Long distance love – making it work

If you read my most recent article, you’d know that I’m a firm believer in the benefits of long distance relationships.

Asides from making you and your partner communicate openly about your relationship, they can also lead to individual growth and independence, essential for personal happiness and being a supportive partner.

Even if you’re not entirely on board with spending time apart, here are some real-life long-distance success stories with some helpful insights on making it work. A huge thank you to my gorgeous friends Carmela, Kelee and Rebecca for sharing their personal experiences with me!

When you’re taking things international

Carmela and Charles met overseas in 2010. A month after they started dating, Carmela moved back to Australia, whilst Charles returned to his native city of Nantes, in France. “Stupid and crazy in love, I know,” Carmela laughs.

Long Distance Love – Making It Work: Mapleandmabel.com, Josephine Walsh

Over the next 12 months, they had three overseas holidays together, and kept in touch twice a day using Skype. “We could have given up, but we didn’t, because we knew how much we loved each other and how much we wanted to make it work.”

The couple fell deeply in love and started making plans to start a life together in Carmela’s hometown of Sydney. This would present challenges on several fronts.

“Charles had studied for six years in France to achieve both a Bachelor and Master of Law, however due to the different legal structures between the two countries, [we knew] he would need to undertake another two years of study and a year of legal training before being eligible to practice as a solicitor in Australia,” Carmela explains.

They also had to do a lot of planning regarding visas, that Charles would face employment restrictions as a foreigner and was still developing his proficiency in English, as well as how he would handle leaving his close-knit family and friends. This prompted a lot of open and honest conversation about the future of the relationship.

“Whilst overwhelming at first, facing these obstacles made us communicate even more, think ahead about our future and most importantly, have complete trust in each other and faith in our relationship,” Carmela tells me.

Still together after almost eight years, the couple couldn’t be prouder of their relationship, and deeply appreciate how the challenges of long distance strengthened their commitment to each other. “Whatever difficulties come our way now, [they’re] not as overwhelming anymore. We deal with them together, with a plan and with constant communication throughout.”

If you’re considering entering into an international relationship:

  • Be proactive with arranging times to speak when it’s convenient for both time zones. If that’s too tricky to do on the daily, sending your partner a voice or video message for them to wake up to is always appreciated.
  • Have an honest discussion about how you’ll each finance your trips to see each other, as well as the long-term plans around visas or naturalisation if one or both of you plan to move overseas.
  • Good old-fashioned romance is essential to keeping the spark alive when you’re oceans apart – snail mail or unexpected cupcakes delivered to their work will never mean so much.
Long Distance Love – Making It Work: Mapleandmabel.com, Josephine Walsh
Is there anything better than surprise flowers? Unlikely.

When kids are involved

Long distance can be even more challenging when children are part of the equation. Six weeks after moving to Canberra, Kelee’s partner when to Queensland for four months of work, leaving her with a three-month old baby (their first child) and no support network. “In the six weeks we had been in Canberra I had made one friend, circumstance brought us together and she saved me from some potentially lonely times,” Kelee tells me. “I have always been fiercely independent, but finding myself suddenly single-parenting was an adjustment.”

Faced with late nights alone dealing with a screaming new-born, there were many times Kelee resented her partner being away, living a bachelor lifestyle without having to deal with the realities of being a new parent. But he was also struggling being away from his new little family, and the feeling of missing his child’s milestones were hard to handle.

Long Distance Love – Making It Work: Mapleandmabel.com, Josephine Walsh
My friend Laura’s cute-as-a-button nephew

“There were times when I missed him and really needed him – like when a kangaroo came so close to the house in the night, it was banging on the screen door, leaving me cowering under my blankets!” says Kelee. “[But], we knew it wasn’t forever and that it was, in long run, to make a better life for the three of us.”

Now a family of four and stronger than ever, Kelee reflects that the time they spent in long distance has definitely had a long-term impact. “I think it forced me to get out, make friends, explore Canberra and develop a love for my new home. It also prepared me for a future where my husband would travel a lot – two weeks apart never fazed me after that!

If you have children and you’re doing long distance:

  • Find ways for the parent living away to be involved with everyday activities and share in important milestones. This might be reading bedtime stories over Skype every night or arranging an advance birthday party when the whole family can celebrate together.
  • If you’re the parent returning from a period away, don’t override or critique your partner’s techniques, especially in front of the kids. Respect your partner’s approach and talk about how you’ll jointly carry out any suggested changes.

Long Distance Love – Making It Work: Mapleandmabel.com, Josephine Walsh

When it’s early days in the relationship

Rebecca had just left her beloved hometown of Melbourne and moved to Sydney for work when she met James. Turns out they’d lived around the corner from each other and had several mutual friends. “We once spoke on the phone for work and I commented to a colleague what a gorgeous voice he had,” Rebecca laughs.

But it wasn’t until Rebecca moved to Sydney and a dating app gave her even more reasons to miss Melbourne. “After a disastrous date with an ungentlemanly Sydney bloke, I changed my settings to match me on compatibility regardless of location,” Rebecca tells me. “James was the third on the list of results and was the most attractive.” After a fortnight of chatting, and agreeing to meet in Melbourne, they both knew that their first date would be significant. In a bold and plucky move, James kissed Rebecca as soon as she walked off the plane.

They each knew they’d face at least 12 months apart as both had work commitments. “It was the reason why we put all our cards on the table the weekend we met,” says Rebecca. “A day after meeting we had a simple conversation about wanting to be together, making it work for the year, then seeing who would move where. There was nothing daunting or odd about it.”

Rebecca’s reason for moving to Sydney was to further her career, “So having the guy I’d just fallen madly in love with in another state was actually a good thing. During the week I worked my tail off and focused on work.” Having a defined end point, regular weekend catch-ups and the knowledge that James would support her career made a huge difference to Rebecca. “James would have moved to Sydney if I wanted to stay, which was reassuring,” she says. “I wasn’t making a single-sided sacrifice.”

After four years together, the couple are now married, settled in Melbourne and have recently celebrated the birth of their first child, Tommy. “Part of why our relationship is so strong is because we communicate so well, and that was a big plus [during] that first year [apart].”

If you’re entering into long distance within the early days of your relationship:

  • Be aware that the time you spend together will likely be emotionally heightened. Not every visit will be perfect, which you may feel more intensely due to anticipation and the limited time you have together.
  • Honesty, flexibility and open communication will be key to making this work long term. You’ll both need to handle the normal hurdles of a new relationship even though you’re apart, so addressing any insecurities and be upfront about what you each need is important.

Long Distance Love – Making It Work: Mapleandmabel.com, Josephine Walsh

What was your experience of long distance like? What other tips and insights would you share to make the process easier to handle?


(This article originally appeared on HerCanberra, an awesome site that I write for that you should definitely check out!) 

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Flying the flag for long distance relationships

Flying the flag for long distance relationships - Mapleandmabel.com Jose Walsh, Josephine Walsh blog

Some say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Others say that absence makes the heart grow crazy, basically buys you shares in an airline and wracks up epic phone bills like nobody’s business.

Whichever side of the fence you sit on, long-distance relationships are a fact of life for many couples. But it seems that people rarely look at long distance as a positive experience, and instead see it as something that must be endured or avoided at all cost.

I’m a big believer that long-distance can be a really healthy thing for a relationship. I think that most people would benefit from experiencing long distance at some point in their life.

We’ve all heard that old adage that you should be happy being alone before you bring another person into the equation. That you should have a strong sense of who you are, and a healthy sense of your own independence, before you start to build a shared life with someone else.

Flying the flag for long distance relationships - Mapleandmabel.com, Jose Walsh, Josephine Walsh Blog

Rarely is life such a linear progression, and relationships even less so. We meet people we don’t expect to fall in love with, sometimes before we’ve had the time to grow into our skin. As creatures of habit, once we’re in relationships we can fall easily into comfortable routines. We share our friends, make decisions in relation to the other person, and sometimes put our partner’s needs before our own. Holidays are spent together rather than travelling alone. Compromise and growing together is part and parcel of healthy relationships, and I am in no way saying that these habits are a sign that couples aren’t happy or don’t respect each other’s own individual needs.

The reason I think long-distance relationships are an important life experience is that they are such hard work. Like, heart-wrenchingly hard work. I didn’t plan it this way, but all of my serious relationships have involved some form of long distance, whether dating my high-school sweetheart whilst in boarding school, being separated from a college boyfriend during the university break, or having my husband move back to Canada a few weeks after we got married.

Over the eight years that we’ve been together, we’ve spent about almost three years of those in some form of long distance. After meeting in Sydney and dating for a few months, my partner Marc moved to Canberra for a graduate job. Later, in 2012, his work offered him the chance to work in London for nine months, during which time we only saw each other twice. Then there were the nine months when he was basically commuting weekly between Brisbane and Canberra. And then in 2016 there was the 12-month stint in Canada (during which time we got engaged and somehow pulled off a wedding within five months. Handy wedding hint: There is a whole lot of stuff you just don’t worry about when you’re in this situation!).

In all of the instances where we were doing international long distance, there was never a question that I couldn’t have joined him, but I chose not to. I wanted to focus on my own career and build up my professional experience. I also wanted him to be able to make the most of such an incredible opportunity. And it’s not just one sided either. This year, we’re moving to London so that I can chase my dream of working for a cultural organisation, but one of the likely sacrifices is that Marc’s work will be based in Europe, meaning we’ll spend part of the week apart.

My experience in long distance relationships is that they force individual growth, examine ingrained behaviours and prompt sometimes uncomfortable conversations. I’d argue that they make any relationship stronger. Even if the relationship doesn’t last, amidst the heartbreak, both individuals come away with a clearer sense of their personal needs and what they’re looking for in future partners.Flying the flag for long distance relationships - Mapleandmabel.com, Jose Walsh, Josephine Walsh

A phrase I heard recently is that sometimes you need to introduce chaos in order to find clarity. I spoke to a few friends about some of the positives that came out of their experiences of long distance relationship.

You’ll appreciate the time you do spend together

Melissa and her partner had been together two years before entering into long distance for 18 months. “Luckily, we were secure anyway and had lived together for two years, so we were committed to making it work,” Melissa explains. “It certainly made us spend quality time together when we had it, and with technology these days, we didn’t really feel out of the loop.”

Claire agrees. “Distance gave us both the desire to spend quality time together, but also a healthy respect for the others’ independence and personal space when they needed it.” She met her now-husband Harry when the pair were just 18, and spent three years apart whilst studying. “I knew what I liked, and Harry knew what he liked,” she says. “We met vastly different people, possibly potential partners – but no one we ever liked as much as each other.”

Making plans to see each other will bring a sense of excitement and anticipation to the relationship. It’s also important to acknowledge that sometimes the person coming home will have other commitments or people they want to see, so make sure to discuss ahead of time how you want to spend the time you do have together. “It is so gratifying to feel such love for someone, when you have missed them so much,” says Claire. “I still feel the same way when Harry goes away for a couple of days, then comes home to me.”

It will improve your communication with each other

The initial conversations about long distance are always emotionally challenging, but it’s important to probe your feelings about being separated. How are you likely to feel? How will you use your support networks, or build new ones? Are there existing problems or personality traits that might be exacerbated by distance? Talking these through with your partner means that you’ll both feel more prepared for potential rough patches, and you can both consider strategies to deal with these before they happen.

Establishing a routine and being vocal about what you need to feel supported will help you both feel as connected. “We would talk every day at around the same time, [which] worked well and I stayed sane,” says Melissa. It’s important to keep in touch regularly so that both of you feel reassured and emotionally supported.

Creating shared experiences isn’t impossible, even when you’re apart, and can give you something to talk about other than your daily routine. This can be especially important if one of you is ‘staying put’ whilst the other is discovering somewhere new and exciting. Get creative by agreeing to read the same book, or watch the same show on Netflix so that you can discuss it on your next Skype date.

You each have time to do your own thing

Claire believes that the three years that she and Harry spent apart exponentially strengthened their relationship. “We had space to become our own people. We were used to having time alone and didn’t rely on being attached at the hip.” This can be especially important if you need to pour some serious energy into your work, which was definitely the case for Melissa. “I started a new job at the same time and needed to get my head around that.”

My anecdotal evidence from speaking to people about doing long distance relationships, or even travelling alone, is they are rarely something that people choose to do. It’s often something that’s forced upon a couple, the last resort, and something that must be endured. I can completely understand the resistance to long distance. But personally, I also think there is huge value in choosing to spend some time apart so that you both have the freedom and mental headspace to chase your own individual dreams. Resenting your partner later in life because you felt held back from taking that bucket-list holiday you’d planned years before you met is likely to be more challenging to deal with than a period of separation.

Flying the flag for long distance relationships - Mapleandmabel.com, Jose Walsh, Josephine Walsh

Every relationship is different, but I think we need to stop looking at time spent apart as the death toll for your shared and individual happiness. Yes, doing long distance can be frustrating, expensive, and lonely. But, it can also take your deep and meaningfuls to the next level, make you each appreciate relationship in a new way, and give you both the invaluable opportunity to grow as people.

Let’s start looking at long distance relationships as a chance for some pretty tremendous transformations, the benefits of which will last far longer than even your lengthiest Skype call.

What was your experience of long-distance? I’d love to hear from you!

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