Our guts may tell us otherwise, but long distance relationships can and do work, according to recent research in the Journal of Communication (Jiang & Hancock, 2013) discussed in the Huffington Post.
Researchers uncovered the “special sauce” that works for these couples:
They engaged with their partner in a more intimate dialogue about their thoughts and feelings, while nurturing a positive regard for their partner that marriage researcher John Gottman calls “positive sentiment override.”
The study took note of the ever increasing number of couples involved in long distance relationships brought on by of the demands of educational pursuits, career development, or emigration. Couples Therapy Inc. regularly works with many international couples that meet this description. Advances in communication technology is a factor helping couples stay passionately engaged and emotionally connected.
The study comprised over 60 couples: some who were already in long distance relationships, and others who were regularly in close physical proximity.
Long distance couples in the study were highly trusting, and had greater feelings of connection with their overseas partners, despite the separation.
Researcher Crystal Jiang explained:
“…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. The long-distance couples try harder than geographically close couples in communicating affection and intimacy, and their efforts do pay back.”
Critics of the study, however, remind us that separation from a beloved partner is not desirable, but the research shows that resilient couples do adjust their behavior to nurture their intimacy.
There has been additional research on long distance couples. They tend to talk with each other less frequently but, what they do say is more intimate and self-disclosing. Apparently, this intimacy emphasis seeks to compensate for the lack of physical proximity. On-line couples therapy is often prized by long- distance international couples to work through issues and to nurture a vibrant intimacy while separated by vast distances.
Ultimately, this research suggests that couples in long distance relationships can, and often have, similar levels of marital harmony and connection as those who are geographically close to each other. While the key factor is that the relationship must be in an overall good shape, it is useful to know that separation by itself, does not have a toxic effect on couples.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.