The 6 Phases of a Long-Distance Relationship and How to Survive Them All

Take heart! This is just a phase.
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Take heart! This is just a phase.

Let's just start by saying that moving over the holiday season was rough. When I moved to D.C. in early November, I knew my husband, Brian, wouldn't be following until Christmas, but New Jersey didn't seem that far away. Boy, was I wrong.

I should have known better. While a month without my hubby might seem laughablethis wasn't my first time doing long distance, and it reminded me of some hard-earned lessons from my LDR days. When you're in a long-distance dating relationship, with no known end-date in sight, long distance can really suck. No matter who you are, your relationship status, or how confident you are, navigating an LDR is complicated to say the least. 

As a seasoned veteran of the LDR, I can tell you, long distance is never ideal, but if you do each phase right, you can be more connected than those couples who have their guy in the same town.  Here are a few tips for surviving each phase of an LDR, from your first goodbye till you meet again.  

The Honeymoon Phase

When you first start dating someone, it's easy to imagine everything is perfect. Whether you or your boyfriend has to suddenly move for work or you find yourself falling for a long-distance guy from the very start, it can be easy to just say "Of course we can make it!" In the honeymoon phase of long-distance it can seem like you'll never run out of things to talk about, that the energy you have at the beginning of your new adventure will always be there.

While it's totally fine to ride the high of love that absence can magnify, it's important to focus on building healthy long-distance dating habits from the very start to set your relationship up for success. 

Set up regular date nights, set clear boundaries for your personal time, and make getting to know one another the focus of your conversations—not so much the withdrawal you are going through by being apart. 

The Lonely Phase

Eventually, the Honeymoon Phase will wear off. If long-distance is new to your established relationship, you'll recognize the empty space where your partner used to be in your day. The key to navigating this time is to keep your partner as a priority. Don't let those scheduled calls or that regular care package slip away from you. It's the little things that will keep the two of you feeling connected. 

Military wives understand this phase better than anyone and will tell you it's important to keep yourself busy. So keep moving! Getting yourself outside and keeping yourself occupied is vital. Marine wife Meghan Lee says, "Find a hobby or something to invest yourself in, to keep busy while he's deployed." It's tough to feel sorry for yourself if you're having a good time.

Technology is also your best friend in this phase. Programs like Skype, Facebook, and Google have made it so much easier to have face to face conversations with your beloved. Don't take these for granted, even if it's just a quick call to say good morning or a text to let him know you're thinking of him. 

The Panic Phase

If you're anything like me, you'll overanalyze the situation and jump to some extreme conclusions. You may even tell yourself, "I can't do this anymore." This is perfectly normal, but it's important to ask yourself why. Are you saying this because you've hit a rough patch or is there something truly incompatible?

Here's a hint: a knee-jerk reaction won't help you here. Take a deep breath and a step back before moving forward. Ask yourself what it is you need from the relationship and which of those needs aren't being met. Are you or is your partner letting one another down in some way? Once you have the answers to these important questions, you'll be more prepared to move on to the next phase without doubt and anxiety plaguing you. 

The Communication-Centered Phase

Most older couples will tell you that the key to any long term relationship is solid communication. This is especially true of LDRs.

Greg Smalley with Focus on the Family admits that as any relationship ages, the mundane things can take over the attention. "About five years and two daughters later, Erin and I woke up and realized that our conversations had mutated. We were focused on administrating our marriage (talking about the budget, schedule and to-do list), working through conflict or talking about how to keep up with our busy lives."

Kristin Davin, another LDR veteran, explains managing expectations can be the difference between a failed relationship and a successful one, “Couples need to discuss what the long-distance relationship will look like. For example, discuss how often you will talk, what some of your goals are and how often you will visit each other."

Smalley stresses that even ten minutes focusing on each other rather than the "outside world" can make a huge difference. The joy of rediscovery through meaningful conversation can cement a mutual trust and acceptance.

Trust Phase

It's not always easy, but those three little words—"I trust you"—can be the difference between an LDR that fizzles out and one that goes the distance.

When you enter into the trust phase, your partner is someone you accept and depend on and it was earned through all the hard work you put in during the communication-centered phase. This faith in one another, however, isn't passive. It's a daily commitment to fight for each other, for time together, and forgiveness when that time isn't met. 

This is an amazing place to be in for any relationship, but it carries even more weight when you are in an LDR. As you grow comfortable with this new space, you'll find your relationship strengthening to levels you didn't know were possible. With trust, comes deeper love, deeper commitment, and might even bring you a step closer in terms of physical location too! 

Reunion Phase

This is obviously the best part of any long distance relationship. Seeing one another after so long apart can be the best feeling in the world: the final reward after weeks and months of waiting. You've done it! You've made it! 

Be sure to prepare for this moment by having a discussion with your man about your expectation for the reunion. How will you use the time you have together? Are you looking forward to focused quality time together? Or were you eager to visit as many friends as you can together as a couple? Differing expectations here could mar your reunion with conflict and hurt feelings.

If this reunion is just one of many, with no LDR end date in sight, use your time together to recalibrate your relationship and set goals for communication for when you say goodbye again. 

If you're in a long distance relationship, take heart and don't give up. Be honest with one another and recognize that this is just a phase in your lives that could lead you to a deeper relationship. Remember what you are learning and apply it to the next (hopefully not so distant) phase of your relationship!

Photo Credit: Brittni Willie