As seasonal workers, school teachers, kids and parents prepare to make their annual summer escape, many couples in Dubai are facing long periods apart. For others, living on a different continent to their spouse is part of the deal while they live and work in the city, sometimes for years on end. Maintaining a relationship across borders and time zones can be tough while you’re both leading busy lives, but with a little patience, creativity and – naturally – technology, long-distance love really can work. Here, we get first-hand advice from two individuals who are making their marriages work around the globe, plus tips from a local relationship expert.
Zeina and her husband both work in business and have been married for seven years.
We’ve been apart for three out of the seven years we’ve been together and it doesn’t get any easier. For us, the biggest challenge is that we’re still not used to being away from each other. We were inseparable for four years and now every time we see each other, it’s really painful to let go. He’s in Nigeria and we see each other every three months, sometimes less. Communication is key. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true. We are always interacting, we talk on the phone every day. Social media platforms such as Skype, iMessage, Snapchat, Facebook and WhatsApp are ways we keep in touch, so all through the day we know what the other person is doing even though we’re not in the same geographical location.
It’s especially difficult when one of you is having a hard time. There have been moments when I have been in a really bad place and he had to fly in to help me snap out of it, but most of the time it involves a pep talk over the phone and sending inspirational prayers and messages to one another.
We’ve built a strong foundation for our relationship and we have a plan. Right now, we don’t need to be in the same city to achieve our individual goals, but there is a timeline and we know that this separation is temporary. I think couples in the same situation need to have a shared vision for their relationship, and you need to communicate and find a way to virtually be in each other’s lives.
John and his wife, Dana, have been married for 11 years and have spent the last two living apart.
My wife is back home in England, and we’ve been long-distance for two years. We try and see each other every two to three months, which is not always easy, or possible, but the longest we’ve spent apart is six months.
The biggest challenge is making time to speak to each other on Skype, which is difficult because of the time difference. By the time she’s finished work, I’m ready to go to sleep. The weekends are even worse because her weekend starts on Saturday, so when she wants to Skype I’m ready to chill out.
Trust is key, especially when you’re apart. We usually know where we both are all the time by always WhatsApping and sending pictures of ourselves out and about, but other than that, there’s nothing else we can do. We just have to trust that the other person is doing the right thing. I don’t drink too much when I’m out and I tend to hang out with guys who are also in relationships, so that has a positive influence.
One thing that has worked well for us, aside from just talking on Skype every week, is that we read books together. Sometimes we even cook together via Skype, or watch the same programme at the same time and talk throughout it. Mostly we make sure that we WhatsApp every day, so the first thing I do when I wake up, and the last thing I do before I sleep is message her.
We both use an app called Life360 Family Locator (free for iPhone and Android, www.life360.com), which checks me in automatically when I’m at work or at home and sends her a message letting her know I’m okay. She’s signed up to the app too, so it works both ways. It just makes her feel better knowing my routine.
Love is what makes it easier to deal with the challenges, but I wouldn’t say being together when we’re apart is easy. The longer I’m here in Dubai the harder it gets. My advice to others in a long-distance relationship in Dubai is to move your partner here after about a year, otherwise it will become very difficult.
What the expert says
Dr Mona Moussa of LifeWorks Personal Development Training Centre weighs in.
Advances in technology have facilitated communication and the ability to stay in touch instantly, yet challenges still remain in long-distance relationships. Issues such as trust, commitment and communication tend to be much more significant. There are more likely to be misunderstandings since the partners cannot gauge oeach other’s non-verbal cues for additional information. However, a long-distance relationship also pushes the couple to invest more in their communication, leading to a strong emotional bond and intimacy, providing the opportunity for in-depth discussions they might not have had otherwise. The difference between long-distance relationships that work and those that don’t lies in the drive to constantly come up with creative ways to stay connected to each other.
Be mindful. Appreciate every single moment
Savour the smell of the coffee, the taste of the meal or the sight of children running around in your neighbourhood. Even if you are currently away from each other, instead of remaining stuck in the memories of your time together or future scenarios of your next trip, focus on where you are presently.
It can be very easy to slip into despair and hate every minute that you have to spend apart, especially when everyone around you has their loved one close by. If you are confident that this relationship is for the long-term, trust in yourself and in your relationship. It will only grow in strength as you discover your inner abilities of self-reliance and resilience.
In order for you to be a loving and caring partner regardless of the distance, you need to love and care for yourself. Take care of yourself by engaging in small things that make you happy.
Embrace snail mail
Try to revert back to the older, meaningful ways of communicating, such as with hand-written love letters, by sending an article clipping that reminds you of your partner, or by sending them a thoughtful package in the post that contains your loved one’s favourite snack.
Have a date night
While you may be chatting every day, you are likely to be multitasking during this time – replying to emails, talking to friends or running errands. Set a specific time every week when you’ll be able to provide your undivided attention and time to each other. Consider doing an activity that you both enjoy such as eating the same meal at the same time, or watching the same TV show and just focus on that present moment that can connect you together regardless of the distance.
Long-distance love by numbers
A recent study of US couples, by The Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships, presents several interesting statistics…
14 The average number of months couples expect to spend apart before moving back together
2.7 The average number of days between calling each other
40% Of all long-distance relationships end with a break-up (sorry!)
4.5 The average time in months before that break-up happens
70% Of these failed relationships broke down because of unplanned changes