They say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, that being separated from loved ones only strengthens that bond. But those same wise sages also say ‘out of sight is out of mind’, so what do they know?
What we do know from hard experience is that love hurts, and it hurts all the more when you can’t reach out and hold the person you love so much. Living as an expat can mean learning to live separately from those that mean the most to you.When thousands of miles and several timezones stand between a happy couple, it takes a lot of work to keep heartbreak from setting in. For you, living in a foreign country and juggling a new job with the hassle of setting up all the details of a new life, this change of lifestyle can feel overwhelming. For those left behind they have to deal with carrying on as normal, without their partner there. It’s not surprising that long distance relationships sometimes feel like ‘non-breakups’.
It might not be easy, it might not be fun, but distance doesn’t have to be the death of romance. In fact, some couples find that a long-distance relationship teaches them more about themselves and each other than living together, and it is sure to make both partners appreciate each other all the more.
Expat doesn’t have to mean ex-partner. Take a romantic stroll through our long-distance dating tips to see what can help keep the love alive in your relationship.
Keep the passion alive
Absence doesn’t have to mean abstinence. Obviously there is always more to any relationship than sex, but it can become an aspect of the relationship that complicates all the others.
We’re all human, and when we are lusting after the one we love, the separation seems all the more cruel. And whilst we shouldn’t let the bedroom dominate any relationship, frustration can manifest itself in a plethora of negative ways.
Being physically apart is going to limit the more intimate side of your relationship, so be adventurous and experiment with new ways of expressing your attraction to each other. It might take a few nervous giggling calls to get the hang of talking dirty over video chat, but experimenting is fun in its own way. Verbalise the things you miss about physical contact with your other half and make them feel wanted.
Webcams, email and smartphones all lend themselves to flirty little messages sent throughout the day. Tease each other with suggestive pictures and the odd explicit email, looking forward to the next time you are able to live out these naughty fantasies.
Make the most of technology
Whilst a buzzing smartphone is a great way to send a naughty thought, it’s also a great way to simply let someone know they are in your thoughts. Get into the habit of wishing each other goodnight, or good morning, or just sending a few short messages throughout the day; it doesn’t have to be much.
Of course, it doesn’t all have to be about the phone. Use video calling for some face-to-face conversation. Follow each other on Twitter to keep up to date on trivial details; use Facebook to share silly links or post pictures.
Think of all these fancy gadgets as ways to have slightly different conversations, and accept that they will never be the same as talking in person. Reserve emails for serious stuff: planning of business, swapping of documents and having serious conversations about the big things in life. Email takes more time to plan, write and send, which should help both parties avoid saying things that can be misconstrued.
Don’t get jealous
This is easier said than done. Your significant other might be having an awesome time doing things you’d planned but never got around to. They might be making new friends whilst you struggle to adjust.
Jealousy can work both ways; those at home can covet the adventure and excitement of life in an exotic location, whilst those abroad long for the comforts of home. It’s important to realise these are perfectly normal reactions, but try to stop short of resenting your partner’s situation.
It’s important to communicate your feelings; there’s nothing more dangerous to a relationship than letting things grow out of proportion in your mind and start affecting the way you feel about each other. If there is something bothering you, word it carefully and discuss it.
But most of all, trust your partner. They may be sunning themselves on a tropical beach, surrounded by beautiful people, but that is a long way from being unfaithful.
You may be feeling sad and lonely, you may be suffering from a double dose of homesickness and culture shock, but do your best to stay positive.
Suddenly adjusting to living and working in a new country can be one of the most disorienting, overwhelming things you can do. Trying to conquer this challenge without the support of your nearest and dearest can make things seem even tougher.
But try to focus on the positive. You are in an exciting new country with limitless opportunities, and are accomplishing amazing things on a daily basis. Believe in yourself and share this positivity with your partner; enjoy everything you can about your new life and make sure they share in it.
That’s not to say you should grin your way through when things really do get tough. Your partner will help you through, but make sure they get to share the good times as well as the bad.
Have a plan
It seems unlikely you’d head around the world without one, but make sure your plan also covers the relationship. Make sure your partner knows what they are getting into.
It would be unfair to keep them hanging on indefinitely. If you are looking to move for the long-term, plan how they can join you and when. If this is a short-term move, try to set dates when you will return and try to plan visits part of the way through your time abroad.
All plans are subject to change, especially if you do well. Employers may seek to extend your contract or move you to another location. Talk these possibilities over before you leave and decide what you might do.
It might be a great success for you, but perhaps your partner has been counting down to your return. If you suddenly announce you won’t be coming home for another year, there will be tears.
The family that plays together stays together. Having regular video calls or exchanging emails will help keep up-to-date with each other’s news, but it’s not quite quality time.
Find ways to recreate the things you enjoyed doing together, synchronise your DVDs and watch the same film together on Skype. Cook the same meal once in a while and talk over a romantic meal.
A world of online gaming means you can bond over a little competitive rivalry. Playing Scrabble on a phone or online chess can stimulate new skills as well as ensuring regular contact.
Collaborate on projects together. Use Pinterest to build a dream home or plan a holiday together, it doesn’t need to be anything serious, just a way to share something from afar.
Limit your expectations
Making a plan is all about knowing what you are getting into. Limiting your expectations is about revising your expectations down a little. That’s not to be pessimistic; it’s more about leaving room to be pleasantly surprised.
If you plan for weekly video calls at a set time, you’ll be upset when these don’t happen like clockwork. You’ll have two busy lives to synchronise across timezones. Be ready for them to be cut short, postponed, cancelled or your partner to be too sleepy to be any fun.
Remember to be careful with the cash when planning; you will probably be paid in the local currency. Your monthly payslip might be festooned with zeroes, but when comparing that to the cost of flights home you may find your income just doesn’t allow the regular trips you dreamt about.
When your other half comes to visit, avoid the temptation to try and pack in too much. The excitement of sharing an all-too-short reunion often means couples try to pack in too many tourist adventures and parties with friends, forgetting to spend time together, just as a couple.
Meet in the Middle
Flying around the world to see each other can be so expensive that you only get to see each other once or twice a year. It’s important to plan reunions and have something to look forward to, but don’t break the bank doing so.
However, there may be an entire world between you, so think of creative ways of bringing down the cost of a romantic meetup. Rather than one of you flying all the way, consider meeting in the middle. Shorter flights usually equate to a lower ticket price, which comes down further still if flying to the airline’s hub airport and flying at unsociable times mid-week.
Combine the hunt for cheap flights with some hotel bargains and you have a quick, affordable holiday together. The less costly these holidays, the more often you’ll be able to meet up.
Make the effort
Long distance relationships aren’t easy, so set aside time to speak even if it means missing out on a night out. Make that mixtape you thought about. Stop putting off knitting them that scarf. Whatever it is you do to show that you care, it will cover a multitude of disappointments.
It really is the thought that counts. Write that soppy love letter and pay for the armfuls of stamps it takes to send it home. There is no quicker way to alienate your other half than to let them think you are continually shrugging them off.
Of course, there will be times when your busy schedule impinges on your work/life balance, or when you are just too tired to talk. But make the effort to communicate that and to make it up to your partner.
Video messages are a great way to create content to share. If you’re musical, record yourself playing a song for your partner. If you’re artistic, film yourself creating a piece for them. If you’re a kitchen whizz, make a video of you whipping up their favourite dish. All of these can be done in your own time and sent over later.
This might be the toughest part of all. There will be times when you are not happy with each other, but bottling it up won’t help.
If you are upset by the fifth missed Skype date, talk it over. If they aren’t making the effort to keep things interesting, talk about it. Whatever is on your mind, think it over and then talk it through. There is nothing more toxic to a long-distance relationship than a sense that something is wrong without ever being able to address it.
Be honest with them and be honest with yourself. It may be silly little things that they didn’t realise upset you; it may be that you had no idea you were upsetting them. With so much distance between you the nuances of a relationship are harder to read, and you can’t fix problems by hugging it out.
Make sure you know what your priorities are and examine the plan you made at the start. If you are enjoying your new life so much more than you expected, it may be that you want to stay on there, and that needs to be discussed.
In extreme cases, it may be that you have to admit it’s not working. You’ll change during your time in another country, they will change without you, and it may be that you’ve outgrown each other and it’s time to move on. We hope this isn’t the case, but if it is, be honest with each other.
Do you have any tips for long-distance relationships? Let us know in the comments!
Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer