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Meredith Holt, Published May 03 2014

Couples in long-distance relationships say they’re worth the extra effort

FARGO - Nicole Brokmeier is sick of hearing people say long-distance relationships don’t work.

“I think people who say long-distance relationships don’t work aren’t in the right relationships,” the 24-year-old Fargo woman says. “If you know it’s the right person, it’s going to work.”

This August, Brokmeier will marry her fiancé, 24-year-old Levi Baron of Edina, Minn., after two years of living four hours apart.

The Brokmeier-Baron wedding won’t be the only Fargo wedding this year between a couple who’s spent more time apart than together.

After bonding over the Atlanta Braves on Twitter, Sonja Peterson and Tim Abbott formed a friendship that developed into a relationship “across the pond.”

Peterson, 29, lives in Moorhead; Abbott, 31, in London. They also plan to marry in August in Fargo.

“Long-distance relationships are real relationships,” Peterson says. “They do take a lot of work, but to the people involved, it is definitely worth it.”

If both partners know what they want, are on the same page, are equally committed and are willing to put in the extra time, money and effort to make it work, long-distance relationships are doable.

However, Barbara Werre, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Essentials of Life Counseling in Moorhead, cautions that certain “attachment” styles can make a long-distance relationship more difficult.

“Proximity or face-to-face time can alleviate a lot of fears or a lot of anxiety about your partner, and when they’re long distance, some of those security-blanket kind of things are not possible. And if there isn’t a high level of trust, there’s going to be more anxiety for both and more avoidance of things that need to be talked about,” she says.

But, with clear expectations, defined boundaries and open communication, they can work, she says, as long as the talk’s not just talk.

“The talking has to be backed up by their values and their behaviors,” she adds.

‘Leaving breadcrumbs’

After Brokmeier and Baron graduated in 2012 from Minnesota State University Moorhead, they didn’t have to have an “Are we going to try to make this work?” talk when Baron moved back to Minot, N.D., for the summer and then to the Twin Cities to attend Northwestern Health Services University.

“It wasn’t even a conversation,” Brokmeier says. “It just happened. We both knew it was going to be worth it. I think that’s why it worked.”

When they’re not together, they communicate via text, phone calls and Skype, what Brokmeier calls “normal 21st-century dating.”

Moorhead-London couple Peterson and Abbott use the Couple app (texting internationally gets expensive), and, since they both have MLB.TV subscriptions, they can watch their beloved Braves together.

Like other couples, long-distance couples have to develop their own ways of bonding and have their own little rituals that remind them of their “couple-ness.”

Therapist Werre’s four pillars of a good relationship – love, commitment, trust and respect – may be even more important without regular physical contact.

Brokmeier says that’s an oft-overlooked benefit of a long-distance relationship.

“You get to foster your emotional attachment to someone a lot faster and easier than if you were to be with them all the time, because even when you’re hanging out with your significant other, a lot of times you’re just sitting there watching a movie or eating,” she says.

She says being apart forces them to talk more than they would without the miles between them.

Peterson, too, stresses the importance of regular, consistent communication.

“The biggest thing would be communication, because we don’t have the physical contact,” she says. “I’ll tell Tim all about my day, even if it’s the little boring things, just so we feel more connected that way.”

In fact, the need for open, direct communication in her relationship has helped Peterson become more comfortable sharing her feelings.

The hardest part for Peterson and Abbott, who’ve seen each other twice in the two years they’ve been together, is the time difference – he’s six hours ahead.

They work around it, Abbott says, by “leaving breadcrumbs” (messages) for each other using Couple.

‘At least try it’

With limited face-to-face time, partners often put additional pressure on themselves for visits to be “perfect,” but Werre says that’s not realistic.

“That’s not really who you are, that’s not daily life. That’s fun, that’s romantic, but that’s not really representing what daily life would be like, if that’s what you’re looking for,” she says.

That’s one of the reasons why some couples don’t last when they make the transition from living in different cities, states or countries to living in the same place, or living together.

“We just can’t really know a person until we get involved in their daily life,” Werre says. “The little things that don’t matter when you’re in the romantic phase matter when you settle into reality.”

Brokmeier and Baron, who try to see each other every other weekend, call it a “binge relationship,” when you try to fit in as much as you can into just a few days.

“When he visits me or I visit him, we have to concentrate all of this together time, and then the next minute, they’re gone,” Brokmeier says.

Brokmeier knows it’s going to take some time to adapt to living together, but they’re up for the challenge.

“It’s going to be a learning curve, that’s for sure. I’m not naïve to the fact that it probably will be different,” she says, adding, “We’re committing to this marriage, it’s going to be work anyway.”

After they get married this summer, Brokmeier will move to the Cities to be with Baron and Abbott will move stateside to be with Peterson.

Baron’s advice for anyone facing a long-distance situation?

“Don’t be scared of it. If it’s the right person, at least try it,” he says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590