IF YOU HAVE JUST started a long-distance relationship or if your partner has just been shipped off to distant shores, it may be a blessing in disguise. On the downside, gone are the daily friendly chats, the shared meals and the up-close and personal kisses and cuddles, only to be replaced by telephone calls, letters and e-mails. But take heart, with this distance comes the chance to get to know each other in different ways, say the experts. The intensity of each moment of contact can make you more sensitive to each other's qualities, values, ways of thinking, dreams and aspirations, forging a deeper bond. Sharon Glick, a relationship counsellor with St John's Cathedral Counselling Service, says in the right circumstances a long-distance relationship can actually work out better than an up-close one. 'It can be like a serial honeymoon,' she says. 'You're not in each other's face all the time and you don't have to deal with the day-to-day drudgery. You just look forward to being together, which makes things very romantic.' Writer Suzanne Schubert recalls her parents' story as a classic example of a long-distance relationship that succeeded against daunting odds. Her parents met on a blind date in the mid-1950s, when her father was at army officer-training college at Sandhurst in southern England. 'Mum was summering as an au pair in order to learn English in the same village, and they met at his graduation ball through mutual friends,' she says. 'They fell in love that very night, and knew it was meant to last forever.' Soon after, however, her father was shipped back to Malaysia and her mother returned home to Germany. 'They kept in touch by correspondence, and whenever he was sent to various war zones, he'd stop off in Germany if he could. There was one time when he had an hour at Frankfurt airport but wasn't permitted to exit. So they stood there on either side of the glass partition, trying to talk - very romantic,' says Schubert. After two years of this kind of fleeting contact, he proposed to her and they remained married until her father's death in 1995. With 37 years of marriage under their belt, three children and a lifetime of happy memories, 'my parents proved that long-distance relationships can work, if there is enough love there,' concludes Schubert. But can a long-distance relationship work for you? It is important for you and your partner to talk about what you're feeling and what concerns need to be addressed. Both partners need to ask themselves if it is possible to be separated by thousands of kilometres. For Anita Yu, the prospect of life without her husband was too daunting. 'The screaming of our newborn baby and the feeling of isolation without my husband were too overwhelming; I made my decision to live in Hong Kong when I found out my husband signed a five-year contract for his new position as regional manager,' says the British-born Yu. 'I knew it would be a struggle, but the thought of my husband not there with me to watch our little girl grow up disturbed me.' She also admits to fears that the special bond between herself and her husband might be lost through long years of separation. And separation doesn't only affect husbands and wives, or lovers. Often, an entire family network can be severely put to the test if one parent is forced to be absent for work purposes. Children make a long-distance relationship a whole new ball game, says Glick, which can lead to feelings of resentment and frustration. Surprisingly, the counsellor says that in her experience it is often the parent who works away who is left with such feelings and not the one left behind holding the babies. 'Raising a child is difficult enough with two parents. With one it becomes arduous,' she says. 'The general scenario is that the father thinks he is being noble out there slaying dragons for his family. Meanwhile at home his wife misses him for two or three days but then by day four she has worked out a new plan, a new routine and is making it work. 'On numerous occasions I've had to sit guys down and explain this to them and tell them it's not something personal. It's not because of them. It takes time and adjustment to get back into the role.' Glick recommends making sure the absent parent makes their presence felt in the family by making tapes and videos of them talking, reading stories and even singing goodnight songs that can be played to the children. This method worked for 15-year-old April, who vividly remembers the time when her father was absent from her life for a whole year. 'I received a video tape once a week from dad, and mum let us watch a bit each day after dinner,' April recalls. 'We'd put the tape in the video recorder and watch Dad sitting in a chair asking us how our day was and what he has been doing.' The teenager laughs as she remembers her little sister, who was barely five years old at the time, speaking back at the television as if her father could hear every word. For April, those weekly video missives gave her the assurance that she was loved and that her father missed the family deeply. But not all difficulties are surmountable. Frustrations can leads to problems. Dorothy So, 36, had a bad experience with long-distance dating. Her boyfriend was a charming American in his late 40s. They dated for seven months then over a candlelit dinner he romantically asked her to return to the US with him. 'I couldn't just up and leave, even though the thought was tempting at the time, but what about the rest of my life here?' she says. They agreed to slow things down to give her time to prepare, to take care of practical matters such as ending her tenancy contract, settling bills and giving up her work. But within six weeks the relationship began to cool. The long intense phone calls lessened, messages were not returned, e-mails left unanswered and eventually they began bouncing back. So insists the failure of this relationship was due to the old saying: out of sight, out of mind. The same is not true, however, for Simon, an English teacher in Hong Kong. His wife is never out of sight or mind - despite her being out of town for nine months of the year. During that time, he talks to her every day, notching up huge phone bills. His home is plastered with her photos, including one which he keeps by the bed. 'I want my wife to be the last person I see before I turn in for the night,' he says. Other aspects - such as the lack of physical contact - are more difficult, but not impossible, to come to terms with, he says. 'I have physical needs, after all - but that's nothing that a good book won't cure. We trust each other a lot and we have faith in each other not to fool around,' says Simon. Then there is Bonita Chan, who currently lives in Toronto while waiting for her residency, while her fiance Jonathan works here in Hong Kong. She says in the beginning there were problems that needed to be thrashed out, but believes that it is all about 'making an effort. If you want it to last, you have to wear your relationship like a second skin.' The couple have had their moments of frustration, but she says they have somehow worked through these problems. Chan says her fiance has learned to show his love and affection through words, while he says he has learned to cut down on international phone calls and even begun calling at a reasonable hour. They both agree that the key to making a long-distance relationship work is to be attentive and listen to each other's needs. 'There were times when we both felt like we wanted to end our relationship, but it never happened,' says Chan. 'And now we feel this experience has actually brought us closer.'