Is a Successful Long-Distance Relationship Possible?

Is a Successful Long-Distance Relationship Possible?

What counts as a long-distance relationship, and how do people make them work?

There are a couple different ways to define a long-distance relationship (Holmes, 2006). They are sometimes defined as relationships in which the partners spend multiple nights a week apart or go without seeing each other for long stretches of time. A more helpful definition concerns travel time or physical distance: couples that have their own residences, which are located far enough apart that it makes it difficult to see each other regularly, are living in long-distance relationships.

By this definition, long-distance relationships can look pretty different from one couple to another. Two people who live in Philadelphia and New York might call themselves long-distance; there are abundant ways to get from one city to the other, but none are convenient or quick enough to make living in the same place possible. At the same time, two people living 90 miles apart along a highway in rural Montana might not see their relationship as long-distance, because they are used to driving long distances already and this commute seems straightforward to them.

The point is that in long-distance relationships, the distance makes it difficult to have what most couples do – the ability to see each other on any given day or at a moment’s notice if need be. Let’s look at the pros and cons of such an arrangement.

“You’re too far for my hands to hold you, but too near for my heart to love you.”
― Heraline

Long Distance Relationships Cons

On the cons side, people in long-distance relationships have the stress of being separated, needing to travel more, potentially having careers that keep them apart, and often needing to make important decisions about their relationships without knowing what it would be like to live closer to each other (Pistole et al., 2010). People in long-distance relationships appear to have higher relationship stress, less sexual satisfaction, and more difficulty maintaining their relationships than people living close to each other (Du Bois et al., 2016).

Long Distance Relationships Pros

On the other hand, people in long-distance relationships seem to have lower anxiety and depression, they exercise and eat better, and have generally better health than people living in what scholars sometimes call “geographically close” relationships (Du Bois et al., 2016). They also experience less of each other’s daily stresses, whether they be professional or interpersonal, than they would if they lived near each other (Pistole et al., 2010).

Can Long Distance Relationships Work?

So, knowing these pros and cons, do long-distance relationships work? The research tells us that they absolutely can. Across many studies, people in long-distance relationships, compared to those in geographically close relationships, report equal, or even higher, levels of overall relationship satisfaction (Dargie et al., 2015; Du Bois et al., 2016; Kelmer et al., 2013). People in long-distance relationships seem to have more stable and trusting relationships, too (Stafford, 2005).

Why Long Distance Relationships Fail

To the extent that long-distance relationships fail, it tends to have to do with the sheer distance and difficulty of staying connected (Krapf, 2018). The further people have to travel, the harder it is to stay together, long-term. Long-distance relationships are also likely to end if the partners cannot resolve insecurities about the relationship or if one or both partners experience high levels of negative emotions (sometimes called neuroticism) (Cameron & Ross, 2007).

Tips on Long Distance Relationships

A key tip for long-distance relationships is to plan ahead (Sahlstein, 2006). Planning your next points of meaningful contact, both remotely and in-person, can help make the time apart more tolerable and provide meaningful structure to your relationship.

Some research tells us that if these points of contact take on the consistency of a ritual, long-distance partners will be happier with the relationship (Sahlstein, 1996). Furthermore, having these points of contact feature as much face-to-face interaction as possible seems to be better for the relationship, too (Holtzman et al., 2021; Merolla, 2010).

Perhaps above all else, long-distance partners will benefit from focusing on behaviors that they know help maintain their relationship. These may look different from one couple to another, but keeping this in mind, especially during transitions – such as just before and just after seeing each other – will help smooth out some of the difficulties of being in a long-distance relationship (Belus et al., 2019).

In Sum

The research is clear: long-distance relationships can work as well as geographically close ones. They just take a different mindset and more intentional effort to preserve intimacy and stay committed. Hopefully, this article has been helpful for you in considering whether a long-distance relationship can work for you or how to make your long-distance relationship even happier and healthier.

References

● Belus, J. M., Pentel, K. Z., Cohen, M. J., Fischer, M. S., & Baucom, D. H. (2019). Staying connected: an examination of relationship maintenance behaviors in long-distance relationships. Marriage & Family Review, 55(1), 78-98.

● Cameron, J. J., & Ross, M. (2007). In times of uncertainty: predicting the survival of long-distance relationships. The Journal of Social Psychology, 147(6), 581-606.

● Dargie, E., Blair, K. L., Goldfinger, C., & Pukall, C. F. (2015). Go long! predictors of positive relationship outcomes in long-distance dating relationships. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 41(2), 181–202.

● Du Bois, S. N., Sher, T. G., Grotkowski, K., Aizenman, T., Slesinger, N., & Cohen, M. (2016). Going the distance: health in long-distance versus proximal relationships. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 24(1), 5-14.

● Holmes, M. (2006). Love lives at a distance: distance relationships over the lifecourse. Sociological Research Online, 11(3) 1-11.

● Holtzman, S., Kushlev, K., Wozny, A., & Godard, R. (2021). Long-distance texting: text messaging is linked with higher relationship satisfaction in long-distance relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 38(12), 3543-3565.

● Kelmer, G., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S., & Markman, H. J. (2013). Relationship quality, commitment, and stability in long-distance relationships. Family Process, 52(2), 257–270.

● Krapf, S. (2018). Moving in or breaking up? The role of distance in the development of romantic relationships. European Journal of Population, 34, 313-336.

● Merolla, A. J. (2010). Relational maintenance during military deployment: Perspectives of wives of deployed US soldiers. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 38(1), 4–26.

● Pistole, M. C., Roberts, A., & Chapman, M. L. (2010). Attachment, relationship maintenance, and stress in long distance and geographically close romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 535–552.

● Sahlstein, E. (1996, November). Time spent in long-distance relationships: What are the effects on satisfaction? Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Speech Communication Association Convention, San Diego, CA.

● Sahlstein, E. M. (2006). Making plans: praxis strategies for negotiating uncertainty-certainty in long-distance relationships. Western Journal of Communication, 70(2), 147-165.

● Stafford, L. (2005). Maintaining long-distance and cross residential relationships. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum