Can Long Distance Relationships Work?

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About three million Americans have long-distance relationships, but can they work?

Contrary to the received wisdom, long distance relationships can work, according to new research published in the Journal of Communication (Jiang & Hancock, 2013).

Two factors that help keep long distance relationships alive are that these couples:

  • Tell each other more intimate information.
  • Have a more idealised view of their partner.

The study, which contradicts much standard dating advice, was inspired by the increasing numbers of people conducting long distance relationships because of the demands of education, employment or emigration.

The researchers examined 67 couples: some who were in long distance relationships, and others who were in close physical proximity to each other.

They found that the long distance couples were highly trusting and even felt more intimate with their partners, despite their physical distance.

Crystal Jiang explained:

“…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.”

It shows that, while it is not necessarily ideal to be separated from your partner for long periods of time, people do find ways to cope with the situation.

Other studies have also found that, although those in long distance relationships talk with each other less, what they do say is imbued with greater meaning. This appears to balance out the lack of physical contact.

This means those in long distance relationships often have similar levels of relationship satisfaction and stability as those who are geographically close to each other.

None of this research, though, tells us anything about which types of people can cope with long distance relationships.

While some people may naturally have the skills required, others may not.

Still, it’s heartening to know that should a long distance relationship be unavoidable, many people are able to keep their intimacy levels high, which helps fuel the relationship, just as if they lived in the same house.

Image credit: Bhumika Bhatia

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About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 2 December 2013

Text: © All rights reserved.

Images: Creative Commons License