Are you in a long distance relationship and are concerned if the relationship will work? If so you’re not alone. Many people who are in a long distance relationship have doubts about the relationship from the very beginning. The good news is long distance relationships can work. I have even seen people who have been in a long distance relationship get married. To help understand what some of the challenges are of having a long distance relationship and what you can do to maintain a long distance relationship, I have interviewed psychologist Hillary Goldsher, Psy.D.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a clinical psychologist that specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and couples therapy. I also work regularly with clients dealing with depression, anxiety, relationship/family issues and work conflicts.”
“My journey to becoming a psychologist was an unusual one. In 1998, I graduated from the Kellogg school of management with an MBA in Business and worked for over 10 years in a fortune 500 medical supply corporation. There, I worked in sales and marketing where I participated in the positioning and selling of complex medical devices. I was very successful in this arena but always felt a pull towards the world of helping others. After a decade in the business world, I could no longer deny this passion and began my pursuit of a doctorate in clinical psychology at the California school of professional psychology.”
“During the course of my studies, I became particularly interested in eating disorders and dedicate a significant portion of my practice to those suffering with Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa. I also focus my attention on working with couples, particularly around issues of communication and intimacy.”
“I believe that healing comes from a willingness to deeply experience, explore, and feel one’s emotions that are related to both present and past circumstances. Unexamined feelings can often lead to unwanted or painful symptoms. The process of understanding one’s feelings and emotions allows one to grieve. Grieving allows for the purging of emotions, which creates space for new, more positive emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. I believe that therapy is not magic, but instead, a process that requires work, commitment, and faith. Change often comes as a whisper rather than as a thunderbolt. However, my experience has taught me that it is the slow, steady changes that ultimately lead to sustained changes.”
What are some challenges a couple may have in maintaining a long distance romantic relationship?
“It is undeniable that long distance relationships pose significant challenges for even the most seasoned and intimate of couples. Distance necessarily means a reduction in physical and day-to-day intimacy, which can most certainly impact the state of a relationship. However, long distance does not have to be a prescription for a break up. There are many tools and resources couples can employ to maintain a healthy connection in spite of the physical separation long distance necessitates.”
“In order to manage a long distance relationship, it is first critical to be aware of the challenges that it can present. Some of these key challenges include: Breakdown in emotional intimacy. Feelings of jealousy and insecurity by one or both people. Tendency for one or both partners to either withdraw or become overly dependent on the relationship. Lack of or breakdown in communication.”
What are some tips on what a couple can do to maintain a long distance relationship?
Breakdown in Emotional Intimacy
“One of the difficulties of long distance relationships is, of course, the lack of time the couple has to spend together. Intimacy is most easily built and sustained by a couple having regular, in person time together. Thus, having a lack of time together puts the couple at risk for growing apart. In order to best manage this challenge, the couple must commit to finding and practicing regular ways to stay emotionally connected. This may include talking on the phone, skype-ing, e mailing, texting and having regularly planned in-person visits. It is critical to note that it is not just the quantity of communication that is relevant, but also the quality of communication. Meaning, the couple should make it a point to not only communicate about every day happenings, thoughts, and feelings, but also to set aside time to discuss more in depth topics that draw upon issues that are of significance to one or both members of the couple. These topics could include conversations about the couple itself, family issues, work concerns, politics etc.”
“Although it may feel a bit contrived to actually plan for this kind of dialogue, the trade off is worth it. Couples who spend every day together have the opportunity for these types of discussions to occur organically and spontaneously. Couples in a long distance relationship do not have that luxury and need to find ways to stay very in tune with their partners’ emotional climate.”
“Clearly jealousy and insecurity can rear its head in all relationships, long distance or otherwise. However, long distance relationships can be especially conducive to these types of thought patterns and feelings. Due to the lack of regular, in-person communication and interaction, both members of the couple may be vulnerable to making inaccurate assumptions about how the other person is feeling or what the other person is doing. This type of projection can occur in a multitude of arenas. Individuals may fear that their partner is dedicating too much time to another friendship, to professional endeavors, and/or to extracurricular activities. They may further assume that this time is at the expense of their partners’ focus and dedication to the primary relationship. It can be easy to make this type of assumption when one’s partner is far away and is unable to observe the regular goings on of their significant other.”
“The key to this complex set of dynamics is communication and trust. It is critical for both individuals to live with total transparency while in a long distance relationship. Both should get in the habit of sharing what they are doing when and with whom in order to minimize false assumptions made in the absence of information. Both individuals should also make it a practice to conduct themselves with total integrity throughout the course of their time apart. Both should call when they say they are going to call, visit when they say they are going to visit and follow up on any commitment/promises made. This creates a climate of trust and comfort that helps the couple withstand the difficulty of being apart. It is also important for both members of the couple to share feelings of vulnerability, insecurity, and jealousy as they come up. It is best to refrain from sharing these feelings during the course of a fight, but rather to discuss them during calmer waters so the partner on the receiving end of the information can feel truly open to this important dialogue.”
Tendency towards withdrawal or dependency
“No matter which tools and resources are employed, long distance relationships can be difficult and trying. Each person has different ways of coping with the pain of missing their partner, the constant wish to be together and the uncertainty of the future. Oftentimes, these complex sets of feelings result in one of two behaviors: withdrawal or dependency. Both actions are in the service of attempting to minimize the pain of separation but can ultimately be very destructive. Withdrawal from intimacy and communication may serve to numb the sadness and frustration of the distance but it will also foster disconnection. Over-dependency on the relationship may serve to minimize the sense of distance in the short run but often leads to frustration and a breakdown in intimacy in the long run.”
“Again, communication is critical in managing the tendency towards these counterproductive behaviors. Each member of the couple should be on the lookout for the compulsion to exhibit these types of behaviors within themselves and their partner. If they indeed notice the emergence of one or both of these behavior patterns, it is critical to share their feelings or observations with their partner so the issues can be discussed and rectified.”
Breakdown in communication
“Communication is ultimately the most important aspect that needs to be firmly in place in order to successfully manage a long distance relationship. Talking about complex, difficult issues and feelings is invariably the road to intimacy and resolution. The danger of long distance relationships is that one or both members of the couple stop talking or communicating in order to protect themselves from being vulnerable or hurt. This approach will never serve the relationship. It is always best to risk sharing your true feelings in a graceful and clear manner versus stuffing the feelings inside, leaving them to fester and create distance and resentment. A breakdown in communication often leads to a break up. So it is especially critical for the couple to commit to communicating even when times are hard and feelings are raw. In fact, this type of regular communication not only makes a long distance relationship more manageable, but also fosters an even closer, more sustainable relationship in the long run—-long distance or otherwise.”
“Although conducting a relationship across the miles is far from ideal, it is indeed possible. It requires consciousness, commitment, and, of course, regular communication.”
Thank you Hillary on doing the interview on how to maintain a long distance relationship. Hillary is presently has a private practice located in Beverly Hills, California. To learn more about Hillary Goldsher and her approach to psychotherapy, please go to www.drhillarygoldsher.com.
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