HOW TO MAINTAIN
A THRIVING LONG-DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP

Most couples who have successfully made a long-distance relationship work will be the first to tell you it wasn't their first choice. While absence may indeed make the heart grow fonder, a long-distance relationship is usually a much longer distance and/or absence than most daters would ever intend.

Still, when you meet that special someone, there is no guarantee that person will never move out of state or overseas at some point in the relationship. We live in an increasingly global world, and your significant other may need to move for college, business or family reasons, just to name a few. If you find you are one of the 14 to 15 million couples who find themselves in a long-distance relationship, know you are not alone. Plenty of couples go through this, and their life experiences and lessons learned provide key insights into maintaining a healthy, functional and lively relationship when separated by distance.

Here are a few key tips on how you can keep the spark and connection alive, no matter the miles or geographical barriers that separate you from your significant other.

WHEN PHYSICAL TIME TOGETHER IS AT A
MINIMUM, HONEST WORDS COME AT A PREMIUM

Honesty is an important foundation of any successful relationship, this much is true. That said, honesty is even more important when couples cannot spend time together doing their usual favorite activities. Honest and enthusiastic conversation goes a long way toward ensuring a long-distance relationship thrives, and one big lie can be all it takes to make a long-distance relationship crumble.

For example, assume you're having a great conversation with your significant other via a long-distance call or Skype chat. Near the end of the call, she casually asks you what you are doing Friday night, and you respond by saying it's just going to be a low-key night of Netflix. Now imagine she sees pictures pop up on Facebook where you were out partying all night. It won't take long before the dishonesty can snowball into your significant other thinking you lied to hide certain indiscretions, such as partying with other women. Even if that wasn't your intent — maybe you just didn't want her to feel like she was missing out if she was bored abroad, for example — one lie of this nature can make someone feel the effort of long-distance commitment just isn't worth it.

Worries and wandering minds occur more frequently when couples don't have the familiarity of each other's touch and time spent together. Building trust is the best antidote against these recurring worries, so speak honestly and regularly with your words. Schedule regular times to chat via phone, Skype or whatever your preferred method of communication is. Just make sure to communicate honestly and let each other know if the communication gets to be "too frequent". Communicate clearly and honestly about your expectations regarding your communication preferences, and listen openly when your partner expresses their preferences. That way, both of you can come to a mutual understanding and compromise to find the ideal way to communicate while separated by distance.

Long-distance conversation shouldn't feel forced, as if it's a chore you and your partner must do together. Rather, it should be viewed as the foundation to building a trusting relationship that can withstand the difficulties of long-distance separation. Keep things lighthearted and fun, but also make sure to express the things you love about each other that make a long-distance relationship worth doing in the first place.

KEEPING THE SEXUAL ENERGY ALIVE

If you are a sexually active couple, the lack of physical touch and sexual activity in a long-distance relationship is inarguably a great challenge. However, this isn't an excuse to let the sexual energy stagnate. There are plenty of things you can do that range beyond sending a racy pic or sexting.

Pardon the pun, but part of keeping the long-distance sexual energy thriving requires being willing to "go the distance" and the extra mile. Instead of relying on the formulaic, consider venturing out of your comfort zone and trying phone sex together. Immediately, this will help personalize the experience as an experience you are having with your partner. You would be amazed just how much difference it makes to actually hear the voice and sounds of your significant other, especially when compared to a simple picture or sexting. Phone sex is far more stimulating and creates a more meaningful connection. Talking to each other as you pleasure yourself while thinking of each other will also do wonders for your imagination, so take the time to explore each other's desires and willingness to explore new sexual ideas. These conversations may even help expand your capacity to try new things in the bedroom once you have the chance to physically re-connect.

In short, don't view long-distance relationship as a necessary barrier to your sex life. View it instead as an opportunity to explore each other's sexuality in new and fruitful ways.

DISTANCE ISN'T AN EXCUSE
FOR BEING IMPERSONAL

Yes, long-distance relationships are a challenge, but don't use those challenges as an excuse for why the relationship becomes less personal. Thanks to modern technology (and some older ones), personalizing the relationship has never been easier no matter the distance. As mentioned earlier, Skype is a great way to see each other's loving faces. Giving your partner the ability to see the excitement in your eyes when you speak again is a great way to personalize and close the figurative distance of long-distance. Sure, the physical distance remains, but keep that as the only distance in your relationship. Keeping the personal elements of the relationship alive will prevent physical distance from spilling into emotionally distant behaviors.

With all the technology available today, however, do make sure you both agree on the preferred communication methods. If you are on email every day for work, but your partner rarely checks his or hers, there are probably better solutions out there. Keep the communication lines open and choose communication methods that work best for both of you.

In addition to Skype chat, texting and interacting on social media, the "old fashioned" approach can still do wonders for personalizing a relationship. Consider taking to pen and paper in order to write a personal letter to your significant other. If you don't fancy yourself a writer, opt for other personalized approaches such as flowers or even practical gifts that he or she needs. No matter what your personal touch of choice may be, the point is to make sure your partner understands you are invested in making this relationship work by demonstrating your personal commitment.

KEEP IN-PERSON VISITS AT THE
FOREFRONT OF YOUR MIND

Understand that long-distance relationships are just a season, not the destination. In other words, this season will end and you will be able to resume regular interaction as a couple. Until then, however, keep your upcoming visits at the forefront of your mind. As humans, we have an expectant nature in general. Without things to look forward to, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture and become less hopeful.

Just the simple act of holding hands will mean more when you have been deprived of that physical connection, so take advantage of each of these moments you get when you are going through a long-distance season. Treat in-person visits as the highlight that they are, and always treat the next visit as the inspiration to keep the relationship strong and healthy.

Along these lines, when you make in-person visits with one another, be explicit about when you each plan to see each other next. That way, you will be planning for the future together in an intimately personal way, making the next visit something to expectantly look forward to enjoying with one another.

PRIORITIZE IN-PERSON VISITS, BUT AVOID PUTTING
TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON ANY ONE VISIT

In-person visits need to be prioritized, but they don't need to be overly glorified. Put another way, any one visit doesn't need to be treated like the Super Bowl of visits. Instead, treat it exactly like it is, which is simply spending valuable, personal time with someone you value greatly.

Avoid making the in-person visit an Olympic-like event where you try to cram as many activities as possible into a visit. It can be easy to fall into this temptation since both of you will want to make up for what you may feel is "lost time". Instead, try to realize that what your relationship needs most is quality time, which can often be lost when you do too many activities. The best conversation often occur in the so-called "boring" times of relationships, so give your in-person visits the fexibility and time to make the most of these opportunities.

Part of making relationships last long-term is knowing whether you will be able to handle real life together. As such, take the time to actually do life in a very real sense when you reconnect. If every visit starts to feel like a vacation, rather than a meaningfully intimate connection, it can be easy to inject emotional distance into the relationship without even recognizing it. For any in-person visit, simply make sure you are prioritizing each other at all times, whether doing an activity or spending a lazy night indoors. Emphasizing personal connection will ensure each and every visit is special and memorable.

LONG-DISTANCE, LIKE ANY OTHER
RELATIONSHIP, REQUIRES LIFELONG LEARNING

One of the unique opportunities of long-distance dating is it gives you much-needed perspective on the need to know your partner. When sexual chemistry, social circles and other elements of traditional relationships are removed, you are able to fully see the importance of deeply knowing your partner

Indeed, long-distance dating forces you to look at your partner in deeper, more meaningful ways in order for the relationship to thrive. Look at it this way: the reality of long-term dating is there are days upon days of activities your partner will experience, and you have no idea what those experiences are without communication. That said, is traditional dating so different? Arguably not, when you consider the many hours every couple spends apart each day. Even so, we often take this reality for granted in traditional relationships, so we simply don't communicate as urgently as we would if the relationship became a long-distance one.

Really tap into this and strive to learn everything you can about your partner when distance physically separates your relationship for a limited time. When you ask questions to fill in these experiential gaps, avoid sounding like you are interrogating your partner. Instead, ask open-ended questions that let them effortlessly reveal more of themselves to you.

For example, suppose your partner mentions that one of their favorite experiences abroad has been trying the local cuisine. Simply ask them what has made trying the local flavors and culinary delights such a special experience for them. The answers you receive will tell you a lot about your partner's personality and preferences. If you treat these conversations meaningfully, these little insights will add up to revealing much more of the "big picture" complexity of your partner's personality. In these ways and more, long-term dating can be used as a positive opportunity for exploring the potential for a lasting relationship based on knowledge you might have otherwise ignored in a more traditional relationship.

STAY TOGETHER WHILE SEPARATED

Don't let distance distract you from realizing you have the ability to share wonderful activities together. Whether you want to watch a show together and talk about it or play a favorite game together online, there are loads of ways to share common interests and connect over them. If you're avid readers, choose a book to read together and talk through it as you go. The point is, if you are together, you probably have a number of interests in common other than simply being interested in each other. Use those activities as a reference point for staying emotionally connected throughout the long-distance relationship.

Of course, seasons will come up that make this advice diffiicult. Final exams, a sick relative or a busy season at work can make it difficult to find the time, but try nonetheless. You'll be amazed at how much these shared activities can make a rough day brighter since you were able to share a meaningful experience with someone you care for and who cares for you in return.

LONG-DISTANCE RELATIONSHIPS ARE A
JOURNEY, NOT A DESTINATION

Finally, it is worth reiterating that long-distance dating is part of a journey, not a destination. No matter the reason for the distance, one or both parties to the relationship are doing things for themselves that will ultimately benefit the relationship as a whole. This is true whether partners are pursuing educational aspirations, business opportunities or are tending to family matters.

If there is one lasting tip to take away from these long-distance tips, make it this one: Be intentional about your goals and where you are going as a couple. Take the time to talk about what the end goal for your relationship is, and then talk about the steps needed to reach that goal together. If you have already been dating for a while, maybe marriage is in the cards. If you are still in the exploratory dating phase, set goals on how you can get to know each other better despite the distance. The tips outlined here will be a great conversation starter for doing just that.

It may be helpful to actually map out the relationship plan and goals. Take the time to note the estimated time apart between visits, and where you expect the relationship to be at certain benchmark points (for example, dating anniversaries and the like). Without a destination in mind, the ship is rudderless and the journey will meander aimlessly. Understand that, as a couple, guiding the relationship in the right way is within your control. Once you are both on the same page and have talked about your goals, it is easier to work toward them since you both know the destination you are aiming to reach.

Keeping this shared big picture in mind will help you gain lasting insight into what both of you want and need in a future partner as your desires and emotional needs evolve. Over time, both your desires and needs will fluctuate as you change in a myriad of ways. The way you interact via distance, then, is a great way to prepare yourself for engaging with these changes that will unavoidably happen in the years ahead.

Stay positive, honest and steadfastly committed to each other no matter the distance, and you stand a great chance of turning the initial difficulties of long-distance dating into an unbreakable emotional bond that lasts and stands the test of time.