Couples in a long distance relationship have always had their own unique stressors. However, during this Covid-19 pandemic many of us are feeling added anxiety and are fearful of the future. Many couples are dealing with the added stressors of working from home and having children doing virtual school. Others who are essential workers are struggling to find care for them.
However, not all couples are able to live together for any number of reasons. They might not even be in the same country. For these couples the pandemic has made it difficult to travel.
Couples in long distance relationships have the same needs as couples who cohabit. But distance can create feelings of loneliness, frustration, resentment, and lack of trust. I help couples find tools and strategies that work for them. There is no one size that fits all.
Living apart is certainly not all negative. In fact the extra effort taken to be tuned in with one another can lead to a depth of friendship and understanding that may be better than it is for couples who live with one another.
Many couples I see for counseling tell me that their major issue is “communication”. Distance adds an extra dimension. John Gottman describes four negative communication styles that he calls (The four horsemen of the apocalypse). They are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. I describe these in more detail in my blog “How can we improve our communication Part 1”. This blog also explains Gottman’s Sound Relationship House principles.
For couples who are not living together it is extra important to look at their interaction and find the best methods for them to keep in touch and feel connected. The foundation of any good relationship is friendship, knowing each other really well — both past experiences as well as in the present.
When I work with couples in a long distance relationship using Zoom we spend time planning how and when conversations are going to be most beneficial. Today we have many ways to be in touch and some work better than others. Much depends on the individuals in the relationship and their lives and schedules.
Most couples appreciate daily contact but sometimes life can crowd in and connection is postponed. One person expressed to me that she felt she was the one waiting for a call and that she was not the number one priority in her partner’s life. He was certainly distressed to hear this. Both realized that scheduling a phone call, FaceTime or Zoom session a few times a week would be beneficial. If something truly important or an emergency interrupted this plan it would be communicated right away.
Couples sometimes fall into a habit of trying to be upbeat all of the time, a feeling of not wanting to burden their partner with day to day problems. This pattern can easily lead the couple to feel disconnected since they do not know what is going in their partner’s life.
Another very useful idea from Gottman is to plan “a state of the union meeting” and make that a time when important issues can be aired.
I discourage couples from using texting as a main part of their exchanges. There are many drawbacks and issues involving misunderstandings, length of time to reply, etc. Texts are great for quick connection but not for deep conversation. In an email most people express their thoughts and feelings in greater depth.
Another issue that can be exacerbated because of distance is trust. Distrust will quickly erode a relationship. Couples can discuss and decide what they each need to feel secure. For example, is it okay to be lunching with an ex and if so are there limitations?
Couples in a long distance relationship devise unique ways to feel connected.
Here are a few:
- Many activities can be done together using Zoom, Skype, etc such as watching the same movie or Netflix series then discussing it afterward.
- Sending photos to reminisce about special times together.
- Dressing up as if for an evening out.
- Write a letter and mail it.
- Send a romantic or humorous card.
- Sharing cute or funny photos or videos of pets.
- Dreaming together about when and where to meet when travel is easier.
- Planning a future when they will live together.
When I work with couples via Zoom I send them materials to use for “homework” or in preparation for our next Zoom meeting. Perhaps a list of open ended questions to ask one another or a list of attractive qualities where they can complement one another.
I am interested in hearing about strategies that are working well in your relationship and wish you well in these trying times.