Received wisdom has always had it that long term relationships can be difficult. It is something military families frequently endure, spending many months of the year separated by thousands of miles. Being proud of the fact that your other half is serving their country is one thing, but can it make up for them not actually being there when you wake up in the morning or go to bed at night? The truth of the matter is that long term relationships can not only work, but they can also teach you things about yourself, and as a couple, that a run of the mill arrangement simply can’t do.
Technology helps the heart grow fonder
To some degree, the positive aspects of a long distance relationship are obvious, and can be summed up in the old cliché ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. Modern communication technologies have made it easier for couples who are separated geographically to spend time ‘together’ – using tools such as Skype and instant messaging – but the relatively limited nature of this interaction is still likely to make it more meaningful. Couples in a ‘standard’ relationship can often end up taking the fact that they can communicate at any time for granted, but when the opportunities to share intimacy and emotion, or even chat about what you’ve been up to today, is rationed, then it’s bound to carry more significance. Put simply, if you don’t have to value every conversation, there’s a chance you’ll end up valuing none. Couples in a long distance relationship would never make that mistake.
Nor is this simply an observation. A 2013 study, published in the Journal of Communication found that couples who were involved in long distance relationships were actually more likely to share meaningful thoughts and feeling than those who weren’t. The study, entitled Absence Makes the Communication Grow Fonder, also found that couples who don’t interact frequently throughout the day tended to develop more idealised images of their partners and the things they said when communication did take place.¹
Another thing which any couple can learn from a long distance relationship is – and this may sound rather obvious – that they can survive a long distance relationship. Many of the problems which were traditionally assumed to render long distance relationships untenable were problems which would be bound to undermine absolutely any relationship. Issues such as lack of intimacy, failure to communicate and problems with trust may well be magnified by geographical distance, but if they are initially present then they’re bound to cause problems at some point. If you and your partner have thrived and grown together during a long distance relationship then, almost by default, you’ve demonstrated (or perhaps even discovered) how solid the foundations of your relationship are.
Just in case you’re finding the benefits of long distance relationships hard to accept, consider the findings of another study, this one carried out by the Department of Psychology, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada, which compared the experiences of couples who were separated by distance, and those who were geographically close. It found that the couples involved in the long distance relationships reported enjoying the same level of satisfaction with all aspects of their relationship, including matters of intimacy, as those who lived together. As the abstract from the report states:
These results indicate that individuals in long-distance dating relationships are not at a disadvantage and that relationship and individual characteristics predict relationship quality.²
Strength across the miles
Ultimately, then, the fact that one half of a couple is absent, as is the case with many military families, can strengthen the relationship. Coping with the geographical distance actually bolsters those parts of a relationship which are strongest, and chief among these is the degree to which you both appreciate one another. Last but by no means least is the fun you have when you do get back together, which can make all the time apart worth every minute.
Our thoughts are with all those who are apart from their loved ones – for whatever reason – this Valentine’s Day.