The Advantages of Long-Distance Relationships
Research reveals how remote romance can survive and thrive.
Posted March 10, 2019
The Advantages of Admiring From Afar
Most people have experienced strong feelings towards someone who is geographically out of reach. But in terms of embarking on long-distance relationships, the question becomes: Are such feelings sustainable? Many people say yes and are open to the prospect of finding the perfect partner, regardless of location. Catering to this desire, some dating websites are specifically geared to connecting prospective paramours across the globe, emphasizing compatibility over geography. The good news for individuals inclined to consider remote romance is that long-distance relationships can both survive and thrive.
Out of Sight, Not Out of Touch
Numerous studies over the years have examined long-distance relationships (LDRs), including the factors that impact relational quality and sustainability. As electronic methods of communication have become more prevalent and easy to access, couples are able to keep in touch more frequently, such as via text messaging, and through more intimate methods, as live video calls have replaced phone calls. The goal is to create and maintain a sense of closeness and relational comfort even if partners are oceans apart.
Still, some LDRs fare better than others. What makes the difference? Why do some remote relationships sizzle while others fizzle? Research provides some insight.
When Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
Gretchen Kelmer et al. (2013) compared LDRs to geographically close relationships in terms of relationship quality, commitment, and stability.[i] Using 870 subjects in a national sample, they found that, generally, individuals involved with geographically distant partners reported higher relationship quality and dedication in a number of areas. They also reported a lower perception of constraint or “being trapped.”
Regarding specifics, the higher levels of relationship quality reported by long-distance partners included love for a partner, having fun with a partner, relationship adjustment, and quality of conversation. These couples also reported less negative communication, compared with close-proximity sets of partners.
The authors suggest that perhaps people have higher standards for LDRs when it comes to partner selection. The authors note that as a result of “setting the bar” higher at the outset, the “idealized” long-distance partner may in reality actually be more “ideal” than a partner living in close proximity. This dynamic might be in play when deciding to become involved with a partner at the outset, knowing he or she might be deployed or called away to attend to out-of-state or international business.
Future Prospects and Great Expectations
Remote romance may even enhance relational optimism. Kelmer et al. found that long-distance couples believed they were more likely to marry their partner, and viewed a breakup within the next year as less likely at the beginning of the experiment. In reality, however, they were just as likely as the close-proximity couples to have dissolved the relationship by the time a follow-up assessment was conducted. Why the initial optimism? The authors suggest that the “sense of stability and anticipation of a long-term future might be relevant to individuals’ willingness to make the short-term sacrifices associated with geographical separation.”
Kaitlyn Goldsmith and E. Sandra Byers (2018) compared positive relational maintenance behaviors (RMBs) used in LDRs to those used in geographically close relationships (GCRs).[ii] Among many other findings and observations, they found that the only RMB that long-distance couples used more than close-proximity couples was “introspective behaviors” — such as phone and electronic communication.
Of great interest, however, were Goldsmith and Byers' suggestions as to how long-distance partners can make the most of their time apart. They observe that the challenges of sustaining a long-term relationship might be mitigated by engaging in positive self-help behaviors while separated, such as hobbies, career pursuits, and friendships, as opposed to being focused solely on relationship well-being.
It is also true that some people are better equipped to handle LDRs than others. Goldsmith and Byers speculate that perhaps people who choose to have a long-distance relationship have different relational expectations to begin with. These individuals may not expect (or desire) frequent contact with a romantic partner, and may actually enjoy the benefits of having more independence and time to pursue other personal endeavors.
Meeting of the Hearts and Minds
This research seems to indicate that LDRs can not only survive but thrive — with the right mindset and the right partner. Choosing a like-minded paramour who is similarly emotionally equipped to weather the challenges of remote romance will increase the chances of relational success. Discussing relational expectations at the outset will allow both parties to enjoy their time apart, with an eye towards enjoying their reunion all the more.
[i] Gretchen Kelmer, Galena K. Rhoades, Scott Stanley, and Howard J. Markman. “Relationship Quality, Commitment, and Stability in Long‐distance Relationships.” Family Process 52, no. 2 (2013): 257–70.
[ii] Kaitlyn Goldsmith and E. Sandra Byers. “Maintaining long-distance relationships: comparison to geographically close relationships.” Sexual and Relationship Therapy (2018): 1-24.