Not too long ago, I received an email that aptly illustrates
the sentiments of many single Catholics. It stated: “I think the encouragement for internet courtship is highly unrealistic.
While long distance relationships may work in lovely anecdotes, I do not think
they are common place. I have been signed on [a Catholic singles site] for 6
months with no success, largely due to distance I suspect.”
I’ll be the first to admit that long distance relationships
(LDRs for short) are not ideal situations. From personal experience I know that
LDRs often involve more time, energy, emotional strain, and financial sacrifice
than other relationship circumstances. Yet, despite the downsides, I firmly
believe that LDRs can work out
successfully, and in fact are much more commonplace than some of us may be
willing to admit. Through my work with Catholic young adults I’ve had the
pleasure of meeting numerous couples who met and courted from across the miles,
and were able to make a long distance scenario work. Every single one of these
couples tells me that even though it wasn’t always easy, it was worth it.
Long distance relationships do not succeed or fail because
of distance. While of course distance can be a major cause of stress on a
relationship and a contributing factor to a relationship’s demise, distance is
not an insurmountable odd that cannot be overcome. I’m becoming more and more
convinced that the difficulties distance presents can be conquered with the
grace of God, two strong wills, and a mutual and firm commitment to making the
sacrifices necessary to make the relationship work. If you meet a girl or guy
across the miles who you believe has the potential of being a good spouse,
don’t let distance stand in the way of investigating the opportunity of a
But besides a “Just Do It” attitude towards long distance
relationships, is there anything else we can do to make LDRs a little easier
and give them a better chance at succeeding?
I think so.
From talking with friends and colleagues who successfully
navigated the waters of a long distance relationship, I’ve found that several
key ingredients were almost always present in a successful LDR. First, couples
in successful LDRs fully acknowledged the downsides and difficulties of their
situation – they didn’t try to pretend the difficulties did not exist. These
couples also made conscious efforts to help each other through the hardships
and over the hurdles. Secondly, couples in successful long distance
relationships were also able to appreciate the benefits of a LDR scenario, and
took active steps to maximize the positive aspects of their situation.
Now I’m sure some of you are ready to stop reading right
now. You’re thinking “Did she just say benefits to a long distance
relationship? Is she nuts or is she just crazy?!”
I rarely come across a single person who isn’t willing to
give a laundry list of the downsides of long distance relationships (myself included!).
But talk to a married couple who first met and courted long distance, and
you’ll find many of them willing to admit the ways distance strengthened their
relationship: maybe it made the couple mentally or emotionally stronger, more
patient, better verbal communicators, more committed to making the relationship
work, or just helped them get to know each other in new and deeper ways.
Whatever the positive aspects and benefits of your long
distance relationship are or will be, it’s important to first be aware of them,
and then take active steps to maximize their effectiveness in your
relationship. In addition, acknowledge the difficulties and struggles that each
of you experience because of the distance factor, so that you can help each
other minimize the effects of these hardships on the relationship. Be
encouraged that careful planning and consideration can make a less-than-ideal
situation more durable and doable. Have some long and honest discussions with
the person you’re interested in about the pros and cons of a long distance
relationship, and talk about ways you can help each other minimize the stress
and maximize the blessings. Here are a few examples of LDR pros and cons to
ponder and discuss.
Pro: Commitment &
Since most of us have entered adulthood in the midst of a
divorce-soaked society, we know that “commitment” is something desperately
lacking in many relationships in the modern world. As you prepare for marriage,
it’s important to seek a spouse who is willing and able to make a lifelong
commitment to you.
Girls, listen up! If a man is willing to cross a couple
county lines, a state line, a continent, or an ocean or two to meet you and
court you, that’s a good indicator that he highly values you and is capable of
making a more permanent commitment to you. Appreciate the extra effort and
sacrifice made in order to spend time with you.
Remember, the stronger commitment necessary for a LDR to
work is like championship relationship training that will only serve to help you
both grow in virtue and fortify your ability to commit to someone in a lifelong
Con: Time & Money
As I mentioned in Part I of this article, time and money
are costly sacrifices necessary in a long distance relationship. I know of no
quick and easy solution to this difficulty. However, LDRs do afford a good
opportunity to practice frugality, wise spending habits, and careful planning
of time and schedules in order to make time for time spent together. Learning
to budget your time and finances wisely in a LDR will only make you a more
virtuous and disciplined person, and thus also better prepared for family life
in the long run.
An often overlooked benefit of long distance relationships
is that distance gives you the opportunity to work on communication in other
ways: online chat, email, letter writing, and phone calls. In my experience,
one of the greatest blessings of a long distance relationship was the ability
to learn how to verbally communicate with the person on such a deep level – to
investigate thoughts, feelings, firmly held beliefs, and perspectives on a wide
variety of topics and issues. Distance also gives you a wealth of opportunities
to listen as well as to speak.
In his book Courtship
and Marriage, Fr. John O’Brien writes about the benefits of verbal
communication in a relationship: A
thousand times more satisfying and enduring than mere physical pleasures are
those which arise from the contact of mind with mind, of heart with heart, of personality
with personality. In the personality of even the most prosaic individuals are
hidden kingdoms of wondrous beauty. They won’t be discovered through a mere
superficial acquaintance, but only though patient exploration and continued
search (p. 36).
A long distance courtship is a fertile time to hone verbal
communication skills and grow to love the person’s mind, heart, and character.
It is a perfect chance to ask a lot of questions, hear a lot of stories, and
learn a lot of information about the person you’re interested in. Treasure that
Con: Temptations to
A downside to long distance relationships is that they have
the potential danger of breeding selfishness in place of selflessness. When
you’re in a relationship, you want dinner and movie dates on the weekends, and
long hours at a coffee shop discussing your favorite books. He wants you to
come with him to his brother’s football games on Friday nights, and she wants
you to sit next to her in church on Sunday mornings. She wants his shoulder to
cry on when she needs it…and he wants to see her eyes sparkle when he teases
In a long distance relationship, you cannot always have all
that – at least not nearly as often as you’d like. And as a result, it’s easy
to develop a selfish or sorry-for-yourself attitude towards the relationship
and the other person. However, there’s no room for selfishness in a LDR, just as
there’s no room for selfishness in marriage. The temptation to selfishness is a
long distance downside that can be overcome or avoided by being aware of the
danger, and helping each other avoid falling into the selfishness trap.
Pro: Learning to
For a long distance relationship to work, you will learn how
to trust another person with your most vulnerable and valuable treasure: your
heart. It’s risky. It’s scary. It’s difficult. But it’s definitely worth a try.
As you learn to trust another person across the miles, you
will ultimately learn how to trust your Heavenly Father more, and come to rely on
His grace and direction in new and powerful ways. You will learn to pray with
King Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your
own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your
paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Not Just in Fairy
I really appreciated receiving the email on LDRs that I
quoted at the beginning of this article. This person verbalized the fears of so
many of us single Catholics when it comes to LDRs. However, the more happily
married couples that you and I come across who met long distance, the more I
think we’ll be convinced that LDRs don’t just work in “lovely anecdotes.” They
take place in real life, involve real struggles and real blessings, and have
the capability of leading, if it’s God’s will, to a happy, blessed, lifelong
marriage. And if that’s the case, then they are certainly worth both the risk
and the reward involved.
St. Raphael, patron of
travelers and happy meetings, pray for us!
Courtship & Marriage,
by Fr. John A. O’Brien
Go the Distance – Part I,
by Stephanie Wood
Stephanie is the coordinator of NextWave Faithful™, a youth and young adult division of Family Life Center International.
She has been a frequent guest on several Catholic programs, including
EWTN Radio's Faith & Family, which she currently co-hosts with her
father, Steve Wood, and EWTN Television's Life on the Rock and The
Stephanie hosts the first worldwide radio show for Catholic youth, NextWave Live, which airs weekly on the EWTN Radio Network.She also writes a monthly e-Newsletter for teens and young adults. She can be reached at Stephanie@catholicmatch.com
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