My fiancé and I are no strangers to the tribulations of long-distance relationships. In fact, 10 of our first 12 months together were spent physically apart. So yes, we're used to being apart, but not like this -- not in the way that the coronavirus pandemic forced us to be.
We're not used to being apart without knowing when we might see each other again. Before the coronavirus, at least we could devise trips to see one another. We're also not used to having wrenches thrown in all of our intentions. Before the coronavirus, we were able to lay out life plans and talk about when and where we would go next.
Although we're not quite to that point yet, I want to share how I survived (and am still surviving) a long-distance relationship during the COVID-19 pandemic. After my story, several fantastic relationship therapists share their very best tips for managing a long-distance relationship.
Adopting an "it is what it is" mindset has been crucial for both myself and my fiancé. He's much more free-spirited and easy-going than I am, so I'd say this specific part has been exponentially easier for him, but both of us realized early on that nothing could be set in stone.
I had to accept that the coronavirus upended our lives and any plans we had. Though it's still tough to not know when we'll be able to live together again, I've learned that it's not worth paralyzing myself over.
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This might be canned advice, but it's only omnipresent because it works. FaceTime dates have kept our relationship strong while we're quartered states away from each other. Scheduling them in advance gives us something to look forward to and face-to-face conversation feels special when seeing each other in person isn't an option.
Plus, when you can't do the same things you always do, you're forced to get creative. Virtual dates can help you and your partner learn more about each other, as well as discover new activities you may love. When you can meet up again, you can try some of those activities in person for a new, fun date.
More canned advice here, but again, only because it works. When you're in a long-distance relationship, communication is everything. This is true pretty much all the time, but when the world is wrapped up in the grips of a viral pandemic, stress and emotions are elevated and communication holds so much importance.
Sometimes, you just have to man up and say things like, "That thing you did really hurt my feelings and I don't want you to do that again," or, "I've been feeling kind of insecure about us lately. Can you help me feel reassured?"
It can feel nerve-wracking to open a conversation with those or similar statements, but letting emotions build up is just not an option in a long-distance relationship -- at least not in mine. My experience has been that it's always better to confront hard feelings as soon as they arise.
I know I said that accepting the indefiniteness was crucial. But I discovered that the uncertainty made future planning even more fun -- as long as I preface each carefully architected dream life with "I know this may not really happen."
Because my partner travels a lot for work, we've had many discussions about where we could possibly go next, after it's safe to move cities or states. We talk about what part of the city we'd want to live in and what kind of house we'd like to build or buy. We talk about getting a puppy, having a big yard, exploring our new home base and experiencing the culture of wherever we end up.
When there is no certainty, everything is a possibility. That's been my favorite silver lining of all.
We don't know what our course of action will be when we're finally allowed to move about again, but we do know that we have lots of potential options.
I know I'm not the only one who was thrust into an indefinite long-distance relationship. I also know that I definitely don't have it the worst. Katrina Cox, for example, is separated by the entire Atlantic Ocean from her fiancé: The COVID-19 outbreak halted Cox's plans to move from her home base of New York to his home in the UK.
Faced with visa challenges, canceling the big move and discontinuing wedding plans -- and being in wildly different time zones -- Cox and her fiancé have had to navigate some tough challenges during the pandemic.
At first, the couple was relaxed about everything, "but the situation seems to be getting worse day-by-day and the lack of information across the board is infuriating," Cox says. "Between the move and trying to plan a wedding in NYC in September that probably won't happen, I'm personally furious at the stress and massive uncertainty this has caused."
But they, like other long-distance couples, are making it through.
"We speak on FaceTime multiple times a day to talk things through, though the five-hour time difference doesn't help, and really just communicate with each other as much as we can," Cox says. "We try to stay as optimistic as possible, as we know it can always be worse and in the grand scheme of things, we are still very lucky."
Learning to appreciate little things has been key for Cox and her fiancé, she says, as well as appreciating each other and their relationship. "If we can make it through this, I really think we can make it through anything," Cox says.
Moral of the story: You're not alone. Lots of people are sharing their stories about long-distance relationship challenges during the COVID-19 outbreak, and sometimes it really just helps to know that others are navigating this, too.
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If you're in need of some ideas and advice to keep your long-distance relationship going strong as we all continue to maneuver the coronavirus pandemic, take these tips and ideas from certified counselors and therapists.
Video chats over phone calls
"Take advantage of technology. Use video when you talk to each other. Seeing each other creates a more dynamic connection and lets you in on the nuances of each other's life." -- Amy Cirbus Ph.D., LPC, LMHC.
Have meals together, even when you're apart
"Create a routine or schedule [that works for both of you] and stick to it as much as possible. Try to have at least one meal together (virtually) everyday. Spend that time talking about pleasant things like future vacations, listening to music and dancing or watching a movie together." -- Reshawna Chapple, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW.
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"Use this as an opportunity to get to know your partner on a deeper level! Think of the old game 20 questions, but try to get creative with the types of questions you ask each other. So, for example, 'What's your earliest childhood memory?' or, 'Where is one place you've always wanted to visit?' or, 'What did you want to be when you were little?' Asking these types of questions can help you and your partner connect on a deeper level." -- Rachel O'Neill, Ph.D., LPCC-S.
Talk about why you love each other
"My husband and I have this running competition. Whenever one of us says, 'Love you,' the recipient has to say, 'Why?' The answer must be unique and specific to the present moment. It's super challenging, but constantly reinforces why you choose each other everyday." -- Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC.
Be open and honest
"Be present. In today's climate the need to be open, honest and present is greater than ever. We are in a time that parallels no other in our life span … This takes conscious effort to talk about the dance of the relationship. Communicate with the intent to create mindfulness for hearing and learning on what makes one another tick." -- Cheri McDonald, Ph.D., LMFT.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.