Works a distant relationship

Long-distance relationship and weekend relationship - opportunities and burdens for the partnership

The core problems of long-distance relationships

The two different everyday and adventure worlds

A core problem of the spatially separated relationship is the fact that the two partners usually come from completely different everyday lives each time they meet - and so when one returns, two different worlds collide. The most central of all challenges for the couple is therefore to have to develop their own way of communicating. The couple must try to “share” the different positive and negative experiences in everyday life, sensitivities, expectations or hopes, fears or fears in order to be able to participate in the world of experience and the world of feelings of the other.

Even if the partners try to let the other participate in their own everyday life as best they can and to be told about the everyday life of the other, the core problem still remains: whether after a working week or after weeks and months of separation, the two personalities have to be At every reunion experience, but also internal and external changes and developments, combine to create a common world of experience.

Central fulfillment and stress factors in long-distance relationships

Central fulfillment and stress factors in a partnership are the following important aspects, the quality of which decides how satisfactory or fulfilling or just how stressful the partnership is perceived:

  • Love,
  • successful communication (verbal and non-verbal),
  • Security (intimacy) and trust as well
  • fulfilling sexuality.

Love stands for the basic spiritual bond and basis of the couple. This also means mutual respect and the renouncement of wanting to dominate the partner. Successful communication, both in words and non-verbally (in gestures, facial expressions, etc.), has an outstanding position in the partnership in general and in the long-distance relationship in particular. The mutual security (intimacy) and trust stand for the feeling of togetherness (we-feeling) as well as for a mutual reliability and also enable a physically noticeable “ability to lean on and let go”. In addition, one's own form of shared, fulfilling sexuality is the fourth essential pillar that is responsible for long-term relationship satisfaction and thus stability.

If one or more pillars in the partnership are experienced as unsatisfactory in the long term, the partnership is burdened accordingly.

Here - in addition to the different living environments - another essential problem of the long-distance relationship becomes apparent: all four dimensions cannot be experienced and experienced in a “conventional” way, such as in a “close relationship”, during the spatial separation. In times of separation, communication and security or intimacy as well as fulfilling sexuality can naturally only be experienced in a mostly deficient manner, ie “fragmentarily” or one-sided. From this it can then be deduced that the quality of love is heavily dependent on how the couple succeeds in communicating about the world of thoughts and feelings, but above all the fulfilling design of these central factors both during the separated as well as in the shared Times to communicate.

The process of emotional development in long-distance relationships ("emotional development cycles")

In fact, many couples experience certain processes and emotional developments over and over again in a similar (analogous) way, regardless of their individuality. In general, phases of crisis or grief can be recognized in the course of the individual sections of the long-distance relationship. Of course, the developments are different depending on the reason, duration, frequency, general stress (psychological and physical world of experience) and stress or fulfillment in separate everyday life. The basic relationship satisfaction and stability also have a direct effect on the development of feelings. Apart from that, however, the following phases can be recognized before the (immediate) departure, during the separation and when or after the reunion, similar to stressful events (such as the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness):

1st phase: Distancing, withdrawing and denying the problem (isolation and negation),
2nd phase: Anger, anger, sadness up to severe sadness or depression and finally slow acceptance of the changed state,
3rd phase: Detachment (distance) and acceptance of the changed conditions (acceptance) and the resulting increasing redesign of the changed situation. Finally, there is also an increasing exchange (interaction) with important people about the consequences or the gradual ability to approach others again (solidarity).

Immediately before departure, the partners very often distance themselves from one another - or have an exceptionally high need for support. The withdrawal from the partner in this departure phase often means nothing more than that the imminent departure is immediately “mourned in advance” (prospective mourning). Even if both partners actually want to make the little remaining time together as harmonious as possible, the separation already casts its shadow.

Similar to another stressful event (e.g. a serious operation) or in other times when the partners want to experience the time together in a particularly harmonious and emotional way ("Christmas effect": cf. Wendl: Gelingende Fern-Relationship, 5th edition 2012 as well as Wendl: Soldier im Einsatz - Partnership in Action 2011), it is important for the couple to know that there is often arguments and discussions in these phases - and that the partners distance themselves from one another. What is important for the couple is the reassuring knowledge that these conflicts (disharmonies) are not uncommon - and that feelings (emotions) not shown during these times do not in any way have to mean that the feelings are generally absent.

In the weekend relationship, this feeling can be referred to as the “Sunday feeling” when you leave. Planning for the coming week often begins at noon at the latest. Departure and travel planning, but also the preparation of the logistics (laundry, determining the departure time, weekly planning) strain the remaining time together and often create a feeling of anxiety among the partners.
Immediately upon departure and in the days afterwards, the couples often experience a “feeling of being lost” with possibly large fluctuations in feelings (“emotional disorganization”). Anger (towards the long-distance relationship, towards the partner, the employer, etc.), anger and sadness are often also associated with it (“Sunday / Monday feeling”).

If the emotional world has slowly leveled off in the separate period of time, the partners' increasingly confident handling of the new solitude stabilizes (see acceptance and redesign). During the week, depending on the quality of the relationship, the partners experience longing and loneliness (“yo-yo effect” of feelings), but also increasing stability. The partners can now recognize and shape the opportunities and freedom; self-esteem is strengthened by coping with the separation.

Shortly before returning home, the planning for the time together begins. Plans are being made for the reunion. Now, however, when you return, the living and everyday worlds described collide. Despite fears, expectations, hopes and the knowledge of the tense situation, both partners want to make the reunion or return as harmonious as possible. Instead of the desired harmony, however, often "reign" again - after the first joy of seeing each other has leveled off - arguments, arguments and disputes. This often leads to disappointment and the feeling of having drifted apart or become a stranger.

But here, too, it is important for the couple to know that these are normal developments that the couple can overcome or use to develop further. It “only” has to realize that getting used to each other takes time. As a rule of thumb, it is important that the partners get used to each other again about as long as the separation itself - and up to 50% longer. With a separation of four months (see foreign deployments of soldiers), the time that the couple needs to become a new, common “team” can therefore take about four to six months. Only then are all of the essential rituals, responsibilities and interaction with one another re-established.

If you take this rule of thumb for long-distance relationships as a basis, the particular stress of the weekend relationship becomes apparent. On the one hand, the couple sees each other relatively often, usually every weekend. In addition, however, there is limited, often insufficient, time together to deal with the separate time, everyday life. After the “storms” of the reunion (“Friday feeling”) have subsided, the actual mutual partnership phase is limited to the Saturday and the limited, usually only half a Sunday. Only this short period of time is available for dealing with the past and planning and designing what is to come.

In the long run, in addition to the problem of not having a common everyday life, there is also the risk of “superficialization” of the relationship with too little opportunity to exchange feelings, hopes or expectations and fears or fears.

The opportunities and design possibilities of the long-distance relationship

If the couple learns to come to terms with the burdens of the partnership at a distance and to use the special freedom that arises, the long-distance relationship offers an extraordinary opportunity to shape and experience partnership intensively and creatively. The main burdens and opportunities in long-distance relationships are accordingly (see Wendl: Successful long-distance relationship 2012; Soldier in action - Partnership in action 2011; Schneider / Limmer / Ruckdeschel 2002):

  • the large amount of time spent together, which literally “falls by the wayside”;
  • one's own rhythm of life often excludes others (friends and relatives) as well as, for example, a hobby that has become a favorite;
  • the development of different living environments between the couples and the problem of having to achieve these differences - depending on the common time frequencies - always anew as a common world of relationships;
  • the extraordinary chance of independence and self-confidence in the partnership: single times alternate with intense solidarity;
  • the fact that common everyday life can only be lived in common times. In the separate times, partners can hardly count on their life partner directly;
  • Since one partner usually spends significantly more time in the shared apartment, the home is perceived increasingly differently (usually no longer neutral, but positive or negative). There is always the risk that a partner could perceive the time together as a “break-in” into their own everyday life (“relief” after departure to be able to be alone again in their own realm or to feel like a guest in their own home). In this way rituals play a role, e.g. on the one hand for the times we share and on the other hand for the separate times. But there is also the great chance of constant liveliness and the possibility of preventing a "daily routine of the relationship". What is one-sidedly established and boring in the daily grind is after all one of the greatest dangers for many relationships;
  • the partners change during longer separations (“externally and internally”). The smallest changes are perceived more intensely (positive as well as negative).

The effects of these bases on the partnership vary depending on the state of the relationship (stability and relationship satisfaction of the partners) as well as the framework conditions of the partnership (relatives, children, stress or support in private and professional areas, etc.) and depending on the stress factor.

Orientation rules for the weekend relationship

Even if every long-distance relationship ultimately has to be mastered by the couple themselves, the following rules should be mentioned as an orientation on how long-distance relationships can succeed (according to G. Bodenmann, cf. also Wendl 2012, p. 150):

  • Define yourself as a couple and get that sense of togetherness.
  • Arrange regular meetings and do not miss them.
  • Try not to say goodbye to each other without knowing when you will see each other again.
  • You avoid disappointment if you don't overload the weekend with excessive expectations.
  • Don't burden your time together with too many commitments like shopping, cleaning, or visiting relatives.
  • Communicate with each other regularly during the week and let your partner participate in your everyday life.
  • Create rituals. These reinforce the feeling of togetherness.
  • Address conflicts and resolve them quickly, even if it disturbs the harmony of the rare time together.
  • Learn to resolve disputes over the phone so that you can start your weekend together without any hassle.
  • Don't let sadness dominate the last hours together if you have a hard time saying goodbye. Avoid painful and long parting scenes.
  • Clarify how long you want and can live the partnership at a distance and what requirements each partner needs for it.

The situation of children in long-distance relationships

Children in the family react differently to one-time or regular father or mother deprivation during long-distance relationships, especially when they are on assignments abroad, but also when their parents are on weekend relationships, depending on their personality and situation. Questions of upbringing and the bond between the two parents and the children play a special role. There are ongoing studies and numerous publications on these topics as part of the collaboration between the Central Institute for Marriage and Family in Society (ZFG) of the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt and the Catholic Military Bishop's Office. At this point only a few central orientations should be indicated. (This topic is dealt with in detail in: P. Wendl: Soldat in action - Partnership in action. Practical and workbook for couples and families in foreign deployments and weekend relationships, especially Chapters 4 and 5).

How do children experience their parents' long-distance relationship and how does the absence of a parent affect the children, but also the relationship between parents and their children? Differences can vary according to the respective framework conditions, e.g. B. the family situation, the siblings, but also the school or leisure situation can be determined. The age of the children in particular is decisive for dealing with the absence of a parent or for preparing for the spatial separation. It is also important whether it is a girl or a boy, as they react differently depending on their age. In the literature mentioned, a distinction is made according to the age phases infants and toddlers, kindergarten children, school children, adolescents and adolescents. So how can parents help their children? In this context, it might sound like a truism that every child needs different support. But when each child feels individually prepared, accompanied and treated, a framework is created in which their own fear or distress can be communicated more easily. In addition, a distinction can be made between age-related and age-independent tips:

Important mnemonics for parents in long-distance relationships (P. Wendl: Soldier in action - partnership in action. Practice and workbook for couples and families on deployment abroad and on weekend relationships, page 36):

  • You are not a single parent! The partner can be involved in important decisions despite the distance. Sometimes it is enough to make it clear to the child that a decision is borne by both parents.
  • Especially those returning home must be aware that the child's life at home has evolved. It will also take some time to get used to it. So it cannot be assumed that the “usual parenting place” can be taken as a matter of course.
  • It is helpful to work with the children to organize the phases of the long-distance relationship as a positive and, above all, common family project.
  • Avoid the impression that the child should or could replace the distant parent. Sentences like "now you support mom / dad when I'm not there" or "I'm very proud of you because you are so brave and don't cry" are well-intentioned, but usually lead to an unpleasant and long-term excessive demands on the child.
  • What is timelessly important: always resolve conflicts and disputes between parents without the children.This is especially true when saying goodbye and when they see you again, as these are particularly emotionally demanding time phases for children anyway.

Notes / literature

This article is based on the following publications:

  • Wendl, Peter: Successful long-distance relationship. Growing together distant. Herder publishing house, Freiburg i. Br., 5th edition, 2012.
  • Wendl, Peter: Soldier in action - partnership in action. Practice and work book for couples and families on assignment abroad and on weekends. Herder publishing house, Freiburg i. Br. 2011.
  • Wendl, Peter: Long-distance relationships as an opportunity! In: Eysmondt, Katja from: "You, sweetheart ...". Have a successful long-distance relationship. How can it go With an afterword by Peter Wendl, Hamburg 2011, 152-157.

In these books you will find further overviews, orientations and rules as well as strategy templates for a successful partnership at a distance and tips for education in long-distance relationships.

Further literature used

  • Mödl, Johanna: We can do it! A help for parents who want to cope with the times of job-related separation. An initiative in the context of the cooperation between the Central Institute for Marriage and Family in Society (ZFG) and the Catholic Military Bishop's Office.
  • Schneider, Norbert F./Limmer, Ruth / Ruckdeschel, Kerstin: Mobile, flexible, bound. Family and work in a mobile society. Frankfurt a. M. 2002, pp. 163-165.
  • Wendl, Peter: Building bridges: long-distance relationships mean walking between two worlds. In: Y.-Magazin der Bundeswehr, August 2007.
  • Wendl, Peter: The challenge of long-distance relationships? Partnership at a distance between soldiers and their partners on missions abroad. In: Kümmel, Gerhard (ed.): Servants of two masters: soldiers between the armed forces and the family, Frankfurt a. M. 2005, 123-147.
  • Wendl, Peter: Pact with longing ”. Focus 17/2003, p. 150.

author

Dr. Peter Wendl, a graduate theologian and individual, couple and family therapist, is a scientific project manager at the Central Institute for Marriage and Family in Society (ZFG) at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. As part of a long-term cooperation with the Catholic Military Bishop's Office for the German Federal Armed Forces (Berlin), he has been responsible at the ZFG since 2002 for the development of scientific and practical initiatives for the success of long-distance relationships. There he researches factors that stabilize and destabilize relationships against the background of foreign missions and weekend relationships, especially in the context of soldiers and their family members. In addition, the author worked on the topic of distance relationships as part of his dissertation with Prof. Dr. Eberhard Schockenhoff, Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg i.Br. So far, he has led more than 150 intensive events, mostly lasting several days, before or after longer assignments abroad with more than 900 couples. He has published numerous publications on topics such as “mobility, partnership, family” (long-distance relationships), resilience research and salutogenesis.

Contact

Dr. Peter Wendl
Central Institute for Marriage and Family in Society (ZFG)
Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt
Marketplace 4
85072 Eichstätt
Phone: 08421 - 93 11 41

Websites

Catholic University-Eichstaett-Dr. Peter Wendl
Successful long-distance relationship
Soldier family partnership
 

Created on January 30th, 2012, last changed on January 29th, 2012