The Importance of Self in a Relationship — Personal development as an advantage of being in a long-distance relationship

“Distance means so little when someone means so much.” (Anonymus)

My partner and I have been together for over seven years now. During this time we had several long distance stretches, we have also traveled together for a year and we have lived together. Right now, we are ‘in-distance’ after a long 6-months stretch separated by thousands of miles.

When I tell people that we are or were in a long distance relationship they often jump into quick conclusions and start questioning me about the distance. From these questions it becomes apparent that the relationships is being judged and defined by the distance, unlike with ‘in-distance relationships’ where the relationship is being defined based on love, conversations, shared interests and shared activities.

In reality, the distance shouldn’t be a big deal. Yes, the distance is an obstacle. Yes, it is an inconvenience. Yes, it is tough. But the distance does not define your relationship. It is not a threat. It should not become a source or fear, anger or negativity.

It is a situation – even if it goes for years, it is a temporary one.

When someone means the world to you, the distance should only be a small obstacle, nothing more. When a relationship is strong and important, the distance should simply be a tough inconvenience.

Like I said before, love, commitment, trust and communication is what’s important. The distance is just a bump on the road during your beautiful journey of love.

Besides, let’s not forget the advantages of being apart.

One advantage of a long distance relationship is an opportunity for personal growth, an opportunity that can strengthen the relationship for life.

I believe it is important in any relationship to have “me time”, to develop our own interests, to have our own hobbies, to have our own jobs and to continuously grow personally asides from growing and spending time together as a couple.

Of course, it would be impossible to do everything together. Even if and when we live together and work together and spend every minute together, we simply can’t do everything together. Just think about how funny it would be to hold a folder together, walk with it to the file cabinet and place it in the cabinet together. We can’t write an email together – even if we composed it together, one has to type it. I have to drink your own green juice even if we made it together for the both of us. And so on.

Clearly, there is always some “me”, some “alone” and some “individual”. Healthy couples, of course, usually have more separation than drinking their green juice alone or composing an email with their own fingers. Both partners have their own interests, schedules, jobs, hobbies, friends – some they share and some they don’t. You may not share all your friends and you schedule time with your girlfriends/boys. You may not agree on every movie and like different sports. Ideally you are also able to share your experiences and support each other. I like running. He doesn’t, but he supports my races and listens to my ramblings on the importance of good shoes. He likes football and while I didn’t even care to follow the World Cup one bit, I listen to his excitement over the wins and even got him some cool football fan cards.

However, when being in the same place doing things together becomes very important. For example, after a long day my partner and I obviously want to share time, eat dinner, watch a movie and sleep together. We may plan vacations together. We visit friends together. To maximize time together you try to pick similar hobbies too. Minimally you feel the pressure to spend even more time together even if you sacrifice your own hobbies and growth.

When being separated by the distance we are sort of forced to create our own life.

Now of course I could just sit and dwell, feel sorry for myself, stare at the phone, write emails, buy gifts and day-dream about re-uniting. That would be a mistake though. Surely day-dreaming is fun, communication is important, little surprises are fun, planning the future can be essential and there is even room for a cry and a pity-party. I certainly make room for these things. But focusing on only this would be not only a waste of time but damaging to both of us and our relationship.

When are apart by distance: it is a reality of our proximity. I may exactly know the date of reuniting and you may have no clue. It may be in only a few days or week, it may not be for many years. It does not matter. We are far away at the moment.

So why not use this time? There are so many options. If you are in a long-distance relationship right now, use this opportunity. Meet new people and develop new friendships. Join the gym, eat good food and take care of your health. Enjoy the job or school work you do or find something else you love. Take different classes to discover you interests and develop your skills. Travel to learn about cultures, see new places and meet amazing people. Learn a new language. Do something new, something daring, like sky-diving or rock-climbing for the first time. Write a book or form a band. Volunteer to give back. Give gratitude for each moment. Be grateful for this wonderful opportunity to be able to focus on yourself. Most recently, while in Mexico, I visited some beautiful pyramids, went wall climbing for the first time ever, met some amazing people, launched a group coaching program and ran several races. I shared my experiences over email and telephone, but didn’t hold myself back from living life.

But is this selfish? But isn’t damaging to my relationship to focus on me and maybe even miss the opportunity of a phone call due to a concert or a kick-boxing class?

It most certainly is not!

For one, I am investing into myself. As I discover who am I, develop my interests, further my skills, find new opportunities and meet new people, I am also investing into my relationship. I become a more well-rounded, more interesting, more fun, more experienced and more independent. That is not only sexy but will make my relationship also stronger, more well-rounded and more fun.

For second, it gives a reason for sharing and support. Imagine if I was sitting at home all day dwelling on the distance, day-dreaming about an ideal future and waiting for those loving skype calls? What would you talk about? I miss you. I love you. Let’s be together. I am so sad without you. It would be so nice to be with you. And so on. Nothing else. Loving yet boring. However, if I actually live life, do stuff, see things, meet people and gain new experiences, there is something to share. I will have interesting things to talk about. There will be something inspiring and motivating for your partner too. There will be things he can support me. Conversations won’t be dull but exciting and meaningful.

For third, being independent, being strong, being able to deal with loneliness, being able to go after your dreams, being willing to stretch my boundaries can be damn sexy.

But what happens when we close the distance for good? Will I have to give up all my new hobbies? Will I lose the fun life I developed? Wouldn’t it still be better not to do much new while apart? You may wonder…

Of course, when you close the distance, naturally you want to spend more time together. I assume there is a reason for closing the distance and that is not only the phone bill.

Life is always changing. Yes, after closing the distance you will do less alone and more together. At least likely you will.

But there is no reason to give up what you had. When ‘in-distance’, my partner and I introduce each other to our new hobbies and share what we learned while apart. While we certainly share friends, activities and interests, we also keep our own hobbies, own activities and own friends. We may create giant salads together and watch indie movies together, but I will still go for my runs alone and let him watch football without me. We will continue to travel together, including visiting the places together we both went alone now sharing a common experience. We continue to try new things and develop ourselves – both individually and both as a couple.

Being apart and focusing on your own thing for a while will also allow you to gain a greater respect of “me time” in a relationship and will be able to support each others’ interests, personal time and personal growth more effectively. It will likely actually become crucial for you to allow your partner to invest into him or herself and vice-versa. However, you will also gain greater respect for your time together, mutual interests and growth as a couple rather than taking it for granted.

Closing the distance does not mean giving up the self. Being apart does not mean giving up the ‘together’. Time together, time apart, separate interests, mutual interests, individual growth and growth as a couple is possible regardless of the distance. Support and love is crucial regardless of the distance.

However, in my experience, being far away provides a great opportunity and a wonderful push to focus on and develop yourself for the advantage of you, your partner and the life you share together.

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