wedded wednesdays: when you’re apart.

{We need to get talking about what marriage really looks like. In that spirit, we chat about it here once a week, on Wedded Wednesdays.}
wedded wednesdays image 2
An email arrived last week from a sweet friend. She and I are kindred spirits. I treasure her heart, and getting to know her has been a privilege. She asked a question that I’m pleased to try to answer here on Wedded Wednesdays.

What role does community play in a relationship — in my case, before marriage? As you know, my boyfriend and I are long-distance so we don’t really have a community that roots for us both (versus people who root for us individually). How can we reconcile or adapt as a long-distant couple who yearns for community?

The question you ask, dear friend, has no easy answer. With any relationship and any question, there is no one-size-fits-all. Yeah, you know that. And yeah, it complicates things. But let’s take a stab at it anyway?

{Thanks for your grace as I let my aspiring Dear Abby roam free.}

First, a little context . . . Mr. S. and I started dating in college, when our community was the same. We were friends first, and had many mutual friends. I’m still grateful for those mutual friendships today. Each has provided precious strength, strength that has built us as individuals and as a couple.

When I was a senior, Mr. S. was a junior. I graduated and took a job two hours away from him. Two hours is a cinch for a weekend trip, but it’s enough distance to complicate community. With him in Columbia at Mizzou and me in Kansas City, our relationship struggled a bit. Neither of us estimated how hard it would be.

After a few months of loneliness, I craved friends and found friends. I got involved in local nonprofits and a local church and built some solid friendships. Mr. S. strengthened the friendships we’d shared in undergrad, then moved along to grad school and built new friendships there. The whole thing was bittersweet for certain.

We got engaged on March 19, 2010, and set a January 1, 2011, wedding date. Mr. S. was admitted to and picked a grad school, took a summer internship and moved to Indiana for the next steps of his education. That semester was the hardest of all, for about 100 reasons, like wedding planning and jobs and school and money and moving and friendships and transitions, etc.

Meeting Mr. S. in Chicago for our bridal shower.

Meeting Mr. S. in Chicago for our bridal shower.

Fast forward to today. We’re both in Kansas City, but Mr. S travels frequently for work. Some trips are long, some short. Sometimes we know in advance, sometimes it’s less than 24 hours’ notice. So we’re still learning how to love each other well over distance . . . relationally, spiritually, emotionally and practically.

Please know that what I share here isn’t in retrospect. It’s stuff we put into practice regularly.

So let’s give it a whirl, shall we?

1.) Rest in commonalities. Focus not on what separates you, but what unifies you.

Focus first on building and strengthening community between the two of you. What do you both enjoy? What mutual interests do you share? Anything you’d both like to learn about? Start there. Emphasize your shared values, your shared hobbies, shared concerns and causes.

Practically, this could mean reading a book together and then discussing it as you read. It could mean listening to a new podcast together and launching conversation about it. Maybe you like the same kind of music and chat about a band’s new album after listening. Even emailing each other interesting articles and blog posts can provide fodder for conversation.

Mr. S. and I have found much strength in reading Bible verses from our church’s weekly list together. The verses correspond to the Sunday sermon, so there’s always something to discuss. Even when we’re apart, these unified ideas bring us a little closer. Because it’s something continuous, something reliable, it builds community between the two of us.

2.) Embrace local community and engage each other through it. Be a champion, not a detriment, to connecting in your own communities.

Retreating to home and your webcams (and each other) at the end of the day is tempting. But fight it and engage in local community no matter what.

Don’t prohibit or discourage local community. Instead, be an ally. So the one you love is going to volunteer with a local nonprofit? Cheer her on. Ask her how it’s going. Celebrate the friendships she’s making. Encourage her to get to know those who volunteer with her. Hear every story. The one you love signed up for a small group in his local church? Be an advocate. Ask what they’re studying. Follow up on how the conversations went. Encourage him to keep attending and keep engaging.

As the other person gets involved, you will too.

The main idea: Support endeavors to get involved locally. After all, part of a relationship is celebrating the other person. No better way to celebrate than to promote engagement in community locally.

Visiting Mr. S. at Mizzou.

Visiting Mr. S. at Mizzou.

3.) Have hard conversations.

If the relationship progresses, the current situation is just that: current. Ideally, long-distance relationships are temporary. Talking about the timeline is part of the deal.

Either you’ll move there, he’ll move here or you’ll both move to a third location. At some point, you have to chat about it. It’s a hard conversation to start, admittedly. But it’s easier to have when you approach it with a heart of grace and attitude of hope. Ask questions, listen well and avoid incriminating. Love big no matter what.

Especially in these conversations, remember that no relationship is perfect, ever. Being in the same community solves many problems, sure. But other problems arise. Hoping in a relationship, which even in good seasons won’t be perfect, sets you both up for failure. Place your hope in Christ, not in relationship perfection. Facing the same direction no matter what sets you up for joy.

While you’re at it, have hard conversations with people you trust, people who you can get oh-so honest with in any situation. These should be wise men or women who won’t blab what you share to the world and who will share honestly, but gracefully. They can encourage you in the relationship and push you forward, but also give you tough love when you need to press pause or halt things altogether.

And hey, hang in there.

Trust. The future is bright, and God has big, beautiful plans. His will is good and his goodness is certain.

So much love,
Sarah

Oh, and PS — Mr. S. talked this whole thing through with me before I wrote it and read it through afterwards. So this represents both the female and male perspective. He’s pretty great. High five him and buy him a drink if you see him, okay? 🙂

And one more PS, if you’ve read this far — Interested in adding your voice to the conversation? Question or topic you’d like me to address in Wedded Wednesdays? Send me an email — sarahkoci at gmail dot com — and we’ll chat.

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