Surviving The LDR: How One Couple Did It

“I was 18 years old in the midst of my first semester of A-levels when we first met. Looking back, I’m inclined to think that divine intervention caused our paths to cross; he is four years my senior and our classes were actually based in different buildings at the time, so it was highly unlikely we would have met otherwise.”

Justina, one of my closest friends in the world, recently got married, after dating her husband for over 10 years. Physically, they’re an incredible looking couple. Her husband Jian Yi, tall with broad shoulders, towers over her petite frame. Mentally, they’re made out of steel! Having been together for over 10 years, they’ve been through plenty of ups and downs, including enduring the dreaded long distance relationship for over 2 years.

Meeting for the first time may well be divine intervention, but dating for over 10 years meant there was a lot of human effort. What happened after their chance meeting?

“We went out as just friends for about half a year before officially getting together as a couple. Looking back, I think those few months made a huge difference in our relationship later on. We didn’t have any expectations towards each other and could focus on getting to know the other person better without any pressure. It was during this time that we discovered we really enjoyed each other’s company and had many similar goals and values (though it was just “surface” talk at that point), so we decided take the relationship to the next level.”  

jian yi n justina casual beach“After 2 years of dating, I had to leave for the US for 2 years to complete my degree. It was painful but necessary, and I am grateful that Jian Yi never tried to hold me back (I don’t think things would have worked out if he did). This was one of his greatest acts of selflessness (more on that later) that made me love him even more. We understood that we were still young (I was 20, he was 24) and that it was necessary to work on our respective futures as individuals outside of the relationship – I had to focus on finishing my studies, he’d just started working then.

Despite knowing that things were about to get rocky, we agreed to try and make the LDR work. Most of our friends and family members doubted we would make it. They didn’t get why two young people would want to tie themselves down to each other, uncertain where the future would lead and knowing that they would be half a world apart. At the time, our agreement was that we wouldn’t give up on the relationship so easily at the first sign of a challenge.

For the first few months, we had to battle our own insecurities while trying to adjust to this dramatic change.

Not gonna lie – I bawled my eyes out so many times the few months leading up to my departure, at the airport, on the plane to the US, and every time I heard his voice on the phone or read his e-mails for the first few weeks after I arrived. It was HARD.

For the first few months, we had to battle our own insecurities while trying to adjust to this dramatic change. Sometimes, this led to taking out our frustration on the other person. I think this is the time in our relationship when we fought the most (it was mostly over petty things – I don’t even remember what they were about anymore). It took some time but we finally settled into a routine and things got better (but not easier!) after that.  

The general reaction when people found out I was in a LDR was surprised silence, followed by “I don’t know how you do it.” The other very common question I got was, “How do you stay in a relationship with someone who isn’t physically there?”. People are usually very skeptical towards LDRs. In case you’re wondering, my answer to the first question was, “I don’t know if it will work out, but we’ll try our best”. As for the second question, we created our own lights at the end of the tunnel – either him coming over to visit me, or me going home.

Happy times were multiplied when they were reunited! This collage was taken back when Justina and Jian Yi were doing long distance.
Happy times were multiplied when they were reunited! This collage was taken back when Justina and Jian Yi were doing long distance.

Before I graduated, Jian Yi and I had a serious discussion about our future together. This was about 4 years into the relationship. I was in a dilemma about whether or not to stay on and work in the US. Fortunately, the decision was taken out of my hands – the job market in the States was severely hit by the 2008 financial crisis, and I received a job offer in Malaysia from a really good company (ironically, it was an American one) 2 months before I graduated.

After I came back to Malaysia, the perception of others took a 180 degree turn. We became one of  “those couples” who had been together forever, and it was just a matter of time before we get married.

The rest, as they say, is history. I wouldn’t exactly say it was smooth sailing all the way, but our relationship gradually evolved into what I would describe as “stable” and “comfortable”.”

In my heart I thought to myself that this is the type of man I would want to be the father of my children!

When you have enough motivation toput in so much effort in a relationship, it must mean that you’ve found someone really special. What was it about Jian Yi that Justina fell for?

“Physical appearances aside, what attracted me to Jian Yi the most at first was his love for God and his family. I could see how generous, kind, and loving he was towards his family, and his commitment towards attending church with them every Sunday. I wasn’t a Christian yet at the time, but I appreciated and respected how his beliefs were reflected in his everyday actions. In my heart I thought to myself that this is the type of man I would want to be the father of my children!

I love that I can tell him anything, knowing I’d get an honest and thoughtful response rather than plain lip service. Our personalities are quite opposite – which works because we balance each other out. I’m a pretty serious and intense person, but he can be quite goofy so he makes me laugh all the time. One thing about him I wish I could emulate would be his laidback attitude. No matter how tough or stressful things are, he seems to just go with the flow. I usually just panic, feel anxious, and lose sleep over it.”

In my opinion, LDRs today are a lot easier than 10 years ago, because we have so much technology to help us. What was it like for Justina, having an LDR in the early 2000s? Not only that, she had a massive time difference to deal with.

“Back then, there was no Skype or Whatsapp. Jian Yi and I relied a lot on MSN messenger with super laggy, grainy video, to communicate. Due to the 12 hour time difference, we could only chat on weekends. This involved some juggling of schedules – we usually chatted over the weekend – his Friday night/my Friday morning (I didn’t have classes then), my Friday evening/his Saturday morning, and my Sunday morning/his Sunday evening. We rarely spoke on weekdays because of work/study commitments, but I think it worked out better that way because there would be more to share with each other over the weekends.

Aside from cutting back on our social lives and sleeping in less on weekends, we also lived very frugally to save money – he did it so he could afford the airfare to come visit me, while I worked a part time job to save enough money for both our food and travel expenses when he came. Over the span of two years, he managed to visit me twice.

When you are two young people who have just been released into a world full of distractions, there are tough choices and sacrifices to make.

On my end, I packed as many subjects as I could into each semester (the most I had was 6 subjects – this required special permission from the university, and involved 12-hour class days), including during the summer semester when most of my peers would be off for a long break back to their respective countries, or touring the US. In doing so, I was eventually able to take a 6 month break back in Malaysia while still graduating ahead of time.  

When you are two young people who have just been released into a world full of distractions (his first taste of financial freedom with employment, me living in the heart of consumerism), these are tough choices and sacrifices to make.

In summary, I’d say LDRs are HARD, but not impossible. It takes a lot of commitment and discipline. Most importantly, be prepared to make sacrifices and not feel resentful about it or hold it against the other person. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of using your past sacrifices as ammo during an argument “But I did XXX for you!”. That is a huge no no.”

I’ve been in an LDR before too. Personally, the hardest thing was not the distance, but the copious amounts of people who came to me, telling me things like, “You know it will never work, right?” or “How do you know he is not cheating?” or “Why don’t you keep your options open?”.

In hindsight, I think my friends were well meaning, but it didn’t take out the sting of their questions. What was the hardest part of an LDR for her?

“The hardest thing about an LDR, other than the distance, is overcoming your own insecurities! If you think about it, insecurities are the main cause of trust issues (unless that person has abused your trust before). There were times I drove myself crazy worrying about things that COULD go wrong, but at some point I got so sick of being miserable, I told myself to just suck it up and take it one day at a time. Eventually I learned not to stress myself out over things that were out of control.

Finally getting out of the LDR was the most rewarding thing! But seriously, being in an LDR really tested our mental and emotional limits as individuals, and solidified our relationship as a couple. I think we both emerged stronger than before.”

My next question was in relation to moving from a long distance relationship to a long term relationship. I’ve had friends who dated their partners for 7 years, and then in the seventh year of dating, a lot of people would come to them and warn them about the ‘7 year itch’. I thought the 7 year itch was pure nonsense, and if someone wanted to cheat or misbehave, he or she would do it anytime he or she pleased, and it had nothing to do with the year of the relationship, as if it was some form of rite of passage everyone needed to go through. How did Justina deal with that?

“Exactly what you said – it’s nonsense. “People” need to mind their own business instead of poking their noses into other people’s relationships. Going through and surviving an LDR really taught me to tune out and disregard other people’s opinions. No one knows your relationship better than the both of you.

“People” need to mind their own business instead of poking their noses into other people’s relationships.

On a separate note, managing one’s own expectations is quite crucial. You need to know that when you’re in a long term relationship, your feelings for each other will evolve. Some people have the preconceived notion that they should still be all lovey-dovey and have butterflies in their stomach forever if they’re with the “right one”. Unfortunately, that just occurs in the initial stages of the relationship. Highly likely when they hit the 5-7 year mark they stop feeling that way, so they think they’ve fallen out of love. That’s not true though; it’s just a different kind of love.”

jian yi and justina green dressBefore getting married, Jian Yi and Justina attended some pre-marriage courses. I was pretty interested to know what they thought about it. I wonder why this isn’t a more common thing. After all, we take courses in university to prepare ourselves for the working world. Does the same logic apply for taking a course in order to prepare for married life?

“Jian Yi and I joined the course not knowing what to expect, but we ended up really enjoying it! It was more like a weekend date with guided conversations than actual “work”. Content-wise, The Marriage Preparation Course (TMPC) covers issues that are important to discuss before getting married, but you wouldn’t think to bring up in real life otherwise.

For example, learning your partner’s love language as part of keeping love alive – you wouldn’t think to ask your partner what makes them feel loved, would you? If you enjoy being showered with gifts, but your partner thinks that paying you compliments is his way of showing love, then there is a mismatch of love language, which leaves room for frustration and disappointment.

One other interesting aspect of the course is a compatibility test that the couple takes individually. A married “mentor” couple will then be assigned to help analyse the results, and conduct a SWOT analysis on your relationship based on your individual personalities! There are even graphs and charts – it’s all data-driven and highly accurate, provided you answer the questions honestly.

In a nutshell, TMPC is a fantastic investment of time for any couple who would like to develop a deeper, more meaningful connection with each other and identify potential issues and areas of improvement and how to address them for a strong, lasting relationship.”

nose to nose
Justina, I’m going to ask you to re-enact this photo with Jian Yi in 30 years time. So, I’ll be waiting for a new version of this photo in 2046.

Now that she’s married, what’s her ultimate goal?

“Honestly? I sometimes daydream of being the perfect housewife – like Nigella Lawson, Marie Kondo, Barefoot Contessa, and Martha Stewart all rolled into one neat little package, but with helpers to do the cleaning up (you did say zero constraints!). I guess I’m traditional in that sense – I love the idea of taking care of my husband, home and family.

Marriage goals – I would like us to be one of those sweet old couples who still hold hands and laugh together after 50 years of marriage 🙂 To me, that involves a solid foundation of friendship, trust, commitment and loyalty.”

Watch the happy couple’s wedding video here!

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Ann Jie

Loves good conversations and hates small talk. Finds people fascinating and wonders why meanies exist. Loves writing violent, graphic short stories but finds horror movies too scary to watch. Follow me on Instagram @annjieslices or tweet me a slice of YOUR life at @annjieslices!

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