Missing your significant other? Long-distance relationships are increasingly common these days, though many individuals try to steer clear of such circumstances. It may seem too arduous and impractical to be far from your beloved — relying solely on phone calls, text messages, and video chatting for interaction — but what if seeing less of each other was more of a positive, than negative, thing?
In a new study, researchers have found that long-distance relationships tend to fare better than face-to-face ones. The study was comprised of 63 heterosexual couples from a large northeastern university, who answered a preliminary survey about their relationship status and whether it was long-distance. Each half of each couple was instructed to track and measure their meaningful interactions with their significant other on various platforms: face-to-face contact, phone calls, video chat, texting, and e-mail. Participants were instructed to keep a diary, which the researchers could access, noting how long they interacted with their significant other, what information they shared, and how intimate they felt afterward. After interactions, researchers also asked about each partner's level of, or hopes for, commitment as well as relationship satisfaction.
Researchers found that long-distance couples felt more intimate to each other, and that this greater intimacy is driven by two habitual characteristics of long-distance relationships. One is that long-distance couples disclosed information about themselves to each other without being coaxed or questioned by their partner. This allowed individuals to feel that their partners were being responsive by engaging in conversations about personal preferences, likes and dislikes, and day-to-day activities. This level of interaction allowed them to feel more secure and intimate within their relationships. As a result, the long-distance couples felt more committed to each other, even though 30 percent of them were only able to see each other in person one to three times each month.
The other habit that long-distance couples have is acceptance of their partner. According to the diaries, these individuals idealized their partners' behaviors regarding their willingness to disclose information. Because long-distance relationships rely almost solely on effective communication, many of the couples seemed to understand many of their partners' disclosures as methods for getting closer, instead of just mere sharing of information.
The public, and even many scholars, have firmly believed, according to a 2010 study, that geographic proximity and frequent face-to-face contact are necessary for developing mutual understanding, shared meanings, and emotional attachment characteristic of romantic relationships. However, the long-distance couples studied contacted each other three to four times each day and had meaningful, though not necessarily lengthy, interactions on various platforms throughout the day. It is likely that this, alone, can create a more meaningful relationship, as both parties in the relationship share more personal information and experiences than couples who may see each other often.
So while the study may have been limited on a few accounts, the findings are clear. "Indeed, 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," said Crystal Jiang, co-author of this study and Ph.D. candidate from City University of Hong Kong. "The long-distance couples try harder than geographically close couples in communicating affection and intimacy, and their efforts do pay back."
So fear not if your boyfriend tells you he is going on a three-month vacation to Australia, or if your girlfriend says her new job is taking her to Europe. A long-distance relationship could potentially fare better than a traditional one.
Source: Jiang LC, Hancock JT. Absence Makes the Communication Grow Fonder: Geographic Separation, Interpersonal Media, and Intimacy in Dating Relationships. Journal of Communication. 2013.