It is no surprise to couples that creating a happy marriage is hard work and full of challenges that they have to overcome. Couples that have to face the challenge of maintaining a connection despite a long-distance marriage, however, take the prize for one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in their relationship.
It is estimated in a 2017 study by the Statistic Brain Research Institute that 3.75 million marriages are considered to be a long-distance marriage. And according to the Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships, the number of long-distance marriages is on the rise due to increased travel for work and internet dating.
The good news is that although it is estimated in a more recent study that long-distance marriages have a 58% success rate, this statistic is not any worse than the current success rate of traditional marriages.
So, what actually is the hard part of a long-distance marriage?
Feeling connected is one of the most challenging obstacles to overcome in a long-distance marriage. According to a study, the most difficult issue that long-distance marriages face is the lack of feeling connected to their partner’s daily life. This disconnection leads to decreased intimacy and can erode the relationship over time.
Since relationships are either growing or dying, this feeling of disconnect must be addressed daily, which can be quite challenging for couples separated by distance. Over the years of working with couples through the Couples Synergy method, I have found that those who are successful at navigating a long-distance marriage practice 8 things that ensure their success.
Here are 8 ways to make your long-distance marriage work:
1. Get Creative With Quality Time
Quality time is necessary for couples to nurture their connection. In the book The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work by John Gottman, it is recommended that couples spend 5 hours of quality time together without distractions. This can be extremely difficult for long-distance couples, especially if they are new to the separation.
Long-distance couples need to be creative when spending quality time together, and technology can play a significant role.
For example, one couple we work with has a standing virtual “meeting’ every Friday evening even though they cannot be together physically. They use this time to connect and share their common vision, which is important when spending quality time together. Whatever a couple chooses to do, this time needs to be distraction-free.
2. Stimulate as Many Senses as Possible
When we are in love, all of our senses seem to be stimulated. Just given the traditional five senses, our sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch senses become alive with every moment we spend with our partner.
When we are apart from our spouse as in the case in a long-distance marriage, these senses can lack the stimulation necessary for bonding with our partner. Couples in a long-distance marriage must get creative when apart and find ways to stimulate these senses in each other. Whether you send a picture, audio file, a delivered food or scent, or something your partner can touch themselves with, these creative ideas activating all of these senses can facilitate connection.
3. Virtual Intimacy
Technology has increased our ability to connect with people all over the world in an instant. It has also created new ways to express sexual desires and intimacy between lovers when they cannot be together in the same space.
Companies like kiiroo.com have developed apps and sexual toys designed to connect a couple who is especially separated by long distances using technology to enhance intimacy. Getting creative with phone/virtual sex, intimate pictures, sexting, and virtual masturbation can help with the disconnect long-distance marriages often feel in their intimate lives.
4. Letter Writing
Romantic movies have been made about couples separated by distance and how their love was kept alive by the letters they wrote to each other. There is just something about receiving a letter in the mail that holds much more meaning than a text or email, and this is something that couples in a long-distance marriage can replicate in their relationship.
Writing letters to your spouse can spark loving feelings that cannot be duplicated by any other form of communication, and they can be revisited at any time to keep the feeling of connection fresh even when their partner isn’t available.
5. Fall Asleep Together
The act of falling asleep together in the same bed may be something a traditional couple takes for granted, however, lacking this connection can be wearing over time for a long-distance marriage.
A client I had several years ago was engaged and was separated from his fiance for six months due to work obligations. He and his fiance got into the habit of falling asleep together over facetime. He reported that it gave him a sense of calmness and normalcy when he would wake up to see his fiance still sleeping on the screen.
Technology advances have created opportunities for long-distance couples to share in this intimate moment, even if snoring might be involved! Beginning and ending the day together even virtually leaves both people feeling a sense of belonging, significance, and connection.
As mentioned above, one of the most difficult challenges long-distance marriages face is a feeling of disconnection from their partner daily. When partners are not aware of what their spouse is experiencing just because they are not spending as much time together as traditional couples, this can breed worry and assumptions.
According to the Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships, long-distance couples do worry more about infidelity than traditional marriages. Thus, when transparency isn’t a standard in their relationship, this can add to more worry and more disconnection.
Transparency can be in the form of letting your partner know where you are going, who you are spending time with, what you are spending money on, or what you are communicating on social media. It is important to note that this is not about seeking permission or being controlled by your partner but having consideration for your partner’s feelings and not allowing insecurities to develop.
7. Healthy Boundaries With Friends
The fact is that long-distance couples will not spend nearly as much time together as traditional couples will just because of their physical separation. This doesn’t mean that while apart you should isolate yourself socially. In fact, according to a study, people in long-distance marriages tend to isolate themselves from others and focus on work to alleviate any loneliness they may feel.
It is important for people to have a healthy social life and support system even if they cannot be with their partner. With that said, it is important to have healthy boundaries with the people you spend time with when away from your partner.
For example, your spouse should know the people you are spending time with as well as what you are doing with them. Also, the people you spend time with should have equal respect for your marriage and not push any boundaries that might disrespect your spouse.
Surprising your partner is essential in any relationship, and it is just as important in any long-distance marriage. This can be tricky for couples separated by distance and can take creativity and planning to implement.
Surprises—because they are unsolicited and unexpected—communicates a message to your spouse that you are thinking of them and that you took the time and effort to show them. These surprises do not have to be expensive or extravagant. In fact, it is the smaller gestures that seem to mean the most.
For example, a client of mine wanted to surprise his wife who travels for work and arranged for her favorite candy to be delivered to her hotel room. Another client arranged for their spouse to be taken to an indoor skydiving facility to celebrate his birthday. The gestures can be endless and yet pay out in great rewards in the end.
Every kind of marriage faces specific challenges unique to their situation, and long-distance marriages are no exception. Couples must realize that marriage takes work and long-distance marriages face obstacles that traditional marriages do not have to face.
It is important for couples separated by distance to acknowledge their limitations and adapt to new ways of connecting with each other to continue developing their relationship. In these ways, long-distance marriages can ensure a closer connection with their spouse and reach out to each other across the divide.