One of the pieces of advice we have given previously on this blog is to always have a long term goal. Establish early on in any long distance relationship what your plans for the future are, who will make the move, and roughly when. This puts long distance couples in a unique situation. You talk about living together, moving in, marriage, and maybe even starting a family much before other couples. And this is because you need to.
You need to know what your partner is willing to sacrifice for you, and what you are willing to give up for them. Not talking about this is one of the main reasons long distance relationships do not work out. But it also brings its own unique set of problems: mainly, explaining all of this to your friends and family.
My Personal Experience
I was quite lucky in this situation. I used the first method that I will discuss below, and this developed into a conversation between me and my mum (whilst waiting to pick my brother up from a guitar lesson) about the future of my relationship with Chelsea. She wanted to know if we had discussed any future plans. This gave me a platform to talk about how we had discussed either of us moving, and eventually decided that for Chelsea to make the move (in both of our current life circumstances) would be our best option.
This was followed up by a conversation about whether we had discussed marriage, and even our timescale. I explained that I would propose roughly when I graduate (although exactly when will still be a surprise for Chelsea). By this point we will have been dating for roughly two years. After which, the visa will require me to work in a graduate position for at least 6 months before we can apply. And then finally, once the visa is approved we will have 6 months to marry. So, all in all, we will have been dating for nearly 3 years by the time we make that final step.
And, fortunately, my parents were supportive of this. They recognised that we were serious in our relationship, and had weighed up the pros and cons of each option available to us. They wanted to be reassured that this was not something that I was “just saying” but as soon as they were convinced, they were supportive 100% of the way.
Why Can Friends and Family Be Problematic?
The main thing to remember here, is that everyone is different. Everyone’s friends and family will react to you telling them your long term plans differently. Chelsea’s family asked her almost immediately about our future, where she saw our relationship going, and are even asking for dates of the wedding. This is probably the best you possible situation you could hope for.
My friends and family, however, are not quite the same. My family is much more private, and not quite so involved in each others lives. My friends on the other hand (being mainly guys in their early 20s) probably have not even considered that we have talked about long term goals. And definitely have not asked. This is when friends and family can become problematic. And you start to wonder, when and how to tell them. And also, whether or not they will be supportive of you.
There are, however, a number of ways to approach this. None are more right than the others, and it depends on both your situation, and relationship with them. So, here are my top three ways of explaining your long distance plans to your friends and family.
1. Wait For Them To Ask You About It
This is personally the method that I favour. I waited for my parents to ask whether we had thought about any long term plans, which developed into a conversation about the plans that Chelsea and I have made (for Chelsea to move to England on a fiance visa). For me, this was the most natural way for this to conversation to happen. Not only did it show that my parents took an interest in our relationship, but also allowed me to express everything that I wanted to say comfortably. I am currently waiting for my friends to ask a similar question, so that I can also have this conversation with them.
2. Bring It Up With Them
For me, this method feels a little bit more forced than waiting for your friends or family to ask about your plans. It may come across as more unnatural, and a little more clinical than you expect. By this I mean that if your friends and family are not ready, or interested at that moment about your plans, you may end up purely explaining, rather than having the conversation you expected. Nonetheless, this can still be a useful method if you time it correctly, and you do not expect your friends or family to ask (whether it is not in their nature, or your plans will soon be set in motion).
3. Wait Until The Plans Are In Motion
This is probably the method I would recommend last, and personally is not something I would do myself. Because this entails waiting until you have made the plans (whether it be to move, to get married, or have children) and then explain these to your friends and family once it is already set in stone. The main issue with this is that it can devalue your relationship with those that you wait to tell. While if you tell them beforehand they can express their opinion, waiting until after the plans are in motion will make them seem like a secondary consideration.
The only time I would really recommend waiting this long to tell them would be if you are certain they will not be supportive of your decision. But, bear in mind, if they are not supportive of you pursuing what will make you happy, then are they really someone you want to be friends with.
These are my summaries of the three main ways to tell your friends and family of your long distance relationship plans. It can, at first, feel daunting, as you hope they will be supportive of you but can never truly know until they tell you. But, all that matters at the end of the day, is what you feel that you have made the right decision and are doing (for you) what will make you happy?
What If They Are Not Supportive?
This is pretty much everybody’s worst nightmare. For people to be unsupportive of your relationship, and long distance plans can feel crushing. And it can put you in a very difficult situation. There is a fairly mixed bag of advice out there on the internet on how to deal with situations like this, however, it proves the point that you should not always pay heed to what you read online. The height of the bad advice has to be the WikiHow article stating that if your parents ban you from seeing each other: accept it and move on.
This is pretty much the exact opposite of the attitude that you should have. While it is not wise to completely ignore the opinion of your family and friends, it is also important to acknowledge they do have an opinion (without letting it completely dictate what you do). If this is how they respond to you, there is surely something that is making them feel that way. You should try to understand what it is exactly they are concerned about. Generally, there are a few issues which may be of underlying concern to them.
1. Losing Contact
It may be that they are concerned that this will mean you will move abroad and they will lose touch with you. If this is the case, reassure that them that if you do move, it does not mean that you will forget about them. You will still be able to communicate and stay in each other’s lives: whether that is through Skype, or visiting home. The truth is, as people grow up, they see their friends ad family less often – just remember this does not mean you will be any less close to them. If they are truly your friends, then when you speak, it will be as if nothing has changed.
2. Changing Your Mind
Another common concern that friends and family will often have, is whether you are making this decision on a whim. What if, in 6 months, you change your mind. By that point, you may be in an unfamiliar country, with no-where else to go and probably very little money. This can be tricky to respond to, but you have to remind them that you will not change your mind, that this is something you know that you want. You are the one in the LDR, not them. It can be difficult to explain the feelings involved in a LDR to those who have not experienced one. Just try to reassure them that you are certain it is what you want, and should any difficulties arise, you have a great support network back home who you know will help you with anything.
3. Have You Thought It Through?
This is probably the most common question long distance couples face from their friends and family. It can be infuriating. At first you might think, well of course we have thought it through, why wouldn’t we have? But it is important to remember your friends and family are only looking out for you. Take a step back for a moment and think: could you see yourself living without your partner? Do you know the visa requirements? Do you know you will be able to move? Do you think you will be happy? If you can answer yes to all of these questions, then you have thought it through. If not, be honest, and think on it more, until you are able to say you have thought it through.
4. Not Approving Of Your Partner
While not as common, this is probably the toughest to hear. But you should not just cast this aside. Think, for a moment, whether your partner has done anything that would make your friends and family disapprove of them. If yes, then think about how it made you feel, and whether you feel as though you have moved on in your relationship. If you can honestly answer yes to yourself, then explain that, and why you feel this way. If not, then perhaps you should wait until you feel as though you have moved past this point before explaining your future plans.
Of course, if you cannot think of a reason they would disapprove of your partner, simply ask them. If they can give you an honestly reasoned, and logical answer then take it on board, and let them know that you value their opinion. If not, then they are either being petty, or using this to mask another reason on this list. Either way, it is something you should not give up on. Let them know that when they are ready to speak to you openly, and reasonably, then you will hear them out. But do not let them influence your opinion with pettiness or lies.