5 Secrets Of Long-Distance Relationships

dealing with distance

You'd have to be a serious commitment-phobe to choose to live hundreds -- or even thousands -- of miles away from the man you love. But sometimes it's just not up to you. Career, school and family are just a few of the factors that keep lovers whispering sweet nothings into phones instead of each other's ears. But if you think a relationship is doomed because of distance, think again. According to stats compiled by the Center for the Study of Long-Distance Relationships (yes, there really is such a thing), the myth that most long-distance relationships fail is just that: a myth. The reality is that more couples are making it work than you might think. Over one million couples are living in separate U.S. cities today, and another 700,000 LDR couples are actually married. So how do you stay close (and get even closer) when you're so far apart? It's not simple, but it's not impossible -- and these five tips can help.

1- Be clear about expectations up front

Don't wing it; plan ahead. According to Dr. Greg Guldner, director of the Center for the Study of Long-Distance Relationships and author of Long Distance Relationships: The Complete Guide, the difference between LDR couples who make it and ones who don't can be summed up in two words: ground rules. Dr. Guldner explains that nearly 70% of LDR couples who didn't anticipate changes -- or talk through their game plan for dealing with them -- broke up within six months. The most important point, of course, is, are we monogamous?

Sarah Davidson, a 32-year-old interior designer, and her boyfriend, Tom, had been dating for only six months when he got a fabulous promotion in San Francisco that paid $10,000 more than his old job. The catch: They lived in New York. Sarah recalls, "I was devastated when he gave me the news, but Tom insisted he wanted us to stay together. I knew he was committed to making it work when he suggested we actually write out rules for our relationship. These included: no nookie while apart, a call or e-mail at least once a day, see each other at least once every two months." The rules worked. Now the two are seeing even more of each other, since they're married and both living on the west coast.

2- Express yourself

Even couples sharing the same zip code frequently have trouble telling each other how they feel. So imagine how much harder it is for lovers who can't use the power of touch to stay connected. Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages for Singles, says, "It's important to figure out how to make your long-distance partner feel cherished. This can be done with words. For example, 'If I were with you, I'd give you a big kiss.'" The relationship expert adds, "Share the day-to-day events going on in each other's lives. This is all geared to staying so close that when you do get together you won't have that awkward transition period where you feel like strangers."

New York PR account coordinator Kathleen Deegan and her fiance, Gene, have been challenged to stay close while he's been away at grad school in Maryland. Kathleen, 22, shares, "We've found that writing old-fashioned snail mail brings out our creative romantic  juices." She's got the right idea. Research shows the pen is mightier than the phone when it comes to LDRs; letter-writing couples have almost twice the chance of staying together compared with couples who never write. Kathleen and Gene go well beyond scribbling down a few lines. "Sometimes we clip cute articles from the paper to include, or funny song lyrics, and we even try our hand at poetry." Kathleen finishes, "I always go to my mailbox with anticipation." Of course, the e-mail inbox works too.

3- Enjoy your independence

Until their wedding  in 1999, Casey and Rob Amberg lived in different states; she lived in Arkansas, while he was in Missouri (where they now live together with their 2-year-old daughter). Casey, 29, says their relationship thrived despite the distance, partly because they retained their independence. "Being apart was hard, but it enabled us to continue growing as individuals while still remaining a couple. It was almost an empowering feeling to go out with friends and still feel committed in a relationship."

April Masini, dating coach and author of Date Out of Your League, wholeheartedly agrees with this strategy and takes it a step further. "Don't offer to drop your entire life and move to his city [right away], especially if this is a new and budding relationship . Not only does this make you look like a psycho and a stalker, relocation is a huge life-changing decision and is not to be taken lightly."

Eventually, of course, one or both of you hopefully will be able to move -- but the aim is compromise, not sacrifice. Whether you live apart or together, it's important not to make your partner your whole life.

4- Spice up the long-distance lovin'

Sure, sex is best when you're in the same room, and the happiest LDR couples strive to be together as often as possible. However, there are ways to keep the fires flaming from a distance. Creativity is key. That's why Rob Frankel created www.pillowmail.com, a site where you can instantly compose and e-mail each other erotic fantasies customized with your own dirty details.

It's true that mischievous messages may make you wish your lover were there to do all the things he wrote about. But his lack of physical presence doesn't mean you have to be left hot and bothered. Denise Jackson, a 34-year-old Texas pharmacist, and her boyfriend, who lives in North Carolina, regularly have down-and-dirty phone sex. Denise giggles, "Having a hands-free headset for the phone helps a lot." She adds, "At first I felt really funny saying sexual words when Tim wasn't actually with me. But practice made perfect." Once you're comfortable saying the words into a receiver, add some visuals. Dr. Guldner suggests using digital cameras to send photos to each other. Sparks are guaranteed.

5- Keep the faith

Yes, it's rough being apart, but harping on the negative can take a toll on the relationship. Dating coach Masini suggests, "Instead of moaning that you never see each other, talk about the interesting things you've been doing and ask what he's up to." This will help in two ways: He won't think you're obsessed with the relationship, and you won't be obsessed. The happier you act with your life, the happier you'll actually feel.

And here's a cheery thought to get you started. Dr. Guldner says, "The failure of LDRs is a misconception. Couples break up for many reasons, but my 10 years of research on this subject has shown that distance doesn't seem to be one of them. Indeed, couples in LDRs report the same levels of intimacy , trust, commitment, and satisfaction as geographically close couples." It's confirmed: Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.


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