by Neil Rosenthal
Dear Neil: Could you talk about the struggles of being in a long-distance relationship? My boyfriend is in the Army and we’ve been braving the distance for over a year, but military relationships are difficult, and we have pitfalls. I have struggled with having such little control over our relationship due to the Army’s agenda and the money constraints. It’s difficult to plan our future, it’s hard to deal with him not being around, and it’s hard to have to sit on the sidelines when he visits-since he is in such high demand with his family and friends. Can you offer any advice? – Struggling Military Girlfriend
Dear Girlfriend: Here are some suggestions for keeping a relationship strong when you are in a long-distance relationship:
• Stay in touch on a day-to-day basis-or as close to that as possible. And don’t fall out of touch.
• Make sure you’re sharing your hearts-not just information or thoughts when you communicate with each other. Write romantic, intimate e-mails. Do the same with phone calls.
• Find ways that will allow you to stay involved in each other’s worlds by asking about the other person’s interests, activities and feelings, and other person’s world and by sharing yours.
• Spend one time a week on a “date,” playing cards or Internet games together or watching a movie at the same time-and then talking or e-mailing afterwards-and make sure you keep all on-line or phone dates..
• Talk about your future together. I am making the assumption that you eventually want to end up together. If so, agree on an end goal-a specific time when the separation is going to end.
• Make sure you follow up on all promises or agreements with immediate action.
• Read a couple’s self-help book together-by e-mail or phone-and work all the couple’s exercises together.
• When you do see each other again, consider a weekend (or longer) vacation for only the two of you, and go someplace special.
Dear Neil: I have been with my boyfriend for a year and a half. I’m 30 and he’s 29. Our relationship is on the decline, and we have split up a couple of times due to increasing issues between us. In talking to my therapist, he says that my relationship will never work unless we get relationship counseling, but my boyfriend refuses to go. I have only brought up the therapy aspect with my boyfriend once, and he was adamant about not going.
So my question: How do I suggest that we go to counseling in a way that might be more appealing to him? If we don’t do something drastic, I am going to leave the relationship. – Discouraged in Denver
Dear Denver: Try something like: “If we don’t go to someone and get some help so that I can (fill in the blank) feel more supported/feel more respected/feel as if we’re communicating with each other more effectively/feel closer and more connected/not feel afraid to tell you I’m upset, I’m going to leave this relationship.”
If that doesn’t work, leave. For some people, it takes that in order for the message to truly sink in that you’re unhappy with the relationship the way it is now, and you require a partner who is responsive to your needs, wishes and requests.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, heartrelationships.com.