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. 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