Long-distance relationships (LDRs) are awful, emotionally draining, soul-sucking things. Yet, with study abroad, internet dating, and fancy technology, LDRs are pretty common. My Japanese husband and I were in an LDR for 1 year and 4 months. My advice would be to avoid an LDR if at all possible, but I know if someone would have given me that advice I wouldn’t have taken it. Sometimes you find someone who is worth it, and you would do basically anything to make the relationship work, even if they live in another country.
I’ve seen both successful and failed LDRs, and there are some common stages that people go through during an LDR. If you are considering an LDR or are in the middle of one, maybe these will better help you to understand the emotional impact of these stages.
This step happens once you’ve decided to embark on an LDR. Even though you know that they need to leave and that you will, in fact, not see them for a long period of time, you will find yourself trying to bargain for more time. You ask them not to go, you delay your flight for a few days, and you start to panic about the eminent separation.
2. Extreme Loneliness
Pretty much from the moment you part ways with your significant other, the extreme loneliness hits, often accompanied by acute depression. The day after my then-fiance left to return to Japan (while I was left in the US to finish up grad school), after I dropped him off at the airport at 4 in the morning, I spent the day hiding in my apartment and feeling miserable because I knew it would be over a year before I saw him again. When I visited my fiance in Japan at the end of 2014, I cried at the airport before I went through security because I knew it would still be several months until I saw him again.
This step is, of course, an extremely emotional stage. But it’s also a short-term stage, because you can only physically keep up the acute depression and loneliness emotionally for a brief period of time. Thank goodness it doesn’t last much longer, because I don’t think that I could have survived that.
3. Long-Term Depression
During an LDR, depression can be an underlying emotion for most people (although much, much less than the acute stage). This can last a few weeks or months, and can come and go. It is one of the things that makes LDRs so difficult. After hanging out everyday for a year and a half, being away from my then-fiance for a year was like losing a part of myself. On top of depression, other emotions also come and go during the course of an LDR.
Anger – Frustration at the distance, fights over trivial things, and other things can trigger anger.
Jealousy – Facebook updates, missed Skype dates, or late nights at school or work can foster jealousy.
At some point, the depression subsides (although it doesn’t go away completely) and you come to terms with the fact that you are, indeed, in an LDR. This stage can go one of two ways.
In the first scenario, you drift apart from each other because of other commitments, other people, or growing apathy. This doesn’t mean you cheat on your significant other, but for example if you’re at university and you go out and party with friends and postpone your Skype chats, this can stress the relationship. Substituting other things for the time you would spend Skyping or texting your significant other (like other friends, working overtime, or a houseful of cats) can create resentment, distrust, and hurt your relationship. Even if you’re completely honest and careful of each other’s feelings, at such a distance, things can be misrepresented.
At some point, the stress on the relationship can become too much, and one or both parties decide to end it. I have no actual proof, but I tend to think that the stress on the relationship increases proportionally with the length of time in between in-person visits. It’s easier to get preoccupied with life in your immediate surroundings the longer that you are apart.
The second scenario is that you accept the LDR part of your relationship as a short-term event that has an end in sight. In this scenario, while you continue to live your own life, you make your relationship an important part of that life. Being apart is hard, but doing things to mitigate the separation can help you to accept the reality of an LDR. Planning Skype dates, visits to each other’s homes, and deciding on your future plans will reduce the stress and frustration that comes from being apart.
These kinds of LDRs are the most successful ones. Rather than cloistering yourself in your room like a nun or distracting yourself with nonstop outside activity, you need to find a balance. Finding a balance between your life at home and your relationship with someone far away is difficult, but it can be accomplished when you are committed to your relationship.
The Emotional Toll
There are both successful and failed LDRs all over the world. The most important thing is to be 100% committed to the other person. The most successful LDRs I have seen have been ones where there is an end goal (marriage, living and working in the same city, a date to meet again, etc.) because you honestly can’t continue an LDR indefinitely. While these 4 emotional stages are based on my personal experience and observations, they aren’t set in stone. LDRs are different for everyone.
No one plans to start a long-distance relationship, but sometimes they can’t be helped. From personal experience, and the experience of others, I think that once you’ve started an LDR, you will usually be able to know for yourself if that person is worth the emotional roller coaster that is an LDR. The emotional toll of an LDR is immense, and an LDR that ends in separation doesn’t mean you failed, but that the relationship wasn’t meant to be for whatever reason.
As for my LDR, my husband and I have been married for a year, and I think that our long-distance experience made our relationship stronger.
Have you ever been in a long-distance relationship? What were your experiences like? What advice do you have for other people in an LDR? Let me know in the comments!