The Roadmap to Navigating Long Distance Dating or Engagement

How to Build a Relationship You Love–Even When You’re Far Apart

Britt and I got engaged the summer between my junior and senior year of college.

We met as freshmen during Welcome Week at Grand Canyon University (lopes up!) in Phoenix and started dating shortly after. We saw each other every day and slowly built an incredible relationship filled with lots of quality time together. 

But that summer between junior and senior year, I had a job in Phoenix and decided to stay down there instead of coming back home to the midwest. 

We spent the final month of our dating season long distance, we got engaged, then we spent the first two months of our engagement long distance. 

It was incredibly hard.

But at the same time, it forced us to find new ways to love and serve each other… in the end, I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. 

A few reminders…

If you’re in a season of long distance while you’re dating or engaged, I want to start by sharing a few reminders:

1. This is just a season. 

Like anything, this is just a temporary season. Read that again… long distance is NOT forever. It will come to an end. Maybe not tomorrow, next week, or next month, but there is a finish line. 

2. You’re not alone.

Hopefully you didn’t skip over my intro… you’re not alone, friend. We went through long distance and soooo many other couples have to as well. We get DMs on Instagram all the time from couples wondering how to get through it. You’re also not alone if this season is harder than you expected. 

3. Don’t waste this opportunity. 

Even though this is just a season, don’t sit around waiting for it to end. Take this opportunity to find new/creative ways to love your future spouse. Learn how to communicate better, how to speak their love language, and how to grow together.

Okay, let’s get into some of the practical things you came here for.

Start With Setting Expectations

Don’t skip ahead to the sections about tips for dating and connection! This is super important. 

Whether you’re about to enter into a season of long distance, or you’re already in it, the first thing you should do is set and discuss expectations. 

Unmet expectations are the fastest way to frustration in any relationship (more on that in our online premarital course).

There are three types of unmet expectations:

  1. Unrealistic (example in a long distance relationship: “he will drive 10 hours every weekend to see me”)
  2. Unspoken (example: “she should just know that I like when she texts me cute selfies”)
  3. Unconscious (something that you didn’t even realize you expected, but you do)

The super simple way to overcome this?

Just talk about your expectations early and often. 

For dating and engaged couples, we’d recommend talking about and setting expectations before you’re long distance (or ASAP) in a few different areas.

Expectations Around Communication

Because you’re not in person, communication can get tricky. Particularly how, when, and how often you communicate with each other throughout the day or week. Do you expect to text each other throughout the day? Will you FaceTime every night? Do you want a call over lunch time? There’s not a right or wrong answer here, but it is important to talk about how you’ll communicate with each other. 

Expectations Around Dating

Dating is tricky when you’re long distance, but not impossible (I’ll share some date ideas below). When Britt and I were long distance, we tried to have fun FaceTime dates and generally just make the best of a not-super-fun situation. What are your expectations around dating? Do you expect to go all out each week? Do you expect to do some small things here and there? What does dating even look like when you’re long distance? Take some time to talk it through.

Expectations Around Travel/Seeing Each Other

Now, there may be some instances where the expectation is literally, “We won’t be able to see each other for this period of time.” However, if you are able to travel to see each other, it’s important to get on the same page. How often will you do this? Who will pay for it? Where will you stay? 

Just a quick note: we do recommend couples try to see each other in person during the LDR phase if possible. We were long distances for 3 months and saw each other in the middle for a week.

Expectations Around Boundaries With the Opposite Gender

It’s generally pretty easy to set and maintain boundaries with the opposite gender when you’re not long distance. When you aren’t seeing your future spouse, though, sometimes those boundaries can get a little more fuzzy. We have a popular blog on this topic here.

Expectations Around Spiritual Intimacy

You should still be growing your spiritual intimacy even when you’re not living near each other. What does that look like for you? Will you call each other after church and discuss the sermon? Will you pray and/or read your bible together? Again, no one-size-fits-all approach here, but you should get on the same page. 

Expectation Questions

If you’ve been around Love Your First Year, you know we love these :) Here is a list of expectation questions you and your partner should discuss:

Communication Expectations:

  • How often do we expect to communicate each day?
  • What is our preferred mode of communication (text, call, video chat)?
  • Are there specific times of the day when we expect to be in touch?
  • How do we feel about communication during work or school hours?
  • Should we schedule regular check-ins, or do we prefer spontaneous contact?

Dating & Quality Time:

  • How will we keep the romance alive from a distance?
  • What are our expectations for virtual dates?
  • How often do we want to have special online date nights?
  • Do we have preferred activities for our virtual dates?
  • How can we make each other feel special and valued from afar?

Travel & Visits:

  • How often do we expect to visit each other?
  • Who will be responsible for travel expenses?
  • Are there any specific times or occasions we want to prioritize for visits?
  • What are our expectations for the duration and nature of these visits?
  • How do we balance the desire to see each other with our other commitments?

Boundaries:

  • What boundaries do we want to set regarding friendships with the opposite gender?
  • How will we communicate our boundaries to each other and respect them?
  • Are there particular situations or events we should discuss to maintain trust?
  • How do we handle jealousy or insecurity in a long-distance relationship?

Spiritual Intimacy:

  • How can we grow spiritually together while apart?
  • What does church look like when we aren’t together?
  • Should we discuss bible studies or sermons together?
  • How will we support each other’s spiritual growth?

Handling Conflict:

  • How do we expect to resolve disagreements when we're not physically together?
  • What communication strategies can we use during conflicts?
  • How can we ensure we’re both heard and understood in disagreements?
  • Are there specific topics we need to approach with extra care?

Planning for the Future:

  • How do we view the future of our relationship?
  • Are we on the same page regarding the timeline for ending the long distance?
  • How will we make decisions about where to live or work in the future?
  • What are our long-term goals as a couple?

Make a Plan

One of the common mistakes we see couples make is thinking they will just go with the flow through a long distance relationship. This is a surefire way to hit lots of speed bumps. 

Instead, you need to make a plan. 

Beyond just setting expectations (which is a great first step!), you then need to take those expectations and turn them into a plan. I’m not saying you need an LDR planner with detailed steps and sticky notes, but you should both know what you’re walking into and where you’re going next.

The easiest way to do this is to start with the expectations you just discussed and simply take action. 

So for example, if you said you expect to see each other in person once per month, take out the calendar and decide on the dates you’re going to do that. 

A few more examples from the list above:

  • If you said you would FaceTime each night, set a recurring reminder on your phone
  • If you said you would have a “date” once per week, make a dating schedule with who will plan the date
  • If you said you would do a bible study on Sundays with each other, decide which plan you’d like to start with in the Bible App

Hopefully you get the gist. 

If you don’t do this, your time apart will quickly pass you by. And instead of making progress in your relationship (ie, hopefully preparing for marriage), you’ve just spent a few months away from each other and you’re back to where you started. 

Long distance can and should be a great way to grow your relationship… but only if you take action.

Avoid Common Speed Bumps

Friend, long distance is hard. I don’t want to sugar coat it for you. We are designed for community and relationships, so when the one you love most is not next to you, it’s not easy. 

At this point, you’ve discussed expectations, you’ve started making your plan, and now it’s time to be on the lookout for speed bumps which can make the journey even harder. 

Speed Bump #1: Busyness

Because your relationship is not physically happening near you, when you get busy, it’s easy to neglect it. When you make a plan, make sure you talk about what you’ll do when one or both of you get busy. 

Speed Bump #2: Unmet Expectations

Even if you answer all of the questions above and feel like you’re on the same page, you will inevitably have some unmet expectations. Maybe you expected him to stay on the call a little longer than he did, or maybe you expected her to text you back faster, etc. When you experience an unmet expectation, you gotta bring it up.

Speed Bump #3: Low Love Tanks

You’ve likely heard of the five love languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. When you aren’t receiving love in the way you need it, it can result in what we call a “low love tank.” Similar to when you  run out of gas in your car. Long distance is particularly challenging for people whose love language is quality time, physical touch, or even acts of service. All of which are hard when you’re not near each other. This is why dating and getting creative are so important (more on date ideas below).

Speed Bump #4: Time Zone/Schedule Differences

This one is pretty straight forward… chances are, you and your future spouse are doing long distance from different time zones and will have different schedules. Make sure you’re being intentional about trying to sync up as much as possible.

Speed Bump #5: Hitting a Lull

Texting, FaceTime dates, and long phone calls will start to feel a bit, well, mundane after a while. It doesn’t take away from the fact that you love your future spouse, but it does mean that LDRs are stinkin’ hard. Chances are, at some point, you will start to feel a bit of a lull in your relationship. That might look like loneliness, like running out of things to talk about, or even just feeling like things are starting to stall out. This is why we recommend trying to set up a time to see each other in person if you can… it will help bust the lull. 

But regardless of whether or not you can see each other in person, a great way to get over this speed bump is to always have something to look forward to. Schedule out a fun and unique date, send your partner a care package and let them know it’s coming… just something to look forward to. 

Resolving Conflict from Afar

You might be sensing a theme here, but no matter how prepared you are… no matter how many expectation questions you discuss… no matter how well you avoid speed bumps, I promise you will have conflict. 

When you’re not face to face, it is nearly impossible to avoid miscommunications and frustrations. 

This is one reason why I like to tell couples to view a long distance relationship as an opportunity to grow and prepare for marriage. 

The 3+ months Britt and I were long distance were filled with more conflict than we had ever experienced. We were two time zones apart and struggled to get on the same page no matter how hard we tried. During that time was when we really fought for our future marriage and learned how to communicate and resolve conflict. 

Rules for Healthy Communication & Conflict in a Long Distance Relationship

We cover communication and conflict a lot more in our online premarital course (it’s almost 1/4th of the entire course at 30+ mins of content). We also have a blog that goes in depth on what I’m going to share below. But for now, I’ll summarize some “rules” for healthy communication and conflict while in an LDR.

Rule #1: Get Face-to-Face - This is tricky in an LDR, but as much as possible, don’t resolve conflicts over text. Try to FaceTime or video chat whenever you can. 

Rule #2: Say “I” More Than “You” - Take responsibility for your own feelings and actions by using more “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, “I feel frustrated when…” vs “You make me frustrated when…” 

Rule #3: Listen First - Listen before you speak… pretty simple :) 

Rule #4: Apologize Often - We LOVE apology languages (think love languages but for apologizing). Below is a sample module from our course about this topic. 

Rule #5: Time & Context Matter - Be mindful of how and when you address conflict. This is even more important when you’re in an LDR. The last thing you want to do is try to have an important conversation after your future spouse just had a hard day at work. 

For more articles on healthy communication and conflict, click here

Date Ideas for Long Distance Couples

Aaaaaaand this is probably one of the reasons you clicked on this blog, which is great! We love dating. 

Below are a list of date ideas for long distance couples. Give some of these a try and tag us at @loveyourfirstyear when you do.

  1. Virtual Bible Study: Choose a book of the Bible to read and discuss together during regular video calls.
  2. Online Church Service Date: Attend an online church service together, then discuss the sermon and share insights.
  3. Cooking Date: Choose a recipe, cook "together" over video chat, and then sit down to eat while talking.
  4. Gratitude Lists: Make lists of things you're grateful for in your life and relationship, then share and discuss them.
  5. Future Selves Letter Writing: Spend time writing to your future married selves. What do you hope your marriage looks like? 
  6. Dream Planning: Discuss and plan your future together. 
  7. Virtual Star Gazing: Watch the stars while on a call, discussing what you see. 
  8. Online Game Night: Play online games that encourage teamwork and communication.
  9. Fitness Challenge: Do a workout together through video call, perhaps with a Christian workout video.
  10. Vision Board Creation: Create vision boards for your future together and share your hopes and prayers.
  11. Virtual Tour of a Museum or Gallery: Explore an online museum or gallery together, discussing your favorite pieces.
  12. Movie Night with Synchronized Streaming: Watch a movie together using a service that synchronizes video playback.
  13. Online Trivia Night: Participate in an online trivia game, either as a team or competing against each other.
  14. Virtual City Tour: Use online maps or virtual tours to explore a city you both dream of visiting.
  15. Book Club for Two: Read the same book and have regular discussions about it.
  16. Language Learning Date: Choose a new language to learn together, using apps or online courses.
  17. DIY Craft Night: Work on the same craft project while sharing tips and showing progress over video.
  18. Virtual Picnic: Set a time to have a meal outdoors (or indoors with a scenic background) while on a video call.
  19. Home Movie Night: Share and watch each other’s old home videos or photo albums.
  20. Online Cooking Class: Sign up for an online cooking class and learn a new dish together.
  21. Plan a Dream Vacation: Research and plan a dream vacation, sharing ideas and building an itinerary together.
  22. Write a Story Together: Collaborate on writing a short story or a series of poems.
  23. Watch a Live Event: Stream a live concert, theater performance, or sports event together.
  24. Themed Virtual Dinner: Have a dinner date with a specific theme, like Italian or Mexican night, and cook the same dishes.
  25. Online Escape Room Challenge: Team up to solve puzzles in a virtual escape room experience.
  26. Create a Joint Playlist: Build a music playlist together, adding songs that are meaningful to your relationship.
  27. Virtual Reality Exploration: If you both have VR headsets, explore virtual worlds or games together.
  28. Plan a Future Home: Browse online for houses or apartments, discussing how you would decorate your future home.
  29. Joint Journaling Session: Spend time writing in a journal together, sharing thoughts, dreams, and plans.
  30. Online Karaoke Night: Sing your favorite songs to each other using online karaoke apps.
  31. Talent Show: Host a mini talent show where each of you performs something, be it a song, dance, magic trick, or a comedy routine.
  32. Explore Virtual Zoos or Aquariums: Many zoos and aquariums offer virtual tours; explore them together and talk about your favorite animals.
  33. Online Puzzle Solving: Work on an online puzzle together, challenging each other's problem-solving skills.
  34. Write a Love Letter: Spend time writing love letters to each other, then read them out loud on a video call.
  35. Share Childhood Stories: Take turns sharing stories or showing pictures from your childhood.
  36. Photo Scavenger Hunt: Create a list of items or themes to capture in photos during the week, then share and discuss your pictures.
  37. Open Care Packages Together: Send each other care packages early in the week and open them up together, explaining the significance of each item. 
  38. Truth or Date: Play truth or date with each other via FaceTime.

The Love Your First Year Premarital Course

Lastly, when you’re serious about preparing for marriage, we have an online, self-paced premarital course that’s a perfect fit for long distance couples (we actually designed it with you in mind). You can separately watch the modules and then discuss what you’ve learned and complete the homework together. 

You’ll tackle topics like: 

  • God’s Plan for Marriage
  • Marriage Myths
  • Communication & Conflict
  • Creating a Happy & Healthy Marriage
  • Families & Foundations
  • Expectations
  • Finances
  • Sexual & Spiritual Intimacy
  • And more

Click here to learn more or to get access today.

Conclusion

Long distance is hard, but it doesn’t have to suck. Set clear expectations with each other, make a plan and take action, avoid common speed bumps, and date each other often and it’ll be over before you know it. You got this!

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