I have a soft spot for the song ‘Save Tonight’ by Eagle Eye Cherry. Not only is it a great example of late 90’s laid back pop rock (something good did come out of the 90’s!) but it’s also a song that I identify with completely having spent most of my relationship living away from my partner in one capacity or another. We’re married, happily for the most part, and yet we’ve achieved a kind of ‘separate togetherness’ that relationship psychologists now say is actually beneficial for relationships.
But what does ‘separate togetherness’ mean? Virginia Woolf nailed it when she used the term “a room of one’s own” in 1929 which, for me, is a requirement in all relationships. Or to look at it another way, it’s about giving each other space and solitude to be an individual person in a relationship. In short, it’s about being comfortable enough to live separately, whether that’s living in separate houses or having personal space without it threatening your relationship.
I think most people would balk at the idea of entering in to a relationship where the majority of your time is spent away from each other; what’s the point? Isn’t it lonely? What about having to pay two lots of rent every month?! These are legitimate questions I asked myself when I found myself in a long term relationship that sees me spending more time skyping than snogging.
I’m a pro at long distance – trust me. When I met my husband, we had a blissful year spent living within ten minutes of each other before I moved away to another city for University. It was hard – maybe too hard for a fledgling adult to cope with, but cope I did. After that I had a brief stint back home before deciding that I wasn’t done with education and I went off on my merry way once again. Only this time I didn’t go back home when I was done – I decided to stay where I was and yet I wasn’t ready to give up on my relationship. As it happens, neither was he, despite the fact that he also decided to move… to a military base six hours away. Fast forward ten years and we’re now married and thankfully, sharing a home.
But long distance is still very much part of our relationship framework. Deployments, operations and training exercises all take my husband away from home several times a year. You think that sucks? Actually, it kind of doesn’t. In fact, I think we’re a healthier couple because we spend so much time living apart. We’ve achieved that ‘separate togetherness’ because of our time spent as a long distance couple. But how can you go the distance, when out of sight means out of mind? Here’s how long distance can actually make you a stronger couple.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
So goes the old adage and it does hold some truth. When you’re not around your partner, you forget all their irritating habits (criticising my laundry methods for instance) and start appreciating all the positive things they do (i.e doing the huge pile or ironing every Sunday night because you’d rather throw a shirt away than have to iron it. That can’t just be me?!). In any loving relationship, the little things that niggle at your nerves are easier to focus on because they seem like a big deal; if you’re with your partner all the time, you focus on the blurry bits rather than the canvas. You don’t get chance to step back and see the beautiful masterpiece.
Distance gives you time to do this. It highlights all those good details that you overlook on a day to day basis. It might be suddenly being grateful for his help around the house. Or realising that you actually really miss snuggling up together on the sofa. That’s something you took for granted before. It’s no bad thing to reflect on what you had. It makes you all the more appreciative when you have it again.
You have to get creative
If you don’t see each other very often, it kind of forces you to think outside of the box when it comes to keeping the spark alive. Let’s face it, wining and dining each other is not really an option when there’s a city or even an ocean between you. It’s easy to just rely on phone or video calls to connect. But there are other ways. When my husband was in Afghanistan, we wrote each other love letters; that’s right, real, handwritten, pen and ink love letters. They brightened up my week when they popped through my letterbox. I almost hugged the postman!
Those letters are precious to me and I can’t wait to show them to my grandchildren one day. But you don’t have to rely on snail mail; social media is an incredibly useful tool to connect with your partner. Tweeting them an article you think they’d like, sharing a picture that will make them laugh on Facebook, creating a Spotify playlist for them are all great examples of showing that you’re thinking of one another. And of course there are far more interesting things you can do on Skype than just talk.
You learn to trust deeply
I’m not going to lie, this is a hard one. I struggled with jealousy immensely when I was away from my partner for three years when I was at university. I’d see pictures of him with other girls and a green tinge would pollute my vision and I’d turn in to a She-Hulk, accusing and questioning constantly. But he never, ever gave me reason to be jealous. The other girls in the pictures were friends, mostly taken themselves. I failed to notice that he had twice as many pictures with his guy friends. It took me a while to realise that I wasn’t afraid of him cheating on me, I was jealous that these other people got to spend time with him.
There is no option but to get over this. Jealousy is the biggest obstacle to long distance love. I had to trust that he was thinking of me as much as I was thinking of him. We both had to be considerate of each other with what we were sharing on social media. It was just as hard for him to see me out partying with a new circle of friends. That included a lot of guys, who to me were like brothers but to my partner were a potential threat as it was for me to see him with the friends I had left behind. Over time, the trust between us became ineluctable. Now, it’s not something we think about. It goes without saying that we will never give each other any reason to be jealous.
You’re happier as an individual
When I returned home from university, I did so because my partner was waiting for me. I was thrilled to be with him but soon, resentment crept in like a cancer. Why had I been the one to compromise? Why did I have to move away from the life I had created? Similarly, my partner resented that I was moody, that I felt he owed me something. In short, we made each other miserable. After a year, we reached an impasse; we were both unhappy and so we agreed to concentrate on our own lives for a while. For me that meant going back to school, for him it meant a move in to the military. The geographical distance between us was greater than it had ever been, but emotionally, we had never been closer.
Agreeing to focus on our independent selves meant that we were able to recognise areas of our respective lives that made us dissatisfied and it helped us realise that our discontentment didn’t stem from each other. Self interest is important in a relationship. If we hadn’t had the space between us to focus on our own individuality, we would have been torn further apart than any distance put between us.
Your friendships remain strong
When you’re in a relationship, friends often fall by the wayside. It’s sad, but pals aren’t a priority when you’re in a passionate lip-lock. Evenings and weekends usually belong to you and your partner. But when you’re in a long distance relationship, you have the time to see your friends more regularly. It’s vital that you do so. Friday nights for me and my partner have always been ‘our’ nights. They consisted of a nice meal, a bottle of wine, a bowl of popcorn and a good movie with snuggles on the sofa. When he’s away, Friday nights can be hard. So instead of staying in and moping with Ben and Jerry, I invite friends round for a catch up or I go and visit them for the weekend.
I’m also free at the weekends for days out and I’ve spent some great times with my friends and their families that I wouldn’t have had chance to experience if my partner was around constantly. I spent a wonderful Christmas with my best friend and her family a few years ago. I felt at home and relaxed and was treated like a member of the clan. I’d been afraid of feeling like a spare part and of feeling lonely but I honestly had so much fun because it different to anything I would have normally done. Friends buoy you and they are essential when you’re in a long distance relationship. Don’t neglect them.
My partner and I miss each other when we’re apart. That is an inevitable part of our relationship. Whilst I’m proud of my ability to ‘keep calm and carry on’ each time he leaves, I’m also proud that we still do miss each other and feel sad to be away from each other. It means that we still want to be together, side by side and sharing a bottle of wine rather than a whatsapp chat. Long distance has made us appreciate each other much more. I’ll always love the tingle of excitement I feel when I know he’s coming home soon. For us, it’s made us a stronger couple. We’ve really come a long way since those first years spent apart. Sometimes, the journey is worth the distance.