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Feeling Connected When Apart (When Loved Ones Move Away)

by Andrea M. Darcy

Has your partner started working overseas? Kids gone to university? Or best friend moved abroad?

What can you do to keep feeling connected when apart? 

Does feeling connected really matter?

Yes, connection really matters. Even if it’s not in person. So it’s definitely worth investing the time and energy to keep the relationship alive.

A study at an urban medical clinic in Buffalo, New York showed that even if we just perceive that we have social support, it not only means we are more likely to be in better physical health, but that we are less likely to to suffer anxiety and depression

What connection is and isn’t 

It can help to remind ourselves what connection really is. Connection is linked to authenticity. It means we can fully be ourselves around someone, even as we are happy for them to be ourselves around us.

And this two-way street has to continue with things like communication. And that communication has to be healthy. We need to be honest, to listen, to talk without resorting to blame (read our article on healthy communication if you could use a brush up on this front).

5 Tips for feeling connected when apart

So how can we be ourselves, communicate well, and share experiences when we are stuck connecting at a distance?

Am I in a healthy relationship quiz

1. Learn how to relax on video conferencing.

All those years of our parents pulling out a camera and saying ‘smile’ mean many of us end up adults who naturally ‘perform’ for cameras.  We go into fake, shiny happy mode without realising what we are doing, or we present an awkward, half-version of ourselves. 

But attempting video conferencing over just phone calls is worth it. A study from the University of California found that talking over video created a greater bonding experience than both phone and messaging conversations. 

  • Take a moment to pause, relax your shoulders, breathe.
  • Put your attention fully on the other person instead of looking at yourself.
  • If you are distracted by how you appear, sort this in advance. Declutter your background, wear comfortable clothes, buy a video ring light that makes you look nice. Then forget about it.
  • Remember you are talking to a friend or family member. They care less what you look like than you do.

2. Admit you aren’t okay.

Nobody is great all the time. And pretending we are means those around us are left trying to feel connected to a wall of fake smiles and platitudes.

Yes, we might be less comfortable admitting we are upset over video than we would be in person.

Keep in mind you don’t have to get into great detail. Simply admitting you are a bit stressed lets the other know you trust them, and are willing to be open.

3. Be more vocal about needing your turn.

feeling connectedIn person we instinctively make it clear it’s our turn to talk by standing closer, or leaning in.  These things don’t play over video conferencing.

If the balance is really out in the conversation, you might need to interrupt, or raise your hand to signify it’s your turn.

Or discuss in advance ways to make sure you both get a turn to talk and be listened to. Try things like starting your chats with a three-minute ‘rant’, where you use a timer to allow each person to unload their thoughts, with the other person not allowed to interrupt or judge.

4. Remember boundaries.

We don’t tend to just show up at someone’s house without warning. So why do we assume we can video call whenever we are feeling a bit off or lonely? Or feel we have to answer if someone calls? The end result can be a tense conversation that leaves us feeling disconnected.

Ask first. Send a text asking if someone can chat. Or arrange for calls at certain times on certain dates. And if someone does call when you are busy, remember you have the right to not answer and call back later.

5. Be consistent.

If you leave too much time between contacting friends, it can affect the relationship. Take a moment every few days to think about who you need to connect with. Send a text or an email if that’s all you can manage, even if it’s just to say, “Feeling stressed, but thinking of you”.

6. Talk about physical connection.

No, you can’t hug your grandmother or your friend overseas. But it can be helpful to voice this.

Letting each other know you’d love a hug creates a warm feeling of connection. Not quite as good as a physical hug, but better than not talking about it.

7. Create ‘experiences’ even though you aren’t together.  

Connection also grows with shared experiences. Which is harder when talking over video and texts, but, as the recent pandemic taught us, not impossible. Get creative!

  • eat together over online
  • cook a new recipe on the same day and send pictures of the results
  • do a group watch of a movie.

Feeling connected starts with you

If staying connected with loved ones who are now living far away is very hard, it might be a sign that you need to spend some serious time also getting to know yourself.

 If you historically haven’t spent the time to connect with yourself, to know who you really are, and what you really want and need? Others are left trying to connect to a shifting target. This might work in person, but is harder over phone and video. 

  • What matters most to you, if everything else is stripped back?
  • What things do you honestly feel happy doing, and unhappy doing?
  • If you had all the money and time in the world, what would you do?
  • What values might this combine to point to?
  • How can you better share these values with those you love?

What if it’s just not working?

Sometimes when a friend or loved one moves abroad the hard truth is that it shows the holes in the relationship. Perhaps we don’t have as much in common as we thought with a partner and we won’t be spending the rest of our lives together. Or have outgrown a friendship. Or, in the case of kids leaving home, perhaps we need to stop being an overbearing parent and leave them to lead their own lives a bit more.

If this is the case, it’s time to have an honest conversation, and if the change feels hard, to perhaps seek some professional support.

Struggle to be understood? Or always feel lonely? Book a session with a top London therapist and troubleshoot your relating. Or use our booking platform to find UK-wide therapists and online counsellors who can help.

Still have a question about feeling connected? Ask below. 

Andrea BlundellAndrea M Darcy  is the editor and lead writer of this site. A working writer for over twenty years, she has also trained in counselling and coaching. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy

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Blog Topics: Relationships

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