Excuse the mini-essay. I've been a lurker for a while in the LDR thread as in autumn last year my girlfriend of 3 years went to another continent for post-grad fieldwork.
I just wanted to share my thoughts on what worked and didn't because for me, ultimately, it didn't work out. I had seen advice related to all of the below here and elsewhere but I didn't follow it. But I hope this might help others - at the very least writing this out has helped me a little bit.
-Be yourself. Unquestionably the biggest problem I encountered. The first few months I was and things were fine. Then she came back for Christmas for a month and I realised how much I missed her, and how difficult this year was going to be. When we first met we were only a couple of hours apart so I could see her quite frequently, and then for a year before she went away we'd been living together so it was a big change. I started to get overly emotional and when she went away again I began focusing more and more on seeing her and let my own life slide. Big mistake.
-Phone more, Skype less. This may just be a personal preference or the lack of good internet where she was but I found Skype to be a complete ball ache. Things weren't awkward on Skype, but they definitely had a different feel about them compared to in person or phoning. There's something about the webcam which makes it all a bit weird. Also, technical and internet problems were forever cropping up which just made things stressful. Lastly, we had to schedule things in which meant sitting around at a computer for a while.
Phoning on the other hand was a dream - things felt a lot more natural, the connection was almost always good and we weren't tied to an appointment. The bills weren't so good, and one month I spent £120.
-Photos please! I loved receiving photos from and of my girlfriend when she'd been out somewhere, or just of her house etc. Unfortunately, I didn't reciprocate as she never asked and I rarely take photos - in hindsight I should have as I think it helps give the other person insights into your life in a way talking or writing an email about it doesn't. I think this is important to help retain the emotional attachment.
-Letters and personal/custom gifts. This is one part I think I did well. Once a month or so when she was away I'd send a little custom-made gift. I think personal things like this are far more romantic than a cuddly bear or a shop-bought card.
-Trust them. For better or for worse, I had complete confidence in our relationship so I didn't care when she would mention male friends she had made. If you can trust your partner your mind will be a lot calmer.
When things go bad:
-Man up. I must admit, when she said her feelings had changed I went into shock. It was only a few weeks before I was due to fly out and be with her for a couple of months. I had handed in my notice at my job and was leaving my flat, so my life was all centered towards going to be with her. I basically collapsed and ended up sobbing down the phone to her - not a good way to win someone back! I ended up going out to see her anyway and cried again (twice!) whilst there too. She was upset as well which made things worse.
In hindsight I should have held back, got out of there and had a cry when I was out of sight (or in the first case, off the phone). People say confidence is a big attraction and I think that's right. I had been really confident in the past, until things started going down hill. But crying your eyes out and saying you feel lonely killed that off completely in her eyes! Any glimmer of chance of bringing things back was now well and truly over the cliff and in the abyss. I think in an LDR confidence plays an even bigger role as it's one of the few things you have to make yourself attractive - and not just a friend - to your partner.
-Get away from them and your comfort zone. Personally I think just being with your mates doesn't help - I think you need to actively be doing something different to stand a chance of not dwelling on what's happened. So now I'm back home I've started doing some new classes in things I'd never dream of doing (e.g. yoga, dance - I've never had more than a glimmer of interest in them but I'm going and starting to like them) and going to places in my area I've never seen.
Whilst I was there we ended up being friends and I was even staying with her for a bit (I think she felt pity on me not knowing much of the local language and not having any friends there). This was just awkward and made me feel crap. I was thinking (deludedly) I could still get her back as we were getting on well, but being close to her only as friends just killed me inside.
In the end I just wanted to get the hell away, went to a different country and things got a lot better from then. I should have done it earlier. I was fortunate not to have any commitments - if I had still had my job when this went down I would have been a wreck (the few weeks before I left for the other continent, after she had said her feelings had changed, I had been totally unfocused on my work, but I kept thinking I would make things work when I got out there, which kept me from going off the edge). On the plus side my rather unstable state meant I had no care for risks or my bank account so the travelling was particularly good as I just did and went whatever took my fancy.
I believe that if I had done things differently when she went away the second time (primarily, being myself) I may be in a different position now.
There's a little quote I remember which goes along the lines of "Learn from other's mistakes, you don't have time to make them all yourself". Hope someone learns something from mine.