Retaining a sense of self in a long distance relationship

Even if your relationship isn’t ‘long distance’ all the time, most of us have to go through some periods of distance with our partners, whether it’s when one has to travel for work, or takes an extended trip to visit family, or gets a great opportunity in a different city.

And for some people, me included, the relationship is long distance all the time. 

I’ve been with my boyfriend almost 3 years now, and the longest we’ve ever been together uninterrupted is about 6 weeks. The longest we’ve had to be apart is over 2 months. 

I’m incredibly happy with our relationship and the way we’ve made things work over the last 3 years. Contrary to what some people might think, the biggest challenge I’ve faced while being in this relationship was not missing him when we’re apart, but rather how I could retain my own identity within my relationship.

Does that sound a little strange?

I think this is a fear that many women, and probably some men, face in any long term relationship, whether or not your partner is in the same place. Even when you love someone dearly, commitment can be scary because it means compromise. Because it means sharing yourself entirely with someone else, giving parts of you to them and receiving parts of them. Commitment can be a tricky challenge to navigate, because you have to be a little less selfish and a little more considerate to that one special person. But it’s worth it – because all that sharing, and intertwining of your separate lives, means you and your partner build something strong. Together, you grow into a special force.

Love, commitment and shared connection are so wonderfully special and important but, actually, retaining a sense of individual identity is one of the most healthy things you can do in a long term relationship of any kind! That’s why it’s so necessary to give your partner space.

Speaking from experience, this commitment to commitment, as well as the ability to retain your sense of self can be even harder when your partner isn’t around constantly to remind you why you’re doing it; when your ‘other half’ isn’t always there to make you feel whole. There is a constant struggle between the feeling that your partner completes you, and the need, when they aren’t there, for your inner self to be strong enough to complete you too.

So, here is my advice on how to face this challenge of still feeling like yourself, and still being able to be a whole person, when you and your partner can’t be together. May these tips help you if you are in a long term LDR, or if you have a temporary distance between you and your partner.

  • EMBRACE YOUR OWN INTERESTS AND HAPPINESS

Since I decided to start living my life one day at a time, focusing more on the present and enjoying each day in itself, the biggest challenge to that mindset that I faced was my relationship! When you can’t be with your partner, you cope with missing them by looking forward to the next time you’ll see them, whether in a week or a month. This constant anticipation of the future, obviously, makes it difficult to feel connected to your own present.

Face up to this by embracing your own interests, your own company, and finding your own happiness. I cannot stress this enough. Yes, your partner makes everything sunny and bright, but they are not here right now, and you will only beat yourself down if you are constantly pining for them to make you happy. This applies in a long distance relationship or not; it’s so important even when you are 100% committed to someone, to not let them steal your own identity. It’s so important to keep challenging yourself, keep cultivating your interests, and taking a moment to check how they are making you feel. Alone time is important in all relationships. If you happen to have more of it than you’d life, take advantage of the opportunities to see friends, explore new places, focus on your work, understand yourself. 

Doing this when you’re apart will also mean that you feel more contented when you are together, and that you’ll always have something interesting to talk about. Which leads to my next point…

  • AVOID SPEAKING ALL THE TIME

Contact through Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype, or whatever, are blessings and curses in a long distance relationship. Yes, it’s great you can contact your partner at any time of day, but you can also be disappointed by communication much more easily. Written messages can feel unsatisfying when you haven’t seen someone in a while, and it’s a lot easier to misinterpret what the other person is saying. There’s also inherently more pressure to respond, and to expect a response, more quickly, which obviously is not always possible. You’ll feel less able to concentrate on you if you are always expecting and waiting for a message from you partner.

It’s much more conducive to your communication and to your individual senses of independence, that you arrange times to have purposeful communication, whether a phone call in the morning, or a quick Skype call at the end of the day. You will feel more accomplished knowing that you got through your own day and did your own thing, when you get to share it all with your partner in one go. Having a specific time to catch up, rather than expecting all-day unrealistic communication, will help you feel more independent and free to pursue your own tasks, particularly when you are both rather busy.

  • ACCEPT FEELING LONELY, THEN USE IT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

If you miss your partner and feel a little lonely, you are not weak. You are human, and you crave connection in your life. But long distance communication obviously has its limits, even in 2017. And, in the spirit of my previous tip, you won’t tackle this lonely feeling by trying to keep in touch with your partner all the time; this will almost certainly make you feel worse.

Accept that you are a little bit lonely, and your missing part isn’t here right now. Then, work out how you most effectively fill that hole, and do that! This is very individual. For me, I combat loneliness by focusing on the other great relationships in my life; by having interesting conversations with my friends or family. I also like to channel it into something creative; writing or drawing, or something intellectual; language learning or listening to an interesting podcast. My boyfriend is big on board gaming, video gaming, and he also likes to read up on new topics that interest him. Combine this and it means that when we do get to talk or be together, we can actually catch up, and share the interests we have developed apart, to actually bring us closer together.

_____________________________________

In a long distance relationship, being able to be happy and present even when apart is a challenge. If you can master this, it does wonders for your self-confidence to know that you have your own life and interests and passions, and that you can be lonely without being depressed about it.

It also makes your relationship stronger, healthier and happier.

 

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