I am into my third year in a long-distance relationship. I know there are a lot of you out there sharing the same challenges. I was fortunate enough to spend nine months in England, living life with my
gorgeous, charming, infuriating cross between Gordon Ramsey and Paddington Bear ahem, partner – but until we work out a more permanent immigration solution, I am back in the United States.
Today, I’ll write the first of a six-part series: Lessons I’ve Learned from my Long-Distance Relationship
Lesson One: TOUGHEN UP, BUTTERCUP
According to researchers, up to 20% of the population qualifies as “highly sensitive.” I am definitely one of those people. What does it mean to be highly sensitive?
I’ve said in the past that I felt like a snail without a shell, going through life feeling every breeze, each drop of rain, every grain of sand, in a different way than those who had their shell; those who didn’t take in as much.
This sensitivity can be a gift and a curse. Us sensitive types tend to be creative and empathetic. Unfortunately, we’re also over-analytical, and tend to make big deals out of little things.
When in a long-distance relationship, our sensitivity can be our best asset – or our undoing. Since so much of this bond relies on verbal and written communication, our extra sensitivity can pick up some of the slack for what we’re missing in those non-verbal cues (body language, tone of voice, etc). We might notice, for example, that he’s not texting back as much as he normally does. Those few extra moments between texts might go unnoticed by some less sensitive types, but we have an almost bizarre natural instinct to feel that something is different. We can then make sure they are feeling okay, or ask if they are having a tough day at work. We are able to anticipate their moods and reactions, based on minimal data. We simply feel a disturbance in the LDR force.
However, our sensitivity can get us into big trouble in our LDR, too. I’ve noticed three ways this can happen:
1. Our well-meaning sensitivity gets misinterpreted. In most long-distance relationships, trust is a major challenge. Being so far away, we need to be able to trust our SO to be honest & faithful. Even in less sensitive people, this trust can be challenged in unexpected ways. Take our example from earlier: We notice our partner is texting us less than they usually do. We presume (perhaps even correctly!) that they are busier than normal. Our response is to back off, and we feel we are being thoughtful by doing so. It isn’t until an hour later that we learn they are upset, feeling as if we are too busy for them. (They probably hadn’t realised they had been sending us texts at a .03 millisecond slower rate… let’s be honest, most people wouldn’t.)
2. Our intuition gets knocked out of tune. Sometimes – our intuition is just wrong. I’ve had some really bad relationship days because I thought he was angry at me when he wasn’t. My frustrated, premature, preemptive reactions were uncalled for and based on an incorrect interpretation of my emotional data.
3. Our feelings get hurt by minor things. We all know this one. Whether we consider ourselves highly sensitive or not, sometimes we get bent out of shape over something that – in the end – didn’t matter that much, or wasn’t meant to insult or hurt us. When we are sensitive AND in an LDR, this can be amplified. Again, so much rests on that verbal communication. It’s going to happen: we take things the wrong way. We make assumptions when we shouldn’t. We put words in each other’s mouths and thoughts in each other’s brains. Our tough little snail shells aren’t there, and we feel
I am telling you now from experience:
Toughen up, Buttercup!
To have a happy and successful LDR, find the prettiest, hardest, thickest shell you can – and crawl right in.
This isn’t to say that we should hide our natural, attractive vulnerability. But when it comes to matters of our LDR, we need to learn to hear our sensitivity sirens and investigate them.
I believe self-awareness and mindfulness are the best methods for conquering just about anything. Once we are aware of an issue we might have, we can be more alert to seeing it and working on it. Here are a few ways I’ve been able to keep my sensitivity under control, instead of letting it control me.
1. REFUSE TO BE OFFENDED. There are so many moments in an LDR when our significant other might say something we don’t totally love – mainly because they say so much. A long-distance bond relies so much on our words. With that much verbal traffic, there will be moments our sensitive little snail-skins are stinging.
Ask yourself, can I laugh this off? Do I want to argue over this? Lately, I’m getting better at saying “you are a brat” (or something else playful and light) and sending him a 🙄, followed with a ❤. Generally, the air clears quickly and I’m happy to have avoided any drama. It is liberating.
2. RECOGNIZE THAT WE MIGHT BE PROJECTING. Often, when our feelings are hurt, it has more to do with our tender scars from the past than what is happening in the present moment. We overreact because we are not reacting to what is happening right now – we are reacting to every familiar event stored in our memory. We have a long, tangled chain of individual painful memories (a pain-chain, if you will) that we started collecting in our infancy or childhood.
Before we react, think: does this feel just like the time that ______________ (my dad, my ex, my friend when I was four) hurt me? We can’t expect our SO to untangle our knotted pain-chain – and it won’t make us feel better to smack them on the head with it, either. For those deeper, life-long issues, consider therapy, meditation, or self-help.
3. DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. This is a huge one, and to be honest, I’m still working on this one heavily myself. When your SO goes quiet or a seems a bit short with you, instead of asking if he’s angry, or if you’ve said something wrong, or even worse – simply assuming that he is…
Give him a 😊 and ask him how things are going. This is a regular occurrence for me, and nine out of ten times, he got busy at work, or he dozed off, or he was driving. Instead of introducing the idea of some kind of drama, try to act as if everything is fine – and usually… It is.
That’s the end of part one of this six-part series, but if you’ve enjoyed it, please feel free to subscribe for more!
Lesson Two in my series will deal with opening up (Huh? But we’ve just put our shells on…?).
Do you have an example of how sensitivity has hurt your LDR? Helped it?
Feel free to leave me a comment or contact me with any comments or questions!