Let’s talk coping mechanisms for relationships that are split between two countries! This is a bit different to a long-distance relationship. What I’m talking about today is where one of you is often away and finding a balance between relationships and travelling for work. All the tips in this post are tried and tested! Both Ryan and I work freelance in industries which require us to tour or travel every now and then.
Between October and the start of April, I hadn’t been in the country for more than a week (if that!). One of those trips was with Ryan but the rest was a mixture of poor wi-fi phone calls and attempts to stay in touch that didn’t involve social media. The first trip that took one of us away was the three week cruise I went on in November. It’s bonkers to think this now but when I went away on the cruise, I literally just… left.
We had no plan of keeping in touch, hadn’t taken into account how it might affect us, hadn’t thought about what it might be like, what we’d be doing etc. I just swanned off like “see you in three weeks!” and didn’t think “oh this might impact things for us”. Spoiler: it was tough! When I got back, we had a long chat about things and figured out a much better game plan for surviving apart in the future. In contrast, the two months I spent in Japan was really good – both of us were happy, progressing, and we both felt super secure in the relationship throughout. So, what have we learned and what can I pass on? Let’s talk tactics!
The very first thing to do is turn inward and analyse what things are like when you’re apart and when you’re away. Are you living together? Do you normally spend every weeknight together? Maybe weeknights are for work, but you default to weekend-long dates when you can? Ryan and I both work freelance from home. Realistically, we’re not used to spending more than a couple of hours apart (that sounds vom, but it’s true), whereas weeknights are normally spent apart due to work. When either of us is gone, it leaves a big obvious gap in the daily schedule of whoever is still at home. If you can be realistic about where you spend most time together, this will make things so much easier in understanding what you need to prioritise when you’re apart.
Knowing how you both work is CRUCIAL. For example, socially, I’m happiest either leading big groups, or being completely alone, whereas Ryan is extremely sociable. Me not being in the house meant Ryan was going stir-crazy by himself, whereas I was either surrounded by people or finding time for myself. I’m also quite good at putting myself where I need to be (ie just going home if I want to be alone) whereas Ryan will reach the situation first before needing to sort it.
If you know how you both operate then you can prepare for this! If your partner is going away and you hate sitting at home alone, make sure you fill that diary up with mates, coffees and catch-ups. Don’t tell yourself “cool, it’s great to have some alone time for three weeks” if you know you hate alone time after one evening. Just be honest! If you’re like me and you tend to go inwards, you can plant a few reminders of how happy your relationship is to avoid falling into your own shallow little pool.
Being on the lookout for each other’s situations (career, family, mental health) is KEY. This is a given in any relationship, but it’s harder to monitor small changes when you’re not in the same space! It’s a lot harder to pick up on little issues if you’re relying on a single phone call to catch up on all the news so try to make sure you’re properly keeping tabs on everything as well just getting a quick hello in. This sounds really obvious, but if you’ve gone from spending 5+ hours together chatting everyday to one 3 minute phone call every two days, trust me, it can take a toll!
Obviously situations will change over time, but checking in properly and offering advice to each other is going to be important. For the person away, it’s easy to hear a quick “Yep, all good!” and then dash back into your adventure. And for the person at home, it’s easy to get wrapped up in stuff and lose perspective once one of you disappears.
Create a plan of when you will talk – and HOW – and then stick to it. Take into account your normal timetables, time difference, what your schedule will likely look like in the new place, and so on. Look at how your normally communicate best (phone? messages? whatsapp?) and what you will realistically have the time and energy for. It’s all well and good saying you’ll have a 2 hour phone all every other night but is this feasible?
On the cruise we had no communication plan, and so whenever I had wi-fi (every 2-3 days) I’d receive a flurry of messages from Ryan and immediately try to call without giving a seconds thought to what time it was in London or what he might be up to. Spoiler: this never worked out well! In Japan, I also didn’t have wi-fi (unless I was in my accommodation). However, we had a plan! Because of time difference, our overlapping time meant a phone call around my bedtime was roughly lunchtime for Ryan – not ideal for an exhausted me or a “cram everything into my one break” Ryan. Phone calls were also reliant on decent wi-fi connection, and me being in a roughly private area/room. So as well as those, we also sent voice notes to each other each morning and evening, plus a little checklist of stuff to mention/send and so on. Obviously these weren’t received immediately due to the time difference, but because we kept doing this constantly it felt really secure. This was vital and meant even on days where we couldn’t speak for whatever reason we were still in touch.
I’m not going to get too graphic here because I don’t know who the fuck is reading, obviously if we share DNA skip ahead friend! This will massively depend on your average routine and also what kind of sex drive you have anyway. Some people might find they work best with the avoidance route here; don’t think about it, be occupied with other things and so on. Other people might go down the “daily wank to keep needs at bay” route and if that works for you then good on ya. (Have fun in those 16 bed mixed dorms!). Other options include sending each other filthy texts, designating a set time each week to speak to each other, or (on the opposite scale), agreeing to avoid any overly steamy texts until the week before you’re due back. There’s always phone sex; bear in mind this may help one of you but if the other person isn’t into it then things could get awkward, so chat first! This also relies on whoever is away being in a position to actually chat on the phone: if you’re touring and sharing a room, or at a conference and flat-out busy then that’s probably not the best option.
I also think this depends on the nature of your trip! I never find this too much of a problem when I’m away working, because I’m an extremely work-orientated person and so it’s quite easy for me to “shut down” other parts of my brain. This is never the same if I’m away travelling with a group of gal pals or whatever. Those situations tend to involve a lot more partying and it can get very frustrating. So it’s contextual! If you’re away on a two-week conference then you’ll want to approach this differently to if you’re on a singles 18-30 holiday. (Aside: if you’re on a singles 18-30 holiday whilst also in a relationship, then I think you might need some additional relationship help beyond the scope of this post)
The future is real. Fucking talk about! Knowing what’s coming next and having future plans keeps you on track. It’s a lot easier to keep things in perspective this way too! Most of the failed long distance couples I know reached breaking point because it just felt like an endless abyss with no reunite point in sight. We were lucky to have return dates each time one of us went away, but even aside from that it was good to chat through what trips we might want to take, what our plans were going to be for Summer/Christmas and so on. I know this definitely helped me keep the year (and even more broadly, our lives as a whole) in perspective. Stop those long weeks feeling endless as hell and get some “big picture” vibes going.
Anyway, I’d like to think we are a lot more skilled now at the travel apart thing – but only after an absolutely disastrous initial attempt! Relationships and travelling for work is hard guys, but it’s manageable. I have another three trips planned this year that don’t involve Ryan, and he has three trips that don’t involve me, including a whole month in Edinburgh. We’ll be relying on the above tips and no doubt finding some new ways to work around our busy travel lives. What are your experiences with long distance?