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How to Keep Your Long-Distance Relationship Healthy, Happy, and Hot

It does take work, but it can absolutely be worth it.
Male and female hands show lingerie through their smartphone screen.
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As anyone who’s ever been in one can attest, making a long-distance relationship work is challenging—yes, even if you’re super into each other. But despite what a skeptical friend, family member, or coworker may try to tell you, LDRs can last (thrive, even!) when the people involved are excited about being together and willing to put in the effort required. 

The core ingredients of a healthy long-distance relationship are the same as in-person relationships, Rachel Hoffman, PhD, LCSW, a therapist and the chief clinical officer at mental health support platform Real, tells SELF. “You still need the same foundational pillars: trust, communication, and commitment,” Dr. Hoffman says. “The challenge is, you need them tenfold in a long-distance relationship.”

When you first start dating someone who you can see and touch anytime you want, a natural rhythm of date nights, sex frequency, and leisurely Saturday morning rituals often develops organically; from there, things either evolve into something more serious, or they don’t. “We typically do a lot of relationship building unintentionally,” Moraya Seeger DeGeare, LMFT, in-house relationships expert for couples app Paired, tells SELF. “But with long distance, every single action is very much a choice.” 

Maybe you’re hoping to take your relationship from LDR to IRL romance within a year. Or perhaps you or your partner has to temporarily relocate for a new job and you’re determined to make it work. No matter your circumstances, these expert long-distance relationship tips will help you navigate this tricky new frontier with clear eyes and an open heart. 

Make a plan you both feel good about.

“Your levels of uncertainty and insecurity can rise when you don’t have your person next to you on a daily or weekly basis,” Dr. Hoffman says. Without the constant reassurance you get from regular in-person intimacy—hugs, hangouts, sex, etc.—it’s harder to build trust and feel secure in your relationship. To feel more connected to your partner from afar, Dr. Hoffman recommends “making a plan and getting very clear on the schedule and the habits of your relationship.”  

Here’s a starter list of questions Hoffman and DeGeare recommend for getting on the same page at the outset:

  • How often will we talk?
  • Do you prefer phone or video calls?
  • What do you imagine our sex life looking like?
  • Are you open to phone sex or sexting?
  • How often can we afford to see each other in person?
  • Who will be visiting who? 
  • If we’re in different time zones, will we talk when I’m headed to work and you’re going to bed? 
  • Will we talk on the phone in the morning or send good morning texts instead?
  • How quickly can I realistically expect you to respond to messages?

It might take some compromise to agree on these LDR plans, but once you’ve started to put them into practice, Dr. Hoffman recommends a regular state-of-the-union conversation (once a month, say) to talk about which habits need tweaking. Maybe trying to squeeze in prework Skype chats is more stressful than you anticipated, or the phone sex is getting a little boring. This is an ongoing, collaborative process, Dr. Hoffman says. Discussing how you’re each feeling about your communication habits, sex life, and IRL plans can keep you feeling close, despite the physical distance.  

Discuss your endgame too. 

Does every successful long-distance relationship end with one half of the couple deciding to move for love? Not necessarily; both DeGeare and Dr. Hoffman have clients in LDRs who are happy to dwell in separate cities with no defined end point. While DeGeare believes that couples do need a certain amount of time and shared experience together to maintain the emotional connection and keep a relationship going strong, “that amount can vary depending on what season of life you’re in,” she says.

That said, expecting to wind up reunited for good is far more common, particularly if having kids someday is among your goals. If your relationship is just a few months old or you’re even starting off as long distance, it may feel too soon to ask the other person to commit to an in-person life together down the line. The point isn’t to pressure anyone into a set-in-stone plan, but to gauge whether you’re generally on the same page. You might ask your long-distance partner something like, “If this goes well, do you hope we’ll make a life together in the same place one day?” 

“It just can’t be a situation in which one person assumes you’ll end up living together while the other person thinks living separate lives is ideal,” Dr. Hoffman says. It’s also possible that one of you will change your mind down the road. In a healthy long-distance relationship, Dr. Hoffman adds, you’ll feel comfortable telling your partner if your desired endgame changes over time. That way you can revisit the plans you’d discussed previously and decide together if you’re both still game for this vision of the future.  

Voice your jealousy and insecurities. 

You and your significant other’s schedules have felt impossible lately—you can’t even remember your last great late-night talk. Meanwhile, they keep going on about Rory, their awesome research partner who gets to eat lunch with them in person and looks hot in the tagged social media photos you just found. AND Rory plays the drums?! You’re officially spiraling.

The problem is not Rory, Dr. Hoffman says, but a lack of trust and security in your relationship. The solution is to share those feelings as soon and as clearly as possible: I feel jealous of Rory. “By looping your partner in, it doesn’t turn into, ‘I’m not going to text them for the next 48 hours because I want them to feel what I'm feeling,’ or, ‘I’m gonna find my own Rory,’” Dr. Hoffman says. “When things play out in these passive-aggressive ways, long distance becomes problematic quickly—because you don’t have the ability to say, ‘Let’s talk this over face-to-face.’” 

Sharing your feelings, instead of bottling them up and developing your own bad-faith narratives about what might be going on, can head off unnecessary arguments. “When people don’t find a way to communicate that they’re feeling insecure, they tend to blame their partner instead,” Dr. Hoffman says. “It becomes, ‘You're avoiding me,’ or ‘You're not answering my calls,’ instead of identifying what the real issue is.” 

It’s your partner’s job to help you figure out what will make you feel reassured (up to a reasonable point—more on that below). “One of the most important questions in any relationship is, ‘When I need you, are you able to respond in a way that says you understand me, that you care about me?’” DeGeare says. You might require deeper conversations or more sexual connection going forward in order to feel secure, for example. Words of affirmation from your partner, such as “you’re the only one that I want to be with,” can help, says DeGeare, who also suggests repeating mantras to yourself that reinforce those feelings of trust and security (“We’re in this relationship because we want to be”).

Make sure you’re not overcompromising.

Sacrificing your own needs can happen in any relationship, but Dr. Hoffman sees this play out much faster with long-distance couples because people are eager to agree to whatever it might take to make it work. “You'll start to say stuff like, ‘I said I needed to talk before bed—but it’s okay that they don’t call me back at night,’” she says. 

Again, the ability to compromise is a relationship green flag, but there’s a difference between meeting the other person halfway and giving up on the things you value entirely. Ceding your needs little by little can bring on anxiety symptoms like insomnia, tightness in your chest, and intrusive thoughts, Dr. Hoffman says. Left unaddressed, she adds, this anxiety can spur an insatiable need for reassurance that no affirmation or amount of phone calls will satisfy, which in turn leads to tension and arguments. 

If you find that the compromises you’ve made have slowly led you to feel physical symptoms of anxiety, or you simply feel more bad feelings than good ones when you’re talking with your significant other or thinking about your relationship, you may need to consider breaking up. There’s no shame in saying, “I love you, but a long-distance relationship isn’t working for me,“ DeGeare says. 

Don’t stay just because you made that aforementioned plan.

When one of you has crossed agreed-upon boundaries—cheating, not talking to the other for days on end—that’s obviously a flashing sign that things aren’t working. But DeGeare says she’s seen many LDRs meet a quieter death that both partners are reluctant to acknowledge. 

“It’s very easy to drag out a long-distance relationship, especially if you’re not fighting,” she says. Letting a stagnant relationship continue happens within in-person relationships too, of course. But in DeGeare’s experience, it’s much easier to do when you’re not in each other’s faces every day, and you may not have realized how easy it’s become to put the other person out of mind when you’re not on the phone together. 

It’s possible that you still enjoy the abstract idea that you’ve got someone waiting at the end of this long-distance period—but do you still actively want that, and with this person? “It’s tempting to avoid a heartbreak and just power through because you’ve got a vacation in Mexico planned,” says DeGeare, who recommends periodically evaluating whether you’re still all-in. Similar to Dr. Hoffman’s state-of-the-union recommendation above, DeGeare says it’s a good idea to regularly check in with yourself, too, about how your relationship makes you feel—like in a journal entry or during a long walk.

Try to enjoy the ride.

Figuring out how to be there for each other on a consistent basis when you’re in different cities, time zones, or even countries demands planning, vulnerability, and no small amount of faith. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a slog. 

Long-distance love comes with lots of opportunities to get to know each other better in-depth through late-night conversations that wind into the wee hours as your phone gets hot on your ear. You can cultivate a deep curiosity for the other person’s life as they send you pictures of the people and places they love there. And, as you support each other while you pursue goals on separate paths that’ll one day (hopefully) converge, your love may grow even deeper. 

“You might create such a secure base that, 10 years down the road, you’ll say to each other, ‘We didn’t just make it through; we learned how to communicate in a way that might have taken a couple years in person,’” DeGeare says. “‘And we chose to do it. I love us for that.’” DeGeare knows firsthand that a long-distance relationship can “end” well: Like me, she was in an LDR that ultimately turned into a marriage and, today, a happy family. If you and your person are able to talk through the rough patches—when it’s been too long since the last visit, when you can’t seem to stop playing phone tag, when you haven’t quite hammered out where you’ll both end up—I’ll be the first to tell you that a successful long-distance relationship isn’t just possible; it’s worth it.