With September in full swing, it’s time to trade our beach reads for textbooks, pack our bags, and prepare for the start of a new semester at college. For some of you, the end of summer does not just mean saying dramatic goodbyes to your pet or bracing yourself for dining hall food, it also means moving away from your boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe you’re about to start your freshman year at college, and your partner is still in high school, or you’re still in college and they’re preparing to move away for graduate school, or one of you is going abroad. Long distance relationships in college come in all shapes and sizes, and start for any number of reasons, but the one characteristic that should be consistent in every long-distance relationship is healthiness. An unhealthy long-distance relationship can be incredibly damaging to both partners and has the potential to escalate into emotional and verbal abuse.
They say the key to any long-distance relationship is communication, but it is always important to realize when healthy communication has taken a turn for the worse. It’s natural for you and your partner to miss each other, but behaviors such as sending you threatening text messages, getting angry when you don’t respond to them immediately, or bombarding you with phone calls should give you serious pause. Keeping in touch with a long-distance partner should be something you want, and you should never feel intimidated into talking to them, or obligated when engaging in sexual activities like sending them nudes or sexting. Depending on the couple, keeping in very close contact can be par for the course, but if the sound of your phone buzzing makes your heart sink or the idea of missing a call from your partner gives you anxiety, it is time to take a second look at your relationship.
College is about academic enrichment, but it’s also about enjoying yourself. If your partner is preventing that, your relationship may not be healthy. Everyone in college has a different idea of fun. For some people, the ideal college experience is a four-year long I’m Shmacked video; for others, it’s all about quiet nights in with their friends. Different long-distance couples set boundaries that work for them about how they behave when they are apart. Be careful not to confuse boundaries with control. Your partner should not be doing things like manipulating you into feeling guilty about having fun without them, forcing you to Snap them constantly so they know your exact location, or stopping you from having friends that they do not know. Jealousy, insecurity, and heightened emotions are natural in long-distance relationships, but they should not consume you or your partner to the point where either of you is no longer treating the other with respect and trust.
Long-distance relationships aren’t for everyone, and they most certainly aren’t easy, but for them to work it is so important that both people are committed to maintaining a healthy relationship. The key to any relationship is communication, and in the beginning of the long-distance relationship, it is especially important to be honest and establish boundaries. For example, you and your partner could decide, “when one of us is jealous, we will address it calmly, with a clear head, and the other person will try not to be dismissive” or, “when we are lonely, we will choose a book to read together in order to feel more connected.” Every couple has their own way of navigating a long-distance relationship, and every person has his or her own way of dealing with the emotionally-charged situations that can often surround relationships like this. At the end of the day, your gut will tell you if you are in a bad situation, and you shouldn’t ignore it. Don’t disregard red flags. Even if your partner is not physically present, it does not mean the potential for an abusive situation is gone. As you start the new semester, remember that prioritizing your relationship is important, but so is taking care of yourself.
This blog was contributed by Mati, a Tulane University student, Let's Be Real member, and former intern at Break the Cycle.