Long distance and lacking communication

Dear Alice,

My girlfriend and I have been dating long distance for about seven months. I have found out through keen observation and affirmation from an old roommate of hers that she is a rape victim. For the last three months or so she has been going through a lot of changes with job acquisition, living conditions, and I don't know what else. In this time, communication between us has grown to an insignificant level (in my opinion). It seems as though she is putting her job, spiritual drive, personal life, etc before me. Almost to the point that she doesn't want to include me. I think this has something to do with the rape issue and her ability to trust people. I think she may be unable to believe that I could love her unconditionally.

I have been thinking my situation over and don't know what to do. I love her with all my heart but I am receiving virtually nothing from this relationship right now. Do I hold on to her and give her the space to come to grips with her life and hope that I will be in the big picture later on, or do I end it on the condition that she needs time for herself to decide if I am an important part of her future life? Please respond because I'm crawling out of my skin.

— Bubbles

Dear Bubbles, 

Offering support and trying to understand what your girlfriend is going through as she copes with everything in her life is a great step you’re taking. Long-distance relationships can be challenging in general, and if your girlfriend is experiencing transitions in her life or dealing with trauma from the past, sustaining your bond from afar may be especially tough. That being said, you may consider speaking with her about what each of you needs and the ways you can or can’t provide that support to each other. Maintaining clear communication and expectations in the relationship could help both of you through this time. 

Developing and practicing communication skills is crucial in any relationship whether you’re in the same location or not. In a long-distance situation, verbal and written communication can be key because the day-to-day messages you send through touch, facial expression, or just your presence are missing. Some questions that you may find helpful to reflect on before speaking with your girlfriend include: How much communication would you consider to be a significant level? What do you think could help improve communication between you and your girlfriend? Do you have regular times that you can reach out to one another? Are there means of communication that you both enjoy? Talking through some of these questions with her may help you create a mutually agreeable plan for how and how often you’ll communicate while being long-distance. 

Beyond the logistics of contact, support in a relationship can ebb and flow depending on what each partner has going on at a specific time. However, if you feel that you’re often left with no one to talk to about your feelings your partner may be unaware of how you feel. Can you put into words what you hope to receive from your partnership? This discussion may be an opportunity for both of you to discuss what you need from each other. It's also possible that she’s putting other priorities in her life before you, either because she too isn’t getting what she needs from the relationship or perhaps it’s her way of coping. In any case, just as you deserve to have your needs met and feelings heard, she does too. 

You mention that there could be a variety of factors that are influencing her behaviors and responsiveness. Instead of speculating, it may be helpful to directly ask her what, if anything, has caused the changes you’ve observed. Having this discussion could help to uncover some key factors influencing your relationship such as: What does she feel is influencing your relationship or communication? How might you best support her? You also shared that you found out she’s a sexual assault survivor. While this may be having an effect on her behavior, it may also be completely unrelated. In fact, it may be that she is embracing the new changes in her life and is excited about the new opportunities that surround her. 

In the end, both of you maintaining independence and finding lives outside of a long-distance relationship might even strengthen your partnership. With any new situation, it can take time to learn how to balance and schedule priorities. In any case, it might be helpful to think about resources you can offer if it turns out your speculation is correct, and she asks for your support accessing professional help. 

As with any relationship, compromise is essential but there’s a fine balance. While it’s great to help your partner work through everything going on in her life and throughout this process, it’s also good to think about your own feelings and work out a balance between supporting your girlfriend and taking care of yourself. You might consider if supporting her is impacting your well-being. Thinking about whether she makes time to support you as well. If you do ask her to share her feelings about your role in her life, how might you react if she places your importance lower than you have placed her in your life? Having the courage to begin an honest dialogue with her about your feelings will hopefully help you both understand how best to move forward in supporting each other. 

Last updated Oct 06, 2023
Originally published Jan 19, 2007