By: Sejal Parikh
Long distance relationships are plagued by far more problems than the gut-wrenching pain of separation itself. In fact, it has been observed that ‘distance’ isn’t the hardest part of a long distance relationship at all. The real challenge implicit within the long distance equation is the discrepancy between your expectations for the relationship and the reality of your current situation. It is within the ‘gap’ between these dual ends of the long distance dynamic that all the long distance relationship problems vacillate.
The long distance relationship problems faced by couples can be grouped under three broad categories:
- Communication problems
Communication is an important ingredient of all relationships. Especially so, in the case of long distance relationships, where you can’t see the expression on your partner’s face or establish some form of physical contact as a communicative gesture, say, a comforting hug or holding hands as a token of reassurance. However, communication in a long distance relationship has its own unique set of problems that are difficult to tackle. One needs an unwavering commitment toward the relationship to pitch in the efforts required to overcome the communication problems of a long distance relationship:
(i) Time zone differences
When you and your partner live on different continents, ‘TIME’ is a huge problem. Time differences create a consistent problem of syncing timetables, aligning one’s schedules in accordance to not one but two time zones, creating an overlapping time span for communication, and braving the challenges implicit in the process. Oftentimes, a lapse in this rather complicated process of keeping track of your partner’s activities and timetables alongside your own creates a gap that takes some more ‘time’ (which of course are differently aligned, phew!) to bridge. Of course, if you happen to get a hang of it, you might be in for some REAL proficiency in time management and planning and organizing skills.
(ii) Discrepancy over mode of communication
It is a known fact that men prefer to chat while women tend to give more weightage to talking. As such, it is common for couples separated by an ocean to be in deep waters over a discrepancy in their choice of a preferable mode of communication. Of course, all long distance lovers tend to use a choicest mix of communication tools and apps; however, the preferential modes still need to be aligned across an overlapping zone of ‘mutually agreed upon tools’ and used in an optimal manner to prevent disputes arising over frequency of voice calls, video chat sessions or even curt, monosyllabic text replies!!
(iii) Difference of ‘primary love languages’
Dr. Gary Chapman has often iterated upon the power of words to forge emotional as well as physical intimacy. In his revealing book on love languages for singles, he iterates upon the use of words to forge a deep connection with a person who may be sitting away from you behind a computer screen. Surprisingly, his techniques are instrumental in averting the problems in this area. Couples in a long distance relationship are deprived, in a sense, of three of the five primary languages that Chapman mentions in his book ‘The Language of Love’ and therefore, it is difficult to pin down a primary language of love that shall be efficacious to bridge the distance of miles, from across the continent. Couples in a long distance relationship face a consistent problem of understanding their partner’s communicative pattern and adapting to it for effective communication. This is especially true for a relatively new and budding long distance relationship.
(iv) Dependence on technology
In a long distance relationship, partners come to love and hate technology at the same time. While it helps them bring closer, it also creates a rift between them. Technology acts as a double-edged sword – an enabling medium of bringing your loved ones closer whilst also pushing them apart, in ways that aren’t blatant. How, you’d ask. When one is constantly texting their beloved to share details of their day, staying updated on their activities through social media, seeing them whenever they want through FaceTime, Google Hangout or Skype, talking twenty times in the day during wonky work hours for a few minutes and even SnapChat-ting when a particular ice cream truck reminds you of them or spamming them with sappy romantic numbers on a song app, it is but inevitable that ‘time made for some REAL sharing,’ when you actually get to talk after a long day, has already been devoured by the virtual glutton. As such, technology divides in ways that aren’t immediately visible until the cracks begin to appear.
(v) Problems faced as a result of the long distance communication
Being apart poses a few problems for long distance couples that geographically close couples do not face. Not being able to see the expression of their partner when they say something or not being able to read the intonation of a text or understand the rationale behind a mail are a few ways in which misunderstanding creeps into the equation between long distance lovers.
Of course all of these long distance relationship problems can be overcome vis-à-vis effective communication. Emma Dargie, a PhD student in clinical psychology at Queen’s University, maintains that the single best advice to have a healthy long distance relationship is to have effective communication.
“Establish the needs of each partner early on, practice working towards meeting those needs, and give feedback about which needs are still being unmet,” says Dargie. “These needs can include agreeing on anything from on how often the couple communicates to how frequently they take time to see each other in person. In fact, it’s important to set dates for meet ups. Going long distance with no end in sight can be trickier.”
- Relationship problems
Every relationship has its own share of problems. In a long distance relationship, these problems are compounded by the miles between the partners. As such, it becomes difficult for long distance partners to resolve problems as easily as their geographically close counterparts. The relationship problems that are seen to evolve in such a dynamic are:
(i) Possibility of growing apart
Spending majority of their time apart inevitably causes long distance partners to lead lives that are distinctly separate and not necessarily similar in quality to one another. As such, it is quite possible that the lovers grow apart instead of being able to grow individually within the ambit of feeling committed to each other. It is important that the couple retain their individual identities whilst also feeling exhorted to invest time, energy, and emotions into their commitment to each other. A fine balance between growing together as well as individually has to be struck, so as to avert the possibility of growing apart. This closely ties in with the next problem – the challenge of dependency.
(ii) The challenge of dependency
Dr. Kenneth J. Davidson, sociology professor and co-author of the textbook, Marriage and Family at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire describes three types of dependency in the marriage set-up, that can be applied with equal ease to any romantic relationship: A-frame, H-frame, and M-frame. An A-frame equation is one in which one partner is too dependent upon the other. An H-frame is a relationship of total independence in which very little couple identity develops. An M-frame equation, on the other hand, balances dependence and independence to form an interdependent relationship. In a long distance relationship, couples tend to either fall victim to an A-frame pattern or grow into an H-frame pattern. This inevitably points toward a rapidly growing downward spiral that may result in a fallout. This is just one of the many long distance marriage problems that can arise.
(iii) Lack of physical interaction
Physical intimacy is an important element of relationships. The lack of physical interaction in long distance relationships can create problems that make monogamy a hard rule to adhere to in long distance relationships.
(iv) Absence of tangible support
Another stumbling block for partners in a long distance relationship is the conspicuous ‘presence’ of the ‘absence of another.’ No matter the evolution of technology, there still seems to be a tangible aspect of ‘presence’ missing from long distance relationships owing to a lack of support in good times and bad – coz there are times when a promotion or a loss of a loved one just cannot be celebrated or grieved for over a phone call.
(v) Issues blown out of proportion
I know that any dispute in a romantic relationship (words said in anger or hurtful situations) sear twice as much. The intensity is doubled for a long distance relationship. From trivial, insignificant matters (themselves magnified owing to the distance) like ten unanswered calls to larger issues like a chance encounter with an ex can hurt acutely and create discernible rifts that can be difficult to bridge.
Again, the most important thing to bear in mind to tackle these problems with long distance relationship is to communicate about the issues that are creeping into the equation, strive to resolve them, push each other to pitch in equal parts effort and time to attain an ideal M-frame style of relationship and commit, completely to nurturing, building, and sustaining the relationship.
- Psychological problems
The most difficult part of a long distance relationship is the impact the physical separation has on one’s mental health. The emotional problems of a long distance relationship are the most daunting challenge of a long distance equation and some of the psychological problems of the long distance relationship are very hard to overcome, making you question, do long distance relationships work. Trust me, they do work. Just takes a bit of effort and faith on your part.
Combating the feeling of loneliness is a lone battle. More so for someone who cannot fly into the arms of one’s beloved whenever one wants. Loneliness is a common problem that plagues most long distance relationships, at some point or other. The absence of your significant other and an awareness of the long time span that has to elapse until you get to see them in person, can make the feeling a rather overwhelming one to bear.
Depression can set in for individuals in a long distance relationship when the pangs of loneliness begin to eat away at the essence of their mental health. A conspicuous lack of fulfillment (emotional or otherwise) and a discernible discrepancy between the image in their head and the reality of their situation can cause the long distance lover to be depressed. The long-term effects of depression can be harmful to the health of the individual partner and that of the relationship.
Unlike depression and loneliness, anxiety is an emotion that cannot be dealt with alone. There is an element of exclusivity about this emotion that makes the issues raised as a result of anxiety levels difficult to tackle. Anxiety can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic factors like one’s own trust levels and agreements on set boundaries, acceptable/unacceptable relationship behavior may put strain on the relationship while extrinsic factors like a partner’s frequency of interactions with members of the opposite sex and estrangement or low time investment by the partner may create rifts.
Getting insecure about a partner’s interactions with members of the opposite sex is natural. Failing to deal effectively with the anxiety so caused may create jealousy to emerge and can cause excessively obsessive behavior that may cause immense emotional damage to both parties as well as the relationship.
Uncertainty is a common element of most long distance relationships. It has been found that being uncertain of the relationship’s likely outcome/possible future puts excessive strain on the relationship. This uncertainty about the relationship’s direction and the absence of a set of mutually-agreed upon goals can cause the relationship to be ripped apart. Being committed to a romantic relationship with no end in sight can only create an unhealthy environment, fatal to the participants’ mental health as well as the relationship.
Patience, trust, endurance, a strong sense of commitment and frequent visits along with effective, healthy communication is key to tackling the problems and challenges of a long distance relationship. Emotional fulfillment, strong connection and a deep bond of intimacy have to be forged in order for a long distance relationship to thrive.
It isn’t easy, but when your heart says it’s worth it, it really is!!