Long-distance relationships: surviving the change
If you’re in a long-distance relationship, you probably already have some ingenious ideas for making things work with your partner. But have you started preparing for the time when you move closer together?
Chances are you aren’t planning for your relationship to be permanently long distance. You may already be looking ahead to a time when you and your partner will be able to live in the same town, or even the same home. And, while that anticipation might be really exciting, there’s a lurking danger that things might not go as smoothly as you hope.
We know from research that long-distance couples risk facing greater instability when they move closer together. In fact, the longer they spend apart, the more likely they are to feel unstable, or even break up, when they get back together. One study showed that 82% of couples broke up when they moved closer together .
However, all is not lost. Having managed the long-distance situation, it’s likely you already have a good idea of what makes a relationship strong and happy. Studies have shown that couples in long-distance relationships often report having similar or even better relationship satisfaction to those in geographically close relationships . Many long-distance couples also report having higher levels of trust and, thanks to the availability of video calls and instant messaging, are happier with the way they communicate with their partners  .
All of this, however, runs the risk of creating unrealistic expectations of how the relationship will be when it is no longer long-distance. Couples who only get to see each other on the occasional weekend have a tendency to idealise each other and romanticise the relationship. When you live far apart, it is much easier to present the best side of yourself and keep you unpleasant habits and grumpy morning face out of sight of your partner .
One of the reasons it may be tough getting back together is that the non-idealised versions of yourselves suddenly have to get to know each other. Any transitional point in a relationship can be difficult to navigate, and switching from a long-distance relationship to a geographically-close one is no different.
If you’ve talked about living together, try living separately at first, and adjust to being in the same town before you share a home. Moving in together can present challenges for any couple, so if you’re accustomed to being apart from one another, it’s worth paying particular attention to how you manage the change.
Many of your routines and behaviours will be different, including sex. Increased availability may run the risk of making things feel less special or important. Talk to each other about what you want and figure out together how it’s going to work for you. Try not to put too much pressure on yourselves for everything to be perfect. Focus on the positives and enjoy the fact that you can do things together that you couldn’t before.
One of you may also be adjusting to living in a new town, which can be stressful in itself. If you’re the one who has moved, give yourself some time to discover your own things, rather than just falling into your partner’s routine. If your partner has moved closer to you, join in with their exploration by finding new places together that neither of you has been to before.
Give each other a bit of space so you can still be yourselves. Accept that it is a period of adjustment and take things slowly, particularly in the first few months. Talk to each other about what you both want from the relationship, and then work slowly towards your shared goal, allowing it to unfold slowly and naturally.
It may be a shock to the system, but the more openly you communicate about the changes, the easier you’ll find it to deal with the change together and come out smiling on the other side.
 Dargie, E., Blair, K., Goldfinger, C., & Pukall, C. (2013). Go Long! Predictors of Positive Relationship Outcomes in Long Distance Dating Relationships. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2013.864367
 Crystal Jiang, L., & Hancock, J. T. (2013). Absence Makes the Communication Grow Fonder: Geographic Separation, Interpersonal Media, and Intimacy in Dating Relationships. Journal of Communication, 63(3), 556–577
 Stafford, L., & Merolla, A. J. (2007). Idealization, reunions, and stability in long-distance dating relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24(1), 37–54
 Lydon, J., Pierce, T., & O’Regan, S. (1997). Coping with moral commitment to long-distance dating relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(1), 104–113