Making a long-distance relationship (LDR) work takes communication, trust, and effort. This includes consistently sharing emotions, being transparent to promote trust, and expending the effort necessary to sustain closeness.

Components of effort may include advance planning of activities to do together and discussions about hopes and dreams for the future. Efforts may also involve addressing the natural tendency to drift apart when not physically close together.

This article discusses what can help an LDR work, including communication, trust, effort, creating intentional time together, and creating an intentional future together. It also examines what to avoid, how to manage common issues, and the success rates of LDRs.

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Essential components of making an LDR work involve communication, trust, and effort. Being intentional about spending time together and discussing the future may also help. If issues and conflicts arise and persist, a couple may wish to consider counseling.

What is an LDR?

An LDR involves a geographical distance between partners. A 2017 study defines it as one where the partners have to travel an hour or more to see each other.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of communication. An older 2013 study notes that sharing emotions and life experiences on a relatively consistent basis forms the foundation of human relationships.

Jeanette Raymond, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, describes what she considers to be a key element of communication — letting a partner know how important they are.

“This happens when a person makes a partner feel that they are on their radar regardless of what is happening in their life,” she says. “It is especially helpful if a partner has insecurities and needs continuing reassurance that the other person has not forgotten or replaced them.”

Raymond adds that a broader aspect of communication entails showing interest. “The frequency and length of texts, video chats, and phone calls are factors by which people may judge a partner’s commitment,” she says. “To avoid unintentional hurt or accusations of not caring, it helps to share expectations in this area at the beginning of the relationship.”

Since an LDR makes knowing what a partner is doing more difficult, suspicions may arise. Trust is only possible in a secure and stable connection, which requires openness and transparency.

Raymond explains that trust diminishes when there is a high threat level, such as:

  • missing a call
  • changing plans without explanation
  • a person not revealing where they are or who they are with

“Most of all, if one partner withholds their uncensored, moment-to-moment thoughts, it can make trust difficult,” she says.

“There are many ways in which effort is necessary to keep an LDR strong,” says psychologist Marty A. Cooper, PhD, LMHC, NCC. “It may be helpful to think about committing to a certain amount of time each week designated to its maintenance and continued development. Partners should work together to ensure this does not slip, given many people’s busy lives. If they do slip away from putting in the effort, they need to gently remind one another to renew focus and continue to build the relationship together.”

While effort is a factor, Raymond points out that it should not be difficult if a couple desires and longs for a strong connection with each other. “If one partner feels that they have to make an effort, this indicates that the relationship is an obligatory burden,” she says. “Such factoring of genuine interest and desire versus obligation is a big issue that always arises.”

“Intentional time involves a mutual desire to keep the threads of the relationship intact,” says Raymond. “Advance planning of an activity can help, such as booking and playing an online game together.”

“However, there is always a danger in having a lot of time put aside for togetherness because it removes the spontaneity and sense of wanting to be with one another.”

“The future is tomorrow, next week, and 2 years from now,” says Raymond. “It is hugely important to address the immediate, near, and far-term future.”

“While the near future is about planning a date to do something you want to experience together, the far-term future is about visions and dreams,” says Raymond.

“That can be fantasy, and often is. It should also deal with the nitty-gritty of considering the location of a dream home or whether a couple will have a live-in nanny for their kids. These issues need to be in the equation so that romantic bubbles do not delay a couple from facing reality for too long.”

“Knowing what to avoid is a simpler process if we remind ourselves what is necessary in the relationship,” says Cooper. “Because communication is key, avoid missing commitments to chat. If a person’s schedule changes, find another time to check in.”

“Since trust is crucial, if someone finds themselves not trusting, talk about it,” says Cooper. “Keeping a lack of trust inside will create greater challenges in the relationship.”

Drift is another potential difficulty. “Sometimes in an LDR, people can drift from their partner as they become engaged in work, school, or community,” says Cooper. “To remain connected, actively avoid allowing drift to happen.”

Managing common issues

“Open communication and commitment to the relationship often can manage common issues,” says Cooper. “That said, if such strategies are not effective, consider couples’ counseling.”

“A counselor or psychologist can help a couple understand what is happening in the relationship and work with them to find resolutions to the difficulties. Through counseling, they may learn new skills that will benefit the relationship for years to come.”

Learn more about the best online couples counseling services.

Cooper explains that it is quite difficult to know the true success rate of an LDR because all research looks at only a sample of the population in order to gauge trends. However, a 2017 study provides a general indication, as it found that couples in an LDR are more likely to separate than those who live near each other.

“The important thing is to know that an LDR can be successful if a couple follows some general principles, such as the pursuit of effective communication and trust,” says Cooper.

A plan involving how to make a long-distance relationship work entails several key components. Communication is extremely essential, especially letting a partner know how important they are.

Demonstrating openness and transparency to foster trust and committing to investing time and effort in the relationship may also help.

Other tips include creating intentional time together and talking about the future.

When such endeavors do not resolve difficulties that arise, counseling may lead to resolutions. It is hard to know the success rates of LDRs, but they pose more potential challenges than those of couples who live in the same area.