8 Ways Long-Distance Relationships Are Better Than Close-Distance Relationships
A recent study from Family Process reveals that long-distance relationships aren't that bad as we all might think. Kelmar, Rhoades, Stanley, and Markman (2013) compared long-distance relationships with close-proximity relationships (couples who live near each other) on relationship quality, commitment, and stability and found just the opposite.
Findings revealed that long-distance relationships do better than close-proximity relationships in terms of
- Higher relationship adjustment (ability to handle disruption in the relationship)
- More love for partner
- More fun with partner
- Less psychological aggression (less conflict)
- More dedication
- Less felt constraint (lower feelings of being trapped by the relationship)
- Higher perception that relationship would lead to marriage
- Lower perception that relationship would end
The authors discussed some of the reasons they hypothesize that people in long-distance relationships rate their relationships as better than others. First, people in long-distance relationships are probably more selective of the partners they choose to be in such a relationship with, picking more "ideal" candidates. You're not going to choose someone who you don't think could handle the stress of having a relationship in which you are not geographically close for fear that it would be likely to fail. Second, these couples have less trouble maintaining positive connection with each other because the time spent together is more important due to there being less time together. Face it, long-distance couples make use of the time they have together with their partner whereas if they lived closer to their partner, they may be less motivated to maximize the quality of time spent together. Lastly, couples in long-distance relationships have "the honeymoon effect," a heightening of positive emotional and sexual response when with the person due to the repeated separation and reunion. Those of you in couples know the feeling of reuniting with a partner if you have been away for awhile. Imagine that your relationship was a constant experience of this feeling. Not too bad, ehh?
As with most things, long-distance relationships aren't all good. Outside of not being able to see your partner whenever you want, the authors point out that often times these relationships take on an idealized quality. Think about it, these types of relationships are characterized by positivity, "vacations" to see the other person, heightened motivation to have quality time when together, honeymoon effects and more; it can seem idyllic! But is it real? Maybe not. In this study, long-distance people reported higher likelihood that they would remain together even though there was no difference between them and the other group in terms of who was still together at the study (suggesting idealization). Additionally, research also demonstrates the tendency to avoid conflict in these relationships, contributing to the false perception of things as better than they really are. The authors appropriately consider whether or not findings from their study are mediated by the presence of this idealizing tendency. Could long-distance relationships score better than close proximity relationships because they idealize them? More research is needed to control for this idealizing tendency when understanding this question.
Incidentally, the study found evidence of similarity between the two relationships styles in terms of the rating of sexual satisfaction, communication danger signs, perceived constraint (concern for the negative effects of ending the relationship), material constraint (how much shared material the couple has), and actual stability.
The authors give suggestions for therapists working with couples in long-distance relationships. Most importantly is helping people in long-distance relationships to re-evaluate their relationships with the understanding that how they perceive the relationship might be better than it actually is. Additionally, the avoidance of conflict and the honeymoon effects can prevent people from identifying and productively resolving conflict, an opportunity for growth for any relationship type.
Kelmer, G., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. and Markman, H. J. (2013), Relationship Quality, Commitment, and Stability in Long-Distance Relationships. Family Process, 52: 257–270. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2012.01418.x