How to Succeed in a Long-Distance Relationship During Your Language Learning Journey
If you go abroad, you may inevitably find yourself in a long-distance relationship, also commonly known as an “LDR.” Loving in different cultures is an exciting experience. But you might believe that long-distance relationships do not work because they are difficult. And it can be true–sometimes they do not work. However, sometimes they do.
I myself have been in long-distance relationships multiple times in my adult life. I also have several friends who were successful in their LDRs. So how do you maintain one? Here is our advice for long-distance relationships.
Table of contents
- What to Do Before Starting Your Long-Distance Relationship
- What Are the Rules of a Long-Distance Relationship?
- Helpful Conversations to Have for Long-Distance Relationships
- Long-Distance Relationship Date Ideas
- Final Advice
Prepare as much as possible for your long-distance relationship. This includes doing some self-reflection and communicating openly and honestly with your partner. First, think about why you want to be in a relationship despite the distance. It might help to journal your thoughts.
This might be more difficult than you think. Are you just craving some space apart? Are you hoping that this will make it easier for you to break up? Or on the other hand, are you just afraid of being alone? Reasons like these might be a recipe for disaster in a long-distance relationship.
Instead, your relationship has a better chance of surviving long distance if you truly view your other half as a long-term partner, or if you think they have the potential to be. Are you prepared to openly communicate, even when it’s hard? Can you argue in a healthy manner? Sending and receiving love letters are nice, but are you prepared to be upfront and honest with your partner when you can’t physically be in the room? If you are ready or think you will be, then you have a better chance at succeeding in a long-distance relationship.
What should you do in a long-distance relationship? What should you not do? It should come as no surprise that every LDR is different, and so there are no “one size fits all” rules. You can read countless blogs (and I have) about what the writers believe to have been the golden rules for surviving their long-distance relationship. And some of them are great–I gained a lot of great information from them. But others just didn’t feel right to me and my partner.
For example, some couples swear by talking on the phone or voice/video messaging apps every day. This might be for 10 minutes or for an hour. Especially when you are in vastly different time zones and have busy schedules, finding a set time to check in and talk to each other every day might be incredibly important. It can help you feel more connected.
On the other hand, for some people, needing to talk every day could feel like a burden. It might become less enjoyable and more frustrating needing to pencil in speaking with your partner every day, rather than calling when it feels right.
A common thread in self-help information for long-distance relationships is making sure you are in the right emotional space. When you live physically separate lives from your partner, it’s often quite easy to fall into emotional traps. You might become more suspicious of your partner, more easily jealous, or simply more sad than before. This is okay as long as you can manage your emotions well because it’s very natural to experience these feelings.
However, make sure you don’t unfairly take out your emotions on your partner, whether that’s avoiding their texts, instigating fights, or cheating. Practicing self-care and active reflection, such as through journaling or meditating, is a great way to keep your emotions in check. Be open and communicative with your partner in a non-judgmental way.
Therefore, the rules you should make are these: Set your own boundaries and ground rules together, and communicate appropriately (more on these below). Also, be actively self-reflective so you can avoid a lot of the common pitfalls of LDRs.
With this in mind, here are some topics to reflect on and discuss before or during your LDR.
What Are Your Love Languages?
How much you believe in the concept of a “love language” isn’t as important as discussing this topic with your partner. This is because it can offer a lot of insight into how to manage your long-distance relationship.
For example, if your partner’s primary love language is physical touch, they might struggle with being apart for longer periods of time. This love language is probably the most difficult to fulfill in an LDR. You may need to plan visits as often as is realistically possible to make the relationship work. If you can’t visit as often as they need, sending them a piece of clothing you’ve worn for them to wear may be helpful. There are also pieces of smart jewelry you can buy that vibrate when you or your partner touches them.
Other love languages can be fulfilled with some creativity as well. If your partner’s love language is “words of affirmation,” speaking and writing letters to each other may help fulfill this. There are also several apps for LDR couples that help with this specifically.
“Gift giving” can become expensive if you ship gifts internationally from your destination, but online shopping with an account in your partner’s locale (Amazon.co.jp or Rakuten.co.jp if they are in Japan, for example) helps whittle shipping prices down.
“Acts of service” can sometimes be tricky from a distance, but see if there are any problems you can help your partner solve remotely. Also, booking professional services for them in their location is another great option.
For “quality time,” this is easiest to fulfill with virtual date nights, as described in a later section.
I know I talked about appropriate communication above, but there’s still so much more to discuss. Plan ahead of time how you are going to talk. This covers a large number of aspects.
Communicate with your partner in the way that works for both of you. And this might change with time. When you first start your LDR, maybe talking every day for 30 minutes is what you need, but then later find it’s becoming stressful. That’s okay. Think about how to talk to your partner about it. Explain how you feel to your partner when you have a calm head. Make sure you don’t frame it in a way like they are a burden to you!
On the other hand, for example, what if you want more communication, but your partner wants less? Think about different ways you can come to a compromise. Would texting throughout the day satisfy your needs? Would bringing in new conversation topics help? Or would longer but more frequent calls do the trick? Would doing activities (separately or together) on the phone work better? How will you balance text-based and call-based communication? How frequently should you expect responses?
Also think about what apps or websites you will use to communicate. There are some communication apps designed with LDR couples in mind. Will you try any? Which ones? How much will you use them?
The popular saying “Never go to bed angry” might not work in an LDR if you are in different time zones. Will you argue over text, or wait until the partner can call? Will you journal first to reflect on your feelings, or try to speak to them as soon as possible? If your partner isn’t responding to your messages as well as you’d like, how can you improve the situation to match both of your communication styles? When things aren’t going well, are you going to check in as needed, or will you schedule a specific “check-in” day to talk things through?
Think creatively and talk honestly to find common ground.
We can’t ignore the potentially multilingual aspect of international relationships. If you are from different language backgrounds, what language (or languages) will you primarily communicate in? You may have already had this conversation, but it might be useful to have again. If you communicate in your partner’s primary language, will your partner make an effort to learn your primary language as well (or vice versa)? If so, will one of you teach the other, or will that add strain to your relationship?
Furthermore, if you have fights, what language will you argue in? This might seem like an odd question, but I know of one English-Japanese bilingual couple that usually communicates in English. However, they feel like they are more respectful of each other arguing in Japanese, so they don’t argue in English.
By the way, learning another language with each other–maybe for a trip to a third country together, as I discuss later–is a great activity to do remotely.
It is not uncommon for relationships to “open” during an LDR. By the same token, it’s also not uncommon to stay completely monogamous (if you currently are). So what will you and your partner do? Even if you don’t expect anything to change, this is still a good conversation to have to make sure your partner doesn’t have opposite assumptions.
If you do decide to have an open relationship, what will the restrictions be? Keep in mind that it is important to self-reflect upon why you want a non-monogamous relationship in an LDR, if this applies to you. If you’re wanting to open up your monogamous relationship because, for example, you’re more interested in someone else than your partner, this can be a red flag for your current relationship. Make sure you don’t use distance as an excuse to cover up other potential problems.
One of the keys to succeeding in an LDR is knowing when you will see each other again. This doesn’t need to mean knowing when the LDR will end. Knowing the ultimate end date is very helpful, but if you don’t know when that is, or if it is very far off in time, scheduling visits is important.
This is another topic to talk about thoroughly. Will one partner always visit the other’s location, or will you take turns visiting each other’s? Does it make more sense to meet in a third country and take regular trips together?
Especially if there’s a significant geographical distance, this can add up monetarily. Therefore, most likely, you will also need to discuss finances during these conversations. This is not very straightforward if one partner makes more money than the other, or if one has more time off from work or other duties. This may mean that costs are not always split 50-50.
If one partner visits the other, will you take turns paying for flights or other forms of transportation? Or will the hosting partner pay for daily necessities, like food and accommodation?
If you take trips together, will you aim for countries with lower costs of living, or wherever is geographically the most convenient between your two locations? How will you budget traveling costs together? One method could be to calculate how much money you spent on dates within a certain timeframe before you started your LDR, and use that as your budget. Or you might have saved up a travel fund and dip into that. As with the above, how will you share traveling costs between you?
Finally, you might be ecstatic to meet your partner again, but also feel a little awkward at first when you meet after a long time. This might even happen if you talk to each other every day. You might need a bit of time to feel like the couple you were before you started the LDR. This is normal, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Again, if you’re feeling a little awkward, this is a great thing to communicate and work out together.
The good news is, this is a great age to be in a long-distance relationship. With the internet and fairly quick physical transportation methods, distances never felt so small.
There are likewise countless websites offering hundreds of ideas for long-distance dates and activities to do together. I will share some of my and my friends’ five personal favorites:
- Watch movies and TV shows together. Schedule a time to hop on a virtual call, plug your earphones in, and watch a series or movie with your partner. You can either click the play button at the same time or sync up your devices with an app like Rave. If you’re starting to falter in your conversation topics, it’s also great to discuss what you watched!
- Cook something together. Make a grocery list and decide on a recipe to cook together over a video call. Cook a personal favorite, or try something totally new! If you have a big time difference, plan ahead when this will work. For example, when my breakfast was my partner’s dinner time, we made brunch. If you’re living in different cultures, this is a great way to introduce new cuisines to each other.
- Play online games together. This is also a great way to involve family and friends if you’re missing group dates. You can find many free websites, such as Pogo, and many great paid options, like Jackbox Games. If you have a favorite board or video game, see if there is an online, multiplayer option!
- Learn a language together. More than ever, it’s easy to learn a language online. If you come from different language backgrounds, you can learn each other’s language. Or try another language you’re both interested in! Is your partner moving to Greece? Learn Greek together. Meeting up in Spain? Take a Spanish class together. You can either attend the same virtual lesson or conversation group or join separately and practice with each other later.
- Journal together. Try to write an entry to each other every day about how you feel or what you did today. How you share this can be up to you. For example, you can make this a private blog, or as a gift for when you see each other again.
Long-distance relationships don’t need to feel heavy. Yes, they can be difficult at times. Of course, they might not work out, but many in-person relationships don’t either. LDRs offer new ways to develop as people together and experience new things, so if it feels right to you, go for it!