Life & Reflections Long Distance

Long Distance Conflict & Resolution: Tackling Tough Talks Together While Apart

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What happens when you argue, disagree, or need to have a more serious conversation while in a long distance relationship? The key to long distance conflict and resolution is in having a healthy, calm, reasonable discussion. Both voices need to be heard. Communication is nothing of it only goes in one direction.

Couples argue. It’s a fact of life. In fact, I’d be wary of couples who never face disagreement or embrace challenging conversations. It’s completely normal and healthy even to do so from time to time.

It could be something as minor as a domestic frustration about the laundry, or it could be as important as political views. Either way, In our journeys to understand one another and grow as a couple we must confront awkward, tricky, and sometimes stressful discussions with our partner. That’s not to say we should all be screaming at one another of course that’s completely toxic, however, constructive communication is a pillar of a healthy relationship. And as we are all fallible humans, sometimes that comes in the form of conflict.

In a long distance relationship, arguments and disagreements are compounded to be so much worse than those occurring for couples physically together. Not only are emotions heightened by the conversation, but also by separation, uncertainty, and a whole number of spiralling worries about your circumstances. This, unfortunately, is one of the harsh realities of long distance.

It might be tempting to avoid long distance conflict completely, bury our heads in the sand and let the frustrations pass. But I promise, confronting an issue will result in so much more progress than shying away. I strongly believe that all conflict in a relationship, particularly long distance conflict, is a vital (albeit occasionally uncomfortable) aspect of a partnership.

clouds at sunset

My experience of long distance tough talks

We’ve had our share of serious conversations while apart. Where are we going to live? How can we move forward in our relationship? Do we want children? All of these talks take us a step closer to being reunited. They also are a chance to grow together by sharing our thoughts on important topics. We’ve learned through our time apart of the integral part that long distance communication plays. Difficult discussions are a key part of that.

Kaz and I are fortunate, on the whole, to not disagree on much. When we do, it’s usually something minor and easily resolved. Our biggest challenges come from factors largely beyond our control. Visas, processes, work schedules, separation…

These issues often lead us to deeper, emotionally connected conversations as we continue to identify the best ways to support one another from afar. We’ve done long distance for a while, but when one of us is feeling down offering the right support for the other is tough when we know that a cuddle may be the best remedy.

But alas, if we can’t offer that, then we may end up in a heartfelt DMC (deep and meaningful conversation) to improve our communication or actively work on our relationship. We’ve been together 4 years, but of course as we evolve and change our approach to our relationship may need to do so too.

It can be hard to know the best course to navigate long distance conflict, but I hope these dos and don’ts plus a few suggested resolution techniques might help those facing similar challenges.

Don’ts for long distance conflict

  • Use hanging up as a weapon. In the heat of an argument, you might just want to slam the phone down in a rage of frustration. Please, don’t do that. If you need to cool down, communicate that. It will undo any progress made during the conversation, and may well hurt both yourself and your partner by rejecting openness to resolution.
  • Use your separation as a resentful or spiteful argument. I’m talking the pointing fingers and blame game, “if you were here it’d be different” comments. You BOTH share the experience of separation and of course it sucksss and of course it may be the cause of some conflict… But it’s not an excuse to argue. Try to look past that and focus on the areas you have control over such as your feelings, communication, and actions.
  • Use “you” sentences. Similarly to above, the blame game is a dangerous route to take. It will harbour resentment and turn into a spiral of faults. Concentrate on “I” sentences that express how you feel rather than what the other person is doing wrong.
  • Dismiss feelings or invalidate emotions. It can be extra hard to convey how you really feel when the other person is not in the room.
  • Play the one-upping game. It’s not a competition for who has it worse. Nor is it a point-scoring game of who was last kinder to whom. Fairness and equality are vital for any relationship, and particularly for long distance couples where balance can often feel lacking.

Dos for long distance conflict

  • Listen. Be patient with your partner and try to read between the lines of what they say. Is there something on their mind they’re reluctant to discuss? Listening to their behaviours as much as their words is important too. Picking up on cues will help you to help them, whether that’s giving them advice, space, or simply a comforting ear.
  • Make notes. If you’re having a long conversation and time to talk is limited, it might help to note down of the key things you discussed and how you can move forward together. These conversations can be intense, so be kind to your mind by relieving it of the pressure of remembering it all!
  • Take actions. Being apart means that you need to consciously put your resolution into actions. Progress might feel disjointed during separation because how can you work on your partnership when you can’t be together? Agreeing on the actions to work on for each of you gives a concrete list of to-do’s for the future.
  • Accept flaws and imperfections. No one is perfect. Especially in a heated or important discussion. If you or they say the wrong thing or you feel mistakes are being made – that’s ok! It’s all a part of the messy journey of long distance conflict and resolution. Be kind to one another and acknowledge that neither of you really have all the answers. You’re working it out together.
  • Use positive language. It’s easy to get bogged down with the negatives of an argument. Rather than pointing out all the things going wrong, try to suggest ways that things could improve. Positive language is more likely to lead to action.
  • Be open, honest, and transparent with your real feelings. I can’t stress this one enough! Without honesty the trust you have in your partnership will collapse. Without openness in your communication you cannot expect to move forward in your attempts to grow. I saw a tweet recently by @vvsdiamante which sums this up. Transparency goes beyond honesty and mirrors openness in revealing not just the nice truths, but also the issues and less pleasant points. All our thoughts play a role in who we are, we can’t expect to resolve conflict with a partner if we don’t offer all of our thoughts.
  • Comprehend your partners thoughts and feelings. Communication can only go so far to resolve conflict. Without understanding and really, really hearing each other there will be a limit to your progress.Phone and lights on laptop

Conflict resolution when you’re separated by distance

The key to healthy long distance conflict is in the resolution. However, this is tricky to navigate. I know in our experience our “best” and healthiest tough conversations in person have ended with a big tight hug, a snack, and a chance to cool down and settle out emotions, and if needed apologise for any hurt caused. Often on a video chat or phone call, it’s not always as easy as that. One of us has to go and leaves the other feeling worse than before without the resolution (and likely distracts them for the day).

Pent up frustrations from snippets of conversation over time have built up and it can be hard to get it all out in a short phone call. Taking the time to actually work through the problem is essential. Even if you say “ok I really want to go into this with more thought and depth, let’s set a time we’re both available to really chat about this properly?” Not – “I cant talk about this now”. Notice the difference in Approach?

With that in mind, here are a few points to keep in mind when finding resolution from long distance conflict:

  • End on a positive note. How you end the conversation says a lot about how you’ll move forward. Serious talks can be super cathartic, so lean into that positive energy. Feel the weight lift. Perhaps try to lighten the tone and talk about something else after (if you feel you can). If you were together, you might have a tight embrace to signal the end of the chat. During long distance conflict, maybe express in words something positive. A nice message after, or sending a heartfelt photo of a treasured memory, might spark that relief that replaces a hug.
  • Talk about it again in the future. Just because the conversation ends doesn’t mean the work is done. It’s just getting started! You might retrospect on how the conversation went and think of new points. Readdress anything else that crops up and don’t be afraid to talk about how you feel the progress is going from the actions taken.
  • Think of solutions as a team. The actions to work on might be for individuals but can be facilitated by the other. For example, how can I help you feel less frustrated? What actions or activities can we do together to improve our situation?
  • Recognise that improvements won’t happen over night. Be patient with yourself and your partner, don’t beat yourself up for not magically fixing the issues! Small irritations can be immediately worked on. Want your partner to call you more often? That’s a quick fix. Want the other to move abroad to be with you? That might take a little bit more time…

sunrise at the horizon over beach

Debriefing the resolution

For me, I believe there are two parts to resolution: 

  1. The Actions to work on 
  2. The debrief of the conflict & resolution itself

Really take the time to debrief after the resolution. Tough talks are heavy, I get it! It can be draining to lay out all your feelings. When you feel ready, try to initiate a chat about how the conversation went. I believe addressing the way we tackle hard conversations is just as important as the conversation itself.

Here are some debrief prompts to get you started:

  1. What could you have done differently?
  2. Do you wish you’d approached the conversation with a calmer mindset?
  3. Were you both given enough time and space to speak honestly?
  4. Could one of you have been less defensive, or more proactive?
  5. What are the learnings for next time?

All of these ideas and tips around long distance conflict come from my own experience over the last 4 years. For us, the tough talks have been the cornerstone of developing our relationship for the better. Tough doesn’t mean bad. We’ve learned more about each other in these instances than we would do normally, and being apart certainly hasn’t hindered that.

I hope if you’re finding yourself frustrated by separation in a long distance relationship, these pointers will help you the same way they’ve helped us. And, if you have any of your own advice to share I’d love to hear it!

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