Long distance relationships may be stronger than you think

Researchers surveyed 63 couples


NEW YORK – Most will tell you long distance relationships will never work. Or, it'll only work for a while, but the distance and time apart will ultimately be too much to handle, and things will fizzle out.

New research says this notion is not true.

According to a small but growing number of social science studies, long distance relationships are, in many ways, stronger than relationships between couples who live together or close by. The new study was published in the Journal of Communication.

"While the public and the science community hold a pessimistic view towards long distance (LD), this research provides compelling support for the opposite side – long distance is not necessarily inferior to geographically close dating," says Crystal Jiang, an assistant professor of communication at City University of Hong Kong.

Jiang found that people in long-distance relationships reported feeling closer to their partners than people who lived geographically closer.

"You always hear people say ‘long-distance relationships suck' or ‘long-distance relationships never work out,'" Jiang says. "Indeed, our culture, particularly American culture, emphasizes being together physically and frequent face-to-face contact for close relationships, but long-distance relationships clearly stand against all these values."

In the study, 63 heterosexual dating couples independently completed online surveys every day for one week. The average age was 20, and most were college students. About 80% of couples considered their relationship committed or serious. They were asked to track their interactions with their partners, including texts, emails, phone/video chats or seeing each other face to face.

The couples in long-distance relationships reported interacting with each other a little less often every day than the couples who lived closer. But the separated couples reported "experiencing greater intimacy" - or feeling closer to their partners than the couples who were geographically closer.

But the reason you see your faraway lady- or gentleman-lover in such a rosy light may be precisely because he or she is far away, points out Dr. Gail Saltz, a New York City psychiatrist and frequent TODAY Show contributor. This new study, and others before it, have shown that long distance partners tend to idealize each other, or see them in unrealistically positive terms.

"It's easier to hold on to this idealized view of the other person when you're not with them all the time," Saltz says. That idealization can make the reunion difficult, once the honeymoon vibes have worn off. Cuneo says last time her husband returned after a long deployment, she had to remind herself, "He's been gone for eight months; he's not going to remember I like the dishwasher loaded a certain way."

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