Long Distance Relationships: Mistakes to Avoid

Breaksgiving. It’s the time of year where long distance relationships notoriously crumble. For most people Thanksgiving means coming home to see the ones you love, but for college students especially, Thanksgiving can be a bitter time of year.

I’ll be completely honest – the first time my boyfriend and I were ever long distance it was our freshman year of college and of course I’d heard the folklore around Breaksgiving and I was a bit uneasy coming home for the holiday.

Fast forward a few years and needless to say, Breaksgiving didn’t break us, and I think that’s because we were very intentional about maintaining a strong and healthy relationship despite the distance.

We ended this relationship after 6 years when we realized we wanted very different thing out of life. We started dating at 17, and at 23 we realized our ideas of what the future would look like didn’t align the way it used to. Reflecting on the 6 years we spent together,  I strongly believe that the distance we endured during that time created a pilar of strength in our relationship. I updated this post to take out any identifying information about my former boyfriend, but didn’t change anything else.

Long distance relationships are tricky. I’ve written about them before and I’ll probably write about them again because I’m a believer that if anything, distance can strengthen your relationship and I thought I’d share a few of my boyfriend and I’s tips for surviving a long distance relationship.

Quick FAQ

Before I dive into things, I’ll answer a few questions that will clarify why I think that we are qualified to be giving this advice.

  • How long have ______ and I been dating? Just over four years – our relationship survived high school, going to different colleges, me moving to New York City without him for 8 months, and more!
  • Of that time, how much has been long distance? Our first year together was in high school, our second year we went to different colleges so there was around 10 months of distance. Our third year we were together, hooray! And last year I was in New York for about 7.5 months. I’m no good at math, but I’d say about a quarter of our relationship we’ve been enduring distance.
  • How far apart were you living? Freshman year: 6 hours. Last year: 4 states. Now: 3 hours.
  • Has it been hard? Of course it’s been hard, but not in the ways that it is for some people. We hardly fight (if ever), there isn’t fear of cheating or breaking trust, and we talk daily. It’s hard because we miss each other, but not because we think that things are going to break.

Long Distance Gift Ideas:

Long Distance Message in a Bottle. Craft sweet love notes and roll them into capsule form. When your love needs a little boost or is missing you extra they can open their message in a bottle.

A sweet keychain. This one is just so precious, the airplane, the heart, the message. 10/10.

Long distance lamps. This set is far cheaper than the original viral long distance couple lamps. When you miss your person you tap your lamp, theirs will light up, too. 

Mistakes people make

In college I met a lot of people who were trying to make their high school relationships work, and I got to be a fly on the wall and see what was working for people and what wasn’t.

Now, these are just generalizations and just because you might be doing one of these things doesn’t mean your relationship is working out, it just means that you might be more of an anomaly (in the best way possible, of course!)

Being passive aggressive

This is one so many people do in all relationships, but it’s so much easier to do when you’re long distance. You get mad at your boyfriend and instead of addressing it directly and coming up with a solution you instead resort to sending one word responses over text message, you drop any and all punctuation and emoji use, and you take twenty minutes to respond.

Why this is going to hurt you: Communication is #1 in long distance relationships (and all relationships, really) and not communicating that you are angry and why you’re angry is immature and will be frustrating to your partner.

What to do instead: When you’re mad, tell them. Say, “Hey, it made me feel bad when you  _____, can we talk about it?” instead of pouting. You’ll both be happier by opening up a dialogue and getting to the root of the problem. Don’t use confrontational or accusatory language, just talk about how you feel.

i.e.: Instead of saying “You made me feel XYZ” say, “When you did X, I felt Y because of Z.” State what upset you, how it made you feel, and why it made you feel that way. More often then not you’ll find your partner didn’t mean to hurt your feelings or make you mad, and the discussion that stems from the confrontation will help strengthen your relationship.

Not prioritizing communication

My boyfriend and I talk every day. No matter what. A lot of people feel like that’s overkill, and I’m sure for some couples it might be, but that’s what works for us. I wake up earlier than him, so he’ll usually text me when he wakes up, and we call or Skype before bed. I think this daily communication is a big part of why we’ve been successful.

In my freshman year dorm there was a girl (who I wasn’t a huge fan of regardless, to be honest) always gave me a hard time for how often Chris and I talked and bragged that she wasn’t needy and that her and her boyfriend Skyped every Sunday night and might text throughout the week.

That can work for some people, but for her Thanksgiving was a Breaksgiving and after that she stopped giving me a hard time.

Why this might hurt you: This one might seem obvious, but let me break it down. Relationships need a healthy level of communication to thrive. You don’t need to Skype or call everyday, but if you’re not making it a point to communicate, it’ll be hard to maintain a healthy relationship.

What to do instead: Be sure you’re communicating and not just talking when you’re on the phone. Communicating means being present (not multitasking on social media or your work) and actually talking about your day, what you’re up to, and how you’ve been feeling. Open up and share things like you would if you were together. Talking is the casual, “How are you?” “Good!” “Oh, that’s good! How was your test?” “Oh, it was fine.” small talk that you’d have with anyone.

Consider playing couples games like this “Let’s get deep, questions for couples” card game on Facetime or on the phone.

Getting angry over miscommunications

Communication strikes again! Noticing a theme? When you start a long distance relationship, communication get’s to be 100x more difficult. It’s harder to judge context and tone over text, and you can’t see body language or facial expressions over the phone. There are going to be miscommunications and you’ll get frustrated, but handle these miscommunications with grace.

Why this might hurt you: When communication breaks down, the rest of the relationship will begin to crumble, too. If you’re getting angry over every little miscommunication rather than talking things through, your partner will begin to feel hesitant to open up new conversations for a fear of setting you off again.

What to do instead: Be very clear and say, “I don’t think you intended what you said as ______, but I took it that way. Would you mind clarifying what you mean?” Again, don’t accuse them and make sure they are aware that there was a breakdown in communication.

Taking other people’s opinions to heart

For whatever reason, there’s nothing some people love more than raining on relationship parades, it seems. I lost count of the number of people who told me that long distance doesn’t work or that I’d regret going into college in a relationship.

Why this might hurt you: You and your partner are the only ones who really know how your relationship is going and whether it’s going to work out or not.

What to do instead: Shut them down! You can say, “Thanks for the input, but with all due respect I’m going to make any decisions about my relationship with the person I’m in a relationship with.” or you can be sassy and turn the tables, “You seem jaded. Why?” They’ll probably stay out of your business if you start prying into theirs.

Blurring the lines

This is the one I saw waaaaay to often in college. People in “committed” relationships flirting and fooling around with other people but saying it’s fine because “nothing happened.” This isn’t me shaming anyone, but if you’re in a relationship and you wouldn’t want your partner to know what you’re doing, maybe you should reconsider.

How this can hurt you: By hurting your partner. This is just so mean, don’t do it.

What to do instead: Stay faithful, and if you can’t or don’t want to stay faithful reconsider the relationship. If you want to stay in the relationship and mess around then you need to have that talk with your partner, too.

Cancelling Skype dates

This might not seem like a big deal, because it’s just skype, right? But when you can’t have dates where you’re physically together, Skype dates mean a lot and you should be just as pumped for them as you would be for dinner and a movie.

How this can hurt you: When you stop seeing things like Skyping as special, they’ll stop feeling special and eventually you and your partner will have nothing exciting to look forward to.

What to do instead: Hold plans you make with your partner – even if it’s “just” a phone call or Skype call – as sacred. Don’t cancel just because a better offer comes up, or think that because it’s not a real date that your partner isn’t as excited as they would be for a real date.

Former boyfriend’s input

He was a good sport and answered a few questions for me because I thought it would be helpful to get his perspective on things, too.

Why do you think our relationship has worked when so many long distance relationships crumble?

I think that why a lot of people fail in long distance relationships is based on three things, lack of trust, lack of commitment, and the ‘grass is always greener’ idea.

The first point isn’t really exclusive to long distance relationships, but the level of trust in a relationship (assuming it’s equal for both parties) is a symbol of security and strength of a relationship. When it is weak, the relationship is weak and makes it prone to collapse, much like a building.

We trusted each other a lot when we went away to college, and that’s a big part of what I feel makes us strong and made us strong then. While it is a very important part, trust alone can’t make healthy relationships.

It’s important that both parties have the drive to stay together.

With us, I feel like we just built on our original friendship so that relationship and friendship are largely the same thing. With a lot of people, the fact that college is a place teeming with potential partners is a huge detractor for this commitment. There’s also the argument that says many don’t even want a relationship in college as opposed to casual hookups.

The last part is the idea that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’. In long distance relationships, you’re faced with being away from your partner and will more than likely be tested on your faithfulness or have the opportunity to do so. This is why a lot of distance can strain relationships; people want intimacy. When they want it some people don’t value the commitment to their partner more than their desire for intimacy. Why we succeeded where others failed is due to the two previous points: we trusted each other so our relationship was strong, we valued our commitment to each other so there weren’t temptations that existed solely by virtue of distance.

Let’s find a silver lining, what do you think is the best part about being in a long distance relationship? 

A silver lining is getting to know the person on a deeper level.

Without being physically together, you really get to know your partner. If there is any hidden benefit, it is surely this.

Being able to grow your relationship through sustained interaction (usually conversation) creates that trust and makes everything stronger. It also changes the pace of the relationship to more of a ‘burst’ type, where visiting or seeing each other is something to look forward to with a big pay off in happiness.

If you had to give one piece of advice for a couple trying out a long distance relationship, what would it be?

My one piece of advice is a combination of everything I’ve already said. First, you need to decide if it is something you really want and establish that commitment to yourself. It will be hard sometimes and you need to have your eye on the ball, so to speak. Then you need to know if your partner is as committed to keeping the relationship as you are. From there, you’re a hop, skip, and jump away from establishing trust and a healthy relationship. If you’ve got those, your relationship is as invincible as it gets.