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The Challenge of Long-Distance Relationships

More and more young couples are struggling with launching two separate careers at the same time that they are launching a relationship or a marriage together. Having spent endless hours with each other in college, grad school or during a first job, they feel ready to commit to each other. Having focused time and intent on a career-in-the-making, they feel equally committed to their vocations. Often enough, the first rung of the ladder at their respective careers is in different cities. So,being Generation Yers — modern, forward thinking, and ambitious — they decide that a few years of distance won’t hurt. After all, they are meant for each other. They are meant for their jobs. And they are meant to have both.


The strains on a long-distance relationship are many and intense. Frequently, couples in this situation quote “absence makes the heart grow fonder” as a way of reassuring themselves and each other that their love will sustain them over the difficulties of distance and time. But unless both partners are committed to doing the very hard work of being together alone, their relationship will soon fall to another, equally common saying: “Out of sight, out of mind.” The immediate demands of work and the availability of attractive, available singles can, and regularly do, overwhelm good intentions and even love.

What can a couple do to preserve their love and relationship over the miles? Here are some key characteristics of couples that make it.

Both members of the couple are committed to the commitment. All relationships have their ups and downs. All relationships have times when one or the other partner feels held back, misunderstood, not given enough, left in the dust, or any of a whole host of less-than-wonderful feelings. The couples that make it, whether they live together or apart, are those that understand that this is a natural part of a long-term commitment. Working through difficult times usually strengthens and betters the relationship.

The long-distance couple is especially challenged during these times. When people live together, there are hundreds of little opportunities every day to connect, to reassure, to touch, to pick up a conversation that was too hard to finish an hour ago, to try again and again. The long distance couple needs to take the time to phone, to e-mail, to stay in contact even when it would be so much easier and more pleasant not to.

Both members keep their partners visible to the people around them, as well as to themselves. Couples who live together generally share at least some friends, go home to each other at the end of the day, and make references to each other quite often, just because it’s a natural part of the day. They may not realize it, but being so visibly “coupled” helps create a context for themselves within their community and workplaces that helps to maintain the couple. People around them see them as part of a couple, not as single and available.

The colleagues and friends of a person in a long-distance relationship aren’t as apt to see their friend as part of a couple because the couple isn’t visible. It falls on each member of the couple to make it happen anyway. Pictures on the desk, references to phone calls and conversations, stories about the partner, and introducing the partner to everyone during visits are all ways that a person makes it clear that he or she is “coupled.” The result is support for the relationship.

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The Challenge of Long-Distance Relationships

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). The Challenge of Long-Distance Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.