Australians probably encounter long distance relationships far more than most.
With massive distances between major cities, lucrative jobs in remote mining towns, a high immigrant population, a diverse array of foreign workers and thousands of young Australians meeting partners overseas – many Australians will find their relationships tested by distance at one point or another.
No matter what the reason for the distance in your relationship, these tips will give you the best chance of success.
1 – Be prepared
Sue Yorston, a Senior Manager with Relationships Australia in Victoria, says it’s important to prepare yourself and your relationship if a long distance period is on the horizon.
You need to be aware of potential issues, she says, and be clear about why you’re going long distance and how you’re going to deal with it.
“It’s really about having to be a little bit creative and a little bit inventive about how you manage the distance – but I think it’s equally important to know that end goal, and to be invested in it,” Yorston says.
Probing your own feelings and expressing them is also important.
“What does it mean to me? How am I going to manage it? How am I going to feel?” are all important questions to ask, she says.
“And it’s not always about trying to find a solution, sometimes it’s about listening,” she says.
2 – Manage insecurity
Claire was 31 when she moved from Sydney to London just six weeks into a new relationship.
“I didn’t anticipate how easy it would be for him to feel jealous of me being in a new location, making new friends, and how much reassurance he would need – and how easily things could be misconstrued,” she says.
It came as a surprise because her partner had not shown any signs of insecurity before.
“I was unprepared for how something which hadn’t been a big issue before then suddenly became a big issue,” she says.
Yorston says it’s important to be prepared to deal with insecurity.
Partners may be making new friends and exploring new places – but distance makes it impossible to provide physical reassurance through intimacy.
There’s a risk that this can become a destructive feedback loop, Yorston comments.
Insecurity on one side can breed resentment or annoyance on the other – Claire says she found it ‘unattractive’.
“It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Yorston tells SBS.
It’s important to keep control of your own insecurities, as well as understanding that your partner’s insecurities are likely to be heightened by the situation.
Open communication and being aware of the risks are key.
3 – Manufacture common experiences
Relationships are built on shared experiences and memories, and doing things you enjoy with your partner.
When you’re interaction is cut down to text, calls and video chat, it’s important that it doesn’t become a chore.
“We actually found that playing computer games online together was a great way of staying connected, as lame as that sounds” one partner in a long distance relationship tells us.
“We put each ourselves in the same team, blow off some steam and listen to each other swear every time we get killed."
Watching TV shows together, reading the same book, sharing recipes, or forwarding each other articles to read mean you’re not only sharing experiences, but have something new to talk about as well.
4 – Find opportunities for eye-contact
Technology has made long distance relationships far more manageable in recent years, and a key part of that is the ability to talk face-to-face – albeit through an electronic screen.
“Eye contact is really, really important in relationships, and it starts from the very beginning” Sue Yorston says.
“When we’re attracted to someone it’s the eye contact – we look at someone in the eye and it releases the endorphins and away we go,” she says.
FaceTime and Skype can be important to keep that spark alive.
5 – Be open and honest
“One of the things that we say that’s key to a healthy relationship is open communication,” Sue says.
When you’re forced to communicate through text and calls, it’s doubly important to communicate with clarity and honesty she says.
“If you don’t have non-verbal cues – then you need to speak it more,” she says.
Talking through concerns and dealing with issues in a mature and even tone is important – making-up after an argument is much more difficult over distance.
Being quick to apologise and quick to forgive will keep potential disputes from escalating and doing longer term damage to your relationship.
6 – Give each other space
While it’s important to stay connected, it’s also important to give each other space and independence.
“If you’re in different states and different countries, you need to have a support network – be connected to a community, have friends and do things,” Yorston says.
“There is a great deal of trust that has to go along with that. Your partner will be developing friendships and intimacies – and I don’t mean sexual – that will allow them to have some support."
While it’s important to keep each other updated about what’s going on in each other’s lives, it needs to come openly and not through constant, insecure questioning.
Trust and open communication are vital.
7 – Be aware of the challenges children may present
Children in long distance relationships can add an extra layer of stress.
Roles of breadwinner and care-giver can be starkly divided when one partner leaves town, Yorston explains, and that can potentially breed resentment.
The partner who is away may be worried that they’re missing out on important family moments, or may end up feeling like they’re not important or not needed.
Mala, 52, raised two daughters with her husband frequently away on lengthy business trips.
“Physically it was harder for me, but emotionally it was easier,” she says.
Mala says her children provided an extra level of emotional support, which her husband couldn't rely on.
“Suddenly they turn around and say ‘I love you Mummy!’ and moments like that make it all worth it."
The couple have continued to go through stretches of long distance in order to provide stability for their children.
“Even as our children grew up, we thought it was important to keep a grounded home for them, so that affected our decisions."
“So while I wanted to be with him, we made a conscious decision to continue long distance.”
Yorston recommends that couples be clear on the purpose for the separation – and to know that both partners are contributing, just in different ways.
When a partner visits their family after being away they should be mindful of how they behave, she says.
Taking over control or being critical of their partner's parenting can cause problems.
“It’s almost like they’re parenting the other parent,” Yorston says, and it can be an abrupt intrusion.
“You haven’t been here for two months and now suddenly you’re here and you want to do everything, or question everything?” she says.
Clear and open communication – and maintaining contact with children – are good strategies to avoid issues.
“We have parents who will ring up and who will read the children a bed-time story – there are lots of things you can do to stay involved,” Yorston says.
“Take the phone or take the iPad to the children for an activity,” she recommends, “They might be overseas, but they can still have the experience of being involved, watching the kids play footy or whatever it is.”
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