Hello Blue Jays! We’re really starting to see and feel autumn (at least here in Baltimore) these past few weeks. It’s definitely becoming cozy season. But what should you do when you’re in an LDR and your person isn’t physically close to you? Read on for our answer.
Q: What are your biggest tips for maintaining a strong connection for long-distance relationships? What if one person has graduated and started working while the other is still in college?
A: Are some of you reading my diary? Just kidding. But this question resonates with me. My partner is halfway through a PhD program far away, and clearly, I have an amazing job giving relationship advice (among other things).
The Gottmans (a married couple who are also world-renowned mental health professionals) have this concept of a relationship being like a bank account. Positive interactions are deposits in that bank, and stressors and other negative interactions are withdrawals. The way we do daily deposits is creating and turning towards what the Gottmans call “bids for connection,” which are small moments of affection and intimacy. Like a savings account, every deposit helps you prepare for future hard times.
For LDRs, there are additional stressors or potential hurdles to maintaining that connection, which can look different from behind a screen. Time differences and a lack of physical touch and closeness are things that can make LDRs harder. Understand that your stressors and needs are different from your partner’s, due to one of you being a student and one of you being a working professional.
So, my recommendation is to sit down with your partner and communicate what is realistic for you both in terms of schedule and emotional capacity. But also remember, like other priorities and responsibilities, you must try to make time for each other. This only works if both of you put in the work. Don’t wait for the perfect time to make those bids; create the time.
It’s also helpful to communicate about periods when one person will be busy and not be able to make time, like an important assignment or work presentation. This saves a lot of confusion, frustration, and disappointment (aka withdrawals). Both of you must be organized about your own lives and responsibilities to find time and opportunities to create those bids for affection, and to give each other a heads up if something is going to take away some time for your relationship.
I would also caution you about how meaningful the bids for attention are.
I love a Netflix watch party the same as the next person, but is that the most impactful facilitator of connection and intimacy?
Does one person vent about their day, but also doesn’t talk about things they are excited for ,or ask what the other person is looking forward to this week?
I invite you to build upon what you already do as a LDR couple and see if that could look different in a way that fosters deeper intimacy. If you send a message, could it be a short video or a voice note? If you carve out some time to video call, could you do something fun as a way to experience something new together as a couple? And of course there are a variety of forums, apps, websites, and items that can help LDR couples continue to feel closer to one another.
In any kind of intimate relationship, open communication is essential. It’s one of the three target behaviors of the university’s “I Ask, I Listen, I Respect” campaign. It is up to all of us at Hopkins to:
to ASK our partners about what they like and their boundaries;
to LISTEN to what our partners share about what they are comfortable with and how they would like to experience pleasure and joy; and
to RESPECT the boundaries our partners share around their bodies and lives, and their expectations around pleasure and joy.
Tyler and Jay
As always, you can submit your questions to Dear Tyler + Jay using the link listed below.
Note: DT&J is intended to educate and spark discussion. The advice offered is intended for informational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological, or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. If you need help getting started, you can email email@example.com.