How To Survive A Long-Distance Marriage

The age of modern marriage is certainly upon us, as many couples actively reject the nuclear family stereotype that once ravaged the United States. With more women enrolled in college than men these days, more equal workplace opportunities than in previous decades, an ever-evolving understanding of gender roles, and same-sex couples changing the marriage landscape, more and more married couples are finding themselves up against a new challenge: long-distance. 

Picture this common scenario — you're a successful marketing manager who has been allowed to lead a team of people in New York, and your husband is an engineer in California. What do you do? Give up an amazing career opportunity to stay in a position that's not serving you, or make a long-distance marriage work? When faced with such a decision, it can feel like you're caught between a rock and a hard place, but we're here to tell you that a long-distance marriage can work.

We live in the age of communication, and it's never been easier to keep in contact with people as it is today. Think back to the couples who had to rely on snail mail to contact one another, often going weeks, if not months, without corresponding. These days, we've got texting, calls, FaceTime, Zoom, you name it, to keep you connected. But surviving a long-distance marriage will take more than FaceTiming once a day, and these tips will help you manage this next chapter of your relationship.

Make a calendar

One of the biggest elements you should consider when navigating a long-distance relationship is time — it's essential to know what your partner is doing, when they're busy with work, when they have plans, etc., so you can curb your efforts and expectations appropriately. People aren't available 24/7 — they shouldn't be, even if they're your partner — so utilizing a calendar is vital.

To keep both of you on the same page, use a tool like Google Calendars to keep each other up to date with what's going on in your lives. Picture this — and we'll use our marketing/engineering couple as an example. Your New York team has a huge brief to put together in just a week for a big boss at your company, and your husband has a project due at work. Mark both of these important deadlines in your shared Google Calendar — that way, you'll not only know what the other is working on and what career steps you're taking, but you'll also be in the know as to why they might not be as communicative or available throughout the work day. This is also a great resource to note special days in your relationship, dates when you might be traveling for work, and more.

You'll take a lot of the guesswork out of your relationship by keeping each other up to date with work commitments, important dates, and more.

Figure out time zones, overlapping hours of communication, and fine details

The success of a long-distance relationship comes down to the details, and we're piggybacking off the shared Google Calendar idea with yet another piece of the puzzle — time zones. In our running example, one of you is on Eastern Standard Time, the other on Pacific Standard Time. This three-hour time difference might not seem like a lot, but it's certainly enough to make your overlapping hours of communication harder. Think about it — when you're taking your lunch break at noon EST, your husband is just starting his work day at 9 a.m. PST. When you're ready to hit the sheets at 10 p.m. EST, your spouse is likely just thinking about what to cook for dinner at 7 p.m. PST. 

We suggest navigating this time zone and communication hurdle with set hours designated to catching up with one another. Nothing is more annoying than texting your partner, only to get a "Sorry, super busy, can't talk right now" response. Nothing takes you out of the work zone more than being constantly texted when you have no time to answer. So, to avoid the time zone challenge and the communication struggle, set aside time at the beginning and end of the day to talk to each other. We suggest over the phone or via FaceTime to get that even more meaningful connection, but designating robust conversation over text snippets will be a game changer.

Make a pro-con list about relationship priorities

Every couple is different, so take this next suggestion with a grain of salt. We suggest making a pro-con list before you start your long-distance relationship, as it's important to assert what is important to you within your relationship and to know what your partner expects and values. If your primary love language is quality time, make sure you set aside plenty of time over the weekend to spend quality FaceTime time with one another. If your partner's love language is words of affirmation, a daily text with an encouraging note or a handwritten letter expressing what you love about them can go a long way.

Perhaps your pro-con list should go further than love languages, too. Spend some time thinking about what is important to you — is it engagement with your career on your partner's part? Taking the time to get to know the community of people you're spending time with while apart? What would you find troubling if your partner did when you weren't around? Perhaps there's a coworker of your husband's that you don't feel comfortable having around him in a non-work environment, or maybe he is nervous about you living on your own in a big city. Whatever it is, making clear boundaries and expectations will save a lot of time and stress in the long run.

Commit to uninterrupted video time

It's going to get a little steamy in here, so if you don't consider yourself one to embrace the more sensual elements of life, you can skip down. A big part of any marriage is physical intimacy, and of all the aspects of your relationship that can suffer at the hands of long-distance, physical connection is perhaps the most impacted. There are just some things you cannot overcome, and not physically spending time with your spouse is one of them. This can be as simple as holding hands while you walk down the street or sitting together on the couch while reading your books. It can be as severe as spending that important intimate time together or waking up next to your spouse in bed. With all of this in mind, you must commit to uninterrupted video time with one another while you navigate your long-distance marriage — it will be the closest thing you get to physical connection.

Also, we'll be completely blunt here; married couples can get needy for one another in that way. So treat yourself to some new undies and jump into bed with your husband via FaceTime, because FaceTime only helps make video sex possible. Every couple is different so this might be out of the wheelhouse for some, but in order to keep things spicy, fun, and connected, some video love-making might just become your new tradition with one another.

Go in with a timeline

Perhaps one of the most intimidating elements of a long-distance marriage is time — not only the time apart but the number of weeks, months, and (hopefully never) years that you and your spouse could face away from each other. If you're going to survive this chapter of your relationship, going into it with realistic expectations and a timeline in mind is critical. While you may not have an exact date in mind as to when your time away from your spouse will come to a close, a general idea can be beneficial.

Think about it (and we'll use our marketing/engineering imaginary couple as an example). Say that your managerial role comes with a specific contract — eight months on the job, and then you're being transferred back to California. This could make your long-distance marriage a bit more manageable than, say, a non-specific end date — if you walk into a new position that could last for months, if not years, then trying to maintain a long-distance marriage with no end in sight could get very taxing very quickly. If you can, impose an end date to the long-distance stretch of things — if you can't, at the very least, plan out when you will next see your spouse in person. You'll likely have more peace of mind by having a set time frame.

Commit to traveling and see plans through

On the topic of seeing each other in person, a key component of maintaining a long-distance relationship comes in travel. While getting on a plane every other week could get very pricey quickly, keeping your and your partner's needs in mind is essential. Plus, scheduling a visit on your (hopefully shared) calendar will give you both something to look forward to!

If you're both committed to seeing your marriage through this period of long-distance, then you have to see your travel plans through. It may feel easy to push off a visit if work has you on a new project or you're training someone new on your team. Perhaps you've just had an incredibly long week full of personal trials and want the weekend to unplug and decompress. These are all valid reasons to take a break and set aside time to recharge, but committing to plans with your partner — especially if you've gone without seeing each other — is vital. Put the shoe on the other foot: How would you feel if your spouse canceled plans with you at the last minute? Not great, we're confident, so make sure you not only have trips planned to see one another but also commit to them.

Finding the right level of communication is key

Remember when we talked about committing to uninterrupted FaceTime sessions with your spouse? Well, that's similar to our next tip for surviving a long-distance marriage: Find a style and a level of communication that you and your spouse are comfortable with. Nailing down your communication is vital – too much contact will leave you or your partner feeling stifled, and too little will create distance between you where there wasn't any before. Here's a guideline that might help you.

Say you're the marketing manager on Eastern Standard Time, and your spouse is the engineer in California. When it hits your spouse's time to wake up (say 7 a.m. their time, 10 a.m. your time), make an effort to say good morning to one another. This could be as simple as a sweet text, a quick five-minute FaceTime, or a call. After establishing your initial connection, you and your spouse will likely need to get on with the day — you at work, them in the early morning hours of their prep time. If you can, try to line up your lunch break with their 10-minute break in their morning hours. You can get a short phone call (or even play Words With Friends). Then, reconnect in the evening hours in a meaningful way — this three-point system could help you both to stay in touch without overbearing the other person.

Go the extra mile with letters, gifts, and attention to detail

In the age of digital communication, it's never been easier to keep in contact with the person you love, even if you find yourselves on opposite sides of the country. And while these resources are beneficial, there are a few details to keep in mind if you and your spouse are going to survive a long-distance marriage. Nailing down your communication style and frequency is key, but paying attention to the details and doing something extra for your partner will go a long way.

Say your marketing manager's wife — we love these two fictional people — has a big presentation for work coming up. Go the extra mile and send her a Starbucks e-gift card the morning of the critical work day so she can treat herself to a cup of coffee on her way to work. A small gesture like this won't go unnoticed on such an important professional day. If you want to go the distance, perhaps send her a bouquet to be delivered to her apartment when she gets home from work — if food is more your style, order her favorite dinner delivery and have it sent to her place. Icing on the cake? A handwritten letter in the mail. These kinds of gestures don't have to take up the bulk of your long-distance marriage, but gestures and acknowledgment of important days — even when you're apart — will keep things romantic.

If you don't trust your partner fully, long distance is never going to work

This one is a given, but it will never work if you don't start your long-distance marriage with a baseline of trust in your partner. Surviving this chapter of your relationship will boil down to a couple of critical components: a timeline, communication, and trust. Sure, the extra letters and the spicy FaceTime sessions will keep you longing for each other, but if you don't trust your partner to stay committed, even 3,000 miles apart, you're in for a siege.

If you don't trust your spouse fully, communicate this concern before long-distance is even on the table. This could prompt trust exercises, couple's therapy, and other practices that can build a level of dedication and follow-through. If you still can't see long-distance working — or are constantly worried that your spouse is having an affair, is keeping company with questionable people, isn't telling the truth, etc., there are some deeper questions you need to consider.

If you trust your partner entirely and go into your long-distance marriage with a baseline promise and commitment to each other, you will be just fine. This period won't be easy, but you'll undoubtedly come out of it the other side a stronger couple.

Maintain a level of realistic expectations

This one might be self-explanatory, but if you don't go into your long-distance marriage with realistic expectations of you and your partner, you're in for a lot of disappointment. When navigating this chapter of your marriage, make sure that you keep things honest — it might be easy to idealize your partner and tell yourself (and those around you) how amazing they are, how they make all these nice gestures even though you're apart, etc. It's lovely to be proud of your spouse and to acknowledge when they do something thoughtful, but if you're feeling down and discouraged about being in a long-distance relationship, own it. Don't cover it up or idealize your partner so much that you ignore your own experience.

Setting realistic expectations for you and your spouse will be key. As much as you might miss them — and vice-versa — you can't expect your partner to be available to you 24/7, as they can't expect you to be there for them at every minute of the day. If your partner does something that upsets you, forgets an important day, cancels plans, and things of that nature, don't sweep your feelings under the rug — address your emotions and your spouse head-on and communicate. You and your spouse will get through this chapter by keeping things honest.

Enjoy your time on your own

This might not be the most obvious tip and trick to survive a long-distance marriage, but if you navigate this particular chapter, enjoy the time you get to yourself. Not many married people find themselves on completely different sides of the state, country, etc., and while there is an element of this dynamic that is undoubtedly intimidating, it could be a time in your life to explore your self-identity and who you are outside of your marriage.

We hear it all the time — "I lost myself in my marriage," "I don't know who I am outside my spouse." This is the perfect time to cast your net wide and real in what matters to you and to navigate the world as an independent person. There is absolutely nothing wrong with maintaining your individuality throughout your marriage. If anything, it will keep things interesting, allow you to grow, and bring new ideas and dynamics to the table.

Or, maybe, enjoying your time on your own could be as simple as binging the shows that your spouse cringes through or setting aside time to hit the gym. Whatever the case may be, accept this period of your life because your spouse isn't with you physically — try to enjoy it as much as you can. You will likely learn more about yourself in the process!