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Working Hard from Far Away

I’m currently in a long distance relationship.  I know what you’re thinking, “Wow James, that must be really tough.” And you know what dedicated reader, you’re right. It can be really difficult being in a distance relationship. But thankfully, over the past 9 months, I’ve learned a lot about what makes a healthy relationship, and also a lot about what can lead to an unhealthy relationship. So, whether you’re a young guy in a committed relationship in the same town, or a girl in a serious long-distance relationship, hopefully some of these insights will help you build a stronger dating relationship that is glorifying to God.
Communication, communication, communication.
Know what is quite possibly the most important part of a relationship? Communication. I don’t care if you live two hours away or two seconds away, if there is continuous miscommunication you are going to feel like you are fighting a losing battle and question the legitimacy of the relationship. When Meredith and I started getting serious, we started talking on the phone for longer periods of time. During the weekdays, our phone conversations were lasting each night from anywhere to an hour and a half to 3 hours. Now, on face value, this seems fine, most couples in the same town spend that much time together each day. But this was unhealthy. Although the phone is a wonderful invention, there are body language signals and other non-verbal cues that are missed in those conversations. Then feelings get hurt, then you spend another hour on the phone trying to figure out why someone feels bad.  If you are in a long distance relationship, set time limits on phone talks each night, especially if you get to spend the weekends together. Meredith and I discussed it and realized the only reason we were hurting each other was because there was a miscommunication which wouldn’t have happened if we were discussing things in person instead of on the phone.  We also talked and made a promise to each other that when we did talk on the phone, we wouldn’t say things we didn’t feel. If you were upset about something, don’t lie and say it’s ok. When that happens in person, you can figure out body signals that something is wrong. Over the phone, it can be tricked, and when you hang up those hurt feelings are all you can think about for hours afterward, becoming bitter and disheartened.
This one might get me some flack, but it’s my opinion on it. You should pray with your serious dating partner. Here’s my explanation. I dated a girl in college for a long time, and never prayed with her because I was told that your most intimate relationship was with God and you shouldn’t share that with anyone but your husband/wife. That’s bull. You share that relationship with everyone you pray with in groups and in church every week. Your relationship with God is the most intimate you have, and if you are dating someone with marriage on the mind, it is unhealthy to hold that back and keep it from them. They need to know that part of you before you get married, not afterwards. I’m not talking sitting down for four hours and praying nonstop, but take five minutes now and then to pray for the relationship and for each other. It’s healthy. On this same note, I recommend getting a devotional for dating couples. A lot of the devotionals are pretty silly, but these books come with questions to discuss at the end of each week. The questions are the best part, because it sets a place for discussion about your opinions and attitudes about different aspects of life.
Physical Boundaries.
This is tough, no matter if you are in the same town, or 15 hours away. When young couples are together, there is obviously going to be attraction that you’re going to want to act on. On Meredith and I’s 4th date, we sat down and talked about what boundaries we needed to put in place, and how to go about keeping them there. Have we been tempted? Yes. Have we wanted to break the rules we set? Yes. But if you both agree to rules in the beginning and promise to stick with them, it makes things a lot easier. You don’t end up magically in the bed with no clothes on. There’s steps to that. Make boundary rules that stop the steps before they even start. Here’s a few practical ones that have worked great for us. 1. When in the other’s bedroom hanging out (pretty common if you have roommates) the door stays open. 2. No staying the night at the other’s house. 3. Don’t hang out late at night. If it’s four am and you guys are still “watching a movie” on her couch, leave. 4. Have accountability partners that are asking you about what you’re doing, and be completely honest with them.
Make an effort.
Don’t be content with just going on boring dates and talking on the phone during the week. Send each other letters. Surprise each other with small signs of affection. Shortly after I started dating Meredith, I told her that we would not longer be going on dates, but on “Mini-adventures.” Did I do this because I loved the extra effort it took into coming up with a puzzle for her to figure out to see where we were going to dinner? No. But I knew that she felt loved when I did those kind of things so I did them. Find out the way your partner feels the most loved, and make an effort to do those things. It takes more time, it takes more money and it takes more investment. But it makes them feel loved and affirmed, and that is worth it.
Do what you will with these pieces of advice. I obviously have dating no where close to figured out, but through trial and error, these are some common threads which I think are helpful for seriously dating couples. In the end, I think dating looks a little bit different for everyone, so this may have to be tweaked, but as long as you keep glorifying God as the primary purpose of your relationship, it’ll al work out in the end.


James Harris

James is probably the 3rd or 4th funniest guy you know. Funny enough to invite to a party; not witty enough to talk about later. Co-Founder and Content Editor of Everyday Exiles, Director of College Ministry at Reynolda Church, EPC, and husband to Meredith. He has a dog named Calvin, a cat named Opie, and a robot vacuum named Alfred.

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