Long Distance Relationships

Keeping love alive at a distance is challenging and involves self belief
Building stronger relationships with counsellor Dr Charmaine SaundersRelationships are all challenging - new ones, permanent ones, casual ones, all kinds. Among the most difficult are those conducted at a distance.

There are many reasons why sometimes lovers have to be separated for varying degrees of time. They might meet while one or both are away from their usual home; they fall for each other but have to return to their respective home cities. If a younger couple, they may need to study in different schools/colleges. Even in an established relationship, there may be reason for time apart, as in a career relocation, family illness or a job that requires constant travelling.

So, what are the inherent difficulties?

*strain on the relationship
*risk of infidelity
*difficulties in maintaining contact
*eventually, alienation

Many relationships can't take the strain of separation and end, sooner or later. Some separations are for long periods, several months or even years, and they're the litmus test for the durability of the feelings between the separated pair. Other separations are often and intermittent, such as when one partner has a job that takes them away constantly - FIFO workers in the mining industry are a great example. When children are involved, it's even more complicated.

I've often heard from men, in particular, that they find it very difficult to be absent so much from their family life. When they return, they feel like strangers in their own home and basically redundant. From the wife and family's point of view, he becomes more like a visitor than a parent. It's an artificial situation.

For young couples, regular separations reduce intimacy, cause tension and create a lot more work in the relationship to keep it positive. Time is the worst casualty.

Again, many couples find it easier to drift into a permanent separation from this system or simply find new partners.

There's another angle to this subject that's worth exploring. What does it mean when some people find themselves continually attracted to partners or potential partners at a distance? This is actually a very common relationship pattern and is usually related to commitment phobia. What is this? This is a reluctance, caused by fear, to truly commit oneself to love, intimacy, permanence.

To begin to understand this phenomenon, it's necessary to know that the laws of attraction are based on two things - the need to heal a childhood relationship and the need to learn something from the intended. What, you mean it has nothing to do with that killer smile, those big blue eyes, that witty personality? Sorry. As unromantic as it sounds, the answer is more or less no. The less part is that sure - physical beauty and charm are factors, but mainly as bait, packaging, if you will.

What really creates the chemistry between two people is energy exchange, that special "vibe" that draws us to a certain person, above others.

Okay, so why would someone be attracted to a person who is unavailable because of geographical distance? One could see physical absence as also emotional. Hence, a commitment-phobe would find it highly desirable to fall for a person who lives far away or has to travel constantly because it offers a ready made excuse for a lack of permanence and an escape from too much togetherness.

We are all driven by our primary relationship pattern. Once identified, it can be altered or released altogether. Falling for unavailable people, whether physically or emotionally, is self defeating and, therefore, to be avoided. As all of this is subconscious, we aren't aware of it operating unless we actively choose to deal with it. In the case of long distance relationships, the commitment-phobe might be convinced that they hate the separations and yet accept them time and again.

Whether long distance relationships are actively sought, reluctantly endured or downright destructive, they can be improved by attitude adjustment and a few practical techniques.

How to improve long distance relationships If you're the one away:

*stay in touch regularly even if it's short and sweet.
*show you still care by being considerate, sending the occasional bunch of flowers, remembering important dates etc
*stay faithful if that's the agreement you made
*if you do want to opt out of the relationship or you've met someone else who interests you, be honest straightaway
*don't distance yourself emotionally
*don't spend your time worrying about what your loved one is doing back home

If you're the one left behind:

*don't fall into the traps of loneliness and depression
*keep yourself positively busy
*continue your normal life - see friends, enjoy your home, work well, have other interests
*don't obsess about the one who's missing
*don't be resentful about being left behind
*keep the lines of communication open
*if you no longer want to wait, tell him/her and move on

Maintaining a long distance relationship takes a special level of courage, strength, loyalty and depth. To make it work, self esteem is your best tool, because when you're confident and happy in yourself, you can withstand separations without jealousy, loneliness, anxiety, paranoia, depression and the temptation to be unfaithful taking over. But isn't self belief what all relationships need to keep them healthy and happy? Work on that and the rest will take care of itself.

Charmaine is willing to answer your relationship questions to appear in NOVA Magazine, both in print and online.
Email her at drchar@iinet.net.au