There’s plenty of info out there about how to cultivate your romantic relationships, from conflict resolution strategies, how to improve your libido to dating after divorce. What’s harder to find is quality expert advice on how to keep long-distance friendships alive.
Look no further because psychologist, Dr Bronwyn Coward, offers her top five tips for building and keeping healthy long-distance friendships.
How to have long-distance friendships that thrive
It’s about turning up and being consistent in spending time with each other whether it's over the phone or video conferencing.
You might wonder if long-distance friendships work given the frantic pace of modern life. It sometimes feels hard to maintain friendships with people in the same postcode, let alone with friends who live far away.
But Dr Bronwyn says not only can they work, but long-distance relationships with your friends can thrive. Try these five tips for nurturing your long-distance friendships and for building healthy friendships in general.
1. Be consistent
This is the most important thing you can do for long-distance friendships, according to Dr Bronwyn.
“It’s about turning up and being consistent in spending time with each other whether it's over the phone or video conferencing. Make sure that you’re having consistent catch-ups.”
This doesn’t mean you have to make big changes to your schedule, explains Dr Bronwyn.
“What’s more important is making small tweaks to your routine. This can go a long way in building healthier long-distance friendships.”
2. Connect in creative ways
Just like with our romantic partners, doing interesting activities together can help strengthen friendship bonds. But when we can’t see people face-to-face, it can be extra challenging to have more creative catch-ups.
Here’s a list chock-full of creative ways you can spend quality time with your long-distance bestie:
- Walk and talk. Go for a stroll and talk to your friend at the same time. It’s a great way to be more physically active and socially connected.
- Become pen pals. Write each other letters the old-school way with pen and paper.
- Show you care – with caffeine. Buy your friend a gift card that she can spend at her favourite cafe.
- Catch up at the movies (the home cinema, that is). Coordinate watching a movie at the same time.
- Form a book club. Make your next read a shared read with your friend.
- Light up their life with a friendship lamp. Buy a pair and when one lamp is touched, the other one lights up. It might seem a bit cheesy, but it could help if you’re really missing each other.
- Friends that get more flexible together… Do an online yoga class at the same time.
- Go green. See who can grow the best herb garden.
- Cook a hearty meal. Decide on a recipe and cook the same meal together – virtually.
3. Make it more meaningful
Dr Bronwyn says that long-distance friendships are strengthened when you make your interactions more meaningful and personally relevant.
One way to do this is to figure out what your love languages are and use them to strengthen your friendship bonds. Love languages are part of a theory that everyone has a preferred way to give and receive love, whether that be via:
- words of affirmation
- quality time
- acts of service
- physical touch
4. Rethink guilt
Sometimes the consistency of catch-ups can slip a little, especially when you’ve both got a lot going on. At times like these, Dr Bronwyn says to rethink the guilt you might feel about not being in touch as much as you ‘should’.
“Is it really about guilt? It could be more about reframing it in a healthier way and setting more realistic expectations for yourself. Life happens, and we’re not going to be consistent 100% of the time. If you don’t have time to do X, Y, and Z this month, that’s OK especially when you’re respecting your personal boundaries.”
5. Respect the rituals
There might be that one thing that you and your friend always did together. Such as going camping on the same long weekend every year or giving each other silly gifts on birthdays. Dr Bronwyn says it’s really important for your friendship to commit to keeping up with these rituals and traditions.
Long-distance friendships are valuable
While it can be tougher to stay connected with long-distance friends, it’s worth making the effort to nurture true friendships. Dr Bronwyn says the key is to be consistent by scheduling regular catch-up times. When life gets hectic, sometimes catch-ups don’t happen – and that’s OK.
If you try some of Dr Bronwyn’s tips, long-distance friendships can thrive. And in our current climate, holding on to our friends is so important. Good friends can literally make even the hilliest hills seem less steep. So, cheers to our friends here, there and everywhere.
Dr Bronwyn Coward is a registered Psychologist, an endorsed Clinical Neuropsychologist and an AHPRA board-approved supervisor who draws on over a decade of experience to bring solution-based assessments to her clients.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board August 2, 2021.