Long-distance relationships – do they ever work?

ThinkstockScheduling a time to chat should be treated as important as business meetings

By Bea Johnson for Yahoo! Southeast Asia

With the increase in travel and the pressures of taking work wherever you can find it, long-distance relationships are becoming more common nowadays.

The fundamental thing to remember when embarking on this type of relationship is to agree on a plan from the very beginning, and commit to it. You will both need to set out your priorities, and agree on them, if you are going to last.

Relationship expert Jennifer Sutherland believes long distance relationships can actually be very healthy for a relationship. "They allow the individual a chance to develop their own relationships and ambitions independently of a partner. They also create a longing for each other." However, in order for it to be successful, Sutherland advises that the couple has to have spent enough time together to have created a strong foundation in order to cope with the separation. "This will avoid any unrealistic idealisation and expectations of partners."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with a long-distance relationship, here are four other tips to help make the relationship go the distance.

1. Establish boundaries and be honest

Before one of you makes the life changing move to another place, be it two hours away or across the globe, make sure you are clear on what relationship you will be maintaining. This is imperative in order to avoid misunderstandings and heartache later.

Establish whether you are going to be exclusive or non-exclusive and be honest about it. Setting agreed boundaries will allow both of you to work within them when you are apart, and should leave you with the confidence of knowing that you are both on the same page.

2. Agree on an end goal

Before embarking on a long distance partnership, it is very important to agree on how long the separation is going to last — this can be six weeks, six months or a year, but you both need to be able to look forward and plan your lives accordingly. If you cannot see an end in sight, it might be time to re-think it, or you could both end up frustrated and unhappy.

Joanna and Ned* lived together in Malaysia for two years in a happy and committed relationship, and when Ned was moved abroad for work, Joanna assumed she would join him. However, her visa was denied, and they are now living 13 hours apart with no intention of breaking up, but no idea how long their separation will last. Ned explains: "We both feel it is worth waiting to be together, but it is horrible not knowing how long we will have to live like this for."

3. Make time for each other

As Ned and Joanna have found out, you will need to prepare yourself for a lot of over-the-phone and online communication. "We've both invested in good headphones, and installed Skype, and we make time for each other, even if it is only a few minutes a day," says Joanna. Install a webcam and a software in your computer that will allow you to make free calls, and switch to a good phone plan with unlimited long distance minutes. You will also need to agree on how often you are going to talk. If you are not in agreement, one of you can end up feeling ignored and unhappy, and you'll start drifting apart.

"The real difficulty we have found has been the time difference," says Ned. "When Joanna is waking up, I am in the middle of my work day, and usually too stressed for chit chatting, and when I am going to bed, she is busy and out running errands, so it can be really hard to find time to talk." But no matter how hard it is, schedule time to chat and treat these calls as important as a business meeting or an appointment.

4. Keep yourself busy

This is one of the down sides of being apart, especially if you were used to spending a lot of time together. Tim* suffered when Clara* moved away. "I was used to spending my weekends with Clara, and when she moved away I suddenly found I had all this spare time. When we'd speak, she would be having a great time, going out, seeing the sights, meeting new people, and I felt neglected and resentful. It put a huge strain on our relationship."

Keeping yourself busy and happy is the best way to keep your partner interested, as they will look forward to speaking to you, instead of dreading the next onslaught of bickering and recriminations.

Last but not least, when you finally do get to see each other again, don't set your expectations too high or be disappointed if it isn't all roses and fireworks. It can be awkward when you first see each other after a while, so remember that you have been living separate lives, and be patient as you learn how to re-connect.

*Names have been changed

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