There are three words that, when spoken together, send an immediate shiver up many spines. Long. Distance. Relationship. If a friend mentions that they’re going to try things long distance, it takes a whole lot of effort to smile with encouragement and say “yes, it’s totally possible!”
Despite our justified doubts, it is, in fact, possible. Many couples had to experience lengthened periods of physical separation due to the pandemic, and despite many break ups, there were as many who came out the other side. Some couples even found that the experience left them with a deeper sense of gratitude, resilience, and trust in the relationship. (But make no mistake, it was a struggle for everyone.)
Nailing things long-distance requires difficult conversations, timelines, and plans. These things don’t seem obviously sexy, or romantic. But if you want to maintain a healthy sex life from afar, you’ll find that sexual intimacy is seriously dependent on the degree of emotional connection you can manage virtually.
Our guide to a successful long-distance relationship starts with a timeline. When you and your partner decide to try long-distance, it’s crucial that you figure out the overall length of separation, and how long you will go between visits (this was obviously complicated by the pandemic, and our hearts go out to the couples who had to suffer the emotional toll of unpredictability). If you can figure out a timeline, it will allow you to better manage your expectations throughout the periods of separation. It will also enable you to make plans for the future, when the long-distance is over.
Next, you need to figure out how you are going to communicate, and how often. We recommend utilising multiple methods of communication to keep things interesting and dynamic. Although it’s important to schedule in at least one proper call/emotional check-in a week, it’s also great to send each other random stuff daily, to remind your partner that they are in your thoughts. This could be as simple as sending each other memes, podcasts, music or articles that caught your attention. It might also be fun to try the old-fashioned method of letter writing, to keep things romantic and a wee bit dramatic. Light-hearted communication like this relieves some of the pressure that can come with long-distance communication, while also facilitating new avenues for conversation.
While it’s good to keep things light on a daily basis, it’s still absolutely necessary to maintain regular, emotional check-ins. At a minimum, once a week, but for a lot of couples, this might need to be more frequent. When you don’t have your partner in physical proximity, it’s very easy to ruminate and start having doubts about the relationship. If you can speak to your partner openly about these doubts, they are far less likely to manifest into deeper, long-lasting problems. So, speak as honestly as possible in these weekly check-ins. Set boundaries, establish expectations and be open about your wants and needs. Regularly ask your partner how they are coping with long-distance, and discuss how you may be able to improve your communication or intimacy in the current situation.
The last, and trickiest piece of the puzzle is maintaining sexual intimacy. The circumstances are obviously not ideal, but there are still plenty of options to keep things spicy. If you’re comfortable with it, we recommend trying virtual sex, whether over the phone or on video. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the absence of your partner’s physical presence can be an exciting opportunity to explore dirty talk and other ways of sexually communicating. It might also provide you with the time to reconnect with your own body and your desires (this goes without saying, but it’s an awesome excuse to invest in a vibrator).
While long-distance relationships can tempt the conversation of “openness”, we recommend treading carefully here. Open relationships are a great choice for many people, but it does require a huge degree of trust and transparent communication. Unfortunately, trust and communication are already at stake in a long-distant relationship. If you haven’t tried open relationships before, it’s probably something you’d want to experiment with while sharing a physical proximity. If you compound a long-distance relationship with a first-time open relationship, it’s understandable that one, or both partners, might begin to harbour a growing sense of distrust or unease. That being said, if open relationships are something you’re comfortable with, it’s a great way of keeping things spicy long-distance. If you can keep your partner in the loop about your sexual activity, it can be quite erotic for both of you.
Even if you believe that the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a total lie, don’t give up hope too quickly. Absence might not make the heart grow fonder, but it definitely makes the heart feel deep and complicated things, which, when managed appropriately, can lead to a deeper and more sustainable connection.