Question: "How should a Christian view long-distance relationships?"
Answer: Long-distance relationships can be difficult, but they also have the potential to strengthen the bond between the parties if each is committed to the relationship. Access to the internet makes long-distance relationships much easier than they used to be. We now have the option of utilizing FaceTime, Skype, or a host of other real-time apps that allow us to see and hear each other as though we’re in the same room. The internet has also opened the doorway to meeting people from distant places, and some of those meetings result in long-distance relationships. There are both positive and negative aspects of a long-distance relationship, and we will explore a few of those.
Christians understand the complexity and frustrations of long-distance relationships better than most because, in a sense, we are in a long-distance relationship with Jesus. Although His Spirit is always with us, we still long to see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). Paul expressed the heart’s desire of every true follower of Christ when he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:21–24).
Christians should exercise caution in entering a long-distance relationship with a stranger. Jesus instructed His followers to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” as we navigate this deceitful world (Matthew 10:16). While many people have found true love through dating sites and chat rooms, many others have been entangled in a nightmare. Caution reminds us that someone can type anything on the internet, knowing there is no way the statements can be validated. Despite how charming a person seems to be online, we don’t actually know him or her.
Even between friends well-known to each other, a long-distance romance carries risks. There is a potential for each or both of them to find someone else nearby. The old adage is often true: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder—for somebody else.” Human beings crave intimacy, and if a long-distance relationship is not meeting that need, the temptation to end it for another romance is always present. Affairs are commonplace in long-distance marriages due to this intimacy deficit. For that reason, married Christians who cannot be physically present with their spouses need to guard their hearts and “make no provision for the flesh and its lusts” (Romans 13:14). We make provision for the flesh when we fan the flame of unmet desires and place ourselves in situations where those desires cannot be met except through sin.
Another drawback to a long-distance relationship is that, without proximity, we cannot see behavior in various settings. He may be wonderful on FaceTime, but how does he treat the waitress at the restaurant? How does she respond when angry—and what makes her angry? How does he interact with his family members? Some important aspects of a relationship simply cannot be known without spending time in someone’s presence.
On a positive note, long-distance relationships offer the opportunity to focus on heart-to-heart communication without the distractions of everyday life. Military couples experience this when one of them is deployed. Although the separation is painful, they can cherish the times they get to spend together. They don’t take each other for granted or get bored of each other’s company. They can develop new ways to create spiritual and emotional intimacy while deprived of physical closeness. For unmarried couples, a long-distance relationship also helps guard against sexual temptation by minimizing the opportunities for it (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Christians should evaluate long-distance relationships as they would any other relationship. If the relationship is not centered on a commitment to Christ, it is not a good relationship. If it does not create a desire in each person to live a more holy, dedicated life, it is not a good relationship. If the participants do not “encourage one another to love and good deeds,” it is not a good relationship (Hebrews 10:24). However, if both parties are committed to one another and to the Lord, they can view their season of separation as training ground for what God wants to do in each of their lives (James 1:2–4).