Long distance relationship blues

-- Question for John --

I have been in a long distance relationship for 9 months. My boyfriend is finishing up a degree and is working full time. There is not much time for us to spend together. We e-mail back and forth every day, but his are always short and pretty uninformative. But he is an excellent communicator in person and very talkative. The long distance separation is taking it’s toll on me.

I feel I have been extremely patient. This is what is really bothering me. He has a cell phone for business and goes for 2 weeks or more without even calling me. I wrote him an e-mail today saying I don’t understand why he rarely calls me, even for 5 minutes. I know that would be possible, as he is driving to clients houses and has time then. I think it is really weird. I don’t think it is a financial issue.

I have begun thinking…. I have made the commitment to wait for him to finish school, with a goal of him moving here. But I will spend my whole summer alone, while all my friends are dating or going out and doing things with their partners. The thought of receiving a few lines of conversation on an e-mail and no other communication, for a week or more at a time seems crazy to me. He cannot make plans ahead to visit me.

I feel this relationship will survive is if he moves here. He is not a high stress person, and I think time just gets away from him. He does not really have a social life, but I am sure he talks to other friends on the phone. I call him once in a while and he is always very receptive, but I don’t know if that is being too pushy. He is a VERY passive person. I need some perspective on this.

In my e-mail I told him I was feeling very confused and hurt and insignificant. I have not received an answer yet, as I just sent it. I have plenty of friends, and interests, am a single mom and am taking a couple college classes myself. I have been divorced for over 3 years and was in a relationship where my ex was never home and was very neglectful. It makes me feel fearful. With my boyfriend, I met him when he was between semesters and he went to great lengths to come and see me. Then school started.

We have communicated that we are both looking for the same thing a committed relationship partner. I am not concerned about there being someone else. I just don’t know how to handle this. I feel like if he can’t make more contact with me I don’t want this any more. This has been going on for 9 months. he is a very kind, sensitive man, totally opposite of my ex in that respect. Our interests, beliefs and values are very much the same. We seem to really understand each other in most other respects. I would appreciate some insight on this.

-- Answer from John --

If I understand what you are saying, he is basically an ideal guy who happens to be triggering you because of the low frequency of communication. This is certainly one of the classic issues in long distance relationships. It tends to trigger the woman and brings up all kinds of issues that might be lurking from her own past.

When we have worked on this issue with other couples in your situation, the solution often is found in negotiating some new agreement that works for both parties. Of course, each couple is different, so I cannot tell you what all the factors that should be a part of your negotiation, or how exactly to reach a workable agreement.

The last couple we worked with on this took only one session to come up with their plan. He was a busy and phone-phobic guy. She was an increasingly angry and insecure woman who couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t hear from him in the 2-3 weeks that separated their visits. Then he’d show up and take her on a weeklong trip or something equally great and romantic.

They were committed but radically different in their needs. He literally hated the phone. He said he could never know what to say, always felt on the spot, with phones. It had something to do with how his father used to interrogate him by phone when he was much younger in boarding school. Odd, huh?

But face-to-face, he was a great communicator. He could SEE the other person, and how they felt when they said things, and that was what made him feel secure and spontaneous in his communicating.

That was his story. Anyway, her tendency was that when she did get him on the phone, in her understandable hunger for contact, she would extend the conversation and extend it way past the point that he would feel trapped by it. I guess he became rather passive on the phone and didn’t know what to do. Probably replaying dad stuff.

Understandably, he avoided the phone altogether. And equally understandably, she just didn’t get it, and took it as a form of insensitivity on his part to her needs, and was feeling very resentful – and insecure – about it all.

Working together for that session, we negotiated a deal where he committed to calling her 3 times a week for a 5 minute call. This was scheduled into both their calendars, in the early evening M, W and F. He also would call her once every two weeks on the weekend for a 30 minute call. And if he was still feeling comfortable enough on the phone during any particular call, he would extend those time limits.

But if he wasn’t, she would completely agree that the time limit stood. In negotiating this, both parties brought with them their true needs and disclosed what was going on for them in the situation. They were open to hearing each others’ sensitivities and in doing so, they created an agreement that was unique to them.

This agreement took care of the issue and it is still working very well for both of them. That issue has been resolved. And in resolving it this way, it taught them a lesson in how to avoid turning an issue into a battleground for longterm misery and resentments.

I hope you can use this example to inspire you to find some quality, mutually workable solution in your case. Long distance relationships are inherently difficult, and anything you both can do to alleviate some of the difficulties will increase the chances that you will beat the odds and turn this into a longterm relationship, in the same town.