I’ve heard it said that long-distance relationships (LDRs) last precisely because distance is present, and when it is no more, time reveals change in people that more often than not lead to break-ups. Uncertain about what this major transition held, it was our turn to see what life had in store for us as you moved back home after five years of studying abroad in Melbourne.
Over the course of our LDR, I wrote about the challenges of LDR in 2014 as well as whether it was all worth it in 2016. I am relieved to say that this is likely to be the last of the series, because on 19 January 2017, you arrived home and no longer had to leave again.
I had waited so long for this moment and could barely contain my excitement at the thought that this was it! At that moment, even greeting “Hello” was so passé. Our LDR finally came to an end, right there and then.
However, what felt like the celebratory “honeymoon phase” soon dwindled. Days and months in, reality was quick to remind us that just as we had to make adjustments when you first departed, we also had to make adjustments this time around. (Even though I will admit that the joy of receiving you home easily overshadowed negative emotions that arose through the transition.)
Two months upon returning home, you started work at your first job and had to quickly adapt to a new routine. The following months have since been filled with challenges of getting used to each other’s physical presence, and learning to complement each other’s schedules whilst juggling work, ministry, and relationships.
Nine months into re-calibrating to experiencing ordinary daily living with you, I have learnt — through the joys and arguments — several important lessons that have helped us transit and assimilate to life in the same city.
Manage escalating expectations by communicating well
When you returned home, the typical questions that I only heard at Chinese New Year and Christmas gatherings began ringing again. Only this time, it felt like an overwhelming bombardment of questions from family, friends, and even those who didn’t know us well: “Now that he’s back, when is he proposing? When are you getting married? Have you bought a house yet?”
In my mind, I had an instant reaction, “Woah, hold up, wait a minute. Is this the epitome of #NOCHILL?”
My protective defence mechanism (for you) naturally shot up and I began to fight for time — time that you needed to settle into new rhythms, communities, and lifestyles. After all, how was I to expect or demand you to take the next step forward immediately? So I defended, protected, and waited for you as best I could…until I grew impatient and began asking myself, “What am I still waiting for?”
My thoughts raged and my desires grew jealous as we celebrated friends’ engagements, but it took two full months before I finally spilled the beans, with tears no less. It was wearisome keeping up an act before you, pretending that I was unaffected by how our relationship didn’t seem to be progressing despite five years of unwavering commitment.
It was liberating to answer when you finally asked, “Are you disappointed that we’re not engaged?” This was where my expectations were managed as your reassuring words dealt away with every doubt I had struggled with.
Since that honest conversation, we both acknowledged that our communication and quality of conversations were brought to new depth. After five years’ worth of virtual conversations, I was no longer afraid to speak my mind and release my emotions in front of you.
Today, I stand convinced that even after LDR, good communication and expectation management are vital to keeping the relationship in check. Besides, these conversations aren’t always just about the serious stuff; they can also be filled with pretty fun stuff!
Listen to God’s heart for our relationship
This was a precious lesson I learnt when I struggled with wanting things to go my way rather than YAHWEH. (I have since trusted myself much less…)
Early in August, I was angry and upset with God for His delay in fixing a specific thorn in our relationship. I told the Lord that it was not alright with me and I didn’t want to understand His reasons for delaying what He knew was on my heart for Him to do for months!
I vividly recall carrying my bitter heart into the worship service one Sunday morning, wrestling with the Lord. This was where the Lord showed me a picture of a red siren, and He lovingly yet authoritatively said, “Not yet, Nat. It’s not time for that yet. Don’t pit yourself against My timing.” In that instant, my impatience, unwillingness and frustration began to melt away and my heart was moulded into obedient submission unto the Lord as He patiently and graciously dealt with me.
Since that encounter with the Lord regarding our relationship, I have been slow to jump to my own selfish conclusions, and quick to seek the Lord’s heart. If our relationship is founded upon what God says — rather than what either of us has to say — surely we are in safe hands. We can trust the Lord to lead us.
In all things and in every season, give thanks
I’ll be blatantly honest: the days where I am overwhelmed with self-preservation are the days where I failed to thank the Lord for you. Whenever that happens, my vision is filled with my own wants and needs for the day, rather than looking outwards to praying for you.
However, in remembering to thank God for our relationship, my heart and mind are reminded of this beautiful gift that was given to me — you. Remaining in the posture of gratitude constantly reminds me that you were not a 理所当然 (rightful) gift in my life because God could not have given me you. Learning to thank God for His provision, healing, and guidance over us in this transition out of LDR had given us strength, hope, and peace to trust Him for all that’s ahead.
One of the things I’ve adopted doing is to spend a few minutes every night composing a text message relating why and what I’m thankful for regarding you and our relationship. Then I picture you waking up to that text message, and beginning your day not just feeling loved and appreciated, but also, grateful.
To every couple, give thanks for one another daily, and thank God for where you’re at in the relationship even if you’re not quite where you want or hope to be. Be bold and let nothing withhold your thanksgiving!
As I wrote this article, I felt the Lord impress Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV) on my heart:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Perhaps there will come a time where you and your other half might have to make this eventual transition, or maybe you’re currently in the thick of the transition: His Word never fails because He never fails. As you venture out of LDR, do not be anxious, pray, and give thanks. May we never forget to allow God’s peace and assurance to fill us to an overflow!