If your work gives you the opportunity to travel, but your partner needs to stay put, that doesn’t always mean that you have to choose between your relationship and the digital nomad experience.
While some relationships only make sense when the two of you are geographically close together, other relationships can survive extended periods apart, and may even become stronger as a result.
Knowing which kind of a relationship you have is the first step to making a long-distance relationship work. But you do also have to work at making a long-distance relationship work: you have a job to do in terms of maintaining trust and closeness despite the distance.
Exactly how to do this will depend on you, your partner, and your situation, but here are our eight top tips for successful long-distance relationships.
1. Set Terms and Conditions
Just as every relationship is different, every long-distance relationship is different. But make sure that both you and your partner share a definition of what exactly your relationship is.
Are you both 100% committed and exclusive, just currently at a distance? Or are you using your time apart as a bit of a break as well? Are you allowed to see other people? If so, are there rules about what you are allowed to do and how far you are allowed to take things?
If you know what the rules are, you can act confidently while still maintaining good faith with your partner.
If you decide that you are 100% committed, then you may also want to make some more specific rules about what is and isn’t OK.
How would your partner feel if you were going out for late night drinks alone with someone of whichever gender you happen to be interested in? How would they feel if you spend the night innocently flirting with this person (even if you have no intension of letting things go too far)? And how would they feel if you didn’t tell them about it and they somehow found out later?
If you are in a fully committed relationship, it is a good rule of thumb that if you wouldn’t do it if you were in the same city, you shouldn’t do it while you are apart. If you want to have more flexibility to meet new people in your new situation, you will need to explain that to your partner and agree on some ground rules.
You will probably also need to accept that if it is OK for you, it needs to be OK for your partner as well. Nothing will create resentment in a relationship faster than double standards.
2. Choose to Trust
When you are far apart, trust can be one of the first things that breaks down. You might already be worried about your relationship breaking apart because you aren’t able to be there for one another physically. This can make not really knowing what the other person is up to quite difficult.
It can be easy to imagine the worst. Your partner doesn’t return your messages one night and you might assume that they are out with someone else, when in reality, they have fallen asleep in front of the TV watching Netflix.
While you might believe them immediately when they let you know what happened the following day, a night of obsessing and worrying can do a lot of damage to how you feel about the other person and your levels of trust. I will be even harder not to think the worst next time.
So, you need to actively choose to trust and to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
But you also need to remember that your partner is choosing to trust you too. You need to do your best to deserve that trust. Also, if you are continuing in good faith, it will be easier to believe that your partner is doing the same.
3. Don’t Communicate Too Much
While you might think that maintaining a good level of contact is the key to making the relationship work, there is such a thing as too much communication.
You don’t need to speak for three hours every single night, potentially sacrificing opportunities on both sides to enjoy the things happening in “real life”. Also, sending scores of messages a day can feel more like “checking up” than “checking in”, and no one likes to feel like you don’t trust them.
While you need to communicate enough for both of you, it is good to keep a limit on things so that messages and calls feel welcome, rather than like a burdensome obligation.
You can get away with communicating less if you prioritize quality.
4. Learn to Communicate Well
Most people could use a lesson on how to communicate better with their partners. We tend to be less careful with what we say to our partners than to other people due to familiarity, and living in close quarters is often a breeding ground for bickering: who never does the dishes or leaves wet towels on the bed?
In a way, couples in long-distance relationships have an advantage. There are no household chores to complain about, and living separate lives means that there is usually no lack of things to talk about.
But if you are far away from your partner, you may need to become more comfortable talking about your feelings. When you are together, your partner will probably pick up on unspoken signals that communicate affection for them, or anxiety that you might be looking for an opening to talk about. Reading these unspoken signals is much more difficult at a distance, so you both need to get more comfortable talking about them explicitly.
One trap that long-distance couples often fall into is that they don’t want to “bore” their partner with the day-to-day details of their lives. But it is these mundane details that create intimacy and connection. Moreover, if you never want to talk about them, your partner may feel like you are excluding them from that part of your life. So, not every discussion needs to be about deep philosophical questions, you can also talk about the little things.
5. Find Things to do Together
While leading separate lives means that you always have something to talk about, if they are too separate, it can be difficult to find common ground.
If you are living apart, think about creating common ground by doing things such as reading the same book or binging the same Netflix series.
If you can share your thoughts and reactions to these things, it will feel like something you are doing together.
6. Relax when you are Together
Depending on many factors, you will hopefully have the chance to spend physical time with your partner while living apart. This might be a trip home to visit, or they might join you for a few weeks to discover a bit of what you are doing.
It can be easy to feel a lot of pressure to make this time together perfect. You need to make the most of every millisecond and prove that the two of you are completely blissful when together. You might be inclined to interpret any fighting at this time to be a sign that you are not meant to be.
But the fact is, the short snippets of time that you spend together can actually be some of the most challenging in a long-distance relationship.
Often seeing the other person face to face can make people want to talk about things that have been bothering them. Also, seeing your partner comfortable in an environment in which you play no part can wreak emotional havoc. Seeing your partner as a fish out of water in a place that you call home can also be disconcerting. But you need to remember that they haven’t had the chance to adapt that you’ve had.
In short, it is unreasonable not to expect these times together to come with their own challenges.
So don’t out too much pressure on yourself or your relationship. Don’t expect to be in a perfect place as a couple when you are both processing the reality of your relationship in a new light. Also, don’t try to fill your time together with so many activities that you are so busy doing things that you don’t really have time to spend together.
7. Be Open About Future Plans
Research shows that long-distance relationships work better when they are understood to be temporary. Knowing that you only have to wait a certain amount of time before you can be fully together again tends to help people stay optimistic.
One of the biggest problems in long-term relationships occurs when the two partners are imaging different end points. This intuitively makes sense, yet many long-distance couples find that they aren’t on the same page, either due to a lack of honesty up front or because one person’s priorities change over time.
Perhaps you start with a year abroad, and your partner expects that you will come home and resume your lives together at the end of that time. But you get the travel bug and decide that you want to extend your digital nomad experience. Or maybe your next big opportunity comes in a city far away from your partner.
But the whole point is that if you are in a relationship, these are not decisions for you to make alone. You need to have open and honest conversations with your partner about these things, and not wait until the last minute when the decision is all but made.
Your partner may decide that they can wait another year or two, or that they can make some changes to their lives that will enable them to join you. They might also tell you that a continued long-distance relationship won’t work for them, and the two of your will need to decide whether it is time to separate or compromise.
Priorities change, and that’s OK. Sometimes relationships aren’t right for “right now”, even when you still love someone. But the important thing to remember is that when you are in a relationship you need to be open and transparent, as you are not the only person who needs to make decisions about the future.
8. Take Advantage of the Opportunity
While spending time apart can put a lot of pressure on a relationship, it can also be an opportunity.
They say that you can’t truly be happy with someone else until you know yourself, and feel happy and complete within yourself. But so many people are already in a relationship, or a series of back-to-back relationships, from a young age, and so don’t really have the opportunity to explore who they are “alone” as an adult.
The separation provided by long-distance a relationship can give both partners an opportunity to do exactly that. Leaving dating and romance to one side, you can see how happy, confident, and resilient you are on your own. You can also explore what really interests you and what you really want from life without having to worry about balancing the needs of another person.
At the end of that experience, you might decide that you want to commit to your partner 100% as a better and stronger person who is happier within themselves. You might also decide that, no matter how much you love the other person, you have outgrown the relationship and it is time to move on.
Not everyone gets an opportunity like this as an adult, so make sure to see the long-distance element of your relationship as a challenge, but not a burden, and an opportunity to be grasped for both you and your partner.
Long-distance relationships pose a unique challenge, but one that you can conquer if you approach it thoughtfully and honestly. But the long-distance relationships that many digital nomads find themselves in also offer an opportunity, not only to explore the world, but to explore yourself as an