Though traveling for work (or working in different cities) may feel like a strain on your marriage, you may actually be better off in the relating department than couples who see each other day in and day out.
A new study found that people in long-distance relationships often have stronger bonds and deeper communications than those in ‘normal’ relationships.
An estimated three million Americans live apart from their spouses (for reasons other than divorce). Prior studies have looked at the issues that arise, like jealousy and stress, but more recently, some studies have shed some light on the advantages of less living together.
In this study, published in the Journal of Communication, researchers Dr. Crystal Jiang, of City University of Hong Kong and Dr. Jeffrey Hancock, associate professor of communications at Cornell University, wanted to probe the positive side to long-distance relationships. They asked dating couples in either long-distance and geographically close relationships to report their daily interactions for a week. The couples kept a log of how they communicated—face-to-face, phone calls, video chat, texting, instant messenger, and email. And they had to report on how much they shared about themselves, and how much intimacy they experienced.
The researchers found that long-distance couples tended to share more personal feelings and thoughts, and felt their partners were more responsive to them than normal couples, making them feel a greater closeness.
The long-distance couples also tended to idealize their partners’ behaviors, perceiving them as more likely to share personal thoughts and feelings and more responsive to their own thoughts. This enhanced their good feelings about the relationship, though it may cause more problems when they reunite.
“The positive illusion goes away when they spend more time together,” said Jiang.
Long-distance couples essentially had to make up for the limited face-to-face communication.
“One strategy is to maintain constant communication, such as video chat, texting, instant messaging and letters,” Jiang said.
The distance also forced more intimate conversations and left out more mundane day-to-day issues that can take the joy out of a relationship.
“They adapt their messages, for example, by focusing on relationally intense topics, such as love, caring and intimacy,” said Jiang. "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.”
The researchers concluded that long-distance couples try harder than geographically close couples in communicating affection and intimacy—something those in conventional relationships could take a lesson from.
“Use more frequent and longer communications—Skyping and phone calls, for example, rather than texting and quick emails—and don’t forget to express your affection and commitment,” Jiang said.
Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She blogs about the Affordable Care Act for the WellBeeFile. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.