When Your Valentine is Far Away

Long-distance relationships pre-date Ulysses and Penelope, Homer’s heroic couple who endured a 20-year separation during and following the Trojan War. The 21st Century incarnation includes updated descriptors, such as “deployment,” most frequently associated with military separations; “Split-Family Relocation,” a term that has entered the lexicon of the relocation industry in recent years; and “LDR,” the online moniker for this decidedly offline concept.

Both the challenges of long-distance love and the principles of strengthening relationships have remained constant through the ages. While the suitors and Sirens that Ulysses and Penelope battled possessed mythical characteristics, the challenges Homer chronicled parallel those that modern couples face: prolonged separation, concern for the other’s safety, tests of fidelity, struggles to manage resources, and lack of companionship.

Similarly, the principles of patience, creativity, and faithfulness transcend time. As a partner on assignment may be negotiating a new language and culture, there are other languages, popularized by psychologist Gary Chapman, that speak to guiding principles about relationships. These may be helpful as you navigate long-distance love.

Chapman, who authored a series of books about “five love languages,” describes gift giving, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch as preferred methods of demonstrating and receiving affection.  Identifying your love language and that of your partner can help you to navigate a physical separation. (You can go HERE for a short quiz to discover your love language.) Following are some suggestions:

Words of Affirmation

Of all the love languages, this one is probably the easiest to fulfill long-distance. It calls for mutual support, commitment, and respect, and addresses each partner’s need to feel appreciated. Encouraging one another during difficult times through uplifting texts, emails, phone calls, social media posts, and long, hand-written letters that can be savored and treasured, helps to build a strong relationship.

Gift Giving

This is another love language that transcends miles. The key here is to make sure the gift resonates with the recipient. Gifts don’t have to be lavish to be meaningful, either. A fun and inexpensive little gizmo that reminds you of your partner, or that you think he or she might find entertaining, comforting, or inspirational, may be cherished more than a pricey bauble. A gift to help with communication (an upgraded laptop or mobile phone, for example) or to help ease the burden at home (e.g., emergency roadside service membership) or a scrapbook that captures activities that an absent family member is missing are all thoughtful offerings. Sharing a prized possession for safe-keeping with your partner during a separation also signifies trust and provides reassurance for your future reunion.

Acts of Service

This one is a little trickier. For families separated by extended assignments or deployment, the partner left with the responsibility of maintaining the household and care and feeding of younger family members may feel particularly burdened as a “semi-single” parent. And when it’s the deployed partner whose love language is providing acts of service, it can be equally frustrating. If your budget allows for it, pay for help with childcare or maid service; if it doesn’t, tap into friends and family to arrange a break for your partner.

Quality Time

You might think that this love language is nearly impossible to master during a physical separation, but modern technology and creativity can combine to make this almost fun! Think “shared experiences” and “time in one another’s presence,” and you can see how a date night streaming a movie together, playing games online, praying together or sharing a candlelight dinner via webcam can help to develop an intellectual, spiritual and emotional bond. Other ideas? Read the same book, work on long-range plans together, or plan a vacation.

Physical Touch

Admittedly, this one is tough. The absence of sensory reassurance through romantic touch is one of the greatest challenges of extended separations. To surmount this, focus on when you will be together next. Whenever possible, set a date for your next meeting. Some couples have saved pillowcases or t-shirts that have their partner’s scent as a sensory memory. As this is a family-friendly site, graphic descriptions are unnecessary, but be reminded that a great deal of intimacy occurs between the ears, so this is another area that calls for creativity. (Be sure to exercise good judgment and internet security; Penelope’s web-based issues were much more manageable than those existing in this century.) Delayed gratification can be ultimately more satisfying. Focus on the long-term part of your relationship and look forward to your meetings.

Many couples have found that physical separation has strengthened their bond as their friendship deepened. Use your time apart to pursue some of your personal goals and develop individual strengths while maintaining a positive outlook regarding your future together. When you reunite, the synergy of two stronger individuals can support a deeper commitment to one another.

Amy Connelly is REA’s Manager of Training and Resource Development. This article is reprinted with permission from Monthly News, published by BR Anchor Publishing.