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Staying Connected with Friends and Family When You Live Far Away

Published by: LifeWorks,

Strong friendships and positive family connections are key ingredients of wellbeing throughout your life. But with busy schedules, personal and work commitments, job mobility, and far-flung families, staying connected and close with people who live far away can be challenging. Here is advice on how to keep your long-distance relationships strong over time.

Make an effort to stay in touch with friends and family

Distance changes a friendship, and not all friendships will survive the test of distance or time. When you live far from family or friends, it takes extra effort to stay close to them. That means connecting by the many modes of electronic communication as well as in-person visits, if possible.

Exchange jokes, stories, news, and updates by phone, post, email, or text messages. Send handwritten letters, cards, photos, or notes from time to time. When travelling, send postcards to friends and family. If a friend or relative doesn’t use email or text messages but shows an interest in learning about them, it might be nice to get in touch and show them how.

Remember to ask, “How are you?”

Consider having video chats. Have face-to-face chats in real-time on your phone or computer using Skype, Google Hangouts, Teams, or another platform.

Record special events, updates, and stories. Take digital photos or videos you can send to family and friends. Or read stories aloud and make a recording for children, grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.

Share an activity. Plan to see the same film or read the same book as your long-distance friend and then talk about it with each other.

Remember important dates and life events. Show that you are thinking about the person even though you’re miles away. Send birthday, anniversary, and sympathy cards, or even a simple “I’m thinking of you” card. Send a note when a friend’s child graduates or gets married or when there is a birth or adoption in the family. (Even belated birthday greetings are appreciated.) It only takes a minute to send an e-card. At the start of each new year, set up alerts or reminders on your phone for birthdays and anniversaries.

Plan ahead and try to be there for big events. You may not be able to see relatives or friends as often as you’d like, but it’s vital to make a special effort to attend important events, such as a milestone birthday party, a wedding or funeral, or a bar or bat mitzvah. If you can’t attend, try to honour the event in a special way, for example, by sending a gift or flowers that arrive in time for the event.

Using online networks to stay connected

Online networks make it easier than ever to keep in touch with family and friends, but they need to be used along with other types of communication. You and the people you love may have many things to share that you don’t want to post on a social media site. And making the effort to keep in touch offline shows your family and close friends that they matter more to you than casual online acquaintances.

Here are ways to use social media to strengthen ties that you’re also building offline:

Personalise your invitations and acceptances to networks. Add a one- or two-line personal note when you invite someone to join your network or when you accept an invitation (instead of just clicking on the “Accept” button). Mention how happy you are to connect and a few things you look forward to sharing.

Share big news first with the people you love most. Tell your closest family and friends about big news, such as a new job, a birth, or an engagement, before you post it on a network for everyone to see at once. Telling them first is a way of showing that they are special to you.

Follow up offline. If you’ve been communicating mostly online with people who are important to you, suggest that you get together for lunch or coffee to continue an interesting conversation. Call or send a card to congratulate someone who has posted good news to a social or professional network. Following up will help to keep your ties to family and friends from turning into “online-only” relationships.

Create your own online network. Create a website, blog, or photo or video album for your family or friends. You can share everything from pictures to family histories and calendars at Family Wall. You can share photos or videos with friends and others on sites like WeTransfer, Flickr, or Snapfish.

Six ways to cement long-distance friendships

We need strong friendships throughout our lives and at all stages of our lives. Get in touch with a dear friend who lives miles away—today.

Explore options for long-distance communication. Whether you use a landline or mobile phone, compare packages and rates to find the least expensive option that works best for your long-distance needs. That way you’ll be more likely to call the people you care about. You might also look into talking to a few close friends or relatives over the phone using a free conference-line service such as FreeConferenceCall.com. Make a commitment to have regular phone chats with the people you care about.

Write back. Return calls. When you receive a letter, an email, or a phone call from your friend or relative, reply as quickly as possible. Try not to let weeks or months pass by before you respond.

Remember your friends with small gifts. Small gifts are a great way to show that you care and are thinking about the person. Send small items that have special meaning—a favourite recipe, a photograph, or a book you enjoyed reading.

Renew your friendship with visits. Nothing helps you reconnect with a friend more quickly than a visit. If possible, plan get-togethers to look forward to. Some school friends plan annual mini-reunions. Keep an eye on airfares and watch out for special rates. If you live close enough to travel by car, bus, or train, meet halfway and spend the day together. Or consider taking a mini-break with your long-distance friend. Give friends plenty of advance notice if you’ll be visiting nearby.

Be an understanding long-distance friend. It’s normal to go through friendship slumps even with people you care about deeply. Remember that everyone gets busy and goes through periods of being more or less in touch. This doesn’t mean the friendship is over or that you’ve been forgotten. Nor does it mean you should forget your friend. Our most cherished friends are often those with whom we have the longest histories.

Be there. Illness, crisis, a separation or divorce—friends play a vital role in helping us through stressful times. When your friend is going through a difficult time, it’s important to be there in spirit even if you can’t be there in person. Express that your thoughts are with them. You could send a card, text, or leave a voice mail. And when times are tough for you, try to drop a word to your long-distance friends so that they have the chance to support you.

No matter how busy you are, make time for “getting together” with long-distance relatives and friends, even if it’s just to catch up for a few minutes on the phone.