What to Expect When You Get Engaged to Your Long-Distance Partner

It’s a totally different ball game when you’re thousands of miles apart.
by Sophie Ross

You truly only know what a long-distance relationship feels like if you’ve been in one. The intense highs (spending an entire weekend together) combined with the deep lows (tearing up on your flight home) can create a total roller coaster of emotions. And you typically only put yourself through that if you know it’s worth it.

“Long-distance relationships require the ultimate level of commitment,” says relationship expert Susan Winter. “Anyone in a long-distance relationship is serious about this person. You’re dedicated, and you probably have goals.”

One of those goals is likely engagement. And for long-distance couples who decide to take the plunge, it can be a confusing time. After all, you don’t even live in the same city yet—how are you supposed to plan a wedding? That’s why we talked to experts and outlined every step, talk, hurdle and milestone there is for engaged long-distance couples. You’ve got this (even if you’re—gasp!—in different time zones).

Have the relocation discussion before anything.

What should come first—the move or the engagement? It’s like the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. The answer’s a little more complicated.

“With long-distance relationships in general, every step of the way has to be planned—especially when it comes to engagement. ,” Winter says. “All of these conversations need to be had in order to decide what’s next, even if it takes the passion away.”

It’s pretty much assumed in this day and age that engaged couples have previously discussed this step prior to the official act of “popping the question,” especially when you factor in the idea that someone has to pick up and relocate their life, in the case of long-distance relationships. All parties should be on the same page before you make any rash decisions (aka, ask yourselves if you’ve even spent enough time together to really understand what this step involves). And since long-distance relationships can sometimes feel like “vacation mode,” you should also understand what it’s like to experience real-life stressors and mundanities together (like bills and laundry).

Thus, you typically should be talking relocation before rings, although it’s not unheard of to decide on the latter before the former.

Realize there are sacrifices involved.

While it’ll undoubtedly be an exciting time, it won’t always be easy. Think about it like this: Who will have to move? Who will spend the money to relocate? Who will have to potentially put their career on the back burner?

But talking about the future—even if it gets awkward—is just part of the process. And nowadays, no one’s career should automatically take precedent (remember when men were commonly seen as the “breadwinners”?) so this is just something that should be an open and honest conversation between you and your partner, with compromise in mind.

And according to marriage therapist Rachel Sussman, “Everyone has to sacrifice in order to gain.” To reiterate, this is something that will ultimately be worth it in the end if you’re serious about this person.

Prioritize your living situation over wedding planning (and make time for self care).

Both of these situations can be highly stressful. It’s important to prioritize one over the other so you don’t have too much on your plate at once, and every relationship expert agrees it should definitely be the move that takes precedent.

“The ‘Where are we going to live?’ question should be the first thing on your mind,” Winter says.

As unromantic as it might be, Winter says you should be meticulously planning your immediate future with this person (which means talking about things like your plans to start a family, where you both stand on spending versus saving money, and so on). And above all else, the living situation needs to be something you’re both in agreement with. Once that’s settled, then you can go back to the more fun, romantic part—wedding planning.

If you’re not moving in together right away, get a short-term lease.

Going from long-distance to roommates can be a big jump. Sussman says both individuals are nervous in this case: The person who’s moving to a new city will feel anxious to make a life of their own, and the person whose city it is might feel responsible for their partner’s happiness.

If you’re in a rush to move in together after being apart for so long, that’s totally understandable. Of course you are! Just make sure to carve out activities apart so you maintain personal space and avoid one person becoming too dependent on the other.

But if you’re not in any rush, that’s normal too. For those couples, Sussman recommends testing the waters first by moving into separate apartments or homes. You’ll get a feel for how your relationship flows and evolves when you’re in close proximity of each other, without the potential of feeling too claustrophobic right away. And you don’t have to wait a full year if you sign a lease—get a short-term or flexible lease, or an Airbnb, and if things are going well, move in together as soon as you’re ready. Say, after living separately in the same city for three months.

If you’re planning the wedding apart, rely on each other as much as you can.

If you do decide to plan the wedding prior to moving, it’s important to realize you’ll face a multitude of unique challenges and hurdles that other couples couldn’t possibly understand.

For instance, how do you choose a venue in a city you don’t yet live in? How do you make decisions together when you’re so far apart? And what if all you need to relax is a big hug from your partner, but they’re on the other side of the country?

It’s not easy. Paulette Sherman, psychologist, author and director of My Dating and Relationship School, recommends hiring a local wedding planner familiar with vendors who can go to appointments and email you both ideas, or using an app to make things less overwhelming.

She also suggests divvying up duties with your partner so it’s not all on one person. For instance, have them compile lists of photographers while you work on the save-the-dates. In any case, it’ll be frustrating and stressful being apart while wedding planning, but just know it’s only a matter of time before you’re happily married and cohabitating. Patience, understanding and communication are key.

Don’t put your relationship on hold any longer.

You’ve likely already experienced a multitude of delays over the course of your long-distance relationship (and we’re not just talking flights). Why hesitate any longer to get your show on the road?

When both of you are officially ready, make that move and plan that wedding (whether it’s in that order or not). After all of the pricey plane tickets, miles traveled and tears shed, it’s finally time to live your life together post-long-distance relationship. And no matter how you choose to do so, just remember that the experts agree: If you can survive long distance, you can survive anything together.

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