it doesn’t make sense for me to quit my job and uproot my life to move with him. Neither of us have done a long-distance relationship before and after only knowing each other for a year, we’re finding it difficult to make the decision to stay together or live our lives separately and perhaps pick the relationship up again if we’re both wanting to do so when his work commitment ends. I would love to be married in a few years, so this decision holds a lot of weight. Everyone in our lives seems to have an opinion of what we should do, but we’d like help figuring out how to make this decision for ourselves.
Signed, Long Distance Resistance
Lori and Jeff: Long-distance relationships can work, and even more so, can be a great opportunity for both partners to dial in their own lives before fully merging their worlds together.
Lori: While love is a key ingredient to a “forever” relationship, there are other important aspects that have to align to go the distance. You don’t have to be ready to marry each other today, but if you’re considering staying together, you should be fairly certain that you are moving in that direction. Having that certainty requires each of you taking time to reflect on your long-term needs and non-negotiables and ensuring they are congruent enough to be able to create a single life path together. When each of you consider the more prominent aspects of life (family, location, career, social life, health, finances, religion/spirituality, hobbies), are the visions in alignment? What are the five to eight qualities of a partner, relationship or your lifestyle that you are unwilling to compromise on? Does your partner fit within all of these parameters? If you’ve been truly honest with yourself and are answering yes, then the relationship may be worth the fighting for.
If you do choose to stay together, you’re each going to have to re-conceptualize the role of this relationship in your life. For the first year, couples are often still riding out the wave of the honeymoon period, spending a significant amount of time together and keeping each other a central focal point in daily life. Loving someone from afar will require each of you to tune back into hobbies, interests and friendships. Otherwise, it will be easy to blame one another for unfulfilled feelings that linger in the space that your partner left.
Jeff: Long-distance relationships can really accentuate the difference between being lonely and being alone. Being lonely might mean that you long for another person to fill the holes or missing parts of yourself that you’ve lost contact with. Often we rely on another person to provide a sense of value or worth and when they are absent, we can feel lost or worthless. Being alone, on the other hand, can mean that you get to focus on yourself — on reconnecting to your values, your purpose and what meaning you find in your life. It means you are able to find connections with friends, family and even collaborative colleagues that can nurture your identity and help build a more integrated self. Being alone can be a cathartic experience providing you with opportunities to grow in ways you might not be able to while in the depth of a day-to-day relationship.
If you worry that you might feel overwhelmingly lonely by only seeing your partner intermittently over the next year, it might be a sign that you are too dependent on the relationship in the first place. But if you honestly believe that living at opposite ends of the country will create more of the experience of being alone rather than being lonely, I think you might have a chance at beating the odds.
Lori and Jeff: Long-distance relationships can work, but most fail because they lack the intention and focus necessary for self-growth and learning. Being alone is not easy, but with the right awareness, it can strengthen the bond of a relationship even from 3,500 miles away (Counting Crows, “Raining In Baltimore”).
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.