Ask Allison: Countries apart - but can we go the distance?
Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships
Q I have been going out with my partner for almost two years now. Most of it has been spent apart, as he works away weeks at a time.
He was not from Ireland and we had met just as he was transitioning into moving back to Europe. We saw each other a few weekends a month, or he would stay in Ireland for few weeks at a time.
We love each other very dearly and get on very well but the problem is I don't want to move from Ireland and he doesn't want to move to Ireland.
He has moved back to live with a friend and is so happy being out of Ireland; he just wasn't happy here. He's due to go to work shortly and will be gone for a couple of months and I'm just finding it so difficult now with the distance apart and the fact that we can't move forward cause neither of us will make the sacrifice to move.
I'm in my mid-30s and do want to settle down; I'm scared this will just continue on and it'll just get worse.
The long distance has been OK up until now, but I'm getting more lonely not having my partner with me.
Allison replies: This is a major life decision; you need to sit with the possible choices and hypothetical consequences of said choices to arrive at what you think and feel is best for you both. Decisions that will transition you to a whole new way of living are really tough, so it can be tempting to look outside for answers that really lie within.
A Cornell University study found couples 'idealise' each other in LDR (long distance relationships) as they daydream about their partner in an exaggerated way, which is beneficial as it leads to couples to work harder on communication strategies to avoid conflict (you may lash out at each other face to face).
The flushes of excitement when reunited probably keeps that wonderful first stage of a relationship intense and strong. It's moving to the next stage that may be bumpier. A common experience in America with long distance relationships, specifically with students in different universities originally from the same home-town, is the common experience known as the 'turkey dump', which happens straight after Thanksgiving when the reality of LDR come to an end.
Research into LDR shows that they can work once there is an agreement of working towards a commitment of living in one place. This may prove a stalemate as neither of you want to live in the same place. I don't believe in ultimatums, especially in relationships. If neither of you are willing to move to a mutually agreeable place what are the options available? Would you be willing to continue as is? Here are questions to help you consider and work through this decision-making process. Can you write down answers to the following?
• What concerns do you have?
• When you say you want to settle down, do you mean to live together, get married and or have kids, or all three?
• Have you asked the same questions to your partner?
• The fear I can hear is that you are conflicted about letting this man go, whom you love, and/or is it biological clock fear?
• Have you discussed or set up any strategies to manage trust, conflict resolution, communication styles, and resentment that can be common in LDRs?
• Have you spoken of the next steps?
• What are your expectations of for yourself, each other and the relationship?
• Keep reassuring each other of your commitment and interest in developing the relationship.
• Build your trust by talking out any concerns, being open and keeping your partner part of your plans even if they are not there.
• Don't listen to other people and their opinion of LDR, only listen to each other.
• Surprises go a long way to show you are on each others' minds.
A study by Emma Dargie (2014) compared couples who lived geographically close and those in long-distance relationships. Certain factors helped in the long-distance relationships, such as managing your own psychological distress and agreeing on when you will see each other with more certainty in the future. Surprisingly, the more distance the better, as more effort was made to visit and reconnect, which related to higher levels of feeling of intimacy, communication, relationship and sexual satisfaction.
A key success factor is how you feel about long-distance relationships. Follow that up by what are your expectations of relationships and then see how aligned or mismatched the two are. This is a personal choice; no relationship is the same.
Sometimes it can be useful to ask yourself 'what is the worst that can happen?' Ask and answer this hypothetical question and hopefully you will have a somewhat clearer picture from which you can make a decision.
If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org
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