What have I learned from 4 years spent away from my partner? Well, looking at this post, more than I’d realised! Here I consider 14 lessons from a long distance relationship that enlightened me to understand love, myself, and creating a happier, healthier relationship.
1. Independence is a sign of a healthy relationship
Even a couple that lives together can’t spend every waking moment in each other’s company.
Spending time apart, in our case in separate continents, doesn’t have to indicate a crumbling relationship. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Giving your partner and yourself space to be your own person, pursue your own passions, and work on yourself is just as important as the time you spend working on your relationship. If not more so!
I’ve mentioned before about one of the key benefits of a long distance relationship is having the time and energy for myself, my career, and my future. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about and want to work on a partnership. It does mean that the forced independence from each other focussed our minds on being present with ourselves.
As a result of having independence, by the time we lived together after long distance we had established clear expectations from what we wanted when living together. We also had more security and stability from our jobs and lifestyles.
This might not be the same for everyone of course, but it was valuable to realise that separation did not diminish our love. Nor did it stunt our personal progress. It could be so easy to wish away the time you’re apart, but what good does that do?
2. Love takes time and a willingness to compromise
Long distance takes a lot of time and effort. It’s not like being single where the world is your oyster with all the activities you want to do (although I concede, dating is hard work which takes time and energy!). And it’s not like typical relationships where you can chat and catch up and have dates whenever you like.
Long distance means the only chance to talk that day might be an hour before work while everyone else is working out or having a sleep in. It means declining a night at the pub because you won’t get to talk apart from this evening throughout the whole weekend and you really need to plan some admin together (happens more than you’d think). An LDR means spending all your annual leave on visiting each other rather than getting to take a break with friends or family.
These are the compromises that come along with a long distance relationship. They’re nothing too major, but they sure do add up. It’s a lifestyle none of us would choose, but the one we’re dealt and have to manage in order to progress our relationship. Being patient and kind to yourself in facing these challenges is one of the first lessons from a long distance relationship that you’ll learn.
3. It’s complementing characteristics, not necessarily opposites, that attract
Our differences can be our strengths, both when we’re together and apart. Every relationship needs to have room for each person to grow and be their best selves. Being a complementing character to facilitate that is so important.
Although they say opposites attract, I believe it’s WHAT qualities we’re opposites in that help us complement each other. This could be anything from the little daily differences to the big serious characteristics.
For me and Kaz, our differences start by coming from opposite ends of the world. We have a whole list of differences. Some are completely insignificant and others have contributed greatly to our relationship.
I’m northern hemisphere, he’s southern.
I wash the dishes, he dries.
I’m lemonade, he’s ginger beer.
He’s morning, I’m evening.
I plan, he executes.
I’m a good talker, he‘s an amazing listener.
He’s tall, I’m short.
I’m inpatient, he’s patient.
He’s hopeful, I’m cautious.
I’ve found all of these important in one way or another. Whether that’s picking a drink order or deciding our future… It’s how we tackle our circumstances as a team with our strengths helping each other that counts. I certainly couldn’t imagine tackling long distance with anyone
And yet despite the differences we come together on the most important things like our values, humour, life goals.
So opposites can work, as long as the Venn diagram of your personalities has a few fundamental similarities at the centre.
4. Idealistic relationships are unrealistic & counter-productive
Long distance is not what most of us expect from love. No one hopes to find themselves in a LDR!
In this School of Life video the high expectations we put on love is challenged.
Our partner’s can’t fill every corner of our lives. When you’re apart, you likely won’t even be given that choice. We can’t force ourselves or others into a box that simply won’t fit.
An especially hard lesson from a long distance relationship is that there is more work beneath the surface than you might initially expect. Besides the usual challenges of a relationship, being apart has the addition of lots of life admin. Visas, visits, and very long processes… A relationship is not constant romance and glamour!
It pays off to set realistic expectations in a LDR. Can you afford the flights to see each other this year? Are other commitments a priority rather than a move abroad? It’s a ongoing battle of weighing up your heart and your head. Be sure to listen to both, and remember that these frustrations do not detract from your relationship. You wouldn’t go to all this effort if you didn’t love each other.
5. Life is short and time is precious
As much as we must keep a clear head and remain pragmatic, it’s nice to embrace love, isn’t it?
Kaz and I only met a handful of times in person before he bought a ticket to stay with me for almost 2 months. Sounds crazy right? But, when you both have the same mutually feeling that you should give it a go why wouldn’t you?
It’s so valuable to spend time together when possible. When there is a time limit on your togetherness you immediately focus on the quality, rather than quantity, of that time. Making memories. Sharing moments. Experiencing love. Isn’t that what we’re here to do?
6. We are whole by ourselves
Look, relationships are nice and all but we don’t NEED someone else to make us happy.
“Love is to take something as part of yourself.” – Teal Swan
Strangely, I’ve found being in a long distance relationship taught me this valuable lesson. Being in a couple enhances my life, but it doesn’t “complete” it. One could easily become reliant on your relationship or dependent on your partner for your happiness if you don’t take care to make this differentiation.
Spending a lot of time apart from my partner I’ve realised that I value my own time. And although it can get lonely, I do enjoy my own company too.
7. Patience is a virtue after all
One of the most beautiful lessons from a long distance relationship that I’ve learned is that another person can be worth your patience.
Endurance can prevail and you’ll be rewarded by the love that’s blossomed in unimaginable circumstances. Many others would give up long ago, but you both stuck it out. How amazing is that!
8. The little things matter less, but sometimes more…
Every couple has their arguments and tiffs. But in a LDR you won’t bicker over the washing up. Why would you when you’re together at last and just being in each other’s company is a blessing?
On the other hand, you will remember all the small acts of kindness that are absent when you’re apart. You’ll notice when they came home with your favourite treats after work or brought you flowers after a hard day. Such simple gestures of love are so missed while you’re without them, you appreciate them even more.
9. Love languages are vital to understand
How many silly arguments can be avoided if we simply learned about each other’s communication styles and needs better? Too many to count, I imagine.
I have always advocated the importance of communication in a long distance relationship. Learning your love languages is just one way to improve your connection and partnership. If you’re trying to offer words of advice but they really just want a cuddle, could it be they value physical touch rather than words of affirmation? Once you’ve learned what you and they need, your partnership will probably go a lot smoother.
Of course, for LDRs some love languages are harder to achieve, for example, physical touch and acts of service. BUT that just means there is even more of an opportunity to get creative with how you achieve those loving gestures. A pillow or teddy bear to cuddle, perhaps? Ordering their favourite takeaway? There are lots of ways to show love even from a distance.
10. Time is tauntingly relative
Three weeks together will shoot past before you’ve caught your breath, yet somehow also stand still in time in a series of memories and moment you will hold on to forever. Months whizz by and before you know it it’s time to reunite once again. Yet at the same time each day trickles past, the countdown is excruciatingly endless.
11. The way we communicate shapes our relationships
Forgiveness, kindness, loyalty, and openness are the essence of long distance. One could argue these are all vital in every relationship, distance or not, and I’d definitely agree. However, in a LDR all you have to work with is dialogue. Your communication is your strength and source of relationship nourishment.
Learn it, use it, love it. Communication styles vary greatly between each person, let alone each relationship. Find your feet with what works for you early on and it will make the ride so much smoother.
12. Love has many definitions
In another School of Life analysis, true love is defined in 7 attributes:
- Charity – encompassing love in spite of their flaws rather than seeking perfection.
- Imagination – to consider your partner in more than what is visible on the surface.
- Kindness – beyond righteousness and justice, kindness shows love without reason.
- Forgiveness – demonstrable equality and taking responsibility for our mistakes rather than withholding love.
- Loyalty – persevering through challenges and doubts to sustain a relationship.
- Generosity – the love for others spills over into other kinds of love.
- Patience – to give yourself and your partner the chance to grow in their own time and at their own pace.
While I don’t necessarily agree that this is the summary of true love, I do think it’s a good starting point with lots to consider. Also, I think it speaks to a larger point: that love is more complex and multifaceted than just giving and receiving.
I believe these definitions are certainly applicable to LDRs, that generosity of love is one the most valuable lesson from a long distance relationship here. Love comes from within and spreads out, stretching as far or near as you choose.
“You do not give love, you grow in love.” – Leo Buscaglia
The love you give and receive in a long distance relationship can positively impact the other relationships in your lives. Love is not bound to one person. In fact, it starts with you. Showing yourself love first and foremost is a gateway to loving other and being the best partner, friend, or relative you can be.
13. Love is more than romantic
This lesson I’ve learned from all sorts of relationships, not just long distance ones. But it’s something I’ve found emphasised while apart from loved ones.
There are no rules to love. It comes in all shapes and sizes, all levels and forms. Most importantly, love is more than romance between a couple.
When you remove the romantic elements we so rely on in a relationship, what’s left? The answer is SO MUCH! Support, comfort, friendship, hope, belief, humour, endurance, passion, admiration… all come from a place of love.
Learning to love from afar will teach you the skills to love in other areas of your life. To love yourself, to love nature, to love the present.
“When you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower, you water it daily.” – Socrates
This quote reminds me that love is more than admiration, love is nurturing. Love can mean extravagant dates together, generous gifts, and endless adoration. But it also means an attentive listener, the absence of loneliness, connectedness between people.
You can absolutely be romantic in a long distance relationship. But romance could well be deprioritised while you focus on other things that are equally valued in your relationship. Does that mean LDRs don’t have love? Of course not! All the LDR couples I know have such a deep, profound love that transcends romance.
14. Everyone hits a wall
Every long distance relationship hits a wall. You have repetitive conversations, excitement fades with endless months apart, and monotony sets in. You’ve got a routine, but not in a good way.
My irrational mind starts to panic: Is this it? Will this be our end? Where is our relationship going? How can we retain the magic?
I will admit to those thoughts. It’s scary. I would say the longer you are apart the more intense these worries become. But I do believe this to be totally normal.
I’ve previously written about how distance is not a reason to stop growing in your relationship. But neither is it necessary or expected to do so. You are allowed a break from constant growth. You are allowed to just BE.
A relationship is so intrinsically tied to how we are doing, how we are feeling, our core. If we are not feeling centred in ourselves, how can we possibly progress our relationship, regardless of distance?
Go easy on yourself. Take a step back to view your feelings and rather than ask “what next?” Ask: “what now?”. What can I do NOW? That could be a simple or a difficult question. But the point is, listen to your heart and don’t force growth. A plant needs nurturing with presence and regular care, pulling it up from the roots will only kill it. Your relationship is the same.
These lessons from a long distance relationship are evolving all the time. I’m sure once we narrow the distance for good there will still be so much to learn.
Have you got any lessons of love to share? I’d be curious to hear them!
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