Amanda Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Practitioner
Social media, text messaging, and email have become staples of interpersonal communication in our culture. More and more people are establishing and maintaining long-distance relationships electronically. Yet corresponding this way can lack intimacy, which weakens our relationships with friends, family, and loved ones.
Here are four ways to use electronic communication to feel close even when you’re far apart.
1. Send a Picture
Images communicate and elicit a variety of emotions. We all know the saying about a thousand words—so instead of a text, send a picture.
You can send pictures randomly, whenever the feeling strikes. Ideally, the picture you send should be unique and meaningful to the person who is receiving it. Some people share images from their daily life, while others take snapshots of old photos.
“I send my brother pictures of us as kids,” a former client told me. “He lives in Germany. It’s my way of saying ‘I love you.’”
2. Use Video Chat
When we’re in the same room as someone, most of the signals we transmit and receive are nonverbal. When you cannot hear or see a person, you are missing out on most of the communication required for establishing and maintaining intimacy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Plan a regular time to participate in a reoccurring video chat with your long-distance loved ones.
For example, the parents of a first-year college student have scheduled a weekly video chat every Monday night. “I have to see her—I can’t just text,” the father reported. “I need to hear her voice and see her silly face.”
Two friends who live in different cities have a date every Wednesday for a video chat during their lunch hours. “It helps to keep us close,” one friend explained. “Emails and Facebook are great, but it wouldn’t be enough.”
You can schedule a video chat once a week, less often, or more frequently—whatever works best for you and your loved ones.
3. Write an Email
Some people spend lots of time writing emails for work but little time writing to the special people in their lives. Writing a personalized email allows room for expression, as text messaging can seem choppy and tends to break up lengthy text.
A former client told me, “My wife is in the military, and when she’s overseas, we don’t always get to talk on the phone. I write long emails so I can tell her everything that’s going on here.”
Decide on a reasonable goal for how often you will send an email and try to stick to your goal in order to maintain intimate communication.
4. Keep it Private
Personalize all your communications and focus on one person at a time. When life is hectic, it’s tempting to post pictures and messages on social media or copy several friends on emails—increasing your audience and communicating with more people in less time. But these approaches significantly decrease the level of intimacy.
“I don’t respond to any online posts or reply-all emails, even if they were intended for me,” one of my friends confessed. “It gives off the impression that they want everyone to see our interaction like it’s on display. I’d rather that they just contact me directly.”
People tend to feel greater intimacy when they receive one-on-one communication. If your intention is to strengthen a long-distance relationship, it’s best to focus on communicating with that person alone and only include others when it’s really necessary.
Staying close when you’re far away can be difficult. Try any of these methods to improve your long-distance relationships. To discover more ways to improve your relationships, consider participating in individual, couples, or family therapy by contacting Symmetry Counseling.