Two months into home quarantine due to the coronavirus, and couples used to be together all the time are probably feeling separation anxiety. Even with the help of social media and technology, for many lovers, what's real and physical still beats what's virtual. But if you think the pandemic has left such a strain, wait until you hear the stories of couples in long distance relationships or LDR now having it more difficult than usual.
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Ending the LDR... not
The monthly, two-hour plane ride separating Klook Philippines Country Marketing Manager Michelle Cruz, 28, and her Hong Kong-based beau Chris Ho, 34, didn't impose much of a problem at first.
“We were quite lucky because his work allowed him to travel to Manila often, so we got to go on a few dates. We’re also both easy-going, and I think it helped that we were willing to take turns visiting each other in Hong Kong and Manila. I would sometimes joke how it takes me longer to drive from Alabang to Greenhills just to see him," Michelle narrates. “Making time to see each other in person was definitely a big challenge. Unlike other couples that are able to spontaneously go out on dates, we had to plan things in advance. But I think the biggest challenge was knowing that being in a committed LDR meant eventually choosing where to settle down."
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The real bother came when the two were to finally tie the knot middle this year.
“We had plans to get married in Hawaii this June, but we decided to postpone it for the safety of our friends and family," Michelle explains.
If at all, Michelle says, the postponement of their big day proved to be a major hurdle spanning the already-complicated set-up of their relationship. She especially admits the stressful adjustments brought about by the pandemic scare.
"2020 was the year our LDR was supposed to end, and now that countries have closed their borders, the biggest challenge is not knowing exactly when we’ll see each other again.”
But if there's something LDR has taught Michelle and Chris, it's resilience. Add to that, efficient use of techology!
“With the home quarantine, LDR suddenly meant 'Lock Down Relationship' for us," Michelle jokes. "And I find myself worrying about his safety and his whereabouts. But with a lot more time in our hands, we’ve also been video calling almost everyday."
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Love on lockdown
In the case of actress Dionne Monsanto, 34, and Switzerland-based businessman Ryan Stalder, 36, their 11-year friendship that would only turn romantic recently has made the path of LDR less rocky. Pre-coronavirus, the couple has taken turns visiting each other's country of residence.
Only with the six-hour time difference as the pickle, Dionne says they stay in constant communication as partners.
“Before the quarantine, we used to do weekend video calls. Unless there are more pressing matters, that’s a non-negotiable. Now, we video chat every other day," she says.
Anxieties creep in at times, the Tubig At Langis star speaks about lockdown, but it's nothing that a call from your special someone doesn't help stop.
"I’ve noticed him being extra supportive to me since I’m quarantining by myself and my family is in Cebu. We have long adapted to the distance. Now, because of the quarantine, we just worry about each other. We remind each other, 'Wash your hands,' 'Wear a mask when going out to do the grocery,' and the like.”
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Despite recent unfortunate events, Dionne admits the friendship-turned-full blown relationship landed like a beautiful surprise—which then led to both doing their best to make it work.
“At the start of the relationship, we had to figure out how we were going to bridge the gaps—literally and figuratively. So, we made a promise to see each other every three months—either he comes to the Philippines or I go see him in Switzerland. And so far, we have stayed true to our pact," she relates.
And so far, Dionne says, they're stronger than ever.
"This pandemic has delayed our plans for the summer, though! We were scheduled to go to Siargao with his family. But we adapt well. We agreed to stay healthy, and that he'll come to see me when the travel ban and quarantine are lifted.”
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COVID-19 vs. LDR
Some might think couples already engaged in LDR might find the presence of a pandemic not new a problem to their situation. But One Life Only Counselling life coach Nathaniel Chua names pressure of being in quarantine as the Pandora's box in this kind of relationships.
“Differences and similarities can play a role. During a time of high stress, couples may react differently. Some of the differences may not be evident in good times, but they come out in the bad times. Similarities can also work against a couple," he says.
"For example, if both of them have problems getting their things in order during a crisis moment, then both of them will find it hard to take care of their respective responsibilities. The partner who is abroad may be too distraught to keep their routine contact while he sees his partner during a video call also unable to cope. In the case of differences, one partner may enjoy the time she has with her partner while a more outgoing partner may feel very uncomfortable with being stuck at home."
Chua stresses on how these differences and similarities can lead to turbulence if not addressed properly.
"Emotional sensitivities are also different among couples. With the changes that they are experiencing, there might be triggers where there were none before."
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The aforementioned couples, luckily, have become all too familiar with these setbacks pointed out by Chua over time—and have thus lived with it during the pandemic. While others focus on the how hard it is to maintain an LDR or see all the pitfalls that may come with being in one, these couples only focus on the positive—which may be the reason why they have handled it so successfully, even in these trying times.
It starts with the little things, Michelle says. "We communicate regularly. When we’re at work, we can go for hours not talking to each other. But no matter how busy our day gets, we always greet each other 'Good morning' everyday. It’s a must! It also helps to send each other pictures or short videos of what’s happening with you in real time. It makes the other feel valued and attended to."
And then on to the grander things reserved best after the COVID-19 crisis, she adds. "We also like to make fun plans! Since we only see each other once a month, we figured that we shouldn’t be wasting time doing ordinary things or going to ordinary places.”
Next to open lines, Dionne says also keeping open minds to help maintain an LDR.
"The cultural differences are evident, and we sometimes argue. But he is just the most patient man I’ve ever met. He just tells me, 'Babe, this will not matter five years from now, so we shouldn’t discuss it for more than five minutes," she narrates. "I love him more for that!"
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Love (always) wins!
Long distance relationships in the States survive at a 58% chance, reported The New York Post in 2018. Couples in LDR do encounter some humps on their fourth month apart, but once they get past the eighth month mark, they're pretty much set. In the survey by sex toy brand KIIROO, couples in LDR send each other 343 texts weekly and talk eight hours a week on the phone or via video chat.
LDRs can get either dramatic or tedious, so Chua suggests emotional stability as key to survival.
“To be able to cope with changes in external circumstances better, your partner (must be) able to (carry) difficult emotions. Emotionally avoidant people—when bored—are more likely to find amusement through activities that can prove harmful to the relationship," he explains. For instance, when a partner feels lonely at home, he or she may choose to get rid of that feeling of loneliness by chatting with a neighbor... An emotionally avoidant partner is more likely to discuss difficulties in a relationship with either a potential rival to his or her mate or a relative who may exacerbate the problems by taking sides in the relationship."
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But backed up with so-called experience, effort, and, well, love, couples in LDR while in an uncontrollable crisis shouldn't be at all bothered.
Michelle, for one, discusses one of the benefits of their current set-up. “I think being in a LDR even strengthened our relationship, and at the same time allowed us to focus on our personal growth and aspirations. We’ve always believed that any good relationship is built on trust. I’ve had my share of relationships in the past, but I can honestly say my LDR with Chris was the easiest relationship I’ve ever had."
A strong foundation of friendship and trust, Dionne says meanwhile, is the key to her first and hopefully last LDR. She even admits cooking up plans for her move to Switzerland by the end of the year.
“I think we have remained strong because we have immense trust for each other. Our relationship is founded by respect, friendship, and honesty. I believe it’s important to be friends first so you know each other well. Respect is key to a healthy relationship," she says. "There will always be people and circumstances that will try to break you apart. But if you respect your partner and the love you have for each other, nothing and no one can tear you down."
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Photos by Michelle Cruz and Dionne Monsanto