In six days Paula will be heading up to Tauranga to start placement, leaving me facing a long seven weeks down here. It's quite surreal thinking how after so long seeing each other every day, we're gonna go weeks without seeing each other at all (profound I know!). We've done the long distance thing before when Paula has had other placements, and have learnt some stuff along the way. Here are some things I've learnt, and that I plan to draw on over the next few weeks...
Recognise that what you do can make or break the relationship. I guess this one applies whether you're doing long-distance or not. Nonetheless, I reckon long-distance just steps things up a notch in this regard. I've seen couples come through long distance and look back on it as a positive thing, and I've also seen relationships crumble over it. Doing long distance is undeniably a testing time for relationships, and they can either come through refined and strengthened, or weakened and broken. It's important to realise right from the outset that to foster a relationship that continues to thrive despite the distance requires considerable time and effort, but that if done well they can be fondly remembered as times where love actually deepened and grew.
Write letters. In this age of emails, skype and call plans, its easy to forsake the age old thing of putting pen to paper and writing a good old-fashioned letter. In my experience, this would be one of the worst things to do! Paula and I have found that this is one of the key things that have helped to make long-distance not only bearable, but also a growing experience. Making a habit of writing letters to each other has the obvious benefit that you get the pleasure of opening an envelope that isn't your latest bank statement. There's just something cool about opening a letter that actually means something. Sitting down to write a letter also forces you to think about new and interesting ways to articulate your feelings and thoughts, which leads to some of the benefits I'll describe tomorrow. Finally, letters have the major benefit that you're much more likely to hold on to them and look back on them than emails. I've talked to a married couple who look back on letters written in the early days as sources of inspiration and encouragement. Already in our relationship we've found it cool reminiscing on the things we wrote and talked about in our letters. It may take a bit of your time, but I'd say writing letters is one of the crucial bits of advice I'd give any couple facing the long distance challenge.
As it turns out, I wrote quite a bit on these points and its turning into quite an essay, so I'll include the other points as a second installment tomorrow!