Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

15 Tips for Surviving a Long Distance Relationship

Maintaining long distance relationships is more common than ever. My own relationship with my husband began as an LDR and I like to think I learned a thing or two about maintaining a successful one. After the jump, 15 tips that may help you, too, survive a long distance relationship.


1. Discuss options to move.

From the get-go, you need to be honest with each other about whether you’d be willing to relocate some time in the future. It’s never too early to discuss this. Drew and I touched on this topic on our first date when he said that he’d never leave New York City and I commented that I’d be finishing graduate school in a few months and would definitely be willing to relocate some time after that. If neither of you is willing to move, there’s no point in starting a long distance relationship and the sooner you’re clear about that, the better.

2. Establish an end date.

While it doesn’t have to be an exact date, a ball park idea of when one of you would be ready to relocate needs to be established from the get-go. Sometimes this date is dependent on factors like graduation or the end of an internship or study/work abroad program. In the event that the date is completely flexible, expectations need to be expressed by both parties. How long are you reasonably willing to “wait” to be together? One year? Eighteen months? Two years? Maintaining an LDR without an end date is like baking a cake without a pan.

3. Agree on ground rules.

Will you be totally exclusive? Allowed to date other people but not have sex? Does anything go? Will you have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy? Whatever works for you is fine, but make sure it works for your partner, too, and that you’re both on the same page. And if you decide not to be exclusive, revisit this decision every three months or so as your relationships grows and becomes more serious.

4. Plan frequent visits.

This should go without saying, but if you live far apart, plan to see each other as often as you can afford to. Try never to say good-bye to each other after a visit without having another visit already lined up. If airline tickets take a sudden plunge, or you find a great deal, buy a few tickets if you have enough faith that you’ll be a couple for a while. After Drew and I had been dating about seven months, there was a great post-holiday deal where tickets were, like, $78 round trip from NYC to Chicago. We bought enough tickets for bi-weekly visits for the next three months, which was how far ahead we were comfortable planning at that point.

5. Utilize technology.

With texting, Skype, digital cameras and recorders, IMing, and iPhone video calls, it’s never been easier to reach out and (almost) touch someone, so take advantage of all that technology, whether it’s simply to chat or to get a little sexy up in here.

6. Do things together.

Watching the same movies, reading the same books or magazine articles, and cooking the same recipes — even if you do these things individually — will help establish a feeling of togetherness and give you something to talk about during those long evening phone calls.

7. Communicate every day.

Speaking of long evening phone calls, make sure you’re making them as often as possible. If you don’t have time for a long call, make a short call, or text, or send a quick email. Communicating every day is key to staying connected and reminding one another that you’re in each other’s thoughts.

8. Enjoy the best of both worlds.

This is a wonderful time when you have the benefits of a committed partner, and get to enjoy plenty of free time on your own. Before long, your schedule will be filled with couple time, so until then enjoy spending your evenings and weekends exactly how — and with whom — you want to spend them. You’ll be making lots of compromises in that regard soon enough.

9. Trust each other.

Understand that your significant other will have plenty of opportunities to behave in a way that would make you cringe. If you can’t trust him or her to act appropriately and keep the best interests of you and your relationship at heart, there’s no point in being together.

10. Introduce friends and family.

As tempting as it may be to lock the outside world out during those times you get to visit each other, do step out and introduce one another to important members of your inner circle. Doing so will strengthen your bond and help to close the gap that long distances can create between two people.

11. Avoid guilt trips.

You’re in this boat together, so understand it’s not always going to be a smooth ride and it isn’t one person’s fault when it isn’t. Things are going to come up that make an evening phone call impossible, or visiting each other for important occasions not feasible (or at least not practical). A few months after Drew and I started dating, I turned 30. I really wanted him there for the big day, but his nephew — the first baby in the family — was due that same week (and was born the day before my birthday). I had to accept that I would have more milestone birthdays, but Drew would never again have the chance to be there for the birth of his nephew.

12. Send something tangible.

A love letter, some flowers, a mixed CD, some home baked cookies — any token of affection — is a sweet way to keep the romance alive across the miles and give your partner something to touch when s/he can’t touch you.

13. Discuss the future.

Making plans or fantasizing together about what life will be like when you no longer live in different cities will help remind you that there is an end date and that the other person is just as excited about starting the next chapter of your relationship as you are. It also helps to make practical plans, like whether you’ll immediately move in together and what steps you need to take now to make your fantasies a reality.

14. Avoid temptation.

If you’re missing the immediate attention and affection of your significant other, don’t be stupid and put yourself in a situation where the charms of someone else is a difficult temptation to resist. Acknowledge when you’re feeling lonelier or more vulnerable than usual, and stay away from people and situations that have proven to be trouble for you in the past.

15. Be flexible.

In an LDR, things are never ever going to be 100% convenient. Calls with be made super late at night, or super early in the morning. Visits will be planned during weekends you might have a lot of work to do, or a commitment — like a baby shower, or bachelor party — that can’t be rescheduled. When these things happen, it’s important to remain flexible, work with what you’ve got, enjoy whatever time you can spend with each other and not get too wound up about the things you can’t control. There will be a lot in your relationship that will be out of your control, and the sooner you learn to just go with the flow, the smoother the ride will be for everyone.

24 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Desiree March 9, 2011, 12:18 pm

    Love, love, love these tips. I am preparing to leave for medical school, and my boyfriend and I might find ourselves long distance. I will definitely keep this in mind.

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    Morgan March 9, 2011, 12:23 pm

    Thanks for the tips Wendy, this couldn’t be more timely for me. The boy is about to leave for a program in Spain for three months, and when he gets back I’ll have left for an internship. He may try to find a position in the same city, but its very possible we’ll be long distance from mid march til midway through next september…not forever, though its starting to feel like it.

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    • Kristina

      Kristina March 9, 2011, 12:32 pm

      How long have you been dating already? Just curious.

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        Morgan March 9, 2011, 1:06 pm

        Since midway through undergrad, almost two years.

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    ReginaRey March 9, 2011, 12:23 pm

    Really great list, Wendy! # 8, in particular, hits home with me. When I was in my first LDR, I spent waaaay too much time pining away for my boyfriend instead of enjoying the free time I had to do things for myself. This also happened with one of my college roommates. She pined away for her bf so much that mentally, it was as if she was absent all of the time. She would sit on the couch and stare at her cell phone, willing it to buzz, or decline to go out with her friends because he couldn’t be there, too. It’s so important to remember that your life is going on with or without them present, and that you should enjoy your friends, family, and independent activities with or without them there. Their absence shouldn’t make you a hermit!

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      Desiree March 9, 2011, 12:31 pm

      SO true. I was once in a LDR (and engagement) that ultimately fell through, but I spent 2 years of my college life always wanting to be somewhere else–namely, with my fiance. That was a dreadful waste of time that could have been spent in forming friendships and experiencing new things. My LDR defined my life, which was a poor decision on my part.

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        MissDre March 9, 2011, 1:27 pm

        Same here 🙁

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        Jess March 9, 2011, 5:13 pm

        me too. luckily i learned my lesson and didnt do it the next 2 times i was in an LDR. i really regret it, but i guess its just one of those life lessons u have to go through to learn.

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      Erica March 9, 2011, 10:04 pm

      my boyfriend had an internship this past fall, 4 months we spent apart, 0 visits, and my computer and phone are relatively old, so no skype or video calls. and every couple weeks or so, he’d have to be out in the backcountry out of cell service for 5 days. it was truly, honestly heartbreaking. i didn’t think that i would miss him as much as i did.
      i spent the entire semester walking around campus, to and from my apartment, sitting in classes… in a total daze. my eyes wouldn’t focus and my brain always felt a little cloudy, like something was wrong with me. i didn’t have any desire to go out on the weekends; i couldn’t bring myself to go hang out with people and not have fun, and not feel loved, and walk home alone, and go to bed as empty as i’d woken up. i tried to make myself go out, but even when i did, my phone was usually glued to my hand, and i ended up going home early.
      so i guess i’m saying i empathize with your friend, and that although being perfectly fine on your own in the midst of an LDR is definitely ideal, sometimes it’s a lot harder than just telling yourself “i’m going to enjoy my alone time.” because sometimes you really find a person who makes you a better you, and when they’re not there, it’s like a part of you is missing.

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    kerrycontrary March 9, 2011, 1:10 pm

    Love these rules! My bf and I have been in a long distance relationship for a while now, but it will be over once he’s finished on a current contract. People often ask me for advice on how I have such a happy long distance relationship and these are the things I tell them!

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    Emi March 9, 2011, 2:25 pm

    Thanks so much for this Wendy! I’ve needed this more than you could possibly imagine!!

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    IdaTarbell March 9, 2011, 3:03 pm

    Tangible things are important. When my ex and I were briefly a LDR, we sent each other letters and packages every week. It reminded us of how much we cared for each other, and gave us something to talk about on phone calls.

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  • bongo3

    Jennifer March 9, 2011, 4:37 pm

    Thanks so much for these tips! My BF and I are going on 8 months of long distance and we have been doing most of these ideas. It’s been going really great so far. We haven’t discussed an end date yet and I am working up the nerve to talk about it. He’s 4 years younger than me and I am afraid the end date conversation will make him think I’m forcing something on him. He’s a great guy and I hope with these tips our relationship keeps growing.

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    Maracuya March 9, 2011, 5:11 pm

    Great tips, Wendy. I’m in an LDR; I don’t think I brought up the end date until almost a year. But it worked for us. Now we’ve got one and we’re counting the months 🙂

    We do weekly movie dates, play video games online with each other and talk as often as possible (usually every day, but sometimes every other.) We send packages and letters, and have been pretty flexible. I go out on the weekends and so does he, and we check in and catch each other up. I’ve got to say, an end-date is probably the most important thing. Makes a HUGE difference even if it’s not set in stone.

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    Katie March 9, 2011, 5:23 pm

    most of these dont apply to those with deployed boyfriends….

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      Jenny March 9, 2011, 10:37 pm

      Hi Katie —

      My husband is a Marine, so I understand your comment that these don’t really apply to deployments. In case this is something you’re struggling with or wondering about, I can offer a little bit of advice. The most important thing is to keep yourself busy, whether it be with work or school or friends. Try setting some personal goal…I know a lot of girls focus on exercising and trying to get into the best shape they can before their boyfriends/husbands return. I did this before, and anytime you set a deadline for something, it seems to make time go by faster. Write your boyfriend letters often, send him care packages, bring your phone with you EVERYWHERE. Connect with other military wives/girlfriends who understand what you’re going through. Sometimes you’ll be okay, other times you’ll be bawling your eyes out. It’s okay. The time will go by, and you will get through it.

      Hope this helps!

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    EPIE March 10, 2011, 2:11 pm

    Wonderful advice, per usual Wendy. My boyfriend and I survived a 2 year LDR (which did not have an end-date until more than a year in), much to the surprise of, and despite stereotypical discouragement by many. It was definitely difficult, but after the experience, we now feel we can handle virtually anything life hands us. We’ve see each other at our worst, and learned to communicated VERBALLY early-on as “signs” (i.e. pouting or moping around) often used (childishly and in vain) to let someone know you’re upset/displeased, aren’t even an option when you’re not in the same place. (I could sit around upset all day and he’d never have a clue. I had to tell him, and explain the cause(s) of my feelings. As obvious as it sounds, we often fail to do this…)

    Likewise, remember that your happiness cannot be dictated by anyone but yourself, and attitude is very important. Don’t blame unhappiness on another person; a LDR is hard and requires hard work, and you will absolutely experience periods of unhappiness and loneliness. Make sure to fill your life with things that you enjoy, and like Wendy says, focus on the positive aspects of being apart, such as the freedom and time you have to experience things you might not otherwise.

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    Leslie March 11, 2011, 2:51 pm

    Hi Wendy,
    Out of curiosity, how did you and Drew meet? My sister seems to think its unreasonable to START a relationship as long distance but its possible to maintain a long-distance relationship if you started out living near each other. Obviously you don’t think that relationships that start as long distance are ultimately doomed but do you think its significantly harder? Thanks!

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    • Dear Wendy

      Wendy March 11, 2011, 3:11 pm

      Drew and I met through a mutual friend who set us up on a blind date when I was visiting NYC one weekend. I lived in Chicago at the time, so we very much started our relationship long distance. Before i met him, I would have agreed with your sister that it’s unreasonable to start a relationship long distance. But, since we’ve now been together almost five years, and married going on two, I’d say we’re a happy example that it CAN work. But, yes, I it is hard. Not impossible though, obviously.

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    Akmilly March 12, 2011, 3:01 pm

    Great tips! I’m always glad to see/read/hear about successful LDRs. LDRs can be difficult but they can also be great learning experiences. While it gets tough at times, I’m grateful for the 3+ years my boyfriend and I have in our LDR. (To be fair, we only live a few hours apart so we do visit often.) I’m in college and not being completely engrossed in my boyfriend’s day-to-day has ensured that not only are my grades way better than they may be if we were together all the time but also that I have gathered more experiences that I may have missed out on (not sexual ones!) like truly making great friends and being more actively involved on campus and in a few internships. We only have one more year apart, thankfully – but I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. I think being in an LDR teaches you about the work a relationship really needs and I appreciate that, on some level. (My apologies if this comment reads weird, I typed it on my phone and it’s hard to see if I made complete sense).

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    MainerGirl March 13, 2011, 4:03 pm

    My husband and I are in a long distance deal right now, him in NC and me in ME and it’s killing us!! Granted we started out long distance and have only been married since October (after a whirlwind match.com fueled romance and a vacation complete with courthouse nuptials), but we try (key word TRY) to visit each other as much as our jobs allow us. We talk/text each other every day but once we’re actually together in person it makes our bond so much stronger and I fall in love with him a little bit more with every trip. Although I am tempted to drop everything up here and make a bee-line to him, I know I need to put on my practical hat and at least have a job prospect or two lined up. I know he’s my husband now but I still dont like the thought of being financially dependant on someone else! (I’m 30 and he’s 37, so we’re both pretty set in our own independent ways!) These tips are EXACTLY what I need right now! Anyone else have any other ideas?

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    Carol March 16, 2011, 12:46 am

    As someone who has been in a LDR (that began as long-distance) for over a year now, I would be inclined to say that starting a relationship long-distance might be easier at first. In a way, I don’t know what I’m missing, not having daily and constant contact with my boyfriend, so it makes the distance suck less. I’ve also noticed that, in friends whose relationships experienced distance after a long period of togetherness, they have a harder time dealing with even short separations than I do. Maybe those of us in LDRs have better coping skills? I honestly don’t think it has hurt my relationship much, and in fact has done wonders for communication and commitment. Not that it’s the ideal, of course, but we are working hard to make it more bearable until my master’s degree is completed. I wish everyone else the best of luck, hang in there!!

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    silver_dragon_girl April 27, 2011, 1:48 pm

    Your timing on this article is so perfect for me! Thanks!

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    Sara September 4, 2012, 8:26 pm

    This is a great and practical list. So many things on the internet about long distance are really aimed towards teens or those who have been in a relationship for a long time, and we started our relationship as long distance. Please post more things like this!

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