At 20 years old and heading into my last year of college, I knew that my now husband, Reese, and I were ready for marriage. Sure, I was young and marriage isn’t easy, but thanks to more than three years of long-distance dating, we both had the chance to develop healthy relationship skills that made marriage far less intimidating.
I won’t lie, I hated that Reese and I were four driving-hours apart. Sometimes it felt like the distance was slowly tearing our relationship apart. But long distance presented challenges that also helped our relationship grow strong. After we got married and moved in together, I saw how all our years of separation only helped our future (and now present) relationship.
People assume that long-distance dating is the worst thing for a relationship. But if there is one thing I have learned, it’s that good things can come from difficult situations. Here are five ways that long-distance dating made our relationship stronger and ultimately prepared my husband and me for marriage.
01. You learn to cherish every second together.
Many times Reese and I would meet up together for the day in Birmingham, Ala., which was equal driving distance for us both from our homes. We would get there around 10 a.m. and think, “Wow! We have about seven hours to spend together. That’s so much!” Well, in reality, that’s hardly enough time to grab coffee, eat lunch, and maybe go for a walk.
Now that we’re married and with each other every day, I’ve realized that whenever I get to spend time with Reese it’s special. Whether it’s on date night or while brushing our teeth together, little moments stand out. Those sweet, short day trips helped me view our time together as precious, even now after we are living in the same house.
02. Nightly phone calls helped hone our communication skills.
Every night, Reese and I would call each other at 9 p.m. We had a schedule because we knew that if we didn’t we may never find a chance to talk to each other. He hated talking on the phone and still does, so I had to learn how to get him to open up and tell me about how he was doing. I quickly learned this involved asking the right questions, which I continue to practice in our marriage. The questions I ask him aren’t quick, general questions that elicit a one-word response. Instead of asking vague, sweeping questions like “How was your day?” I ask questions that require a more in-depth answer, such as “Did you meet someone new today?” or “What was the worst part of your day and why?” Giving him questions like this gives him a place to start and a clue as to what details I was hoping to gather.
It’s easy to fall into bad habits like staring at your phones and not talking to each other about your day. But now that we are married, Reese and I still have the “How was your day?” conversation. When you’re talking over the phone you have no other choice but to communicate, talk about your day, and articulate how you feel. Now that we are married, we use these skills to have quality conversation at the end of every day.
03. Distance strengthened our friendship before anything else.
Dating long-distance means long periods of no holding hands, kissing, going on dates, or snuggling. My husband and I actually spent a year talking over the phone before we even began to date. Because we were in two different places, we had to get to know each other before the physical side of our relationship could develop. While other couples were spending time going on dates and staring into each other’s eyes, Reese and I were texting about who we thought would win the football game that weekend or how we both loved to eat chocolate-peanut-butter ice cream.
Because we developed this friendship prior to marriage, the early stages of marriage have been less of a process of getting to know one another’s little quirks—and way more fun! I know Reese loves watching the Golden State Warriors play, so I plan time for us to do that. Reese knows I love chocolate milk, so every now and then he surprises me with it when he gets home from work. We didn’t know it at the time, but all those phone conversation and texts about important things and silly things built a foundation of friendship that has fortified our marriage for any trials that may come our way.
04. You learn to use words carefully.
Not surprisingly, many of our arguments through our dating years took place over the phone or text message. It didn’t take long for us to figure out how easy it is to hurt one another with a thoughtless text or an emotional outburst over the phone. Once the damage is done, the physical distance makes a peaceful and loving resolution that more difficult.
To prevent ourselves from saying hurtful things when we argued, we would take time to think about what we wanted to say before we just started yelling over the phone or sending an angry text message—even if it meant sitting in silence for ten minutes to gather our thoughts. This skill is what Verily writer and marriage counselor Peter McFadden describes as a “time out” and is a practice that helps when having an emotionally charged conflict in marriage. Now that we are married, when we have a disagreement we both know that it’s best to give each other time to think before we start arguing.
05. Budgeting for visits taught us to prioritize our time together.
Having a significant other can be expensive: dinner dates, birthday presents, Valentine's Day. The amount of money you can spend on each other easily adds up, and when you date long-distance you can expect your costs to go up even more. One time, I wanted to go visit Reese, but I was unable to because I had $0 in my bank account. So in order to see him I had to budget trip money into my monthly costs. It was an important lesson in prioritizing our relationship.
In marriage, not much has changed. It’s so easy to get caught up in paying bills and pushing our date nights to the back burner. Sure we can have low-budget nights in, but things like little gifts, nice meals, and any other costs that might accrue to make time to together special is just as important as spending money on food, rent, and gas.
Reese and I knew going into marriage that being in a relationship is hard work, especially if you rarely get to see each other. But our time apart has given us the assurance that we can work through anything married life throws our way—but this time we will have the luxury of closer proximity.
Photo Credit: Cathrine Taylor Photography