Sometimes, beauty can only be seen in retrospect. And that’s especially true when it comes to the beauty of separation.
My husband and I spent the entirety of our courtship living 500 miles apart. We knew it was a good thing then. But now, almost 4 years into the delicious togetherness of married life, we know it was a really, really good thing. Our long-distance relationship gave our marriage a foundation of friendship and communication that could not be easily achieved any other way. The time and distance forced us to focus on talking instead of feeling. It matured our relationship in a way that being together in our immaturity could not have.
One of the most frequent questions we receive here at Kindred Grace are somewhere along these lines:
Help! I just began a long-distance relationship and we don’t know how to do it. How do we get to know each other better at a distance? Any suggestions for getting below the surface?
According to the informal statistics in my email inbox, there are a lot of you out there who are either in a long-distance relationship or about to start one. But I know that long-distance relationships aren’t a new trend. It’s not that email and internet have suddenly given us the ability to meet and marry someone from another state: mail-order brides have been around since long before the advent of the internet!
My husband and I learned a lot in our long-distance relationship. We learned so much, in fact, that we encourage other people to make an effort to spend at least part of their courtship separated from each other.
We are all about encouraging each other, especially in the area of godly relationships. We’d like to come alongside and encourage those of you who are in long-distance courtship relationships. And we thought there would be no better way than to ask those of you happily married ladies who once courted long-distance (whether via email or the Pony Express!) to share your stories and input.
What were the greatest benefits to the time you were apart? What was the biggest drawback to having a long-distance relationship? Did the positives outweigh those negatives? Could there be a point where the lack of face-to-face time has a negative impact on a relationship?
How did you focus on really getting to know each other when you weren’t together? Did you have a list of questions to help you dig deeper when you talked? What did your communication look like? What were the goals and guidelines that helped you focus on the purpose of your long-distance relationship?
What is one thing you wish you had known during your long-distance relationship? What is something you learned while apart that you could not have learned (or learned as well) while together? How long were you apart? How many miles separated you?
How would you encourage someone who is currently in a long-distance relationship? What books or resources would you recommend to others in a long-distance relationship?
Absence Makes the Heart Grow: Through Communication
Absence doth sharpen love, presence strengthens it;
the one brings fuel, the other blows it till it burns clear.
I think that the distance has mostly been a blessing in disguise. Without being able to be with each other (sometimes being apart for months), the only thing we have is communication. We have gotten in the habit of sharing everything with one another, from what we learned in our morning devotions, to even the fears we have about marriage. Because of how much we talk, in the year we have been together, we have yet to have a fight. I think that has established a firm foundation for communication in our marriage.
From Elizabeth H.
I got to the point in my social life with “virtual” communication where it just seemed like a lot of smilies and abbreviations were being exchanged, but not a lot of real thoughts. And I wanted to learn how to communicate again, not just exchange little blurbs.
I love letter-writing, but I know that it takes away from my verbal skills in some ways. Where letters are carefully crafted, it takes skill to be able to respond graciously and in a timely manner while you are face-to-face with someone. You can’t go back and hit the “delete” button. It is not always good to mask those first reactions. You deprive someone not only of knowing the real you, but of seeing your human moments, not just the flowery ones. That is something that I am learning as someone who is more reserved.
From Lori Pierce
Really talk. Not chit chat. Ask questions, learn about each others faith, fears, expectations. Do this all the time! We change. Always be open to talk and listen. Have pictures of each other–video chat! Technology makes it so we can see each other now- use it!
We just talked about everything. For me, to have a deep convo, sometimes it’s easier to not look them in the eye–especially if it’s of a sensitive nature. We have our best talks while I’m driving!
From Chelsea W.
I’m currently in a long distance relationship, and though I have lots more to learn, I think I can answer some of these questions. I’ve recently recommended to some of my friends the benefits that only long distance can give.
The greatest benefit to being apart was it prevented me from going to “we” to quickly. When we met I was very young, and though we both knew this was the person for us, we also knew we had a long wait ahead of us. Being apart made me make decisions independently, and so only now are we starting to organize the future (furniture, etc).
Obviously the biggest drawback is just being apart. We see things we want to do with the other person and can’t. But the positives outweigh the negatives. There’s no substitute for a good foundation. And we will have the rest of our marriage to be together.
I think a lack of face to face would never kill a relationship right off, just make it harder. I think it could be harder if you had never actually met the person face to face, or if there weren’t occasional phone calls. People write differently than they speak, and have mannerisms. In marriage, that’s what you’re going to be around–not letters (hopefully). So I think it’s a good idea to have some sort of idea what this person is like before investing a bunch of time and emotion into long distance. (We worked together at a restaurant for six months before my family moved, so I had seen him in all sorts of situations).
We emailed a lot. At first there were restrictions, and his mom read the emails. We could only email something like twice a week, and he called on “special days” (holidays and birthdays). The emails were more intentional than just what we were doing in the day. It was more of “this is what we did, what are your opinions on [related topic]?”. He mentally had a list of things he wanted to cover, but we covered most of them before I left, I think. Also, one visit I made, we went through a list with his parents that his mom had found that was quite extensive.
Our communication was emails, and occasional phone. Recently is has been shorter emails and some Skype. Our communication was monitored by his parents. We knew going into the long-distance phase that the purpose was preparing for marriage, unless God showed us that wasn’t the destination for our relationship.
One thing I wish I knew was how hard it would be when we were together. I would visit occasionally, and temptation is really hard because it’s not something you’re used to dealing with, but you’ve become very close emotionally.
We were apart 2,000 miles for a year and a half, then together for six months, then 2,500 miles for a year. I will get to see him for a month starting next week, then 2,500 miles away for another year, then long distance over!!!
I would encourage those in long distance relationships that the situation you are in requires you to build that foundation you need for marriage that everyone should build–there are just more distractions when you are together. Be intentional about what you say and explain yourself well. If you have concerns about anything, bring them up. And find ways to show your affection for each other frequently (if your relationship is at the point where that’s appropriate). I get one line “I love you” emails daily, and it’s really nice.
I don’t have any books to recommend, but something that I found helpful is watching godly relationships that are around me. It really helped to see people my age who were in serious relationships, as well as people who were already married. They really encouraged me because I was able to see what we were working towards, as well as see how they interacted and their relationship dynamics.
Absence Makes the Heart Grow: Through Separation
Absence – that common cure of love.
I am currently in a long distance relationship, with the intent to get married after college. We are not currently engaged. We are about 4 hours apart, and we have withstood this first year of waiting. There will be three more, possibly four more. It has been an ordeal sometimes, since sometimes all a person really wants is to just be with the other person. We do not use an IM or video chat program much of the time (we found it often leads to being too intimate emotionally before our time); we use email instead.
The best thing about it is we are not being confounded by the physical. Another good thing has been that we have given each other something to rely on–an email every day–to prove our trustworthiness. We have a record for our future. We are also allowed to grow independently.
The worst thing is that sometimes the idea of waiting for three or four more years sends me into a downward spiral (I sometimes struggle with depression). But this has also taught me to remember God’s goodness.
From Lois Eagles:
The biggest thing I learned while apart was to talk and share my heart. When you’re busy doing things together, talking about the deep things often gets pushed away. But the only thing we had was communication and that was the only thing we had to make our relationship grow. I had to learn to bare my heart to him, no matter how awkward it was at first (being a very quiet, reserved girl).
We would talk about our day, what we were struggling with, and the things we were learning. We read books together (Love & Respect), prayed together, discussed the Bible—I even studied aloud for my Bible school exams with him (he was able to learn, too)! When we were stalled in our communication, we went through a book of conversation starters. [Another great one is 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged.]
Our communication was 90% by phone, since my man’s not much of a writer (though I wrote him tons of letters!) and usually did not have internet access. In order to get to know the sides of him I didn’t see, I paid a lot of attention to what others who were around him said—his sisters, parents, the family he lived and worked with for 6 months, his Bible school teachers, etc. In addition to this, I tried to be very honest with him about myself—my reactions, faults, and struggles. I did not want to hide myself from him.
Still, it was a big adjustment on our honeymoon to get used to the other person and their little quirks, etc. Daily life was something we had never experienced and though we knew certain things would be issues, the reality of them was another story!
The second thing I learned was to never take him for granted. Even now that we are married, remembering those days of separation makes me so much more thankful for him on a daily basis, and helps me see past the messy trail he leaves behind him some days. I am thankful for the privilege of being together and having a mess to clean up, because it means he is here!!! We were in a long-distance relationship for just over two years, separated by 1000 or 3000 miles most of the time. There were 2 wonderful months when he was only a 3 hour drive away, and oh, did we make use of those weekends!
Hang in there! This time of pain now is building a solid foundation for marriage, and it won’t last forever—even though it feels like it may! It is agony being separated from the one you love. But the positives definitely outweighed the negatives and I would do it a million times over! Long-distance relationships are hard and they take a lot of work, but they are so worth it!
Absence Makes the Heart Grow: Without Touching
The simple lack of her is more to me than others’ presence.
From Gretchen B.:
My husband of nearly ten months and I were separated by about 700 miles during our courtship and engagement. Our relationship was different from some because we knew each other growing up and his family still goes to my church. Even though we had all the normal courtship things to talk about, it helped me to know basically who John had been all his life. Otherwise, meeting and marrying someone from far away would have been a little bit more scary!
One of the clearest benefits of separation was the lack of physical temptation, especially when we were engaged. In the early days, some of the awkwardness of communication was dispelled by the fact that we were mostly e-mailing and writing letters to each other. It was much easier for us to explore some issues in depth through letters than in personal conversation. I do think that face-to-face time is very important, though. How John interacted with his family and with other people (and how he would someday interact with me!) would have been very difficult to tell without seeing him in action! It also helped to see how he lived his every-day life before joining my life to his.
Thankfully, John’s job was flexible enough to allow him to visit every 4-8 weeks throughout our 8 month courtship and 9.5 month engagement. Those visits gave us our necessary face-to-face time, and I think that we would have needed a longer courtship without them. The fact that he was willing to expend so much time and money to visit me so frequently also spoke heaps of his love for me before we ever exchanged the words “I love you.”
We didn’t have a list of questions to work through. Mostly issues came up naturally and we discussed them. Our early days were guided by my dad’s instructions to John to “Get to know her.” When we were together, we went on lots of hikes. As my mother says, “Walking leads to talking,” and those hours in the woods together were foundational times!
I would advise a couple in a long-distance relationship to take their time. It’s hard to be apart, I know! But, especially if you’ve only recently met each other, it’s important to watch each other for a long time, because marriage lasts a much longer time. If he truly loves you, he’ll wait for you.
The distance is difficult, but the reunion is sweet. I am very familiar with the pains, but also the blessings. It is so providential that Cory and I are apart throughout our engagement (I’m finishing my bachelor of education 7 hours from home, and him).
Every morning in our devotional and worship time, the Lord fills me up with His word, and the reminder that I’m at home when I’m in Christ, no matter where my man is. This has really helped Cory and I in terms of keeping our eyes fixed on our first love. For someone like me, as a confirmed romantic for all my life, it was tempting for me to rely on Cory for only what the Lord can give me. It is easy for me to allow my love for Cory to become my priority before the Lord. The distance does help me establish a correct posture and order of priorities in which to enter into marriage.
In the same vain, Cory has always been such an encouragement in my walk with the Lord. He truly is a model of Christ’s selfless love to me, and he causes me to bow down in humble thanks that the Lord would bless me with such a man. Even still, putting the Lord before Cory is definitely one of many lessons I have had during this bittersweet season.
Truly though, the Lord does all things well. It is according to His good plan that we are separated and for that I am thankful that my Heavenly Father always does the best for me and for His glory.
Intimacy without physical touch looks like a great deal of conversation, a great deal of care, a great deal of encouragement, self control… All those things build into intimacy – what she likes, what he likes, what they don’t like – all of that comes out. You learn to talk. You learn to communicate. You learn what’s going on in them, you learn where they’re weak, and you learn their shortcomings.
People who say that first year was hell when they talk about their marriage I immediately wonder how much they were making out when they were dating. Because you should have been able to spot this person’s kind of selfish when you were dating! If you didn’t I have to wonder if it wasn’t because you were making out? It’s true!
So, intimacy is conversation, it’s getting to know one another. Intimacy occurs when you’re no longer afraid to be you in front of somebody, and it should never go physical until that point has led you into marriage.
Absence Makes the Heart Grow: Through Forming Habits
And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
reflections by Mrs. Heather Wood
Our relationship had three stages before we got married. During the first stage, friendship, we were together at college. During the second stage, when we started to fall in love, we were apart but within driving distance and saw each other on weekends occasionally. (We were not in a relationship during this time. The first time we were in a relationship was our engagement. It just happened like that. You’ll have to ask David to explain that one to you.) Then during our engagement, the third stage, we were very long distance and only saw each other for holidays and spring break.
What were the greatest benefits to the time you were apart?
I could say that it helped keep our relationship from having too much of a physical aspect (i.e. I didn’t dress for him, etc.) but honestly that is probably more due to my surpassing respect for him than the distance.
I could also say that it helped us to focus on what we were doing and not be distracted by each other, but if you have ever been in love, you know that it is distracting no matter what you do or how many miles are between you!
So, I have to say that the greatest benefit to the time we were apart is that it forced us to talk. Your communication skills grow tenfold when you have to rely on your words and voice inflections alone to communicate, without nonverbal communication to accompany it. Furthermore, whenever I was upset, I just felt like hanging up the phone. But I knew that was useless, since the only way to fix the problem would involve me calling him right back. It forced us to work through disagreements completely verbally.
Secondly, there is just something special about having cards, letters and emails to look back on and read, whereas a spatially close relationship may not produce as many of those.
Thirdly, during the first several months of our marriage (and even now, sometimes!) I would just be filled with awe to be with him. It made being married that much more special.
Lastly, my father died during our engagement. Had I been five states away like I wanted to be, I would not have been able to be with my family that night at the hospital, and I will always consider that to be one of the main reasons I’m glad I was at home during our engagement.
What was the biggest drawback to having a long-distance relationship?
It was hard! It was much harder during our engagement than before we were engaged, because we just grew in our love for each other. We really just missed each other.
I think it was a great deal harder to have a united front with others, especially during the engagement as we were wedding planning. I do not mean this in a militant sense – we just weren’t there to back each other up. For instance, without David there with me, a lot of times I could appear alone in decision making when the fact of the matter was that there was a “we”, and we had decided everything together.
Another drawback is communicating through frustrating phone connections – despite living in a technologically advanced world, you would be amazed at how often calls get dropped, or are full of static, or you just plain misunderstand what the other person says! This was very true of our long distance relationship both when I was in Africa and when we were both in the States.
Did the positives outweigh those negatives?
I won’t lie; I did not like being apart. God chose for us to be apart for most of our relationship, and I trust that it was what was best for us, but I am glad that it is over now! We believe that if you choose to do your relationship right – to bathe it in prayer and choose to do what is right and pure in all things – that it does not matter whether you were together for most of relationship or apart. The difference is in how you do your relationship. If God is honored in your relationship, that is a positive that will outweigh all negatives.
Could there be a point where the lack of face-to-face time has a negative impact on a relationship?
I do believe there is a point where lack of face-to-face time can have a negative impact on your relationship: you could have the danger of not really knowing the person, only what they have told you about themselves. Thankfully, I was around David for a year when we were just friends, so I knew how he lived his life, long before God drew us to fall in love with each other. We were also able to visit each other every couple of months when we fell in love. If you are in a situation where you have not been able to get to know your potential mate in person before courtship, by all means, visit each other as often as possible. The longer you are with another person, the more comfortable you get to be with them, the more guards are dropped, and the more you really know who you are marrying, as well as his family (your future in-laws!).
How did you focus on really getting to know each other when you weren’t together? Did you have a list of questions to help you dig deeper when you talked? What did your communication look like?
We knew each other before we were in a relationship and before we were long distance. Most of our communication therefore did not center on getting to know each other, yet when we got married, there were no “surprises” sprung on me. When we were merely friends getting closer via telephone, I actually read his college assignments to him over the phone. This gave us new things to talk about without even trying! During this time (“Stage 2” of our relationship), we would talk for hours at a time about our ministry and theology, and worshiping God in our conversation. Our theological discussions weren’t an intentional way of learning about each other’s theology; we were just Bible college students and that’s what we did!
Naturally, our conversations morphed over time. Closer to our engagement, we talked more about hard and fast topics such as what we expected from marriage, where we would live, and having children.
Then during our engagement, conversation changed even more; we talked about the questions in our premarital counseling book, planned our wedding, and talked through all the nitty gritty details of setting up a house and living together. We also spent a lot of time during the engagement just being on the phone with each other – not necessarily talking – while he studied and I worked on wedding preparations. It was nice to just have him there! We never had lists that we went through to try to get to know each other, nor did we ever run out of things to talk about.
My dad also had David call him every week and they usually talked for about an hour. This way my dad could catch up with what was going on in David’s life as well as check on and hear insight from his devotions, giving wisdom or advice as needed. I already knew David myself, but if I hadn’t, I’m sure the fact that my dad was also getting to know him and gaining insight into his character would have been helpful as well as comforting.
What is something you learned while apart that you could not have learned (or learned as well) while together?
We were given opportunities to really be creative with our communication and learned to maximize our time together. When I was in Africa, we sent very thought-out emails to each other that just can’t be replaced, not to mention the super-sweet package I got for my birthday with little “To Go” packets of peanut butter. I can never be sure, but I think we had a lot more fun “dates” during the short times we had together because we were long distance than we probably would have had if we saw each other every week, and that is one of many habits we have carried into our marriage relationship. Long distance forces creativity into your relationship where being together may cause you to become comfortably unimaginative.
How long were you apart?
This is a trick question! We were apart for four years. We were interested in each other for about a year of that. We were in a relationship for nine months of that.
How many miles separated you?
The closest we ever were was five hours’ drive from each other; the furthest we were apart during this time was the three months I was in Africa 5,500 miles away from David!
How would you encourage someone who is currently in a long-distance relationship?
I am not an expert on spending time apart from the person you know is your other half. Honestly, I can be quite a piner! I have to say, however, that being apart simply makes time spent together that much sweeter – and that lasts long into being married. Take joy in all aspects of your life: God is weaving them all together for good. Pursue holiness in your relationship, whether together or apart, for that is what matters. Take pictures for each other to catch a glimpse of your day; email each other recordings of your voices, sharing some favorite thoughts or verses to listen to over and over again. Be creative in your communication. Start habits in how you communicate, and seek to bless each other in a way that will last for years.
Absence Makes the Heart Grow: 15-year Perspective
Heather Ivester is a mom and author–as well as the sister-in-law of our beloved Lanier.
My husband and I lived thousands of miles apart in the months prior to becoming engaged. It was a great experience, allowing us to take our relationship slowly and get to know each other through letters. Since I was teaching English in Japan, he sent me all kinds of things to use in my classes (music, stories, postcards), and it showed me how thoughtful he was — and still is!
We’ve saved our letters, and it’s fun to pull them out every now and then and show them to our kids. I’m glad we dated before emailing became the mode of correspondence — I love handwritten letters on all sorts of stationery, with stamps from foreign countries on the envelopes! (I still beg my traveling friends to send us postcards from faraway places!)
But I do have a caution … I knew my husband’s family very well, for over 15 years, before we started a relationship. We had gone to school together, and our brothers grew up best friends. I think it’s important for girls to REALLY take the time to get to know a young man and his family well before getting serious long-distance. It can take a lot of time and even some sleuthing around, but you’re worth it!
Try to find out who his friends are. Spend time with his friends — are these people you’ll want to hang out with for the rest of your life? What about his family? How well do you know them? How does his father treat his mother? Who are his role models? How active is he in his church community? What are his long-term career goals? Will he be able to provide a living, should you choose to stay home full-time? How does he handle commitment — not just in relationships, but with his education, training, and work? BE WARY of someone who is all talk and no solid track record.
As a mother trying to raise my own young Christian ladies, I want them to be careful and guard their hearts. We can’t let romantic feelings get in the way of discerning truth, even when it’s not as much fun!
We’ve been married since 1994, almost 16 years now! Each year that goes by, I’m more in awe that God brought us together because he’s the perfect man for me at every season of life! Looking back, I realize I was a very silly 25-year-old and I’m so thankful my heavenly Father was watching out for me, knowing who I would become!