20 May 2013

A relationship abroad: long-distance.

I've been on my year abroad for almost nine months now (I could have harvested a human in that time) and I haven't really posted anything about what has been the biggest feature for me; my relationship. I don't know why that is. Maybe it's because I thought people wouldn't really want to read benign ramblings about somebody else's relationship or that, since this is a travel blog, I should mainly stick to blogging about places I've been and things I've seen. But I've blogged about some other personal things before (for example here and here) and since this really is such a huge factor for me, I thought I should eventually write something about it and hopefully clarify and give advice on a few things along the way for people who are also going to be in the same situation when they take the leap and jet off on their year abroad.

Before I get into this post and start giving out any advice, I'd like to tell you a little bit about myself and Paul, my boyfriend. This is us:
The oldest of these photographs (top-left) dates back to 2009 when we'd been together for about 6 months and the newest (bottom-right) is from when Paul came to visit me in France in October. I don't have any which are more recent because out of the 45 weeks there has been since September, we've only spent six of them together so have had no time to think about getting photos of ourselves. (P.S. I don't know why I'm always on the left of him whenever we get a photo taken together. Maybe it's because he's my right-hand man? I'm sorry for yet another bad pun, I didn't even plan that one).

From the dates above you can see that we've been together for quite a while (it'll be five years in October of this year - a big one!) and we've really grown to be best friends, so for us to go from living together in the same house to being separated by hundreds of miles was quite a difficult experience. There were a few people in France who were also going through the long-distance thing so I was able to talk to them when I saw them now and again, but here in Spain I'm the only one in my situation and it certainly feels that way. People are really supportive and I'd like to thank them for that (if they're reading), but it still doesn't detract from the fact that your better half is over a thousand miles away in a different country.

So, how have we managed almost nine months apart (it'll be ten by the time I go home!) and only seeing each other for a short while every eight weeks or so? Well, it hasn't been without its lows, but here are a few tips I can offer based on my personal experiences. (Remember though, every relationship is different and you know what works best for you, so when you're reading the following points try and think about them in terms of your relationship!)

  1. Have "the talk" - it's no use being in a relationship knowing that one of you is going abroad for a semester or two and just plain ignoring that fact. Talk about it as soon as you know you will be going abroad; you're both mature adults and can handle a heart-to-heart. If you start out strong, you'll stay strong. 
  2. Plan your visits - 45 weeks apart sounds like a long time, doesn't it? I'll let you in on a secret: I only really said that for effect. Cut the big scary year up into tiny, non-terrifying, manageable chunks and you will be just fine. Like I said, Paul and I have seen each other periodically for a week or so (three at Christmas) every two months. There, it doesn't seem so bad now, does it? If you can't fully organise visits before you leave, at least try to hammer out a rough plan.
  3. Trust each other - A thousand miles between you can put bad ideas in your heads (like thinking the other is out pulling somebody new or generally just being jealous that others are spending time with them and you're not), but if you trust each other right from the outset, you won't have a problem. If you've had a bumpy past, you might have to work a bit harder, but always, always be truthful to one another.
  4. Skype a lot - Communication is key when in a long-distance relationship. Send morning texts or messages through facebook to let them know you're thinking about them and then make plans to Skype in the evenings or when you can. Just like if you were at home, if you were to stop communicating then the relationship would most likely breakdown. It is of even more importance when you're apart.
  5. Also don't Skype too much - Paul and I have been guilty of Skyping too much and ending up having four hour-long calls where we don't say much at all or end up having nothing to say to each other because we just Skyped the day before. Find a good balance; try to Skype once every couple or once every few days, it gives you a chance to miss them more. If you really can't stay away from Skype (like we can't), try watching a film or your favourite TV programme together online, or download Skype games like chess (like we did. Ahem).

When I asked Paul what his number one tip would be for doing long distance he said "just don't do it," because it is a very hard test to put yourselves through, but I think also because it's marginally harder for the person staying at home because at least you, the person going abroad, will have a lot of new experiences to take your mind off some of it (which for one minute does not make you a bad person, you just have a lot to think about when you move to a new country).

So then what would my number one piece of advice be? To quote Winston Churchill, it would probably be this:

"If you're going through hell, keep going."

This has always resonated with me in every aspect of my life, not just because my Granda Albert looks like Winston Churchill, but because I'm not the type of person who would ever let myself give up on something whether it be a project, a subject or degree choice or a relationship. I know I'd always be hard on myself for just letting myself give up so this is exactly what I do: I keep going. It doesn't matter how hard it seems at the time, if there is a goal you want to achieve and you're willing to work hard enough then there's no reason you should ever stop trying.

Looking back, I'm quite amazed but extremely proud of us because I remember how I felt when I was getting ready to leave for my year abroad; scared and anxious that we'd not make it the whole year (which is probably how you feel right now, am I right?) But I think if you follow the tips presented in this (now rather lengthy) blog post, then you'll set yourself up for success. If you ever need any questions answered from somebody who's done it all, you can hit the comment box or alternatively ask for my email and I will gladly help you.

Basically, things are never as hard as they first seem.
Carey. Follow my blog with Bloglovin'!

14 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for doing this post, lots of couples including me and my boyfriend will have to try to get through this too and I've been really worrying about it! But I just keep thinking, it's only 7 months, France isn't that far, and thank god for Skype!!!

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    1. No problem, I thought that since I had a hard time before I went away I should at least try to help people in the same situation! Exactly, the more you cut it down (time AND distance-wise) the easier it will seem. I really hope this post has helped! Let me know if you have any questions at all.

      Carey.

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  2. Great post! My boyfriend has been studying in Canada for the last three years (back in the UK for Christmas and his 4-month Summer) then I've been on my year abroad this year too so I complete get the whole long-distance thing!

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    1. Wow! My year abroad seems like a baby step compared to that! Hats off to you both. It's hard but if two people really want it to work then they can make it work! Well done.

      Carey.

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  3. Thank you! I've got a very similar attitude to you, but my better half is very anxious about my impending year abroad. I'm going to show your post to him later, so he can see that it isn't just us and it is doable!

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    1. No worries! If he has any questions about the home-side of things I'll try and either pass them on to my boyfriend to get some answers or try my best to give some advice. Let him know it really isn't as hard as it first seems, you can both do it!

      Carey.

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  4. Thank you for this! It's really reassuring to see that couples do make it to the other side, but what did your boyfriend do to cope? As you say it does seem harder for the one staying at home...

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    1. Thank you :) I'm not sure if it's gotten easier or harder now that we can see the finish line, but we're getting there!

      I just asked him your question and he replied with: spending more time with his friends, Skype, coming to terms with the fact that I wouldn't be there before I actually left (see tip #1!), booked to come and see me (to give us both something to look forward to, I think), looked at pictures, asked me about my day (and I asked about his), joined a gym, took up a new hobby.

      I think what he did to cope was basically emerge himself in his own life as much as possible because this experience can also be seen as learning to grow without one another, but also not forgetting that you're great together. He's been really, really supportive as well which I think makes it easier on both people in the relationship. Hope this helps!

      Thank you so much to whoever wrote this comment, you've given me an idea for a blog post for when I return home!

      Carey.

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  5. Very Interesting post. Another thing people going on year abroads should be aware of....is the potential to fall in love.

    I went to study in Brisbane, 7 years ago, for the year. Hopefully this August, my boyfriend will be moving to the UK and we will finally get to live together properly. To cut a long story short, after 1 year together in australia we've spent the last 6 working the LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP. (We both had degrees to finish, then i moved there for a while and came back here to start another degree while he went to work in the oil industry all around the world......)

    I could not agree more with Carey and the advice she gives here. Communication is Key. It can be very difficult for the person "left behind/not having the fun new adventures", but equally the person that is "away" can often miss being home and the banality and security of home life. And to follow on from Carey's "don't skype too much"... Seriously, "don't skype too much"... you are on your year abroad to experience life in another country. Skype dates are all great and good, but don't let them turn you into the person that never goes to do/see anything because you have a skype date. you need to maintain the balance as otherwise there is no point in you being away on your year abroad.

    Whether you are going on your year abroad in love, or you find it while you are there and have to come home without..... Stay strong, keep talking, trust you relationship, and have fun.

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    1. Wow, I'm so impressed that you've been working on it for 6 years! I wish you both all the happiness in the world, you deserve it after that.

      Your point about missing the banality of home life is so right - I recently went home for a couple of weeks and when I was there I realised I'd missed the grey skies, cool weather, even the specific smells and sounds of home life.

      Thanks for you input.
      Carey.

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  6. Thank you for this, a lot of blogs I have read seem sceptical at the idea of a long distance relationship working. I am the 'other half' my boyfriend is going to Spain for a year and it is such a difficult position to be in joining in his excitement and enthusiasm whilst trying to control the fear of what may be- I am reassured by your advice, as most of it we have already sat down and talked about (which is surprising in itself as we're not really the type to plan ahead or talk about serious stuff) but I strongly agree with your ideology about fighting through it, I see myself with my boyfriend for years to come, 3 years together and one year apart...why give up on it? At most we will be apart for 2 months also (providing travel plans go ahead) so I genuinely feel so relieved to read a positive, yet honest and realistic experience that it can go right, providing their is joint effort and trust. Thank you again for your kind words :)

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    1. I am really glad this post helped you! I understand that it must be so hard to be the one being "left behind" (you're not really, you get to join in too when he tells you all about it and when you visit!) but like you said, you just have to fight through it.

      That was my thinking, too, I thought why waste 4 years together just because we're going to be apart for a while? There are so many worse things that can break a relationship up.

      If you're worried about how to cope, read a couple of comments above to see a short overview of what my boyfriend did to keep himself going. I plan on doing a "guest-post" by him when I return home as well so watch this space!

      Carey.

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  7. I read your post and really agree with what you said. You've written it well and really explained how to make it all that easier. I've been in a long distance relationship for almost 3 years with us being on different sides of the world so I could definitely relate to this. It's nice to know there's people out there who go through the same experience and deal with it well. Thanks for writing this! =D

    beauteebeauty.blogspot.com

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    1. Thank you so much! It helps to know that I'm writing concisely and that people can understand what I'm going on about.

      Writing about this has made me realise just how many people have been/will be in the same situation as me so I'm glad I wrote it, but it has also helped me see that there are people who have been doing this for years! Which just adds another reason to the list of "reasons to at least try." There are so many great examples out there, like yourself and other people who have commented, so I hope people can take away good points from the post but also from the comments.

      Thanks for taking the time to read!

      Carey.

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