Say that you decided to study abroad not for the Tinder possibilities in another country, but for the educational opportunities alone. In fact, just the opposite: you have a very serious relationship back home. Long-distance relationships aren’t always easy, but don’t despair! People may say that long-distance is hopeless, but if both parties in the relationship are willing to commit to it, there’s nothing to prevent two people from staying together. I know this from personal experience, because while I study here in Ireland, my wife is back home in Indiana.
A quick truth to admit about my relationship with my wife is that she and I were in a long distance relationship before. When I first went off to college, I went to a school in Massachusetts while she (still) lived in Indiana. We were nearly a thousand miles apart, the wifi in my dorm was way too rough to Skype, and for a while I didn’t even have a cell phone. In spite of all this, we spoke every day, our relationship flourished, and we did, of course, get married after that.
The long-distance relationships in a semester of study abroad can be slightly more complicated. Here, I want to explore some of the bigger tickets or more common issues, and explain how I deal with them.
1. Physical distance. My wife, Piper, and I were used to long-distance, so this wasn’t as hard for us as it might be for people the first time around. Even so, it wasn’t fun. So many things are lost when there’s a semi-permanent physical distance between a couple. From the obvious loss of intimacy to the simple distressing fact that you can’t physically comfort your significant other when they are upset, can’t hug them, or hold their hand.
There is, of course, no way to hold someone’s hand from across the world, but there are many small ways to alleviate this sadness. There is the inexpensive, digital solutions of the adorable “thumbkiss” function on the app Couple, where you and your partner hold your thumbs to the screen and feel a vibration when you touch the same part of your separate screens. There is the more analog way of leaving behind a t-shirt of yours and taking with you an article of clothing from your partner, and of course, the very romantic idea of love letters. In some way, making sure both you and your partner have a piece of one another can help stave off the worst feelings of homesickness for one another.
2. Time difference. I live in Dublin and my wife lives in Indiana, in the United States. This is one of the smallest time differences possible between someone in the U.S. and someone in Europe, and it’s still a lot. If she stays up late and I wake up early, she can be going to bed when I’m waking up for class. It can be hard to schedule times to call your significant other when your free evenings take place during the time they’re at work. It’s also easy to lose track of time while talking to them and throw off your own schedule by staying up too late.
Having said all that, communication is the biggest key to keeping any relationship healthy and trusting. Finding times to talk, whether they take place late at night or early in the morning or just for a few minutes to say hello and that you love them can make all the difference in the world. If it’s incredibly hard to talk, even for a couple minutes, try leaving voicemails so that you can hear their voice and they can hear yours, send texts throughout the day, and just try to keep in touch. This will do more to keep you close than anything else.
3. Jealousy. Sometimes being half the world away can really take a toll on the nervous psyche. In general, jealousy seems to be a bigger issue with couples that are newer, but it’s easy to see why it’s so hard. There’s an intrinsic fear that comes from not being with your partner, a fear that seems to be more rooted in the fear that they will forget you than that they will fall for someone else while you are gone.
The only solution to jealousy, though, is trust, and trust comes from open communication. As with the issue above, the best band-aid for issues of jealousy overseas is to keep talking to your partner, to touch base with them, and to have faith in one another.
4. Miscommunication. Some of the nuance in communication gets lost when you can only communicate through a video or a phone call. Bits of tone, body language, it all plays a role in communication, and when it’s taken away, it’s easy to lose track of what your partner is actually trying to say.
The best way to deal with miscommunication, in my experience, is to laugh about it. To explain where you were actually coming from, and to treat it as a joke. Sometimes, things get tangled, and if the two of you can laugh it off together, you’ll come out stronger for it.
5. Lack of shared experience. One of the hardest things about being apart is, well, being apart. You can’t point to the landmark you’re seeing and show it to your partner, and if you go off adventuring, your partner isn’t with you. One of the big things that bring people together is shared experience, and suddenly losing that part of your relationship with your partner can be rough.
The solution to this problem is to try and share it with them anyway! Most solutions boil down to communication in some way or another, and this is no different. Tell your partner about your day, listen to them talk about theirs, and make plans to come back and show them all the things you love later on. Because, after all, can you ever get enough travel in your life?