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Long distance relationships: Challenging but possible

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You and your partner are in a secure and loving relationship, which has to undergo a temporary physical separation due to set objectives for career growth or personal development. It is true that this sole expatriation, which can be anything from a few weeks to many months, can bring some uncertainties and unexpected difficulties in the relationship. However, we believe that true love doesn’t know geographical boundaries, and expat life can be a valuable experience for both — the one who departs and the one who stays behind.

Grow together while apart

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To your surprise, you may discover that long-distance relationships require more of your time and dedication. Although different schedules and time zones can lead to communication problems, agree with your partner in advance on the frequency with which you will speak, as well as the main communication tool (Skype, phone, email, social media) you will be using, and stick to your word unless something urgent has come up.

When you speak to your partner, try to have meaningful conversations too, not endless monologues about trivial things and work. Also, try to stay positive and caring instead of focusing on the distance and how difficult it is for you to live without your partner. This will give you a good reason to plan your next meeting and to make the most of it by organising a long-weekend escape or simply by enjoying the normality of everyday life together as you used to. The present distance between you will feel smaller and more manageable if you both have something to look forward to.

Regarding the presence in each other’s life, long-distance shouldn't mean that you live separate lives. Thus, continue to make joint decisions about your finances, the household, the children, etc. and share the responsibilities. But the best thing you can do to protect your long-distance relationship is to have a long-term plan and an end date in mind, which will mark the beginning of your life in the same city.

Hear our expats' success stories

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Jeremiah, a professional expat in Mauritius, and his wife, who lives and works in Accra, Ghana, have been physically apart for almost a year. “There was little time to prepare before my departure. However, we agreed to communicate every day, and we planned my wife’s first visit before separating. We also made quick plans on finances and housekeeping” says Jeremiah.

When asked about some of the benefits of singledom, Jeremiah says: “I have enjoyed the opportunity of having more time to settle into my new job and spend more hours working. I have also pursued some courses because I have enough time to do so.”

Of course, a long-distance relationship is a challenging situation. “The absence of my partner has a negative impact on me. I feel lonely at times because I am not a regular outgoing person and I am used to having my partner around me most of the time.” But it is also an opportunity to rediscover yourself: “I used to rely on my partner for certain things, but I am learning to adjust and be independent. In a long distance relationship, there is lack of intimacy and conversations have become monotonous. I have discovered my love for nature and adventure as I take an interest in outdoor activities. Something new I have discovered about my relationship is our commitment to each other to communicate every day, sometimes more than once a day.”

A year ago, Lily, an American repatriate in Greece, and her husband decided that the most meaningful present they could give to their two children (two and five) is quality time with their grandparents, the tool of a new language, and a cultural experience — even if this meant that they would have to be temporary apart.

When children are involved, long distance relationships can be even more complicated. “My younger daughter is always thrilled to talk with her dad via Skype, while my older one will even avoid those sessions sometimes. Most times she will make a quick appearance to give a recap of her day and end the conversation abruptly. However, she has created a countdown calendar to mark the days left until daddy's return; a fascinating moment in her day."

For Lily, the key to a successful long distance relationship is to remind yourself why you decided to take this step at first place, which hopefully remains a good enough reason to ease the pain. Lily holds onto the positive aspects of this learning experience: “Long distance between us has been an opportunity to do more things for yourself and by yourself.  Distance has given me a different perspective of the relationship, but mainly of myself simply because I get to spend more time with “me”. Also, without the pressure of my partner’s approval or disapproval of my actions and decisions as a parent, I have become my critic and discovered my strengths and weaknesses particularly as a parent.” Also, “single parenting can help you grow, gain confidence, and exert self-control. It strengthens the bond with your children due to exclusivity. The bond with the missing parent may weaken, but it's only temporarily.”