As many of you may know, my fiance Fatima and I have been in a #longdistancerelationship (about 1200 miles apart) for almost 3 years now. While we are excited to finally be moving in together in about 2 months, this experience of #distance, #travel, #commitment, and #growth has certainly been a huge gift in our relationship. There have been many challenges in the last 3 years and several instances where we weren't sure if we would be able to make it work, but overcoming each of these challenges and consistently demonstrating our commitment to each other has built a powerful foundation in our relationship that promises a bright future together.
As I said, it hasn't always been easy, as anyone who has successfully had a long-distance relationship, or even attempted it, will tell you. There are some agreements we made and kept consistently over the years that we believe directly contributed to our creating Our Life together. As this chapter of our story comes to close, we thought it fitting to share what we've learned with anyone who is currently in or considering being in a long-distance relationship. It can be amazing, and it most certainly CAN work, with the right tools.
So here are the 4 Secrets that had our relationship thrive (even with 1200 miles between us):
1. Make the relationship a priority.
Obviously, this is essential to any relationship. However, with long-distance, it takes a bit more attention and effort than it normally might for two people who live close to each other, geographically speaking. When it's a relatively short drive to meet for dinner or to get together to see each other, it's really a no-brainer. When the distance is greater, there might be a few more challenges involved in making plans.
I'll share how it looked for us. In the beginning it was somewhat easy as she had travel planned to South Florida for some work she was doing, so we were able to connect a handful of times with considerably little effort. While that was enough to establish a connection, once her work there was over, we had to decide if we were up for the challenge of figuring out how we might bridge the distance.
At the time I was coaching clients, but only part time. My full-time job was running a construction company which made up about 75% of my income. I was very hands-on in my business and personally ran all the jobs. I remember discussing with her early on that to have this relationship work with both of us living so far apart, I would need to completely redesign my life. Over the next year I focused intensely on building my coaching practice and speaking career, while planning trips to see her and spend time with her in New Jersey.
It was clear that we would travel to see each other at regular intervals, but physical time away from my work meant that I would be making significantly less income, as I wouldn't be able to do any work for my construction projects. I would sometimes have to let jobs sit incomplete while I was out of town and even turn some down when I couldn't arrange agreements to accommodate my travel plans.
Despite the challenges, this relationship was important to me and I knew I'd find a way to make it work.
I lost a lot of potential income during that first year, but some exciting things also developed. I began to pick up more clients in my coaching practice and my speaking business took off in a huge way. Over the next couple of years, I would close the construction company entirely and more than triple my income in my coaching and speaking business.
This shift happened in large part because of my commitment to the relationship. I didn't know things would unfold this way. I did it one plane ticket at a time, one trip at a time.
The more I made the relationship a priority, the more I created the conditions in my life in which it could thrive. I created a career in which I could work from anywhere, and it's something I love much more than what I was doing before. When I look back, if I had made my need for security more important than having our relationship work, not only would I have lost the relationship, but I would have missed out on creating so much of what I love about my life now.
I simply made the relationship my first priority and trusted that I would find a way to have everything else work out.
Things were very similar on her end. In addition to coaching a few clients, she owns a large business that she is still very involved in. At the time we began dating, she was working over 40 hours a week, very hands-on, with little extra time to dedicate to growing her coaching practice and her passion for writing.
A commitment that she made early on in the relationship was that she would spend about 10 days per month in Florida with me. Like me at the time, she had a heavy work load and her physical presence was required almost every day. 10 days per month out of the office seemed impossible.
She booked a ticket for her first 10 day trip and found a way to make it happen. After that she booked a second and then a third trip. Over the years, she's made agreements with her co-owners, hired new employees, figured out how to redistribute the work load, and created new systems that allow her to work remotely some of the time.
The most important thing we did for our relationship early on was to make it a priority. Once we were clear about that, we then set about recreating our lives and circumstances to allow for it to work.
2. Always plan the next trip.
For the last 3 years, we have always had our next trip planned, booked, and on the calendar during or before the current one.
There hasn't been a day throughout our entire relationship that we didn't know when we would next be together.
We recognized very early on that if we didn't make solid plans backed by money paid for plane tickets, that a week could go by and then a month, and before we knew it, we hadn't seen each other in a long time. We would get caught up in the day-to-day "busyness" of our lives and the relationship would start to seem like too much work. The longer our time apart, the more disconnected we would be from our life together. Our circumstances would then seem too important, and that would start to take a toll on the relationship.
We made a promise, maybe 2 months in, that we would always have the next trip scheduled and booked before the current one ended, and that is a promise we've kept without fail. There were times when we were both stressed out, disconnected from each other and our life together, didn't think that it could possibly work, and the only thing that kept us going was the promise that one of us would be getting on a plane that week and that we would soon be together to reconnect. Once we did, it all seemed possible again. We would remember what we have together and would reaffirm our commitment to have it work. If we hadn't had those trips planned, it would have been really easy to give up on the relationship.
In three years, not once have we gone more than a month without seeing each other. 90% of the time it's been less than two weeks. Not because it was easy to do that, but because we made promises to each other and did whatever possible to keep them.
3. Plan a Life Together.
Something that we agreed on from the start was that if this was going to work, it wouldn't be long distance forever. In the beginning, we didn't know how long it would be, but we agreed that if our relationship were to work out, one of us would make the move. We weren't even sure which one of us that would be. We created a vision of a future together that would be sustainable and we understood that it was what we were moving toward.
I don't think either one of us anticipated that the distance would last for 3 years, but "how long" wasn't so important.
The important thing was that we started planning Our Life together and worked together to build it.
We set milestones along the way and worked towards them. For example, when we started dating, I was living with a roommate. One of the many milestones we set together was that we would get our own place in Florida so that we could have privacy during our time there. We set that goal, worked towards it, and accomplished it. We found a beautiful place that we've absolutely loved and frankly, are very sad to leave.
Setting goals like that and working towards them together affirmed that we were creating a life with each other. It was not a fantasy or an unfulfilled hope about an imagined possibility down the road. It was real, tangible, happening every day right in front of us. Naturally we've reached a point now that it makes sense to make the move. Of course we would reach this point, because we've consciously worked towards it from the start.
We didn't just leave it to chance. We designed it that way because the relationship is important and there are certain conditions in which it can work. We made those conditions be so.
4. Talk and Connect, and Talk and Connect...
As with any relationship, communication is essential. In long-distance it is even more critical. There are two conversations you should always be having: One about connection, the other about planning.
We make time to speak on the phone every day for at least an hour. We've had dinners and dates over Facetime. We've watched movies together over the phone. We've sent daily love notes by email and mailed letters to each other. There was even a time when we slept with Skype open next to the bed so that we could wake up together. (We later decided that wasn't necessary.)
The point is that we've always made it a point to connect and we found creative ways to stay connected. Connection is key to any relationship. When there is physical distance between you, you may have to get creative about how you connect, or be willing to be silly sometimes and do some things you wouldn't normally do to keep the connection between you alive in the relationship.
And finally, talk about your plans together. Dream together, build a vision of a future together. This can benefit any relationship, but in long-distance, it's essential. This makes the relationship feel solid and real, reinforces the belief that one day you will be together, and inspires you both to work towards that.
Make this a part of your regular conversation. Plan what you'll do the next time you're together, the places you'll go, family and friends you'll visit, trips you'll take together.
Always be making plans for the future. This ensures there will be one.
Shane Kohler is an international
consciousness trainer, coach, teacher
and The Creator of
The Living Relationship Curriculum.
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