It’s hard to imagine there are many perks to being in a long distance relationship if you’re not in one—going months without seeing each other, being absent for your partner’s special events and day-to-day life, the high costs of traveling to see each other, and possible jealousy issues don’t exactly make a great case for it. But one study recently found that long distance relationships may actually be better than a traditional one in a major way…and no, it’s not that there’s no one around who’ll hog the covers at night.
Published in the Journal of Communication, the study asked dating couples in geographically close or long distance relationships to keep a log of their daily interactions for a week—face-to-face, phone calls, texts, video chat, instant message, and email. They also reported how much they shared about themselves during those interactions, and how much intimacy they experienced.
The researchers found out great news for the three million Americans who live far apart from their spouses—the long distance couples shared more personal thoughts and feelings than the geographically close couples, helping them feel more intimacy.
But I wonder if the findings would be different if the study looked at the relationship interactions for longer than a week–after all, many long distance couples often have more of a communication schedule in place than the average couple that lives close to or with each other—phone calls every night before bed, a video chat every Sunday, and so on. Whereas the average no-distance couple (my own live-in relationship included) may rely on short catchups throughout the week and weekends spent connecting in a bigger way—lazy mornings curled up in bed together, running errands, date nights, short road trips.
Long-distance couples also tended to idealize their partners when they were apart—they perceived them to be more likely to share personal thoughts and feelings than the average no-distance couple, and more responsive to their own thoughts. “They adapt their messages, for example, by focusing on relationally intense topics, such as love, caring and intimacy,” explained Dr. Jiang, one of the study’s researchers. This was great when they were apart, enhancing their warm and fuzzy feelings about the relationship (and likely helping to make the distance more bearable)—but it caused more problems once they reunited face-to-face. As Jiang put it, “the positive illusion goes away when they spend more time together.” No kidding, says anyone and everyone currently living with their significant other.
That said, there are some lessons geographically close couples can take away from what long distance couples are getting right, like expressing affection to your partner in the midst of the mundane day-to-day stuff, and taking some time for longer, more meaningful interactions, like a phone call at the end of the day instead of a quick text.