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How to maintain a long-distance relationship while living abroad

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Written by Asaël Häzaq on 05 July, 2024
Love knows no boundaries. Love is stronger than anything. We love to recall these beautiful expressions, promising to do everything to keep the flame alive even when we live miles apart. However, it can be quite challenging in practice. How do you make a long-distance relationship work despite everything? Here are our tips.

Who is moving, and who is staying?

Before promising to send each other a thousand passionate emails a day, ask yourselves the right questions:

  • Why is this relationship long-distance?
  • Did love blossom in your host country?
  • Are you or your partner forced to leave the foreign country (end of assignment, visa expiration)?
  • Will this long-distance relationship last a few months or a few years?
  • Is it at the beginning of your relationship, or not?

The way you plan your relationship will depend on the answers. For example, if you are sure of returning to the foreign country in a few months, your experience won't be the same as if your return is delayed by waiting for a residency permit.

Build your project together

Long-distance relationships mean "more investment." You will naturally invest more than if you could see your partner every day. But be sure that you are both on the same page. This is often where cultural differences can arise. They will appear at all levels of your life together. Remember that "difference" does not mean "conflict." Considering your cultural backgrounds will help you better build your future project. Again, ask yourselves the right questions:

Are you sure you share the same definition of your relationship?

Because dating for a few months abroad is not the same as a long-distance and long-term relationship. If you see a long-term relationship where your partner only sees a fleeting romance, you risk wasting your energy for nothing.

Do you both want your relationship to last?

You and your partner might sincerely think that your love will withstand the move to a foreign country, or the return, and the distance. But to what extent? Answering this question takes time and effort. A long-distance relationship forces you to ask profound questions you might not necessarily ask when you can see each other (at least not at the beginning of the relationship).

Does distance scare you? Have you ever experienced a long-distance relationship?

Some expats fear falling in love abroad. They have moved to a foreign for work, have a short-term permit, and have thought about everything except being in a relationship. They imagined a temporary move and found themselves with a potential long-term life abroad. Others view the long-distance relationship positively. Moving to a foreign country did not stop them from seeking love. Whether or not they have experienced a long-distance relationship, they are ready to take up the challenge. Where do you stand, and what about your partner?

Understand and respect each other's limits

In the beginning, everyone promises passionate emails and daily 3-hour calls. The early stages of a long-distance relationship often resemble the honeymoon period at the beginning of expatriation. The love is "new." You rediscover the joys of a "young couple" and fumble in your new relationship. Of course, the atmosphere may be much less pleasant. It all depends on both your personalities and your relationship. This is why you should avoid unrealistic promises and comparisons with hypothetical "perfect couples." Perhaps your expat friends managed to maintain long-distance relationships for several years, and that's a good thing for them. While you might want to take their advice, don't make it a dogma (just like the modest advice in this article). Your limits are your own. It is essential to know and respect them.

Don't promise to write every day if you are likely to forget every other day. Don't confuse "effort, compromise," and "self-neglect." You will need to make efforts and compromises to keep the flame alive at a distance. For example, you don't like daily messages but agree to send two a week. You make efforts while remaining yourself. Don't blame your partner if you find them too or not invested enough in this or that mode of communication. Rather, find a reasonable balance so that neither of you feels overwhelmed.

Discuss and understand each other's love language

Whether you are an expert in 3-hour conversations or not, find the right rhythm with your partner. Build bridges and make compromises. This is one of the keys for a relationship to survive the distance. Instead of seeing your partner's "love language" as a constraint, learn to discover and appreciate their way of communicating. At the same time, let them discover your "love language."

According to the famous book "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman, misunderstandings often arise from poor perceptions of each other's love language. You expect your partner to flood you with messages because that's your way of showing affection. But they are more the type to organize romantic video dates once a week. Learning to decipher your partner's love language allows for genuine communication and the building of a common language. Make compromises by taking a step towards each other's language.

Adopt good habits

How about a Friday video call or a romantic Saturday night dinner via webcams? Organize time together despite the distance. Consider your stay in a foreign country as an opportunity to adopt new habits by integrating your respective cultures and lifestyles. Establishing regular dates also gives a rhythm. Because a long-distance relationship is still a real relationship. It is possible to share moments together, even at a distance. Learn to build a good couple's routine. But stay flexible. A change in one or the other's schedule should be understood.

Express your love

Like a theater actor who expresses emotions intensely, a long-distance relationship often involves expressing love more. It doesn't mean shouting "I love you" in voice messages (although that might be your love language), but rather making your presence felt despite the distance. Developing a common language and establishing a couple's routine are ways to express your love. It all depends, of course, on your personality. Some expats have no trouble saying and showing their passion. They even enjoy expressing it in the foreign language to better touch their partner. Others are more measured in their words (but not necessarily less passionate!). Expressing your feelings also helps to compensate for the lack of physical touch. The lack of physical contact can be a real suffering for long-distance couples. Developing other forms of contact won't replace physical contact, but it can definitely keep the flame alive.

Talk about what's not right

Talking also means saying what's not right. A couple doesn't just share the best. Is the lack of physical contact weighing on you? Express it, but not in the form of a recurring complaint: your partner might feel targeted, especially if they are the one who left the country. Talk about what's not going well in your life, at work, with your friends, etc. Allow yourself some occasional complaints (it's human!) while avoiding falling into bitterness. Your partner probably feels the same way you do. Try to motivate each other.

Make future plans

A long-distance relationship is not meant to last forever. Making future plans is an excellent way to fight the gloom. Where do you plan to live as a couple? Are you in the process of relocating to your partner's country? Or are they joining you? How long will the visa procedures take? Try to save money to see each other during this long period of life at a distance. Again, focus on quality rather than quantity. Having only one week in the year with your partner can be frustrating, but it's still a week, so make it a celebration.

Surprise each other

You can't (yet!) take the first train or flight to join your partner, but your gifts can. Alongside the habits of the long-distance couple (messages, calls, video calls, etc.), prepare surprises for each other. Everything is allowed - letters, cards, surprise boxes, etc. If your partner has never visited your country, take the opportunity to introduce them to your "home" through what you love. It's an original way to talk about your passions. Don't wait for Valentine's Day or anniversaries to send gifts.

Trust each other

To succeed in your long-distance relationship, learn to trust your partner and yourself. Are you scared that your partner will get bored and look elsewhere? But why would they? Do you have reasons to be suspicious? We often mistakenly think that a long-distance relationship is necessarily less solid and less reliable, as if you had to have your partner in front of you to avoid cheating. Every couple's relationship must be based on mutual trust, especially when you are miles apart.

Long-distance relationships for expats: Learn the art of compromise

Dialogue, trust, and compromise are the pillars of a fulfilling long-distance relationship. Of course, this also applies to a relationship without distance. Make efforts to maintain these three pillars. We often dwell on the negative aspects of a long-distance relationship instead of looking for its plus points, which are more numerous than we think. You have the opportunity to see your partner differently. They also see you differently. Both of you are more immersed in your elements (home or host country, daily life...) while sharing a common story that needs to be protected and nurtured.