10 Stages of Long-Distance Relationships

10 Stages of Long-Distance Relationships

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Written by Mary Polanski

If you've been in a long-distance relationship for a while, you'll be quite familiar with the emotions and feelings we're going to talk about here. Perhaps you've never analyzed them, and you may even have weathered them without realizing how you actually dealt with those states of mind. On the other hand, if you're new to an LDR, you are probably apprehensive, which brings us to the first of 10 stages of a long-distance relationship that couples typically go through.


Stage 1: Apprehension or Dread

This is the first of the 10 main stages of a long-distance relationship. It is a pre-emptive emotion that sets in right before you begin your LDR journey. It's not unusual because all of us go through it when faced with a major change in our lives or a big challenge we know is coming our way. Normally, the feeling of dread, fear, or apprehension is associated with our 'fight or flight' response. However, in the case of a long-distance relationship, the emotion may be elevated to a much higher level because of various implications: no more physical contact, the "talk" you're going to inevitably have before you separate, and the actual fear that you'll lose that person in an emotional sense once they move away. If you're not sure you can make it work, this is the time to decide. Don't allow the emotional aspect to cloud your mind. If an LDR is not for you, make up your mind and break it up before you complicate things. A clean break now is better than a messy separation from miles away. That might seem a bit harsh but the reality is that the both of you will be better off being honest about your feelings for each other.


Stage 2: Optimism or Hope

Once you've decided to go ahead and take the plunge into an LDR situation, you immediately start to feel better about it. Thoughts of "we can make it work" and "we're going to do it" occupy your mind in stark contrast to the apprehension you felt the day before. This is a good time to make plans for how you'll communicate, set any travel schedules to allow you to meet up, get the tools you'll need to talk to each other (like downloading the zoom app, for instance), and so on. Enjoy this time, because it is immediately followed by negative emotions once again. One bit of advice for this stage of your long-distance relationship is to be realistically optimistic. A touch of practicality never hurt anyone. Understand that you're not going to remain hopeful or optimistic for an indefinite period. Your trials are only just beginning.


Stage 3: Stress, Usually Needless, aka, Imagination Attracts Fear

Once you're separated by physical distance, everything each of you does is going to cause concern to the other person. Much of this arises from a lack of trust. For instance, if you see your long-distance boyfriend posting party pictures on Instagram, it might trigger negative emotions in your mind. "He's off having fun while I'm miserable" sort of thinking. That's not healthy or constructive, but it is what it is. We all feel a certain amount of angst when someone we love is having a good time without us. The best advice at this point is to start talking to your long-distance lover and begin building real trust between each other. That means making changes to the way you think or react to certain situations, such as seeing your man at a party and obviously having a good time despite the fact that you're a thousand miles away. It also means communicating openly and with a foundation of trust that says "I know you, I love you, and I trust you." That brings us to the fourth stage.


Stage 4: Building a Foundation of Trust

Although this stage should come before the actual separation, it rarely does. What happens is that we have a greater level of control over each other's activities when we're together, but we tend to confuse this control with trust. It's not the same thing, unfortunately. For instance, if I were living in the same city as my girlfriend and we were in a GCR or geographically close relationship (non-LDR, basically), I know that she's not likely to go partying with friends without inviting me. In a sense, I control that scenario simply because I'm present and she would feel awkward doing that. But I can't equate that to the level of trust I'd need to have if we were in a long-distance relationship. Without that trust, negative emotions like anger and jealousy are bound to creep in. With the trust solidly in place, there's no place for such thoughts.


Stage 5: Acclimation and the Formation of Habits

By now, you're probably a few weeks into your LDR and are settling into a routine that's comfortable for both of you. It might be a simple "love you" text in the morning or a daily 'touch base' phonecall lasting a few minutes. Whatever form it takes, understand that this is a transition to getting comfortable with your situation and making the most of it. Therefore, make sure that the habits and routines you develop now can be continued well into the future without making you feel obligated at any point. Talk it out. That's the best way to set a daily routine that both of you are comfortable with.


Stage 6: The Comfort Zone

After a few months, you'll notice that you start going about your daily life without even thinking about your partner. While that can be a good thing in terms of bringing some normalcy back into your life, you should be wary of getting too comfortable or complacent. This is when you typically start taking each other for granted, as is the case in any kind of relationship. That's a big mistake. Check out the stories of these three celebrity LDRs to understand what it means to NOT take your spouse or partner for granted. Respecting each other is vital at this stage because it sets the tone for whether or not the next stage will set in.


Stage 7: Doubt and Uncertainty

Doubt is a relentless enemy of strong relationships, and you can only weather this challenge if you have built a high level of trust and you never, ever take each other for granted. This is the stage that will raise serious questions in your mind about whether the sheer effort is worth it at all. The only way to deal with doubt is to quickly get to the heart of the matter and deal with it as openly as possible. Speak your mind and bare your heart to your significant other, and trust that he or she will do the same. That's the only way past this often frightening stage that tests the very fabric of your relationship.


Stage 8: Reality Check

If you're struggling with Stage 7 but neither of you is actually enjoying the long-distance relationship, it might be time to stop and take stock of the situation. Do you still love each other? Are you willing to wait until you're finally together? Do both of you have the emotional strength to stick through to the end? When you ask yourself hard questions, the answers will guide you into the future. If you are truly meant to be with each other, answering these questions will be easy. Yes, I still love her very much, yes, I'm willing to wait to be with him, yes, we can push through no matter what. This reality check will also help clarify your commitment to each other, which is what an LDR or any relationship is all about.


Stage 9: Stability

At this stage, you've gone far beyond fear, doubt, and other negative emotions. You've decided to stick through whatever happens so you can both reach the finish line together. A kind of peace begins to set in when you realize that you've made the commitment, no matter how long it's going to be. This peace of mind brings emotional stability and you're no longer buffeted by waves of uncertainty. Your mental resolve becomes firm, and you're ready to move to the final stage in your relationship.


Stage 10: Enrichment and the Future

By the time you arrive at this mental state, you're ready to start enhancing your relationship in different ways. You start getting creative about stuff that you can virtually do together, like engaging in VR travel, watching the same movies, or reading the same books, or even pursuing the same hobbies. Everything you do now will further strengthen your relationship and cement the trust and love you have for each other. Your vision is now firmly on the future and what life will be like when you're finally together again. This is when your LDR has gone beyond the physical and emotional and into the spiritual. This is when you know you've found your soulmate.


And So...

Of course, not every couple goes through these 10 stages of a long distance relationship in this exact sequence. You might even skip past some stages depending on how you started out. Couples who were friends before entering into a romantic relationship often go through this 'skipping of stages' because they've already built a high level of trust and familiarity. The stages outlined here are merely the normal course that a typical long-distance relationship will take before it matures into a long-term one. That's the ultimate goal of any relationship; hopefully, one that will last a lifetime.