Anyone who has been in a long-distance relationship knows that it’s no easy task making it work. Being apart from each other for such long periods of time brings with it fears, insecurities, and jealousies that threaten to tear the whole thing apart. At the same time, if you and your partner are willing to put up with not seeing each other for months (or even years!) on end, obviously you have something special that’s worth fighting for! So, how do you make it work? The answer is in the bedrock of any long distance relationship: trust. Knowing how to build trust in a long distance relationship is vital if you want to weather the inevitable ups and downs that come while you’re apart, and in today’s article, that’s precisely what we’re going to talk about.
First, we’re going to talk about the meaning of trust in long-distance relationships, since understanding what it really is and how it actually works are essential if we want to cultivate trust in our relationships. Next, we’ll get into some ways to build trust across the duration of a long-distance relationship to ensure that it can work out in the end. Finally, we’ll talk about knowing when to walk away if trust isn’t present in the relationship. Let’s dive in!
What is trust in a long distance relationship?
Before we go any further, it’s important to take a moment to actually define trust in a long distance relationship. It may seem obvious at first, but in reality, plenty of people in these kinds of relationships get tripped up by not seeing the subtle differences between trust and expectations. Here’s what I mean: the expectation is how you want your partner to act when you’re not there. Trust, on the other hand, is the inner calm that comes from believing that those expectations are being met. Why is it important to differentiate? Because, if you want your long distance relationship to work out, you have a lot of work to do, and you need to know where to target that effort! Expectations and boundaries are tangible, practical, external things that you can actively discuss and work through with your partner. Trust is the byproduct of this process. In other words, it happens on its own, and you can’t really work on it directly.
When you don’t know the difference, there are plenty of traps you can fall into. One of the big ones is thinking that trust can come through sheer effort. The problem with thinking this is that people believe they simply have to “try harder” to trust someone, but there’s nothing for them to actually do towards making that happen. So, in reality, they’re just increasing the pressure on themselves to ignore their concerns or insecurities instead of addressing them. This, inevitably, leads to all kinds of bad outcomes! After all, trust is the bedrock of a long distance relationship, so if you miscalculate how it works, things between you and your partner can erode very quickly.
The trick is to understand that expectations are something you can actively work on, and trust is something you have to simply feel and measure as time goes on. They’re both equally important, but keeping them separate in your mind helps you avoid putting unnecessary pressure on yourself and your partner in an already difficult period. It also pinpoints where the real work needs to be done if issues do develop, which isn’t always fun, but it’s certainly productive and important if you want to move past problems.
How to Make Long Distance Work: Cultivating Trust Through Communication
Hopefully, by now it’s clear that, if you want your long distance relationship to work, you’re going to have to target your effort to manage your expectations of each other and set boundaries that work for both of you. But, of course, none of that is possible without the most vital component of any long distance relationship: communication.
Being able to be honest with your partner about how you feel and what your concerns are, while being open to hearing theirs, is the first step towards laying the groundwork of your relationship going forward. It’s also the first step towards building trust, because when you know you’re safe to share anything you want, that inner peace central to trust begins to appear on its own.
It’s important to think of communication in the “expectations” category, because it’s something you can actually work on, that in turn cultivates trust in the relationship. Making the effort to develop healthy communication with your partner is vital if you want to survive long distance, because the quality of the communication is much more important than the frequency when it comes to trust in a long term relationship. You need to be sure that you’re safe to explore uncomfortable topics like fears, insecurities, or even jealousies with your partner! Unfortunately, things like that most likely will come up through your time apart, but it’s precisely the process of talking through unpleasant emotions that builds trust and gets you through to the other side.
Of course, good communication doesn’t come naturally to most people! It’s a skill you have to develop, but it’s crucial for making any element of your relationship work. Here at Happily Committed, we recognize how fundamental good communication is, so we’ve put together a course specifically dedicated to it. Click here to check it out.
Starting a Long Distance Relationship
I know we’ve mentioned “expectations” and “boundaries” a lot in this article, so I want to take a moment to talk about those, and when they really come into play. It’s never too late to discuss these with your partner, but by far the best time to do so is at the very beginning of a long distance relationship. Talking about boundaries first, and knowing each other’s expectations upfront, can save you a lot of headaches in the future.
That’s why it’s really important to talk about the difference between rules and expectations. Rules can be healthy ways to define the boundaries of a relationship, especially in the case of couples who are thinking about trying open relationships while they’re doing long distance. Knowing what the limits are is key for these kinds of situations. However, most of the time that’s not the case, and when it comes to the vast majority of long-distance relationships, I always caution my clients to go easy on “setting rules.” I certainly don’t mean giving your partner a blank check to do whatever they want, though. It’s a point about how we should think about those boundaries and expectations of each other.
Here’s what I mean: in the context of a long distance relationship, “rules” are (typically justified) limitations on your partner’s behavior. Don’t do this, you can’t do that, you have to act this way. We set limits on what they can do while we’re apart, because we want them to act a certain way, so that they don’t hurt us. But “expectations” are this process in reverse: you want your partner to act a certain way, so you share your feelings and vulnerability about the topic at hand, and affirm their role in your life. In other words, you validate their influence over the way you feel by communicating how much you care about them. There’s no need to tell them how to live their life, because if they care about you too, they’ll act in a way that takes your feelings into account. All you have to do is share those feelings! “Absolutely NO casual hookups” is much weaker than “I love you, and I’d be really hurt if you hooked up with someone else.” This way, they know the boundary that matters for you, but it’s been presented to them as something positive and not something stifling. It’s a much healthier dynamic for a relationship, and it typically leads to better results over the long run.
How to Survive a Long Distance Relationship
In my opinion, one of the key roles of trust in a long distance relationship is purely practical: it takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of you and your partner while you’re apart, and ensures that your relationship will get through this period unscathed. Trust is the difference between simply missing someone and worrying about what they’re up to. Without it, every day that you’re not together can be agonizing, and the worry and resentment will eventually start to affect your relationship with your partner. This build up of pressure is enough to crack even the best relationships under these circumstances. That’s why, in the interests of getting through this long-distance period, building up trust through healthy communication, honesty, and emotional openness is vital.
However, as the days turn to weeks (or months, or even years), it’s going to be important to periodically take stock of how your relationship is going. That’s why I bring up the way trust takes pressure off: the easiest way to see if something is wrong is to gauge your emotions about what your partner is doing without you. If you are feeling more antsy than usual, something is probably wrong, and it’s time to lean back on those same tools like communication to try to address the problem. Maintenance is going to be vital as you go forward, so really look at all of these tips as things you need to be doing again and again as things fluctuate over time.
Can Long Distance Relationships Work?
Yes! Countless people have had successful long distance relationships, each with its own challenges, ups, and downs. I’ve seen it work out countless times, and I mean it: you can succeed too. I know it’s not easy, so if you need help you can always reach out to me or any of the coaches here at Happily Committed. We can give you tried-and-true tips and tricks to help you forge ahead on this path.
At the same time, it’s so important to know when to walk away. The psychological effects of long distance relationships are no joke: it can be a grueling and lonely experience, so if you’re going to tough it out, you need to be sure that it’s worth it! In addition to that, I do want to take a moment to mention that there always needs to be an end-date in sight. A truly fulfilling relationship cannot remain long-distance forever.
Now, trust, as always, is the most important way of knowing when to move on. If you don’t trust your partner, and you’re sure you’ve put the work into giving things a chance, then it’s perfectly fine to say ‘no’ to the agony that a long distance relationship with an unreliable partner brings. The same goes for the response to your boundaries and expectations: putting yourself out there is uncomfortable, but it does cut straight to the point of whether your partner really values your emotions or not. If you’ve been open about how you feel and what you’d like, only to be cheated on or tricked, then it’s not worth it. This way at least you can find out quickly, and not suffer in limbo for months or years like some of the clients I’ve had.
Ultimately, it’s all about putting the work into the practical nuts and bolts of your relationship, and then letting trust arrive naturally. Once you’ve put in the work and trust begins to appear, your long distance relationship will be so much easier to handle. At the same time, if you’ve laid the groundwork but trust still isn’t appearing, something is wrong! That’s why it’s so important to know what things need to be worked on in order for trust to appear in your relationship:
1. Building up a strong dynamic of communication.
This is the basis for the emotional bond that will overpower the physical distance between you two. Communicating openly allows you to express your emotions, needs, and fears to each other in a way that lets you address them.
2. Expressing expectations, not setting rules. This is about accepting your partner as an individual, and putting their choices into their hands. Giving up control while honestly expressing your feelings is a fine line, but ultimately it encourages your partner to take your feelings into account when making decisions in your absence.
3. Checking in on yourself: how much pressure do you feel? Knowing that trust relieves pressure, you can always ask yourself how things are going by measuring your stress levels about the relationship. Doing this periodically helps you nip any problems in the bud, and is an important part of the maintenance every relationship needs.
Ultimately, making long distance work is a serious challenge. But, like most things in life, the biggest challenges bring the biggest rewards. Being willing to put the work in is the most important part of the entire process! You being here, reading this article, is a great sign that you’re proactive and willing to learn what it takes to make this work. I know you can do it.
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