3 Tips for Long-Distance Relationships
by Amanda Barratt
The car turned the corner and the tiny duplex vanished from sight. As we drove down the street, I swallowed back a lump in my throat. I’d just spent the weekend with dear friends who live over three hours away. For weeks beforehand, I’d anticipated the visit. What we would do—go to our favorite bookstore, and sip chai lattes at a French-inspired coffee shop we both loved. The laughter we’d share. The hours-long conversations—months of stored-up memories poured out as we sat together on the comfy couch. Before I know it, it’s over, leaving behind sweet remembrances, but also the ache of knowing months will pass before we see each other again.
I seem to be fated to do this long-distance thing. As well as the friend above, my other close friend lives in Texas. And once a year or every other year, I gather with a group of like-minded author friends at a national conference. Again, the friendships, where you finish each other’s sentences, laugh at the same stories, and share the same values, are rekindled. After three days, the conference is over, leaving me with wonderful memories, but also with a void.
I know I’m not the only one. Whether it’s a sibling, a military spouse, or your BFF, keeping relationships alive when separated by miles isn’t easy. And there are times when the bitter definitely outweighs the sweet.
One of my heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer could relate. A pastor in WWII Germany, he was imprisoned by the Gestapo for suspected resistance activities. A few months before his arrest, the thirty-six-year-old Bonhoeffer became engaged to eighteen-year-old Maria von Wedemeyer, the granddaughter of a close friend. Having only known each other a short time before their engagement, they faced the struggle of maintaining a relationship restricted to censored letters and supervised, hour-long visits once a month. At first, they regarded the situation with optimism, hoping for Bonhoeffer’s speedy release. But as months dragged on, both Bonhoeffer and Maria dealt with loneliness, and the realization that though they were growing closer through their letters, they were also, in a way, drifting apart. In the midst of this turmoil, Bonhoeffer penned a poem called The Past. Anyone who’s ever endured separation from a loved one will relate to the words of this heartfelt piece.
That Dietrich and Maria continued to courageously deepen their relationship and honestly confront the limitations it presented is a testament to their self-sacrificial love for each other and their trust in God’s will. However, the wedding day they anticipated never came to pass. On April 9, 1945, mere weeks before the war ended, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at Flossenbürg concentration camp. Though heartbroken, Maria moved on, and eventually married. But until the day of her death she cherished the letters she and Dietrich exchanged and the memory of their love.
I often think about Dietrich and Maria’s relationship while struggling with my own across-the- miles friendships. Here are three ways to help you thrive and enjoy the long-distance relationships God gives us.
1. Communicate—It’s easy to keep up with the people we see at church every week, or the neighbor down the street. It takes intentional effort to set aside time to connect with loved ones far away. Maria often wrote Dietrich late at night, after a long day of demanding work, sacrificing rest to invest time in him. My friends and I schedule regular phone calls, and spend hours catching up. We also email and write letters. There’s something particularly special about receiving a handwritten letter in the mail, and thinking about the person who sent it. There are so many ways to connect—FaceTime, Skype, a phone call, or a good old-fashioned letter. It’s also important to schedule time face-to-face, even if it’s only a couple of visits a year. Those times strengthen your relationship, and looking back on the memories made can provide a boost during lonely seasons.
In any relationship, but especially long-distance ones, it’s imperative to be honest when communicating. Silence on the part of another person, a lapse in messages or texts, can be misconstrued. Though it’s important to give grace during difficult seasons, it’s also okay to honestly and lovingly share if you’ve been feeling less than a priority. It’s also important to ask for feedback about how you’ve been doing in the relationship. When on the receiving end of such feedback, consider it with a humble and prayerful heart. Your relationship is more important than pride.
2. Don’t deny the loss—You may have heard it before: it’s okay not to be okay. To be real and raw about the void inside. Your relationship is a gift, a beautiful thing, but that doesn’t eliminate the pain. I still remember standing at the airport years ago, saying goodbye to a dear friend from New Orleans. All of us were trying to hold back tears. Goodbyes are hard. Absences are hard. It’s okay to grieve, to bring your loneliness to God. Never be ashamed of your pain, but instead, let God work through it. He is the ultimate Healer.
3. Invest in other relationships—Sometimes this can be a lot harder than it sounds, especially if you’ve moved away from friends or family and are starting over in a new area. And in the case of an absent spouse or significant other, there’s no way to even begin to replace those relationships. But do invest in others. Loneliness is an epidemic in our day and age, and reaching out to the older woman who lives across the street or the mom who sits behind you every Sunday just might gain you a new friend.
When entering any relationship, keep in mind that comparison is deadly. Your new friend will never replace your bestie living on the opposite side of the country, and expecting them to act as a substitute will only lead to disappointment. However, an open heart and a willingness to invest just may open the door for something special for both of you.
Long-distance relationships may not be easy. Yet with love and perseverance, they can deeply bless and enrich our lives. And whether our separation is temporary or permanent, we can trust in a God who gives us strength and the gift of a relationship with Him greater than any earthly one.
Amanda Barratt is the ECPA best-selling author of the upcoming novel My Dearest Dietrich: A Novel of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Lost Love, releasing from Kregel Publications in June 2019. Connect with her at www.facebook.com/amandabarratauthor and visit her at www.amandabarratt.net.
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