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Long distance love: making it work

Josephine Walsh

If you read my most recent article, you’d know that I’m a firm believer in the benefits of long distance relationships.

Aside from making you and your partner communicate openly about your relationship, they can also lead to individual growth and independence, essential for personal happiness and being a supportive partner.

Even if you’re not entirely on board with spending time apart, here some real-life long-distance success stories with some helpful insights on making it work.

When you’re taking things international

Carmela and Charles met overseas in 2010. A month after they started dating, Carmela moved back to Australia, whilst Charles returned to his native city of Nantes, in France. “Stupid and crazy in love, I know,” Carmela laughs.

Over the next 12 months, they had three overseas holidays together, and kept in touch twice a day using Skype. “We could have given up, but we didn’t, because we knew how much we loved each other and how much we wanted to make it work.”

The couple fell deeply in love and started making plans to start a life together in Carmela’s hometown of Sydney. This would present challenges on several fronts.

“Charles had studied for six years in France to achieve both a Bachelor and Master of Law, however, due to the different legal structures between the two countries, [we knew] he would need to undertake another two years of study and a year of legal training before being eligible to practice as a solicitor in Australia,” Carmela explains. They also had to do a lot of forward planning regarding visas, the fact that Charles would face employment restrictions as a foreigner and was still developing his proficiency in English, as well as how he would handle leaving his close-knit family and friends. This prompted a lot of open and honest conversation about the future of the relationship.

“Whilst overwhelming at first, facing these obstacles made us communicate even more, think ahead about our future and most importantly, have complete trust in each other and faith in our relationship,” Carmela tells me.

Still together after almost eight years, the couple couldn’t be prouder of their relationship, and deeply appreciate how the challenges of long-distance strengthened their commitment to each other. “Whatever difficulties come our way now, [they’re] not as overwhelming anymore. We deal with them together, with a plan and with constant communication throughout.”

If you’re considering entering into an international relationship:

  • Be proactive with arranging times to speak when it’s convenient for both time zones. If that’s too tricky to do on the daily, sending your partner a voice or video message for them to wake up to is always appreciated.
  • Have an honest discussion about how you’ll each finance your trips to see each other, as well as the long-term plans around visas or naturalisation if one or both of you plan to move overseas.
  • Good old-fashioned romance is essential to keeping the spark alive when you’re oceans apart – snail mail or unexpected cupcakes delivered to their work will never mean so much.

When kids are involved

Long distance can be even more challenging when children are part of the equation. Six weeks after moving to Canberra, Kelee’s partner went to Queensland for four months of work, leaving her with a three-month-old baby (their first child) and no support network. “In the six weeks we had been in Canberra I had made one friend, circumstance brought us together and she saved me from some potentially lonely times,” Kelee tells me. “I have always been fiercely independent, but finding myself suddenly single-parenting was an adjustment.”

Faced with late nights alone dealing with a screaming new-born, there were many times Kelee resented her partner being away, living a bachelor lifestyle without having to deal with the realities of being a new parent. But he was also struggling being away from his new little family, and the feeling of missing his child’s milestones were hard to handle.

“There were times when I missed him and really needed him – like when a kangaroo came so close to the house in the night, it was banging on the screen door, leaving me cowering under my blankets!” says Kelee. “[But], we knew it wasn’t forever and that it was, in long run, to make a better life for the three of us.”

Now a family of four and stronger than ever, Kelee reflects that the time they spent in long distance has definitely had a long-term impact. “I think it forced me to get out, make friends, explore Canberra and develop a love for my new home. It also prepared me for a future where my husband would travel a lot – two weeks apart never phased me after that!

If you have children and you’re doing long distance:

  • Find ways for the parent living away to be involved with everyday activities and share in important milestones. This might be reading bedtime stories over Skype every night or arranging an advance birthday party when the whole family can celebrate together.
  • If you’re the parent returning from a period away, don’t override or critique your partner’s techniques, especially in front of the kids. Respect your partner’s approach and talk how you’ll jointly implement any suggested changes.

When it’s early days in the relationship

Rebecca had just left her beloved hometown of Melbourne and moved to Sydney for work when she met James. Turns out they’d lived around the corner from each other and had several mutual friends. “We once spoke on the phone for work and I commented to a colleague what a gorgeous voice he had,” Rebecca laughs.

But it wasn’t until Rebecca moved to Sydney and a dating app gave her even more reasons to miss Melbourne. “After a disastrous date with an ungentlemanly Sydney bloke, I changed my settings to match me on comparability regardless of location,” Rebecca tells me. “James was the third on the list of results and was the most attractive.” After a fortnight of chatting, and agreeing to meet in Melbourne, they both knew that their first date would be significant. In a bold and plucky move, James kissed Rebecca as soon as she walked off the plane.

They each knew they’d face at least 12 months apart as both had work commitments. “It was the reason why we put all our cards on the table the weekend we met,” says Rebecca. “A day after meeting we had a simple conversation about wanting to be together, making it work for the year, then seeing who would move where. There was nothing daunting or odd about it.”

Rebecca’s reason for moving to Sydney was to further her career, “So having the guy I’d just fallen madly in love with in another state was actually a good thing. During the week I worked my tail off and focused on work.” Having a defined end point, regular weekend catch-ups and the knowledge that James would support her career made a huge difference to Rebecca. “James would have moved to Sydney if I wanted to stay, which was reassuring,” she says. “I wasn’t making a single-sided sacrifice.”

After four years together, the couple are now married, settled in Melbourne and have recently celebrated the birth of their first child, Tommy. “Part of why our relationship is so strong is because we communicate so well, and that was a big plus [during] that first year [apart].”

If you’re entering into long distance within the early days of your relationship:

  • Be aware that the time you spend together will likely be emotionally heightened. Not every visit will be perfect, which you may feel more intensely due to anticipation and the limited time you have together.
  • Honesty, flexibility and open communication will be key to making this work long term. You’ll both need to handle the normal hurdles of a new relationship even though you’re apart, so addressing any insecurities and be upfront about what you each need is important.

What was your experience of long distance like? What other tips and insights would you share to make the process easier to handle?

You can read more of Jose’s musings at her blog, mapleandmabel.com

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Josephine Walsh

Jose Walsh is a digital communications specialist who also runs her own blog, mapleandmabel.com. She has a passion for museums and the arts, a deep love of travel and more shoes than sense. Having worked in museums for the past seven years, she loves finding new ways to connect people with their cultural institutions. She loves meeting new people, hunting for a decent espresso, and planning her next adventure. More about the Author