The Guide to Maintaining Distance Relationships

Making the distance work and maintain relationships with family and friends

Make your expectations known; understand the expectations of others

If I drop off the face of the earth for a month, my mother will have something to say about it. And rightly so; we each have expectations of more regular contact than that. When I lived in Melbourne, my mother and I talked almost every day — we were in the same timezone, same country, even though we were in different cities. This made things easier than they currently are, where 9 to 11 hours of difference (depending on time of year), doesn’t make scheduling quite so straightforward. So, we have agreed on how much contact we need to have. It tends to be a solid conversation once a week, though can also include more short catch ups and the occasional longer Skype session.

Explore different media; find what works

Some people are messenger people. Others are Twitter people. Some only want to talk on the phone, or via Whatsapp messages. They could be by voice or by text. The glorious thing about modern life is that we have a variety of options. Each of the people I keep in touch with prefers something different, and I am now aware of what those differences are. But my preferences also have to be taken into account; I have made those preferences known. And it is as simple as saying, “Hey, do you mind if we use Whatsapp voice messages? I want to hear your voice, but I can’t schedule a call right now.” This has worked beautifully with a particular close friend of mine; she and I now seamlessly share texts, voice messages and images throughout our week. It works for us.

Get savvy with helpful technology; offer your expertise

I installed Whatsapp on my mother’s phone. This is because calling Australia with a conventional phone call is going to add up pretty quickly. I have guided my parents through Skype calls as well. Making sure we all know how to use the technology on hand is vital, and it does require you to have a little patience and understanding if someone else is just coming to terms with a new medium. Getting annoyed at your elders, or trying to convince a friend who hates selfies to use Snapchat, just isn’t going to be appropriate. If you know how things work, find ways to non-judgmentally and non-patronisingly teach your loved one how to use them (and this might mean waiting until you see each other in person to give the introduction!). Adopt an attitude of flexibility, encouragement and forgiveness.

Have a flexible attitude; problem solve

One of the common failings of contact with those who are based far away is that you are still trying to live a life wherever you’re newly based, and this does mean that unexpected things crop up. However, if you’re the kind of person who says, “We’ll talk another time” but never actively schedules that other time, your friend or loved one may start to think you don’t really care about the relationship any more, or that catching up is an inconvenience to you. Talking can become more sporadic, or cease altogether. It’s fine to miss a Skype chat if something happens, but be the one to actively ensure that another time is arranged. Or another method is employed. Offer to send a detailed email, for instance, and arrange a proper call in due time. But keep things specific, honest and make sure you are holding up your end.

Have a catch up scheduled, even in the distant future — it is the light at the end of the tunnel

Distance is hard on any relationship, and it helps to know that eventually you will be reunited. Depending on the distance, this might be feasible fairly often. In my case, it’s a once every 2 years occurrence — I can’t take enough time off of work and I can’t afford the ticket any more often than that, given it is a 24+ hour journey with a significant time difference. This really makes me sad, and I do wish I had a more flexible way to arrange my work so that I could see my family and hold them more often. And that goes in both directions.

Some conclusions…

It’s super hard to negotiate a social life, even in one city. And across locations, the challenge only increases. But if you’re committed to the people you care about, there are ways. Start the conversation early. Know what they need, and figure out what you need from the relationship.

Written by

Trying to live better. Writing on Mental Health, Relationships, and Living Ethically. Editor/Podcaster.

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