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How to navigate long - distance relationships at university

Speaking to couples, Dan Hutton outlines the best methods for successfully maintaining a long distance relationship while at university.

By Daniel Hutton, Co-Deputy Features Editor

Deciding whether or not to commit to a long-distance relationship during university is a big decision to make. Many couples deliberately break up before university in order to save the pain of being apart for so long, or because they are not sure whether they — or their partner — is ready to commit.

Epigram talked to students in long distance relationships to discover how they navigated the complicated parts of their relationships.

Isaac, a third-year student, commented on the difficulty of committing to a relationship despite the distance, describing how they would both ‘Dance around the topic, worried the other wasn't looking for something that serious.’

While all of the respondents acknowledged the challenges of going long distance at university, they also highlighted how their relationships enhanced their experience. Sam, another third-year student, noted that having his partner grounded him and gave him a sense of stability and security, saying ‘Knowing I can confide in her with anything was helpful when everything else is undergoing a pretty massive change.’

Relationships require work in whatever form they take. If you and your partner are thinking about going long distance at university, here are some words of wisdom from people that have been through it and understand the complexities of being in a relationship while at university.

One aspect that makes committing to a long-distance relationship at university difficult is how full your schedule can get. One respondent, who wished to remain anonymous, noted that ‘From April onwards, I would have very slow replies during the day when I'm at the library. She always understood, but it doesn’t change the fact the conversation barely flows.’

All relationships require work, regardless of distance, and learning what it takes to love someone deeply at a young age will benefit you for the rest of your life.

Relationships can get hard when life is busy; managing your university workload and social life can be overwhelming, and sometimes you’ll have fewer opportunities to speak to your partner. This can lead to communication breaking down and partners feeling as though they are drifting away from one another.

To combat this, frequent and open communication is key. Sam pointed out that checking in and talking to your partner every day was a good idea, however he emphasised that it was ‘Not in a way that we were tracking what the other was doing, just seeing how we’re both feeling.’

He went on to say that ‘You don’t have any physical interactions to give you signals as to how the other’s doing, so by establishing checking in as just a regular thing it gives the chance for each of us to say when we’re not doing so well and get support.’

If you’re thinking about ending a relationship because of the distance that university creates, know that there are ways to make it easier and that there may be a real value in continuing

When the opportunities to communicate become less frequent, planning ahead can make things easier. For example, during Isaac’s second year, he made sure to revise when he knew that his partner had work to do, or was seeing her friends, so he could align his free time with hers. He also let her know in advance when he was going to be in the library for a long period of time, so that she could plan similarly.

During this time, Isaac also emphasised the need for ‘Long, (pre)arranged phone calls’, rather than shorter ones. Watching TV together, making meals or just staying up chatting can make the distance between two people feel so much smaller.

One respondent recommended planning online date nights where you can do activities together over a video call. They went on to say how things like virtual escape rooms and quizzes made the periods in which they were away from each other easier.

Tim Gouw / Unsplash

Another benefit of facetiming each other regularly is that it counteracts the negative aspects of relying on text as the sole form of communication.

Non-verbal cues are extremely important in any form of communication: things like the tone of your voice and your facial expressions make up much of how we perceive and respond to what someone is saying. Unfortunately, none of this can be conveyed through text messages. This can lead to you or your partner misinterpreting messages, which can cause friction over something trivial, something that wouldn’t have happened if you were with — or even calling — each other.

One student described how even small things, like thinking your partner is annoyed at you, can spiral without proper communication. ‘I thought she was annoyed at me or taking something out on me and then later I learned she was actually going through something tough. Had she not communicated with me afterwards I might’ve said something or had an attitude that would’ve turned us against each other and escalated the situation, rather than making it something we got through together which made us closer as a couple.’

Whilst facetiming is definitely better than text, nothing can beat seeing your loved one in person. Many of the respondents recommended travelling to each other during term time if it’s possible. If your partner is also at university, exploring a new city with them and planning days out in advance can get you both even more excited about the time you’re going to spend with each other.

However, with the government overseeing the biggest increase to rail prices in over a decade this year on top of a transport network that is already 30% more expensive for customers in comparison to railways in Europe, it’s safe to say that the train might not be an option for many students.

Despite coming with longer travel times, travelling by coach can be a more cost-effective option than getting the train. Unidays offer 15% off national express coaches, which can help to save that extra bit of cash.

Whilst there is a unique set of challenges that come with being a couple during university, It shouldn’t be the only reason to break up. All relationships require work, regardless of distance, and learning what it takes to love someone deeply at a young age will benefit you for the rest of your life.

Research has indicated that having high levels of emotional intelligence can increase relationship satisfaction. This type of intelligence (like most) is developed through experience. Going through the hard parts of being long distance with your partner will allow you to improve the way you communicate, empathise and resolve conflicts — all central parts of emotional intelligence.

For example, Sam described how he navigates the difficult times during his relationship by recognising the importance of setting boundaries. He also drew attention to the importance of discussing ‘Why something matters to your partner so it doesn’t just feel like an arbitrary rule that’s been set.’ He went on to say that he’s had to ‘Learn that someone’s feelings might have a strange cause but they’re always legitimate and should be respected in that way.’

Developing emotional intelligence can also help with the very real problems that can be caused by anxiety over cheating, especially in the context of the hook-up culture which university promotes. For Isaac, ‘Communication plays a massive part in it, especially at university, if you don’t communicate with your partner they could get paranoid and make bad decisions out of pride or just be impulsive in general.’

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If you’re thinking about ending a relationship because of the distance that university creates, know that there are ways to make it easier and that there may be a real value in continuing, if you don’t feel ready to break-up.

Featured image: Unsplash / Nadine Shaabana

What advice would you offer to maintain a long-distance relationship while at university?