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Long-distance relationship problems appear like the “check engine” light on the dashboard of your beloved, new-but-used car.
Clearly, something’s wrong, but you’re not exactly sure what or how bad it is. And while you can drive around ignoring it for a while, if it’s a serious issue, you’ll be putting yourself and anyone along for the ride in danger.
How do you avert an accident? You believe the “check engine” light and work on finding and fixing the underlying problem.
The Deception of Distance
At first glance, long-distance relationships seem like the lemons of love. Everyone knows they have defects by design, and only a few dare to drive them.
My husband and I dated long-distance for 1.5 years, and surprisingly, the time apart grew our relationship instead of killing it.
We learned that long-distance couples face many of the same challenges as couples who live near each other, but we also discovered that distance can mask the effects of some significant relational issues.
The truth is that in a long-distance relationship, your “check engine” light doesn’t always work. When it does finally flicker up after a disagreement, you’re not sure if it’s because you went over a speed bump or because the frame is falling apart.
Some problems truly are just bumps in the road, like handling miscommunication or figuring out what to talk about. These difficulties will scrape the shiny veneer off your relationship, but they won’t do any long-term damage.
Others are more serious and just as common. If you’re in a long-distance relationship, it’s important to be aware of the causes and solutions of these major issues, so you can catch them and settle them.
Problem #1: Idealizing your relationship
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a warning, not a sentiment.
Long-distance couples are more likely to develop overly positive, distorted and unrealistic views of each other. This fact is backed up by research, and it makes sense when you consider how rarely you see each other interacting in “real life.”
While idealization is not usually intentional, its consequences can be serious. If you move or marry before the veil over your flaws is lifted, you may discover things about each other that wish you’d known earlier.
Solution: Seek clarity
The most effective way to combat idealization is to seek as much Christ-centered clarity as possible about your relationship.
You’ll never know every irksome tendency, nor will you find a person who has none. Still, you can try to discern each other’s character through practical steps, such as:
- Ask intentional questions on important topics
- Discuss your relationship with close friends and family
- Identify each of your strengths and weaknesses
- Pray for wisdom and discernment from God
If your entire relationship has been long-distance, you may want to consider moving to the same city before you get married. We decided to do that, and those six months helped us form a more realistic idea of what life together would be like.
Problem #2: Dragging on an unhealthy relationship
At its best, distance makes you realize how deeply you love each other. At its worst, distance is used as a cover for deeper relationship problems.
I think this long-distance relationship problem is more common than people realize, and it’s why long-distance couples are often viewed with suspicion.
Sadly, sometimes, one person just isn’t as invested in the relationship as the other. Distance encourages the committed person to bravely hope that things will get better while allowing the less-committed person to drift away without any consequences.
Others are more honest about their feelings, but they’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary for the relationship to last. These people hop between cities and countries for years, with no plans for the distance to end.
Solution: Be realistic
Not every relationship lasts, and that’s okay. Those that do require hard work and sacrifice.
Being realistic means taking an honest look into the future. If neither of you can see yourselves moving within the next three or so years, you may want to consider why that’s the case and see if you agree on the purposes of dating and marriage.
The best resource I can recommend for this is The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. That book is what convinced me I wanted to move and marry my long-distance boyfriend.
Problem #3: Fearing a break-up
Jealousy, obsessiveness, and hasty decision-making are all common and serious long-distance relationship problems.
Beneath the surface, however, these behaviors are coping mechanisms for an understandably common internal problem: the fear of breaking up.
This fear is dangerous because it can lead you into abusive situations. The more you fear that your boyfriend will leave you for someone else, the more you’ll be tempted to control him or tolerate him controlling you.
But even if your relationship remains relatively healthy, this fear is concerning for another reason. An aggravated fear of losing your boyfriend signifies that either your sense of meaning, your source of love, or your hopes for the future revolve around a person.
Even the best boyfriend can’t bear the weight of your identity, worth, and purpose. What might surprise you is that you can’t handle it either.
Solution: Surrender control
You and I wouldn’t go searching for significance in another person unless we’d realized our own self-love, self-esteem, and self-actualization isn’t sufficient to make us feel valued.
That observation isn’t meant to demean you but to call your attention to the reality of being human. We are not designed to find purpose within the ephemeral containers of self, lover or career.
As we pour our souls into temporal joys, we are craving and crying out for a meaning that is infinite and everlasting.
The only one who can satisfy those desires is Jesus Christ, and the only real solution for the fear of losing your boyfriend is surrendering control to Him.
Don’t give up hope
If you’re experiencing one of these long-distance relationship problems, don’t be discouraged.
While serious issues can’t be avoided, these problems have solutions. Your relationship isn’t a wreck yet.
It will take humility, self-discipline, and hope, but if you’re committed to each other and to Christ, your relationship can survive.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You probably don’t know everything about the car you drive. Why do you expect yourself to know everything about your relationship?
Seek the advice and empathy of friends and family who care about you, and ultimately, rest in the near, never-ending love of God.