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10 Tips to Make Long Distance Work in College

Navigating a long distance relationship in college can be challenging. Here are ten tips to make it easier.

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I won’t not sugar-coat it. It is a challenge for any couple divided by distance, but the relationship can still flourish and feel rewarding. There is much to be learned about communication, devotion, and commitment through a distanced love, and a couple can grow stronger together through it all. 

I write with a long-distance success story. I may seem like an outlier, but if you push past the pessimists, I am sure you can find many more of us. My partner and I began dating in my first year of college and enjoyed two years of a no-distance relationship; however, he graduated last May and moved six hours away for law school. For the past year, we have been dating long-distance, and despite some obstacles in the beginning, we have learned how to successfully and meaningfully navigate the distance that divides us. 

Here are my ten tips to successfully do long distance:

1. Show Yourself Grace in Long Distance

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First, understand that the distance will feel easier over time. You and your partner will figure out how to make your unique situation work. As with anything, there will be growing pains in the beginning. Do not listen to all of the pessimists who say you both will never work it out. Only you and your partner can be the ones to make that call. Only you can have the insight into whether or not your relationship has the potential for success. Remember that everyone’s relationship, especially a long distance relationship, will look different. What works for you may not work for someone else, and that is okay. It is unproductive to compare your relationship to someone else’s.

2. Set Expectations

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Sit down with your partner and set clear expectations for how you plan to communicate, how often you want to be in communication, and how often you plan to visit each other. 

“It is important to set expectations for what you want time-wise and commitment-wise,” said one college student. “If you are someone who wants texting, it is important to figure out how often you need that. You may want phone calls or care packages. It is important to communicate what is most meaningful to you.”

It is important to be open and honest in this discussion. Do not expect your partner to read your mind. Ultimately, every person needs something different to feel valued in their relationship. The significance lies in how your partner responds to and fulfills the needs you have communicated as important. Oftentimes, expectations become overlooked or change, so it is important to continue this dialogue with your partner if you are unhappy with your current situation. 

In the same vein, it is important to continually check in with your partner to ensure that you are meeting their needs and doing everything in your power to make them feel valued. A simple, “How are you? Have I done enough this week to make you feel loved?” can go a long way.

Of course, although there are expectations, you should maintain flexibility. There will be times when something comes up for your partner, and they will be unable to FaceTime call or meet up, as originally planned. Understand that some days, it will be a challenge for your partner to balance their daily affairs in their own city and the affairs of your relationship. Ultimately, what you desire is to see them and speak with them, so instead of getting angry, work together to find the next best time.

3. Celebrate Your Partner

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Celebrate your partner’s growth as an individual. Be excited for your partner when they make new friends at college and when they set plans to hang out with those friends, even though the distance precludes you from an invite.

Celebrate your partner branching out, joining new clubs, and learning more about themselves in the process. Celebrate their hard work and late-night study sessions, even if it means you cannot chat that night. Although it will be challenging to be just an onlooker to most of their growth in college, understand that this is an incredible experience for your partner. 

4. Vary Communication Styles

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It can be effective to try out different styles of communication, such as texting, calling, FaceTime, physical letters, and email. Not only will it help you determine the best form of communication for your relationship, but also, mixing and matching communication styles can be fun and exciting.

My partner and I do long-distance journaling. We have two little notebooks, and in our times apart, we each take one notebook and document little facts or funny moments from our days. When we come back together, we swap notebooks. After we separate again, we have the other notebook, and we can read what each other wrote and start writing again. It is a little activity that we look forward to each time we part.

“It is super important to try varying communication methods,” said another college student. “[My partner and I] have different kinds of communication methods besides just texting and calling. We FaceTime, send letters and voice recordings, and take videos. Sometimes, we do vlogs of the day.”

“It provides depth that would otherwise lack in a distanced relationship,” they added. “It keeps things interesting and exciting, too.”

5. Make Time for Meaning

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There are different types of conversations. There is the five-minute phone call to catch up really quick before you head into the grocery store, and there is the hour-long video chat to check in on your partner’s well-being or hear about an important part of their week. Both are valuable, and you and your partner need to determine how often you need each one. 

“The hardest thing for me, which I was not anticipating, with the five-hour time difference is that when we were talking, we were often in such different parts of our days,” said one college student. “So we would often be in very mismatched moods, which was a little difficult to navigate. It is important to plan time you can devote just to each other, rather than just rushing to chat for five minutes.”

It is often in these devoted times when you learn more about your partner, feel as if you were alongside them during the day, and foster meaningful conversations. Sometimes, the depth of these conversations can feel uncomfortable over the phone. It is something that takes getting used to.

“Take the advantage of learning how to have uncomfortable conversations while you are not in the same room,” said another college student. “It is an experience that not many people have with in-person relationships.”

6. Have Trust

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A lack of trust is one of the main things that will break a long-distance relationship. You must trust your partner to respect you and the relationship. If you cannot find trust or have reason to feel distrustful, you need to address this in order to find the root cause together.

Long distance in college is unique because there is often a large party scene to navigate. Be transparent about your plans on a night-out and check in with your partner periodically to let them know you are safe and well. This will foster additional trust. 

Do not try to prohibit your partner from experiencing college’s nightlife and meeting new people. This will only foster resentful and jealousy. Do not force them to call you repeatedly to the extent that they miss out on having fun. Instead, celebrate the fun they are having and trust that their commitment to your relationship will remain a priority. 

7. Be Present for the Successes and Failures

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Whether you can make the trek in person or be available online, it is important to be present for your partner’s milestones, successes, and hard times. This requires remembering important dates, such as your partner’s final exam, birthday, or intramural soccer match. Cheer them on, and be around if things go poorly. Be the first to say that you are proud of their hard work and the first to tell them everything will be okay. Not only will this make your partner feel valued, but it will also strengthen your relationship and make you feel as if you are right there alongside them.

“Be there for both the successes and the hard times,” said one college student. “It means the world, especially in long distance.”

8. Make Plans

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If feasible, make plans to see each other again before you say goodbye. This will give you something to look forward to when it comes time for that last hug. Also, set goals for the future, so you can have things to look forward to as a couple. It is fun to plan trips and activities.

9. Express Gratitude

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Understand that long distance requires extra energy to show up for your partner. Express gratitude to your partner each day for making this commitment, whether it be after a phone call or a day of texting. This makes the distance feel worthwhile and reassures your partner that they are appreciated for all they do.

“Gratitude is really important,” said one college student. “Just make sure that if your partner does something that is difficult for them in order to make you happy, you express how you really appreciate what they are doing.”

10. Appreciate the Journey of Long Distance

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A long distance relationship grants the time and space for personal growth: to explore new hobbies, self-reflect, and enjoy spending time alone. It also fosters more time for friendships and family.

Treat your long distance relationship as a positive opportunity. It is the opportunity to demonstrate a deep faithfulness to your partner. It is an opportunity to show your willingness to fight the geographical odds.

Long distance is a commitment to be celebrated, and that is a beautiful thing.

Written By

Sophia Vesely is a junior in college studying Journalism and Philosophy. In her free time, she loves to run, play soccer, and write poetry.

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