Longing: 5 Ways to Cope When Someone You Love Is Far Away
Longing: 5 Ways to Cope When Someone You Love Is Far Away

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it can be challenging to be separated from the people you love. Here's how to ease the pain.

Finding new ways to stay in touch, such as texting and video chatting, can help people cope with long-distance relationships.

Long-distance relationships are common, especially among younger couples. Researchers have found that up to 40 percent of college students are involved in some kind of long-distance romance, and that plenty of older adults are likewise dating someone far away.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. There's also evidence that it can improve certain aspects of a relationship. One study found that people in long-distance relationships scored higher in measures of love for their partner, “fun with partner,” and conversational quality, compared with couples who lived near each other. The long-distance couples also reported lower levels of “feeling trapped.”

While all that's good stuff, there's a major downside to long-distance relationships: missing the other person when you're apart. This longing to be with someone isn't confined to romantic relationships. Grandparents may long to be with their children and grandchildren, and parted friends may long for each other's company.

What Is Longing?

“At its core, longing contains two opposite experiences at the same time,” says Steff Du Bois, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

“On one hand, longing is based on one's deep desire for someone or something, which can be positive,” Dr. Du Bois says. Put another way, you need to care about someone before you can long for them, and feeling that affection for another human being Constanta in Romania bride is a good thing.

“On the other hand, we feel longing because the thing we want is also the thing that we don't have,” Du Bois says. “This can bring discontent or emotional and physical pain.”

While longing can sometimes feel like a form of grieving, there's a major difference between the two. “Longing can be relieved,” Du Bois says. “It can dissipate when we're reunited with the person we're missing.”

Like any other human emotion, the experience of longing can range from mild to severe, says Andy Merolla, PhD, an associate professor of communication at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

You might feel a gentle pang now and then when you think about a friend who lives in another place. Or you might feel so heartsick over a long-distance romance that you can't eat, sleep, or enjoy life until your partner is back by your side.

5 Ways to Cope With Feelings of Longing

Wherever you fall on the spectrum of longing, experts say there are some helpful ways to mitigate the pain you're feeling.

1. Spend More Time With Friends

When you're longing for someone, spending time with other people can be a potent balm for the pain you're feeling, according to a research study on long-distance relationships.

“Any time you feel disconnected or lonely, spending time with friends can be helpful,” Dr. Merolla says. Longing, he adds, can make you feel like you're only complete when you're with this other person. Spending time with friends can help dispel or assuage those feelings.

2. Stay Busy

The above-mentioned research study found that when people in long-distance relationships keep busy - with work, friends, or other activities - their feelings of longing or loneliness tend to decrease.

That study also found that certain periods of time tend to be especially difficult for people in long-distance relationships. For example, the days just after seeing their longed-for person, time around the holidays, and “lull” periods (when you don't have much going on) tend to increase negative emotions.

Keeping busy during these times - for example, by planning ahead to be with friends or complete a project - can help decrease longing, the study indicates.

3. Look at the Bright Side

When you're longing for someone, you can get stuck on the negatives - namely, that you want to be with that person, but can't be.

However, being separated some of the time isn't all bad. “Try to identify some of the benefits of being apart,” Merolla advises.

For example, not having the person around may allow you more time for self-care, or to do things you enjoy that you wouldn't do if that person were around. For example, you might be more likely to exercise or pursue hobbies. “Being apart may also give you more time to get your work done or do other chores so that, when you're able to be together, you can be more available to each other,” he says.

It's possible to reimagine your time apart as an opportunity, not just a hardship. Reframing things in this way can help lessen the pain, he adds.

4. Figure Out What to Accept and What to Change

If you're longing for someone, accepting that there are certain aspects of your situation that you just can't change can be a helpful coping strategy, research suggests.

“Ask yourself, what about the situation can I accept?” says Du Bois, who is author of the new book I'm Not Okay and That's Okay: Mental Health Microskills to Deal with Life's Inevitable Struggles. “For instance, maybe you can accept that you won't see someone you're longing for for a month.”

Now identify something about your situation that you can change - or that you don't have to accept. “Aim for something small here,” Du Bois says. “For example, you can change how much you communicate with the person you're longing for.”

5. Find New Ways to Stay in Touch

Research in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships has found that people in long-distance relationships who exchange lots of text messages tended to have greater relationship satisfaction than those who didn't.

Merolla says long-distance relationships can also give couples an opportunity to communicate in new and creative ways. “You could send the other person a letter,” he suggests. “Handwritten letters are powerful because they take time and require solitary focus on the recipient, and they're also something tangible that lasts.”

Of course, there's always a risk of overdoing it. “You don't want to come on too strong, especially at the start of a new relationship,” Merolla says.

If you think you may be texting, calling, or trying to communicate too frequently, he recommends following the other person's lead - that is, trying to match their volume of texts or other communications with your own.