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Can your long-distance relationship survive COVID-19?

Experts say focusing on how and when you communicate is key

Jeff Parrott Staff Reporter
Published:
Updated:
5 min read
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There is really no right answer in terms of how often you should talk, should you video call every day or maybe once a week, or texting every day.     
- Sam Laliberte, a flexible work expert and co-author of The LDR Activity Book.


From movie theaters and sporting events to classrooms and the office, the coronavirus pandemic’s emergency “stay at home” orders have disconnected us physically from much that we love.

Efforts to slow the spread of the virus also have suddenly cut off many people from their romantic partners.

Typically, long-distance relationships (LDRs) are something couples enter into only after carefully weighing the pros and cons. But when the pandemic forced college campuses to shut down and switch to online learning, students had to immediately return home, uncertain when they might see their boyfriends or girlfriends again.

Meanwhile, other couples, already in long-distance relationships when the pandemic hit, have seen their in-person contact reduced or eliminated by travel restrictions. Still others, such as front-line medical workers, remain in the same cities with their partners but are staying in hotels because they fear they may expose them to the virus.

However, experts say people in such situations shouldn’t worry -- there are things they can do to help maintain their relationships without physical contact through this temporary crisis.

The first thing couples should do is agree on how often they want to communicate and in what way, said Sam Laliberte, a flexible work expert and co-author of The LDR Activity Book.

“There is really no right answer in terms of how often you should talk, should you video call every day or maybe once a week, or texting every day,” Laliberte said. “The biggest thing we find from people that have been part of our community is they had very different expectations of that … realizing their partner maybe doesn’t want to be on video calls every day. There’s no rule on what works. It’s different for every couple.”

Save the Good Stuff

When she and her partner, Jared, were long distance, Laliberte said they carved out time every Sunday for a 90-minute video call, giving each other their full attention. Rather than text each other news from their daily lives throughout the week, they saved a lot of it for the call.

“So you weren’t just talking about the mundane, how’s the weather, what did you do today, how’s this going,” Laliberte said. “You actually had a lot of topics to catch your partner up on from the week.”

Trust Building is a Challenge

With so many ways to talk via text or video, one might think younger adults do better in LDRs because they are so comfortable with tech. But the best predictor of relationship success, whether it’s long-distance or in person, is the level of wisdom and ability to trust that comes with experience, Laliberte said.

“In a way, younger people, who are always on social media, that brings up a lot of issues in a long-distance relationship in terms of jealousy. Why are you posting on Instagram but you haven’t responded to my text message? So technology can be a blessing and a curse in long-distance relationships.”

In addition, distance can increase stress and the likelihood that people in LDRs will feel “triggered” during remote conversations, so it’s important to pay attention to those triggers, said love and relationship coach Michelle Edwards.

“Abandonment, mistrust, you name of it,” Edwards said. “So be really mindful of the triggers, questioning where they come from, are they real? And then just being completely open and honest about the triggers, using responsible language, ‘I am feeling triggered and I just want you to know.’ Being as open and vulnerable in your communication as possible while still taking responsibility for your own emotions is huge.”

Also, Edwards said LDRs can be especially challenging for newer couples because they’re still building trust in one another.

“Initially you’re all in your feelings, and it’s all great and mushy and wonderful, and it’s like wait a minute, I haven’t talked to them for 8 hours!” Edwards said with a laugh. “Did they find someone else? It’s tragic! No, they didn’t, they just got busy. Just stating, ‘I’d like to talk to you more often,’ that’s totally OK. If they can’t follow through with that, then that may not necessarily be a good match. It depends on what you’re willing to give on.”

Pretending to be Near

Edwards also advises using smartphones to do things together in real-time, such as watching TV or going for walks, while asking each other questions that can’t be answered with only 1-word responses.

“It creates a bond and it helps you to understand your partner better,” Edwards said. “When you can ask open-ended questions and trade those with each other, it’s like another level of vulnerability and openness. Other things like the movie date and going for a walk together are sending videos, sharing songs, playlists even, that make you think of your partner.”

Because this time after such an abrupt physical separation can be fraught with insecurity, couples therapist Jerry Sander advises people who are unexpectedly thrust into LDRs to be mindful of what they talk about together.

“Share your feelings, not just the facts,” Sander said. “Go beyond, ‘How was your day? What's going on out there?’ to delve into emotional intimacy. ‘I can't stand the way my parents are reacting,’ or, ‘I'm getting used to not having my regular routine and it is upsetting to me.’”

Don't Forget the Sex

Sander recommends using all available technologies to try to bridge as many areas of intimate connection as possible, including sex. Sander said it’s important for both people to realize that sex drives can vary widely during this stressful time.

“Some people become hyper-sexual and many feel no desire,” Sander said. “But if sexual expression between the two of you had been there before the pandemic, don't suddenly erase it. Find creative ways of allowing it to be.”

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