long distance relationships

Loving from afar: 5 Tips for coping with long distance relationships

May 6, 2019

Times have changed for me. Gone are the days of driving an hour to see my parents, living with my closest friends and having the people I have always known and loved only a short drive away.

Living away from those I love has probably been one of the greatest challenges I have had to face. I keep telling myself that as each year passes it will get easier, I will get stronger and I won’t feel home sick anymore. But deep down I know I’m kidding myself. No matter how old we get or how old our children get, saying goodbye is never easy. If it was easy everyone would do it. If it was easy, then we probably wouldn’t care much for the people who leave us or those we leave behind.

Ironically, I sit here writing this in an airport in my home state after visiting loved ones for Easter, as I wait to board the first of two long flights to my now home of Adelaide.

How do we respond to uncomfortable thoughts and feelings?

As I walked into the airport alone, I immediately noticed the overwhelming urge to fight my feelings and avoid them by distractions such as scrolling through my phone, browsing the airport shops and helping myself to a glass of wine or two in the hope of drowning out some of the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that I experience when I leave:

“When will I see them again?… What if something bad happens while I’m gone?… I’m missing out on so much…” and feelings of sadness, guilt and worry.

But instead, I decided to do something different. I decided to practise what I ask my brave clients to do every day – to make room for uncomfortable thoughts and feelings rather than controlling them, fighting them or avoiding them. So, here I am sitting with my thoughts and feelings (cringe!) and writing them out to somehow make sense of them and to hopefully help you with something that I often struggle with.

No one likes uncomfortable thoughts and feelings; not even us psychologists who are trained in their management. We are all human, after all. Yes, we all have different experiences and live different lives, but we all worry and feel hurt, sadness and pain. Therefore, many of us struggle with urges to control, fight or avoid uncomfortable thoughts and feelings (my go-to is avoidance!) But often, our attempts to do so do not help us in the long run.

I’m not saying that you must like these thoughts and feelings and I don’t expect you to be okay with them but fighting them or pretending they don’t exist only allows them to control you and the choices that you make. Think about it – if worry was controlling your behaviour what decisions would you make? If sadness was in the driver’s seat would you be making choices that you truly value or would your choices be making life feel even more difficult and less meaningful?

What’s it costing you?

Personally, I have learnt that responding to discomfort in the way I naturally would like to (hello avoidance!) is a short-term fix to a long-term problem. In the short term I feel better, but in the long term these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings keep coming back and I never really learn how to deal with them.

So, how about you? How do you respond to uncomfortable thoughts and feelings? How do these responses affect you, the choices you make, and ultimately your life in the short term versus the long run?

Let’s talk about you

Like me, you might have moved away from the place you always called home, or maybe you’re struggling to cope with your son or daughter moving away. Maybe you’re in a long-distance relationship with someone special. Regardless of who or what you’re missing, loving from afar is not an easy task. There will be days where you feel like you’re coping and others where you completely struggle and that’s okay. So, here are some of my tips that help me to cope during those difficult times.

5 tips for coping with long distance relationships

1. Start a routine
Routine! Routine! Routine! Starting a healthy and balanced routine is a very effective way to build your ability to cope during difficulty. Routines can anchor us and can provide certainty as we surf through the waves of uncertainty that life throws at us. Daily routines help us to cultivate positive and healthy habits that we value, while allowing us to priorities our time and the activities that are important to us.

Routines are different for everyone so what your routine consists of is completely up to you! However, it does help to factor in a healthy and balanced exercise routine (to increase those “feel good” endorphins and thus your mental health!), to introduce a consistent sleep routine and allow some time for self-care.

2. Find things to focus on and work toward
Now, I do not want you to use this step to avoid your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. The last thing I want is for you to throw yourself into ridiculous amounts of work to distract yourself from what’s really bothering you. Remember, that is called avoidance and avoidance is not your friend (although I know it often pretends to be!)

Set goals for yourself whether it be in your career, your health and fitness, your own personal development, home projects, your relationship or friendships. Find something of value that you are passionate about and pursue it. It could be as small as reading a new book that interests you.

3. Stay in touch
I know life gets busy and it can be easy to go days or even weeks without taking the time to talk to the special people in your life. Set aside a time to call your son, your aunt or that friend who lives away and ensure you can be present instead of side-tracked by the distractions that life throws at you. Make a weekly Skype date with your significant other so you have an actual face to connect with rather than merely texting back and forth. Frequent interaction allows us to stay connected with those we love, which also improves our mental health!

4. Have things to look forward to
Ensure you have fun things to look forward to, whether they be big or small. Having things to look forward to has been found to improve our mental health and wellbeing. Book a trip to see your significant other even if it’s months in advance. If you don’t have the capacity or the funds to book a trip right now, then have some fun in planning, discussing and brainstorming your future trip together during your Skype date and make sure you book some fun things in that you can look forward to separately in the meantime.

5. Embrace the people and the places you have around you
Missing those you love is never easy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t build memories where you are and with the people you have by your side. Take the time to get to know those around you a little better. Try new things, make new experiences, see new places and go on new adventures. There is beauty to being in a new place and being with new people because it allows us to create and embrace new opportunities that were never possible until now.

These tips are tried and tested by me, but that doesn’t mean they work for everyone! We all need some extra support now and again, so if you’re having a difficult time coping with loving your loved ones from afar, please contact our friendly reception staff to make an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists at Attuned Psychology today.

And on a final and very important note, in the famous words of Winnie the Pooh, “how lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.

🙂


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