Surviving an international long distance relationship is one of the most difficult challenges you’ll face in your life. Trust me, I was in a LDR too not long ago. I survived and you can too.
I met my girlfriend while I was on a 3 month backpacking trip through Central America. I’m from the USA. Before meeting her on my trip, I had also just accepted a good paying job in California. I never expected to meet Stephanie on that trip. I met her in El Salvador, her small and beautiful tropical country. We had the time of our lives together. I was smitten. And then I had to go. Things got really difficult for us.
After my long backpacking trip, I moved back to California and started my new job. Every 3 months I went to visit Stephanie. We agreed to be in an international long distance relationship. I couldn’t be there as much as I wanted, so we did our best while being apart. We spoke daily, even if it was only short chats. We texted of WhatsApp on and off through-out the day, perhaps using too many emoji’s and animated gifs in our messages. We sent letters, flowers and fun gifts. We did what we could.
I learned an incredible amount. Relationship’s are impacted in a number of ways from culture, language, familial roles, upbringings, value systems, communication and even simple things like the clothing you wear.
What Makes An International Long Distance Relationship Different
Think: Culture. Language. Upbringings.
If long distance relationships are difficult, then International Long Distance relationships are seemingly impossible. It’s like jumping over hurdles, then someone throws an occasional tripwire boobytrap in front of you. Even if you’re from similar cultures, family upbringings and values can affect your relationship. Some challenges may be: cultural differences, language differences, how trust is established, difficulty getting travel visas, expensive flights, familial differences, unexpected relationship expectations, and more.
My girlfriend is from a conservative latin family. That added challenges to the mix. It’s unusual in her culture for a woman to be in a relationship with a man that’s thousands of miles away. So, it took some adjustments for her family. But I was patient and loving, and they were too. After the initial six months of her family being uncertain of what she was getting involved with, they met me and warmed up to me. I had to earn their trust.
I’m going to focus this article on international long distance relationships, although the principles apply to all LDR’s. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
Here’s what we did to survive. And here’s my best advice to you.
How To Survive A Long Distance Relationship
First, I’m going to be brutally honest (I’m a believer in being direct). Nothing that you do will be the complete cure. It’s natural to feel stress, frustration, anxiety and fatigue from being away from your partner for long periods of time. There will be times that it will be especially difficult. There will be times that it’s not so bad. Nothing that you do will completely remove the frustration you feel from trying to survive a long distance relationship.
Now that we got the ugly part out of the way, let me tell you: it’s absolutely possible to reduce the stress. LDR’s are possible to manage. And don’t worry, you’re not in this alone. The world is getting smaller due to the ease of international travel. Therefore, long distance relationships are sprouting up all over the world. If I can do it, and others can do it, you can do it too.
Let’s dive in. Here are my best suggestions:
1. Talk with your LDR partner often.
It should go without saying that talking with your partner often is important. But how much is “often”? Well, it’s different for every couple and depends on a few factors, such as how busy you are, other stress-factors in your lives, etc. As a rule of thumb, I think you should talk voice-to-voice at least once per week, if not more. Talking daily isn’t necessary unless that’s what you both want. The problem with talking too often is that you can run out of things to talk about and then it can get awkward.
Regarding texting, you should be sending texts daily, at least one in the morning and one at night. When Stephanie and I were apart, we would text through-out the day on WhatsApp. Sometimes if one or both of us was busy we’d send messages less often. But for the most part, it was daily multiple times.
2. Always send good morning messages and goodnight messages.
A rule I made for myself was to always send a good morning message and a goodnight message, regardless of how I felt. In reality, sometimes I was annoyed at Stephanie or just annoyed at life…but I never missed a day without starting and ending the day with those two messages.
By sending those two important messages daily, you are doing something vital in your long distance relationship. You are establishing consistency. You are telling your partner that you are committed, even with the distance. You are the first thing they think of when they wake up. You are the last thing they think of when they go to bed. Instead of feeling worry, it gives both people a sense of calmness and comfort to know that your partner is thinking of you during these two important parts of the day.
3. Occasionally have deep conversations.
Having deep conversations is important for learning about each other and strengthening your relationship. Sure, light and funny conversations are fun, but sometimes you need to go deeper. Since you can’t be together between the bedsheets, you’ll need to focus on emotional attachment. Deep conversations are the answer.
Here’s a list of 50 great deep conversation questions that will give you interesting things to discuss.
Conversation topics can vary a lot. But some good things to focus on are personal experiences, how those experiences made him/her feel, sensitive issues, family issues, personal beliefs on life, opinions about world events, etc. The goal is to understand how your partner thinks and feels about certain things. It’ll help bring you closer together. Just remember to listen more than you talk. And don’t be judgmental.
Also Important: Cultures handle relationships differently. For my girlfriend, her culture is a conservative culture. So, men generally lead conversations and decision making. I wanted to empower my girlfriend to be more equal with me, so I put a lot of effort on starting new conversations, then listening to her. There was a delicate balance between respecting her cultural expectations but also giving her the chance to see that she can stand by my side. Balance carefully. She also got angry at me sometimes when I didn’t follow the expected roles clearly enough.
4. Send nudes.
You can’t have sex, right? It’s a long distance relationship. You can strengthen your emotional connection. But your physical connection? Not without nude photos. Of course, use caution and ensure you can trust your partner first. Don’t send nudes the first moment you’re apart…let your relationship grow into it.
I’m going to be honest here: even “conservative people” send nude photos. I’ve lived long enough to learn that both men and women, conservative or liberal, across various cultures…send naked pictures. Our body and our intimacy is a natural part of attraction and feeling loved. Granted, it’s possible that your partner is part of the 0.01% that “doesn’t do that”…which is ok. Maybe they don’t, and that’s their decision. But it’s more likely that they’ll be open to the idea, especially when they trust you enough that you won’t judge them and that you will love their body. Sometimes it takes a while to build that trust.
I’m a guy. I understand how valuable nude photos can be. Guys are turned on by visualizations. Women are too…under the right conditions. Therefore, if your guy makes you happy, maybe send a saucy photo or two. It’ll give him something to work with, if you know what I mean. Secondly…guys, don’t send nudes to your girlfriend unless you’re both in the mood. It’s sometimes a turn-off to women to randomly receive a dick pic. Be decent. Similarly, don’t not do it when the time is right.
5. Book your next flight.
I always had a flight booked for the next time I’d go see my girlfriend. Doing this gave me something to work towards and look forward to. Instead of aimlessly hoping that another trip would happen some day, I’d book the flight so there was no question about it.
Be wary though. After a visit, don’t book a trip immediately. Give it a few days, or maybe a couple weeks to think about your last trip for a while. There’s no rush. Booking the next trip isn’t going to make it come any faster. It’s only going to give you something to look forward to. So, enjoy each trip, let the memories stick in your mind for a bit. After some days pass, then consider booking your next flight to visit your sweetheart.
6. Spend time with friends.
Friends can be a lifesaver during a long distance relationships. Go out, get involved in activities, explore nature, try new foods together, do anything you’d normally do with your friends. Not only does it take your mind off of your long distance relationship, but it also helps stimulate your mind into doing new things and potentially learning new things.
Just be careful about discussing your LDR too much. If you talk about your long distance relationship at every moment, it’ll eventually get overwhelming to your friend. Sure, you can lean on them sometimes during more difficult moments, but don’t overextend your friend’s goodwill. Being a friend isn’t about being a full time therapist. If you’re suffering a lot from your relationship, consider seeing a therapist instead of unloading all of those emotions onto your friend. I discuss therapy in more detail below.
7. Go to the gym or exercise any way you can.
Going to the gym is an awesome way to alleviate stress and improve your physical fitness at the same time. When you excercise, you’re clearing your mind and rechanneling your energy to a different place. Also, exhausting your body will help you feel better and help you sleep better at night.
Exercising puts you in control of your physical and emotional state. We feel better emotionally when we feel good physically. Another advantage of exercising is that you’ll look great for the next time you see your significant other. I remember when I visited Stephanie after I had exercised diligently for the months prior to seeing her. I felt fantastic and looked fantastic. And it gave me more stamina (insert wink emoji). Exercising is great for a lot of reasons. Try to exercise at least twice a week if you can.
8. Have daily rituals.
Having daily rituals involve creating small routines in your day that are beneficial. They are for you and only you. You can have rituals with your partner too, but I’m talking about just you right now. Daily rituals are great when you’re in a long distance relationship, because they give you a positive routine that will eventually be second nature, meaning that you won’t need to think about it.
For example, I had a few daily rituals when I was in my international long distance relationship. One was buying sushi after going to the gym. I love sushi, so it was a good happy boost and it was a good reminder of my progress. Also, I would buy a small caramel frappuccino at Starbucks during my lunch break. And finally, another helpful ritual, I would walk for an hour after work. Walking helped clear my mind and give me fresh air.
These were my personal rituals. You can create your own. There’s a million possibilities. Having rituals will help you as long as your rituals are healthy and promote your wellbeing. Take care of yourself! It’s important to have rituals that will ensure your happiness.
9. Use Reddit
Reddit is the internets largest forum website. Reddit was incredibly helpful to me when I was waiting months to see Stephanie. It helped to ease the stress and frustration that everyone feels when being in a long distance relationship. When I was feeling stressed from my LDR, I would read other’s stories and discuss their issues with them on reddit. Also, people on Reddit were incredibly helpful in answering my questions and being supportive.
There are two subreddit’s for long distance relationships:
- Reddit Long Distance – 152,000 Members (More Popular, by far)
- Reddit LDR – 16,600 Members
Reddit helped me realize that I wasn’t alone. We were like a small online community that looked out for each other. You’ll learn what other people are going through. You’ll learn how other people cope with the challenges of a long distance relationship. You’ll help people and people will help you. A lot of people are very positive and supportive in those subreddits, so try to be positive and supportive in return.
10. Realize that it takes two people.
Don’t put all of the pressure and stress on yourself. The weight of a long distance relationship should be an equal burden to both people in the relationship. Similarly, don’t put the entire burden on your partner. If your partner agreed to being in a long-distance relationship, than he or she should feel comfortable to put in the effort necessary to make it work.
Effort can be demonstrated in a variety of ways. Texting and phone calls are the most powerful and reassuring ways, although letters, emails, flowers and gifts are nice as well. If you’re not getting enough texts or calls, then you’ll probably suffer. After all, that’s the lifeline to your entire relationship.
If you’re putting too much effort and your partner isn’t putting enough effort, you’ll feel it. When your partner doesn’t respond to messages or calls, or seems unengaged in the conversation, or isn’t excited to hear from you…then your partner may be losing steam for the relationship. It might be time to have a serious conversation to understand what is going on. No relationship can survive if one person is doing all the work, and thats especially true for LDR’s. If it’s not equal, you’ll burn out emotionally. Don’t put yourself in that position. Communicate with your partner.
11. Practice conscientiousness.
Monitor yourself. You must be conscientious during your long distance relationship. In other words, you must be mindful about your own emotional status. Are you feeling sad? Stressed? Worried? Knowing how you feel is important. Because once you understand how you feel, you can moderate your feelings better using whatever coping mechanisms you have that work for you.
For example, if you’re feeling anxious, maybe it’s better not to call your friend and unload all of your stress onto them. Maybe it’s better to read a book or go for a jog.
If you can determine how you feel before you take action, you can make a better decision and handle it differently. Being able to monitor your own emotional state will come in very handy for improving your emotional wellbeing. And it will help your conversations with your partner go more smoothly.
12. If It Gets Really Bad, Go To A Therapist
Therapy can be extremely helpful. It may not be necessary often, or at all, but at least the option is on the table. Therapists give unbiased advice. They’re nonjudgemental. They listen very well. They can give you advice on how to cope with your challenges.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with speaking with a therapist. In fact, if someone berates you, laughs at you, or mocks you for speaking to a therapist, then that person is toxic. Emotional health is important. Hiring a therapist for your mind is no different than hiring a physical trainer for your exercise routines. It’s necessary at times.
Your emotional wellbeing is important during your long distance relationship. Similar to your physical wellbeing, if something is causing a consistent problem, you may need professional advice. Surviving a long distance relationship can be easier with the help of a therapist. And there are a variety of options. You can see a counselor, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist.
That is an abbreviated list.
International long distance relationships require different focal points depending on which countries you’re from. For example, I didn’t include “practice your partner’s language” because it’s possible that you already both speak the same language. For me, my girlfriend spoke English somewhat. But I didn’t know Spanish well at all. You can’t depend on translation apps 100% for two reasons:
- Language translation apps are often incorrect. They don’t translate the intent of the message. I discovered that the hard way.
- Sometimes you don’t have time to use a translation app, because you need to respond fast.
When my girlfriend was upset or frustrated with me, my solo Spanish lessons saved me. Latina women speak fast when they’re angry. And if you don’t respond quickly they get more angry. It’s part of their culture. So, it was incredibly helpful for me to be able to respond fast when there was a misunderstanding or disagreement.
The point is, you’ll need to investigate the potential challenges for your specific relationship. Every relationship is different. If language isn’t an issue, consider yourself lucky.
You Are A Soldier
I give a lot of credit to anyone that takes on the challenge of going through a long distance relationship. It’s damn hard. But it’s very worth it. The day will come when that glorious moment arrives that you finally get to be together. You’ll look back and laugh.
Honestly, most people won’t even consider a long distance relationship. And that’s fine for them. They’re not necessarily weak, they’re just unwilling to put in the effort. Or they haven’t found their special someone to make it worth the effort. We all have different life experiences.
What bothers me is when shitty people bash other people for being in a long distance relationship. They do that because they’ve never found someone special in a distant place, or they weren’t willing to put in the patience and effort to make the distant relationship work. They don’t understand.
You, my friend, are a soldier. It’s part of life’s experiences to try what we believe in. I tried it. Many people try it. And it worked for many of us. If you can survive an international long distance relationship, your relationship will be able to survive anything.
Finally, I Moved To El Salvador
I was in California for almost two years before I finally made the leap to move my life to El Salvador. I was nervous to leave a good paying job, but I was happy to leave a life of stress and finally be with my sweetheart. I’m an international man now. We’ve been together for 3 years now. I remember the day when I told my boss that I was putting in my two weeks notice. My boss was surprised, but I think she partially knew that day was coming. She knew I was using my vacation time to travel to Central America to visit Stephanie.
Surviving an international long distance relationship was probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in my life. I can postpone gratification for a while, but this was essentially two years of waiting. On top of that, my job in California was very stressful. I was always excited when I finally had the opportunity to visit Stephanie in El Salvador. She was always dressed beautiful, had a big smile and gave me a big hug. One time she even brought me flowers!
After I moved to El Salvador, we had a lot of unexpected adjustments to make. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. We were just getting started. But even with the new challenges we confronted, we were both relieved to simply be together.
You Can Do It Too
Long distance relationships aren’t easy for anyone, but people make them work. If both people are committed, show each other affection and attention, and work towards the relationship…then it will work. Eventually you’ll be together and this difficult time will pass.
Both people must be mindful of what’s going on. You are a team and must look out for each other. Pay attention to subtle queues. Be fun sometimes and be serious sometimes. Communication is the key to everything.
Hang in there. It doesn’t have to be bad. International long distance relationships take patience, understanding and delicate communication at times. If you find the mechanisms that work for you, you’ll be able to get past it. Taking care of yourself and each other is important.
Best of luck to you and your partner. Stay strong!