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When to Let Go of a Long-Distance Relationship and How

Being in a long-distance relationship isn’t easy. Even if both of you try your best, sometimes you just can’t make it work. But how do you know when to end a long-distance relationship and when you should keep trying?

We’re going to talk about the signs that tell you it’s time to walk away from your long-distance relationship and the least painful ways to end it if you have to.

9 Signs It’s Time to Let Go of a Long-Distance Relationship

1. You’ve been thinking about leaving for a while

One of the advantages of a long-term relationship is that you don’t need to make major decisions in a hurry. Making the decision to leave your long-distance partner is something that you can take your time with.

If you’ve been thinking about ending your relationship for a while, this is probably a sign that something isn’t working.

What counts as “a while” will be different for different people and it can also vary based on how long you’ve been together. It might only take a week to decide to leave after a few months. If you’ve been together for years, you will probably want to wait a little longer.

Although you don’t want to make a snap decision, that doesn’t mean you can’t end your long-distance relationship abruptly if there is a major problem. If your relationship has become toxic, there’s no need to wait before you walk away.

2. You don’t see your relationship changing

you don't see your relationship changing

Most people who are in a long-distance relationship are hoping that they will live close to their partner at some point in the future1. This means you will need to be working together to build a future that fits both of your needs.

Sometimes, you and your partner have very different hopes for the future. If you can’t see a way for both of you to have the things that are important to you together, it might be a sign that you will be happier apart.

Ask yourself whether there is a realistic probability that you and your partner will be able to live the kind of life you want in the foreseeable future. If not, it might be a sign that it’s time to end your long-distance relationship.

3. Connecting with your partner feels like a chore, rather than a pleasure

When you’re in a long-distance relationship, you still want to feel that sense of emotional connection and love2. If spending time with your partner feels like an obligation or chore, rather than something you look forward to, it’s worth thinking carefully about whether you want to stay in your relationship.

Having to schedule time to talk to your partner can be a bit of a hassle, but the time you spend actually talking to them should ideally be fulfilling and enjoyable. Being in a long-distance relationship means making a lot of sacrifices. Ask yourself whether the time you spend connecting with your partner is worth it.

4. You feel more like friends than partners

Sometimes people in a long-distance relationship can struggle to keep the “spark” going in their relationship. Without the opportunity for regular physical connection and intimacy, your relationship can subtly shift until you feel more like best friends, or even siblings, than boyfriend and girlfriend.

Losing the romance doesn’t have to mean that it’s time to let go of your relationship. It is possible to rekindle the spark, even while you’re living a long way apart.

If you want to bring romance back into your relationship, you will need to focus on ways that you can make each other feel special and express your love and affection. You might want to schedule ‘dates’ or even arrange a short trip away together to spend time with each other.

5. You have physical and sexual needs that aren’t being met

It can be hard to admit that you’re thinking of ending your long-distance relationship because of physical or sexual needs, but that’s a perfectly legitimate reason. Your physical and sexual needs are important, and it’s important to acknowledge them.

Some people can be fully satisfied in a long-distance relationship. They might have a low sex drive, an open relationship, or find ways to fulfill their sexual desires despite being far apart3. For others, things can be more difficult.

If you don’t feel as though your sexual needs can be met in your current relationship, this can be one of the clearest signs that your long-distance relationship is ending.

6. You’re having feelings for other people that you want to act on

Alternatively, your problem might not be that your sexual needs are unfulfilled in general. Instead, you might realize that you’re having strong feelings for someone else.

Having feelings for someone else doesn’t have to be a sign that it’s time for your long-distance relationship to end, but it often is. The important question to ask yourself is whether you actually want to act on them.

Most of us will be casually attracted to people around us. That’s totally normal and doesn’t mean that there’s a problem in your relationship. The problem comes if you start to get worried that you might cheat on your partner or feel resentful that your relationship is preventing you from dating someone.

7. You don’t want to share your feelings with each other

In a long-distance relationship, sharing your feelings is one of the ways that you’re able to feel connected to your partner and to be part of each other’s lives4. If you start to want to keep your thoughts and your feelings to yourself, this is a bad sign for your relationship.

If you’re trying to work out whether it’s time to call it quits on your long-distance relationship, ask yourself why you don’t want to share your feelings with your partner. Then think about whether there might be a way for you to overcome that problem.

For example, you might be going through a difficult time and you don’t want to tell your partner because you don’t want to worry them. That makes sense, but it’s still creating an emotional distance between the two of you.

In this example, you might try reminding yourself that your partner would want to support you. That might make it easier for you to open up. You know when it’s time to let go of a long-distance relationship if you can’t find a reason to share your feelings. 

8. The trust is gone

the trust is gone

One of the clearest signs that it’s probably time to break up with your long-distance partner is if you realize that you don’t really trust them. 

Often, you start to worry that your partner is cheating on you. This worry is made much worse by being in a long-distance relationship. It’s hard to bring up your concerns if you’re not seeing each other in person and you might not be getting the small signs of affection and care that can help set your mind at rest5.

If you believe that your partner is cheating on you, you’re probably tempted to look for evidence before you end your long-distance relationship. Rather than focusing on evidence, try to think about trust. Ask yourself whether you can trust them again. If not, it’s time to call it quits on your long-distance relationship.

9. Your long-distance relationship is making normal life difficult

One way you know when to let go of a long-distance relationship is when it starts to make it difficult for you to have a normal, fulfilling life.

Having a successful long-distance relationship takes work and that’s ok. It becomes a problem when you’re putting so much effort into keeping your relationship going that the rest of your life suffers.

You might find yourself turning down opportunities to spend time with friends and family so that you can talk to your partner. This can make it especially difficult to make new friends if you’ve recently moved to a new area.

If you live in a different timezone than your partner, this can be an even bigger problem. Spending time with your partner means that both of you are having to adjust to inconvenient schedules and you might find yourself having to deal with disrupted sleep6.

This might mean you’re exhausted at work or school, which can impact your grades or career progression.

A successful long-distance relationship requires that you still have a meaningful and happy life outside of your relationship. If this doesn’t seem to be working out for you, it’s time to think about whether your relationship is actually good for you in the medium or long term.

How to End a Long-Distance Relationship

Even once you know when to let go of a long-distance relationship, it’s still not easy to actually do it. You probably want to do it as gently as possible, but that can be tricky when you can’t be face-to-face.

Here are the most important things to bear in mind when ending a long-distance relationship.

1. Don’t wait too long

It’s important that you take as much time as you need to make the decision to end your relationship. Once you’ve made the decision, however, you don’t gain anything by putting off the inevitable.

Once you know you’re going to leave, promise yourself that you’re going to deal with it quickly. Waiting until the next time you see each other or until after a particular event is usually a way of putting off the conversation, rather than actually making anything better.

Ending a relationship is going to hurt. There’s no “perfect time” to tell someone that you don’t want to be with them anymore, so don’t try to wait for it.

2. Choose your time

choose your time

Although you don’t want to wait too long, you should still be thoughtful about when to have the conversation. There’s no perfect time to tell someone that you’re breaking up with them, but there are definitely some very bad ones.

Try to find a time when neither of you are going to have to rush off immediately afterward. Use what you know about their schedule to help you find a time when they’ll be able to talk privately and have some time to deal with their sadness after you talk to them.

3. Make sure his local support network is there

Having people he feels close to around for support after you break up with him can make it easier on him, and leave you feeling less guilty. If you know some of the people he relies on locally, consider whether you should give them a heads-up that he might need a bit more support than usual.

Be careful with this. Talking to his friends about what’s going on might seem intrusive or disrespectful. Use your best judgment about whether this would be welcome or not.

4. Use a video call if you can

We all know that breaking up in person is usually best if possible, but in a long-distance relationship that’s probably not feasible. A video call is the next best thing.

Having a video call gives you the best chance of having good communication with your soon-to-be ex. It also feels like the most personal and respectful way to tell them that you want to end your relationship.

If you can’t have a video call, a voice call is your next choice. Breaking up via text should be reserved for very short relationships (for example if you’ve only been together for a few weeks), times when he doesn’t deserve respect (for example if he was abusive or toxic), or if you have no other option.

5. Write yourself notes

It might sound silly, but you might find it helpful to make a few notes on what you want or need to say. This can help you feel more confident starting the conversation, make it easier for you to stick to your guns, and let you avoid accidentally saying something hurtful.

If you are going to have notes, however, make absolutely sure that he doesn’t see them or realize that you’re using them. That could make him feel an awful lot worse.

6. Explain your feelings, but don’t blame him

When you end a long-distance relationship, he will probably want to know why. Try to explain how you feel without getting into a discussion about who is to blame or trying to criticize him.

Using I statements can be really effective here. Rather than focusing on things he did or what went wrong, talk about your feelings. Rather than saying “you’re never there for me,” you could say “I feel lonely and sad if my partner can’t give me a hug when I get upset. It’s not your fault.”

7. Give him time to ask questions, but set healthy boundaries

give him time to ask questions, but set healthy boundaries

Giving your ex the chance to ask questions can make it a lot easier for him to accept and deal with the end of your relationship. That’s great, but it’s important that you also set boundaries around how long you’re willing or able to talk about it.

Some people will want to do a long relationship ‘post-mortem’ to try to understand everything that went wrong. They might also use this to try to change your mind. After a while, you might find that the conversation is going around in circles. It’s ok to put an end to the conversation at this point.

Your ex will probably be hurt and upset, but that doesn’t mean that they get to lash out at you. If they start to yell at you or say intentionally hurtful things, tell them that you understand their feelings but that you’re not ok with being spoken to like that. If they continue, end the conversation. You can always talk again later once they’ve calmed down. 

8. Plan some self-care for yourself

So far, we’ve mostly been talking about how to make the breakup easier for your ex to take. Try to remember that your feelings matter as well. Just because you’ve decided to end your relationship doesn’t mean that you’re not sad or grieving.

Ending a relationship, especially if you still care about the other person, is incredibly sad. Before you start the breakup conversation, think about what you will need to make yourself feel better. You might want to have a friend to turn to afterward or plan something to keep you busy and stop you from dwelling on what you’ve lost.

FAQs

Are long-distance couples more likely to break up?

Short period long-distance relationships can actually make a couple less likely to break up7. This might be because they are making an extra effort with each other. Longer-term, long-distance relationships don’t usually last as long.

How long does it take for a long-distance relationship to end?

Every relationship is different, but the average length for a long-distance relationship is 2.86 years. This compares to an average of 7.25 years for couples who live close to each other.

What hurts most about a long-distance relationship?

There’s no single thing that hurts “the most” in a long-distance relationship. Different people will struggle with different problems. Often, the hardest things are the lack of physical connection, not feeling a part of your partner’s life, and not being able to be present in an emergency.

Conclusion

It’s really hard to know when to let go of a long-distance relationship. There usually isn’t a big argument or drama that shows you that it’s time to walk away. Instead, you need to ask yourself whether this long-distance relationship is making your life better overall.

How about you? How did you know when to call it quits in a long-distance relationship? How did you do it? Let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to share this article with someone who might need advice on what to do in their long-distance relationship.

7 Sources:
  1. Sahlstein, E. M. (2006). Making Plans: Praxis Strategies for Negotiating Uncertainty–Certainty in Long-Distance Relationships. Western Journal of Communication, 70(2), 147–165. https://doi.org/10.1080/10570310600710042
  2. ‌Merolla, A. J. (2012). Connecting here and there: A model of long-distance relationship maintenance. Personal Relationships, 19(4), 775–795. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6811.2011.01392.x
  3. ‌Kafaee, N., & Kohut, T. (2021). Online sexual experiences and relationship functioning in long-distance relationships. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 30(1), 15–25. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjhs.2020-0038
  4. ‌Neustaedter, C., & Greenberg, S. (2012). Intimacy in long-distance relationships over video chat. Proceedings of the 2012 ACM Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI ’12. https://doi.org/10.1145/2207676.2207785
  5. ‌Dainton, M., & Aylor, B. (2001). A relational uncertainty analysis of jealousy, trust, and maintenance in long‐distance versus geographically close relationships. Communication Quarterly, 49(2), 172–188. https://doi.org/10.1080/01463370109385624
  6. ‌Greenberg, S., & Neustaedter, C. (2012). Shared Living, Experiences, and Intimacy over Video Chat in Long Distance Relationships. Connecting Families, 37–53. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4471-4192-1_3
  7. ‌Horn, K. R. V., Arnone, A., Nesbitt, K., Desllets, L., Sears, T., Giffin, M., & Brudi, R. (1997). Physical distance and interpersonal characteristics in college students’ romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 4(1), 25–34. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6811.1997.tb00128.x
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