How to Make the Distance Work: A Communication Guide

The image states, how to make the distance work, a communication guide.

Communication is obviously the most important thing to surviving any relationship. With long-distance, it’s even more vital to develop good communication strategies between you and your partner and find the tools that keep you connected. (Post 2/6. Read the intro here.)

Laying the Groundwork

How you and your partner communicate when you’re apart can work in many ways, whether that’s daily text messages, weekly phone calls, evening skypes, etc. The important thing is that you each know what you can expect.

Jas and I talk every single day we’re apart, otherwise we feel disconnected from each other’s lives. Although we don’t have time to skype every day, we like to keep in touch with texts, snapchat, and sending each other funny posts on social media. Our communication is pretty constant because that’s how our relationship started, and it’s what helps us feel close.

I can imagine that adapting to long distance after living close to (or with) your partner would be even more difficult than starting your relationship long-distance. If that’s the case, discussing how you will communicate with each other and how often is even more important to making sure you each know what you can expect. Without some kind of groundwork, it’s easy to feel like the other person isn’t putting in enough effort simply because your schedules and timelines don’t match up regularly.

It’s really important that you don’t underestimate exactly how clear and direct should be about developing some kind of communication baseline to build upon. It’s pretty easy to think it’s not important at first, because at the beginning of your relationship everything is going great and smooth and there’s not much conflict. But without the groundwork, miscommunication could easily become the number one reason for conflict and tension. Allow me to demonstrate.

Miscommunication Scenario

A real-life scenario.

  • Me: [Assumes Jas and I will Skype to watch Netflix together, like we have for the past three days.]
  • Jas: [Assumes she and I will Skype to watch Netflix together, like we have for the past three days.
  • Me: [Gets ready for the day, has breakfast, gets dressed, asks Jas how her day is going so far.]
  • Jas: [Shops in town and has lunch with her mum, heading home in an hour or so.]
  • Me: [Patiently waits for her to come back home.]
  • Jas: [Doesn’t know if I want to Skype and watch Neflix together because I never actually said I wanted to.]
  • Me: [Less patiently waits for Jas to come back home, not knowing if she even wants to watch Neflix together because she never actually said so.]
  • Jas: [Comes home and invites a neighborhood friend over since we still don’t have any plans.]
  • Me: [Is kinda sad and irritated that she didn’t want to watch Netflix with me.]
  • Jas: Is kinda sand and irritated that I didn’t want to watch Netflix with her.]

So there you have it folks, a miscommunication. Keep in mind that the miscommunication here is about a silence or lack of communication. This used to be the number one stress factor in our relationship and it’s something we are always striving to be better at. Direct communication is the clearest way to demonstrate your expectations. Try not to assume things, ask your partner questions, and express how something they did/said made you feel.

Update Your Expectations

If you’re in this LDR for a long time, it’s likely that you or your partner’s expectations and needs will change as time goes on. It’s good to check back in with each other regularly and set boundaries and discuss needs as they alter over time.

Now that Jas and I both have busier schedules than when we first met, hours go by without us talking to each other, which would’ve been unusual at the beginning of our relationship. Additionally, Jas’ BPD has affected how often we communicate and what the needs of communication are. If one of us is going to work, watching a film, or doing something where we won’t be around our phones, we usually let the other known to prevent our “Worst Case Scenario” defaults and just reassure one another that we aren’t ignoring them. Reassurance is a big ass deal and cannot be overstated.

The Thing You Should Never Do

Never use the silent treatment in an argument. I feel like this is communication advice 101 for any relationship, but especially for LDRs, the silent treatment is a definite NO-GO. Especially for Jas and I (both riddled with anxiety) this causes more panic, stress, anger, etc. When the silent treatment card gets played, the situation always gets more heated and intense, requiring more time to work things through to a resolution.

That being said, time apart can be a good thing, even in an argument. The important thing is that it’s agreed upon and/or expected. Jas and I have a system in place to give us both space during a heated argument so we can cool off without upsetting, hurting, or further angering the other person. This was mostly developed as a result of Jas’ BPD, but it could be useful for most relationships.

At a particularly intense point in an argument, I ask Jas for a cool-off period, in which case we stop talking for an hour and try to distract ourselves. (The distracting part is important. The last thing you want to do is still simmer and be mad for an hour.) In an hour, I message Jas to check in on how she’s doing and gauge how angry/hurt/upset she might be and decide whether to give us another hour of cooling off or to work through things more calmly.

Note that we built this system not during an argument. I decide when the argument is too intense (Jas’ BPD makes it hard for her to distinguish this). I ask for the cool-off period. Jas approves the cool-off period. I check in after the hour passes. I decide when to continue the discussion. For us, it was important to assign the tasks for both of us beforehand, otherwise the system wouldn’t have worked. We both would’ve waited for the other to ask for the cool-off period. We both would’ve waited for the other to check in. Using clear and direct communication before a crisis is going to help so, so much throughout your relationship.

P.S. Reminder that Jas and I have been doing this for 4 years and we’ve had plenty of indirect communication, miscommunications, unnecessary arguments, assumptions, silent treatments etc (and we still do). We have made several wrong steps to find the right ones for us that we are always learning to use effectively.

Using Communication Tools

With LDRs, everyone is pretty familiar with the standard digital communication: texts, phone calls, and Skype. Jas and I use all three of these regularly, but make sure you’re getting the most use out of them!

Texts

Jas and I both have iPhones, so text messaging via iMessage is free and our preferred method of quick communication. We both also use Whatsapp to talk to our international friends without iPhones, so that’s an option if you and your international partner are Android users.

Since Jas is five hours ahead of me, I usually wake up to good morning texts, and I will send her messages before I go to sleep most nights. During the day, we let each other know what we’re doing. For example, she’ll let me know when she’s going to town or when her friend is stopping by. Pretty routine, simple stuff.

We also use iMessage to send each other voice notes if we have a lot to say but are too busy to make a phone call. Newer features on iMessage now let us send finger-written messages to each other, which are particularly nice when one of us is really missing the other. iMessage also has in-app games like battleship and pool, which we use from time to time.

Phone Calls

Jas and I try to call or skype each other at least every other day, even if it’s only for a little while right before bed. It’s important for us to hear each other’s voice even when we’re both pretty busy. Most of our phone calls happen on the go, when Jas waiting for a bus or while I’m getting ready for the day and doing my skincare routine. Since Jas and I are both broke gals in our twenties, we do not pay extra for international calls, but instead use Facetime Audio or Whatsapp for these on-the-go chats.

Skype

Skype offers the most in terms of meaningful, quality time spent together in long-distance relationships. This can be frustrating at times because Skype is an unreliable piece of shit (especially in remote America, aka my home), but the truth is that my relationship wouldn’t work without Skype. It lets us watch movies together, read together, watch each other unwrap gifts we send, and have real conversations that would otherwise be reduced to written communication. Don’t get me wrong, Jas and I built our relationship through written language, but it thrives because we talk to each other.

Find New Modes of Communication

Although Skype, texts, and phone calls are vital to LDRs, they aren’t the only ways to keep in touch. Jas and I use plenty of other apps to stay connected and take advantage of 20th century means of communication too when we can afford it.

Snapchat

Although our streaks don’t usually last long (because of me), we use Snapchat pretty frequently. Mostly, we use it on-the-go to keep each other updated on what we’re doing without spending the time on sending text messages. Jas mostly uses it to send me pictures of the meal she’s about to eat so I can be jealous, and I snap her photos of every outfit I try on when I’m shopping without her (because I still need her advice). And predictably, we both send endless snaps of our pets.

Twitter/Other Social Media

Since Jas and I met on Tumblr, social media has always been a pretty big part of our relationship. We often use Twitter to poke fun at one another and let our friends take sides. (This usually happens in a UK/US standoff, and Jas usually wins because more of our Twitter friends are British.) (It’s truly an unfair advantage.) But more so, we use socials to send each other the memes, posts, and videos that we know will make the other smile.

Snail Mail

We send physical mail less and less frequently, but at the beginning of our relationship we used to send mail to each other often. We’d send handwritten notes with a spritz of perfume in the envelope (although the scent itself hardly made the journey). I tried getting creative a few times by sending all the “kiss” paper toppers from Hershey’s Kisses in the envelope.

We much prefer sending packages, but internationally those can get very pricey very fast (seemingly more so for the American side sending across the Atlantic. And don’t forget to check “gift” in the customs form or else the recipient has to pay a fee.) Once, a package I sent to Jas was lost for five months, at which point I thought it would never make it to her. Even though it did eventually, I try not to send packages for anything other than Christmas or her birthday. In the past year we’ve taken to ordering each other flowers or cookies from each other’s local companies, that way no international package price and less chance of the items getting lost.

Takeaway

Communication is the only thing keeping your relationship together. If you don’t lay the groundwork for each other’s expectations, then it’s going to be a rocky ride. This is where the most effort goes in and it’s the easiest thing to mess up.

I hope this helped a little bit! If you have any questions you can always message me on Twitter @koalatygirl or send an anonymous question to my Curious Cat. Let me know what you found helpful or what communication tools and strategies work for you and your long-distance partner!

Read Next

How to Make the Distance Work: Your Partner and Your Friends/Family.

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