What? You think I am crazy saying there are real benefits to being in a long distance relationship? Well, maybe I am. But before you start thinking that I have totally lost it, give me a chance to explain. If you read my post last Friday, How We Made A Long Distance Relationship Work, then you know that Zach and I found ways to make it less challenging than most people thought it would be. One of the things that neither of us mentioned, though, is that part of what made the distance work is that we saw a lot of positives to our unique situation. Society tells us that all people in relationships must be inseparable and most people tend to live that way. Having the chance to experience a less common way of being in a relationship really forced us to grow and learn a lot both about ourselves and the other person.
1. Being in a long distance relationship allowed us to grow as individuals.
Many people had concerns that Zach and I were so young when we met and that by choosing to stay together through college we would not have the chance to grow as individuals. Learning to be an individual takes a lot of mistakes, new experiences, and time to develop your own opinions and ideas. If we had gone to the same school or had the chance to spend every day together for 5 years we likely would have developed the same interests, opinions, beliefs, and ideas since we would be working on them as a unit. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with this and tons of people do it, but learning who we were as individuals was an important part of deciding if we were a good fit for each other. Since we spent so much time away from each other having vastly different experiences, it allowed us to make our own decisions about what we thought, believed and stood for. We don't always agree on everything and I think that is a great thing! It is good to be challenged and to really think about WHY you believe something and if we had not spent time apart we would not have that opportunity now.
2. Being in a long distance relationship helped us prioritize what we thought was important.
Along with developing unique identities, spending so much time apart let us figure out what we each thought was important. Tons of people who have successful relationships in their late 20s and 30s have told me their tip for success is to figure out what you think is important and to compromise on everything else. As someone who will do anything to avoid confrontation, there is no way I would have taken the time to decide what I thought was important if Zach and I had gone to school together. I would have just simply waited for Zach to decide what he thought was important and then acted as if that was what I thought, too. This probably makes me sound super pathetic, but by not considering what I thought was important I never would have been upset if my priorities weren't honored. I would have just gone along and spent time and energy on the things I was supposed to prioritize and neglected things that were not as important to him (even if they were things that I now see are important to me). Having the time and space to decide what we each valued meant that we could decide individually what was important to each of us and then talk about how to make that work when we were back together.
3. Being in a long distance relationship taught us how to communicate.
This one is huge. Long distance relationships fall apart without communication. With the conflict-avoidance issues I mentioned above, I tend to live by the idea that ignoring uncomfortable conversations is the best way to resolve them. When you are in a long distance relationship you find out real quick that ignoring uncomfortable conversations does not work. Zach and I had never really talked about hard, difficult issues or discussed our differences before we went off to school. Part of it could have been that at 17 I couldn't really care less about solving issues and just wanted to continue living in my perfect world filled with rainbows and unicorns. Another part of it is that it is really hard to talk about the hard stuff. Learning how to express concerns and how to work through them without shutting down was a HUGE benefit to our long distance relationship.
We also learned very quickly that love languages were a huge part of communication. Zach's primary love language is physical touch and that was hard to accomplish since I was 800 miles away. My primary love languages are acts of service and quality time. Figuring out what helped him feel appreciated and connected really made the time we were apart more manageable and cut down on pointless arguments. At the beginning of our time apart I remember being so upset because Zach never wrote to me or left messages out of the blue. I wanted to feel like he was thinking of me even when we weren't together. Zach would get upset because I could easily go a week or more without finding time to Skype him and he felt like that meant I didn't care about him. Once we figured this out, it was a lot easier to make sure the other person felt loved and appreciated in a way they could understand. Learning how to accommodate for each other this way makes it WAY easier now that we are living in the same house to work with each other instead of against each other to make sure both of us feel cared for.
4. Being in a long distance relationship helped with time management.
Zach and I are both serial procrastinators. We work well under pressure and doing things at the last minute, even though stressful, is typically how things are done. Being in a long distance relationship really forced us to practice time management in a way I don't think we would have done had we not been in the long distance relationship. Since Zach and I committed to having all of our school work done whenever we visited each other, it meant that we had to make sure to finish assignments early and study well ahead of time to make sure that even if we had to go to school while the other person was there we wouldn't be spending hours in the library finishing an entire months worth of work to be turned in the next Monday. Similarly, if we wanted to FaceTime each other we had to plan ahead for that. Between school schedules, our Sorority and Fraternity commitments, and social lives we really had to be smart about where to fit studying in and how to manage time appropriately to make sure we could do it all.
5. Being in a long distance relationship forced us to be creative.
This is one of my all time favorites. Since we could not do the typical dinner and movie dates that other college kids were doing and since we obviously couldn't attend parties together, Zach and I had to get really creative in how we made sure we were still spending quality time together and not just putting in the required or expected number of minutes with the other person. We did all kinds of crazy things from having virtual dinner dates to comparing notes after watching the same movie in two different cities. A few times we even picked a book to read together and would call each other every week to talk about it- kinda like a book club but we were the only two in it. This made for some really fun memories for both of us and we still try to think of fun and creative ways to spend time together.
These five things are definitely things that we could not have done had we not been in a long distance relationship. We spent 5 years apart, but the same benefits can be found whether you are long distance for a week, a month, or a year. Zach and I have even noticed that these things are useful when he goes on work trips and is gone for a weekend! These five things really strengthened our relationship and made it so we could handle the challenges of transitioning back to living in the same area.
For those of you that have been in long-distance relationships of any kind before, what were some of the positives that you noticed? And for those of you that haven't, what are some of the things you think would be the hardest? I would love to know what you all think!