Do long-distance relationships work?

Our experience with friends and family may tell us otherwise, but long-distance relationships can work, according to recent research in the Journal of Communication (Jiang & Hancock, 2013) discussed in the Huffington Post.

Researchers uncovered the “special sauce” that works for these couples.

Extended honeymoon phase

When our brains are repeatedly exposed to the same partner, we get used to these them as a fixture of our daily life.

But because novelty releases dopamine, we respond with greater attention. This is why a new romance is so all-consuming.

In a long-distance relationship, partners don’t become get used to each other as quickly. Time slows. And the relationship may be suspended  in a drawn-out “honeymoon phase.”

Intimate dialogue

Partners that engaged in a more intimate dialogue about their thoughts and feelings had long-distance relationships that worked.

These intimate conversations create mutual positivity. John Gottman calls “positive sentiment override.”

The study took note of the ever-increasing number of couples involved in long-distance relationships brought on by the demands of educational pursuits, career development, or emigration.

Couples Therapy Inc. provides long-distance relationship counseling many international couples. Advances in communication technology is also a factor helping couples stay passionately engaged and emotionally connected.

The study comprised over 60 couples: some who were already in long-distance relationships, and others who were regularly in close physical proximity.

Long-distance couples in the study were highly trusting and had greater feelings of staying connected on a regular basis with their overseas partners, despite the separation.

What is the success rate of long distance relationships?

Why do long distance relationships fail?

The challenge of a long-distance relationship is simple. You are both living your daily lives apart from one another. There can’t be a direct sharing of experiences. Only a vicarious sharing is possible. If you start to withhold information and stop sharing emotional experiences your relationship will fade.

Researcher Crystal Jiang explained how a successful long-distance relationship works :

“…our culture emphasizes being together physically, and frequent face-to-face contact for close relationships, but long-distance relationships clearly stand against all these values. People don’t have to be so pessimistic about long-distance romance. The long-distance couples try harder than geographically close couples in communicating affection and intimacy, and their efforts do pay back.”

Critics of the study, however, remind us that separation from a beloved partner is not desirable, but the research shows that resilient couples do adjust their behavior to nurture their intimacy.

Be intimate and self-disclosing

Do long-distance relationships work? They do if you’re both intimate and self-disclosing. There has been additional research on long-distance couples. They tend to talk with each other less frequently but, what they do say is intimate and revealing.

Apparently, this intimacy emphasis seeks to compensate for the lack of physical proximity. Online long-distance marriage counseling is often prized by long-distance international couples to work through issues and to nurture a vibrant intimacy while separated by vast distances.

Ultimately, this research suggests that couples in long-distance relationships can, and often have, similar levels of marital harmony and connection as those who are geographically close to each other. While the key factor is that the relationship must be in overall good shape, it is useful to know that separation by itself, does not have a toxic effect on couples.

Here are 9 ways to make sure your long distance relationship works

Quality Communication 

Interestingly enough, some research shows that long-distance couples may actually be happier with the quality of their conversation than couples who see each other on a regular basis.

How do long-distance relationships work? These couples don’t engage in idle chit chat. They talk about their feelings. They know that they can’t physically touch, so they reach out emotionally. Have a long-distance stress-reducing conversation. Talk about what impacted you today, and how you felt about it.

Prioritize Your Schedules for Optimal Connection

One of the challenges in a long-distance relationship is that different time zones and skew your understanding of each other’s schedule. Compare notes beforehand. When is the best time to connect? Do you prefer video conferencing most of the time, or will social media work too? Remember you want a predictable pattern of contact that works for both of you.

Some Day We’ll Be Together

In general, research shows that long-distance relationships are more satisfying and less stressful when there’s a plan to be together at some point. You might have different tolerances for being separated, and these differences may create tension. Talk about those differences in an open and vulnerable way.

Live Your Life

Some partners refrain from making friends or having new experiences because they resent their need to be away from their beloved. Don’t make that mistake. Live your life, go places. Have experiences, and share them with your partner.

Delight in the Everyday and the Ordinary

Long-distance means you lose track of how your partner is moving through time in ordinary ways. What are they reading? Watching on HBO? What mew foods have they tried recently? Maybe you could watch something, or read something together and talk about it. It’s the vivid ordinary details that convey a sense of time and place. Don’t overlook something about your life because you fear it is boring. if you have a reaction to something, it’s worth talking about.

Send Small Gifts and Tokens of Your Affection

No doubt that you’ll stay connected through Zoom or Facetime and social media. But mall gifts and thoughtful gestures can convey powerful emotions too. if you visit someplace you’ve never been before, send a postcard or a small souvenir. Small tokens can be large reminders of your powerful emotional connection. Gottman says “small things often.” This can apply to small gifts and tokens as well.

Plan Visits… But Don’t Over Plan

If you plan to visit one another don’t over plan your stay with too many activities. Time may seem precious, but remember the mere fact that you are both enjoying the novelty of being together will slow down your sense of time

Do long-distance relationships work? They can if you value growth

You will learn a lot about yourself when you are away from your significant other. You will look back and see how deeply attached you were, and how absence made your heart grow fonder.

Given the opportunity to deepen your connection, it may be wise for you to pretend that you are looking back on this time from some point in the future.

Someday You Will Look back on This Time Apart and See It as a Bittersweet Growing Pain

What did you learn about yourself? Your partner? How did being apart deepen your connection?

Reframe the experience as an opportunity for growth, and not just a difficult experience at the present moment.

Are you Connecting or Inspecting?

Let’s face it. The biggest issue with long-distance relationships is the fear of being cheated on. Trust is a Must. Trust never sleeps. It’s ok to have some anxiety but make sure you’re both on the same page. Don’t look for trouble by giving your partner an interrogation. They have a life to live, and they aren’t going to live like a monk just to reassure you. Make sure you give trust and deserve trust in return.

 Get couples therapy for long distance relationships online

Originally published January 24, 2015

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Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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  1. My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year and we are in a LDR. We have been revelry going through some arguments back to back and he deals with trust issues, so the smallest things that I do out of “routine” he assumes I am cheating in some way. I plan on moving in 7months but sometimes get worried that we won’t make it that long as he is easy to want to disconnect to avoid the “drama”. Is there a couples counseling for LDRs? I love and want to be with this man so I want to try everything before we ever just call it quits. Because we are are 100% fine when we are together it’s just the distance?

  2. How can i make my distant relationship interesting apart from saying i miss you and all of that..i feel iam getting bored talking the same thing all the time.

    1. Hi Milba. Thanks for writing. I am sure there are things that are happening during your day that you have emotional reactions to. Talk about those kinds of things. Anything that is important to you, that have strong feelings about…share all of that!
      The important thing in staying connected is to talk about important things. Try not to live in the future when you are together again. Talk about what you are doing right now that you have feelings about.

  3. My boyfriend and I have been together for nine months and i have always been open and honest about everything. Sadly he has not been. He has cheated on me multiple times through out our relationship. It affects me a lot in ways that when he does something to remind me of those pains from the past i feel everything from then and now. Recently he cheated on me again. I had told him after opening up to him even more in a sexual way a month or two ago which i had kept from doing from the majority of our relationship prior to then, because of his cheating, how i would feel if he were to do it again. I told him i dont want him to have any contact with the woman who he may have had a sexual relationship with so she claimed. but then her word isnt exactly trustworthy as well she held no proof to give me as she had claimed, as well as other exs who have been an issue in our relationship. I am trying to find some way of overcoming this incident once again, but i want to try to make him see truly how much pain this causes me in hopes he will never do it again like he claims. A lot of people have told me i deserve better and probably think i am crazy for not giving up on him, but when i found out about the first time and all the other times till point i put my foot down i have tried to help him get back on his feet and get his life straightened out. Maybe it is a fools errand, but i am certainly stubborn in trying to help him be a better man. To help him try to be the best man he wants to be like he claims he wants to do. I just feel really lost and feel like giving up sometimes but never have the heart to end it because how i feel about him. I am hoping one day him and i can look back with none of the bad in past to follow us and both of us work where we want to be where we can finally see each other in person as well be with each other in person, but then maybe it is all just false hope. Just felt like i needed to try something and reach out in hopes of some suggestion. We skype a lot but sometimes i feel when we are not on skype very anxious in fear who he may be talking to or what he may be doing. He calms my anxiety but then wonder if a lot of my anxiety is because all i have been through when comes to him. Sadly i am afraid this time i may have lost my trust in him completely and scared next time i may lose my love for him, but i just dont know if i want to give up after all him and i have been through together and where we have gotten since the start.

    1. What you have said, Katherine, bears repeating back to yourself. You know this man’s propensity to lie to you. You know his pattern of taking up with other women. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and you know what to expect. What you don’t know, or are less clear about is “Why?” Why does he lie to you? Why does he have other sexual affairs? Is it only sex that he lies about, or does he lie about his interest in you, money, his job, his desire for children, his ambitions, etc? Does he lie because in his history, lies prevent him from facing into what he prefers to avoid? Is he capable of sacrificing what he really wants at the moment in order to achieve his long-term objectives? Does he have impulse control? Or does he just give into whatever is the temptation of the moment?

      The answer to these questions speaks to an old-fashioned word called; Character. And it should interest you very much, because character is what makes HIM want to be a better man. Otherwise, he’s your “science project,” not your lover and life partner. You can’t “teach” character. You can only model self-respect. Is he from a family of liars and those who’s word is pretty worthless? Listen to how he talks about his family. You can learn a lot. If so, it is unlikely that he sees much worth in owning up, and won’t, unless something shakes his world. Do you see drugs or alcohol being an issue? They lower ones resolve to face into life’s challenge.

      And equally important, Katherine, you have to take a look at your own pattern in choosing life partners. If you consistently choose men of little character, you might want to talk to a counselor, not your friends, about what might motivate you to continue to date such a character. Is it truly the effort you put into trying to make them a “better man” that gives your life meaning? How much more meaning could it have to focus on yourself and your own development emotionally, professionally, and personally? What would you be doing if you were involved with a man who was as “into you” as you were with him? As honest, faithful and true as you?

      Is the constant threat of abandonment arousing to you? Heighten your interest in the guy? Do people in love with you bore you?

      So just because it is so easy to focus on your partner’s short-comings, I would suggest you do something different. Assume that this man will never stop his cheating and lying and decide if that is how you want to construct your own life, and the lives of your children: Always anxious, never knowing, chronically hoping for change that never comes. If the answer is “yes,” then stop talking about him and his character flaws to other people, and accept him for who he is. If the answer is: “No,” than move on without blame or incrimination. Learn from the experience and break off any relationship where it is clear that you’ve found someone of poor character.

      In other words, look at yourself and your own motivations, and get out of the center of your own love life drama. Dramas are fit for TV, and if you prefer a real life, accept the consequences of your own actions. Otherwise, you’ll be constantly allowing someone else to dictate your own life direction.

      Hope this helps.

      Dr. K

  4. She forgave me on that one but me and her chatted and now me and Aysia is now on good terms and we got along very well. I found out why she was mean and disrespectful and now I’m changing myself and she has started to change. Now we are starting to get back what was lost.

  5. My boyfriend and I got together right before I moved to the other side of the country for work. For the first part of the relationship it was fairly casual, as neither of us really expected to fall in love with the other because of the distance. He got more serious before I did, I drug my feet because I was scared (the last seriously relationship I was in was very toxic and damaging). It took me a while to really get over that, but we’ve been having a lot of fights recently because he doesn’t think I put in enough effort/don’t take the things that are bothering him about the relationship seriously. I believe I am trying to change (things like having deeper communication, staying involved in each others lives, etc) but he doesn’t really see it. We are both very busy so the majority of our communication is through texting, and the deep conversations we used to have aren’t really there any more. He’s kind of hit a wall where he doesn’t want to put effort in because he doesn’t see it returned. I’m having trust issues because when he gets mad he doesn’t really think about my feelings and says very hurtful things out of anger. Are there any ways to get him involved again and/or more structured exercises we can do to help heal this, especially on the communication side?

  6. Hi Elise. Thanks for your comment. The fact that you have been together for about a year, but have never met in person is important. You describe yourself as “not happy with the slow down.” What would it be like for you to not be so positive when he is negative? You might say “I’m a little nervous about meeting you too.” You can argue with him about how comfortable he may be, but that will probably just make him more uncomfortable. You might try to offer him some comfort by saying “I can understand why you might want to slow down, and I am excited that we will finally be meeting and I hope you will be too.”

  7. me and my long distance boyfriend have been together for 1 year plus and we are planning to meet each other for the first time within this year. However, he is someone who doubts and wonders a lot while i am someone who is more towards positive thinking and he suggested a slowdown for the betterment of us. I didn’t feel strongly agreed with the slowdown yet i still chose to respect his decision and followed. However, as time goes by, i am not happy with the slowdown and all i want to do is to get back to the speed we were before the suggestion of slowdown. (reason he suggested the slowdown is because he thinks we are moving too fast even though we still haven’t meet in person but i feel we were at a good speed) I tried to talk to him but we ended up fighting before because he is hard headed while i won’t back down easily for something that i wanted as well so he decides to seek for a relationship therapist in his school to get help. I hated it when he doubts but i can tell something interesting about us: when he is negative, i tend to be positive and vice versa. i just want to know what can i do to make him doubt less and convince him to get back into the speed we were? i couldn’t imagine my life without him and deep down inside my heart i know he is the only one that i want to be with and i truly love him. hope to hear from you soon. thanks!

  8. I’ve recently entered into a relationship with an exboyfriend/good friend of 6 years. He lives in Hawaii and I live in Washington. I’m currently working on finishing my BA, and I’m considering transferring to a school in Hawaii where we can live together and get married. I’m very confused about our relationship, and I’m not sure where to turn. We get along very well whenever we are together, and we want to get married and have children. But when we are apart our communication crumbles. The way he deals with conflict is to lose his temper, make accusations/call names, and attempt to control or demand an ultimatum. In addition to our communication issues, he is dealing with recovering from a pornography addiction.

    We have known each other for so long and been through so much together, but we can never seem to make the romantic part of relationship stick for long. We also can’t seem to stay out of each other’s lives for long. I told him that if we were going to get back together this time that we would for sure need counseling. He agreed, but now when I bring it up now that he is back in Hawaii after Christmas break, he is dragging his feet. Not to mention I don’t know if there are counselors willing to work with a long distance couple.

    I’m 30 years old and would really like to get married and have children, but I have never been able to stay in a serious relationship very long. I can’t decide if this relationship is healthy or not, or what tools we need to make it survive.

    1. Being apart is a strain on every couple. Here, you’re talking about troubling behaviors, like criticism and contempt, that don’t bode well for your future marriage. He must learn to get his temper under control and talk about his feelings respectfully, for it to work. It also sounds with the porn addiction, he’s dealing with impulse control issues as well.

      Couples therapy online can work for couples in long-distance relationships, but it only works when two people are committed to it. An evaluation (we call it a “State of the Union”) can help you figure out what’s working in your relationship and what’s not. Once you know, you both can decide whether you want to do anything about it, and begin couples therapy, or not.

      But I can tell you when you are talking about name calling and accusations or ultimatums, this is not the path of a healthy future marriage.

      I’d get help.

      Dr. K

  9. Okay hi my name is Mariah an I’m 16 …don’t under estimate me …so me and my boyfriend have been dating for 1 year and 11 months but we’ve been in distance for 10 months …he lives in Virginia I live in Georgia , and I mean I’m kinda getting used to it …I haven’t seen him in 6 months and I miss him like crazy …he’s the best thing to ever happen to me …he’s in a boot camp right now he’s trying to get his GED . Because he had school problems with stuff, besides that I just need someone to talk to me and just understand because I don’t know anybody who is in a distance relationship other than myself … I just get depressed and stuff …

    1. It’s hard on so many fronts, Mariah. You’re young and people DO underestimate your love relationships. He’s in the military, which is its own set of stressors. It’s good to have someone to talk to. Check out the local health center near you. They can provide someone who can teach you useful skills in managing the pressure of a long-distance relationship. That will be helpful to both of you. So glad to hear that he’s focusing on his education. That means he cares about his future. I hope you’re doing the same, to give you both your best chance for future success!

      Dr. K

  10. My boyfriend and I have always been very communicative and extremely honest and open. We’ve never had problems that couldn’t be talked through and at least come to a compromise. But we’ve had to switch to a long distance relationship and since then we’ve noticed that when we talk, it’s about surface level stuff. “I miss you, this is what I did today, I love you, goodnight.” When I came back to visit him, we finally had a heart to heart and got back into the deeper stuff we had always been able to talk about and realized that we hadn’t talked like that in months. How do we maintain that intimacy and keep our relationship strong when we have trouble connecting in the same way through a screen that we do in person?

    1. Hi Raquel.
      First notice what happened. When you met, you had a conversation that was deep by design. Long distance couples can deal with physical separation by recognizing that “how ya doin'” chats do not sustain the intimacy needed. You can have deep conversations on Skype. Many LD couples do. Give it a try.
      Have a conversation with your boyfriend about the quality of conversations you are having while apart versus the kind you want to have. Don’t let them slip into the trivial. Be deep and “on purpose.” And don’t assume that you can’t have then on line. You can.

  11. I broke up with my girlfriend two days ago and I miss her like crazy. This is the third time. All together we broken up 6 times. First three times she left me and the other three I left. But everytime we have found our way back to eachother. This time she said she’s done getting messed around. Everytime I did it broke my heart. I fell in love with the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. I miss her like crazy. Ever since the breakup I’ve had recent thoughts and I was harming. Before I even met her I had this problem but ever since I met her I haven’t had it as bad. I don’t know if I can handle losing her completely. We are in long distance. If you could please email me I’d appreciate it so much. I just need help to clear my mind and sort my feelings. Thank you so much

    1. Hi Jenna,

      I’m not sure what you mean by “I was harming,” but if you were harming yourself, you will want to seek immediate help from a trained doctor or mental health practitioner in your area. Writing to a therapist online isn’t appropriate, nor can we help you through an email.

      Grief in a break-up can sometimes be very upsetting, and that’s true of most people. But harming yourself is not a normal or adaptive reaction.

      You need someone you can sit across from and talk to directly. Someone who can figure out, while sitting with you, what you need and how to help you.

      I want to stress this to all of our reader: Online work is NEVER appropriate when a person is feeling suicidal or has been harming themselves.

      You can also call a suicide hotline to just talk, free of charge, to someone trained to help:

      1 (800) 273-8255
      National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
      In English and Spanish, through the USA.

      Please get help, Jenna. Reach out to someone in person, who can direct you to the resources you need.

      Dr. K

  12. Hi Monica. It sounds like your partner has strong feelings about how you broke up with him, and cut all communication. I’m sure there were good reasons for this from your point of view, and it sounds like those reasons, and the impact they had on your fiancee are a serious and deep conversation that is yet to happen.
    It seems that you feel that your choices are either to just “sit and listen to him complain” or get into an argument. I am wondering if it is an option for you both to be curious about each other’s deeper feelings instead angry or frustrated?
    One of the things we do at is to help couples express the deeper meanings that sometimes go unexpressed. They are often under the surface of emotions like anger and frustration. It’s easy and convenient for couples who are far away from each other to have these kinds of important conversations online with our help, so they don’t freeze up and stay in a stuck place. These conversations are secure and confidential, each in your own home, on your computer.

  13. i’ve been in a 5yr long distance relationship with now my fiancee. last year i broke up with him for 6 months, we cut all communication n did not know about each other until i traveled back to my hometown. he aprouched me soon after he saw me, we came back together.
    however, he picks a lot of fights n he doesnt trust me anymore… its getting me so frustated, becasuse i feel that i want him in my life, but he is making it so hard for me to keep wanting it…
    am i crazy to say that?
    sometimes i dont want to play the victom anymore, im sick of being the weaklink… but he takes advantage n he plays victom…
    i hate to arguew so most of the time ill sit there n liscent to him complain n say how much i hurt him…
    am i wrong for that?

  14. Hi I’ve been married for 14 years and divorced 2, my ex wife and I are trying to get back together again after a 2 year split, I’m in Alabama and she is in Chicago, We have good times and bad but lately its bad HELP

  15. Me and my fiance have been arguing over petty stuff. He’s in the marine’s and I don’t get to see him, except a few times a year. He argues everything and it drives me crazy, and I don’t know what to do. When he is home after an argument he would kiss me, ensuring me that everything was okay. Now I’m unsure and having doubts. I’ve been with him for almost three years. He keeps saying that we will talk about it a different day and we never do. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

    1. Hi, Morgan:
      I am not sure what are you and your fiancée arguing about? Are you often arguing about little things that didn’t seem to matter?
      The Military has its very specific cultures. As the result, when the service members come into the civilian’s side of the world, there seemed to be conflicts going on all the time. However, it is because of the cultural differences that often caused the communication issues between the partners. As he is not around much, the issues are often swept under the rug and often become perpetuate negative issues between the partners.
      You need to let your fiancée knows that, if he truly wants to be with you, he needs to start to put some focus back to your relationship. The divorce rate in the military are higher than the civilian world because of its specific cultural issues. If you can’t communicate and cannot find a way to bridge the differences of the civilian and the military culture, it is going to continue even after the marriage.

      1. HI my name is Quinton, I have a girlfriend which we been together for 7 months going on to a year and we been very good to each other at the very beginning. We met on glide and it felt like true love. We use to video chat and talk on the phone a lot but now going on to deep of our relationship, she doesn’t do the things we do anymore. One time I did talked to another woman in our relationship and got caught and felt stupid but ever since that incident I’ve been truly sorry and don’t do any flirting anymore with other women. Now going on to deep in our relationship, she goes from sweet to now disrespectful. And it’s tearing me apart and it’s driving me away. I just feel like I’ve tried so much to be nice but she’s mean and aggressive towards me and I feel like garbage. I love her so much to the point that I don’t want to lose her please help me?

        1. Quinton, it’s unclear why your girlfriend is being so “disrespectful.” Perhaps she is still upset about the flirting. Tell her that your feelings are hurt, and ask her why she is being “mean and aggressive.” Tel her it is a problem for you, and that it’s driving you away.

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