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Absence makes the heart grow fonder… or does it?
Today we’re going to be talking about long distance relationships and friendships. While they aren’t always ideal, sometimes they’re necessary. School, work obligations, or, in more recent cases, public health concerns may make it difficult to see someone that you love regularly. When and if that happens to us, it’s important to be prepared.
While it may be a difficult journey, it can be a rewarding one in which both parties learn more effective communication skills. It can even make the time that is spent together, no matter how brief, seem more exciting and fulfilling.
Learning how to be a better long distance significant other or friend is a great way to start putting more effort into the relationship, no matter how far away you are.
As of 2019, 14 million couples worldwide identified as being in a long distance relationship (Long Distance Relationships, 2019). That same database estimates that 75% of all couples that are engaged to be married have been long distance at one point or another for varying periods of time (LDR, 2019). The rise of the internet has also seen a rise in internet connections and friendships that become relationships (LDR, 2019). For some, being long distance is a choice with some dynamics and life circumstances working more efficiently if they’re long term. For others, there is a long term plan to be together. Regardless of your circumstance, there are a number of things that happen to your brain when you’re in a long distance relationship.
Licensed clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly notes that not being with your partner can cause a lack of “phenylethylamine (the love molecule), oxytocin (the love hormone), and dopamine (the reward hormone)” (Strong, 2020). Oxytocin is responsible for those feelings of stability and intimacy that bond us; Having a lack of these can trigger loneliness and depression, even in the strongest of relationships (Strong, 2020). Stress hormones of adrenaline and cortisol may also increase when we spend extended periods of time away from someone that we care about (Strong, 2020).
A 2015 study conducted by Adler University in Chicago found that out of 400 couples sampled, those who were in long distance relationships noted higher levels of stress in the relationship and higher levels of stress outside of the relationship when dealing with everyday events (Strong, 2020). These researchers suggest that this may be attributed to less physical touch between the couple due to the distance, and thus less oxytocin releases (Strong, 2020). Snapchats and Facetime calls don’t always elicit those same hormonal rushes in the brain.
While that may be disheartening, research doesn’t necessarily suggest that long distance relationships are less successful or at a greater disadvantage than close proximity relationships (Strong, 2020). A study of 700 couples conducted in 2014 found that those who were in a long distance relationship were not more likely to be unhappy in the relationship than those who were not long distance (Strong, 2020).
One thing is for sure, though: long distance relationships require effort. The good news is that there are plenty of resources for keeping the connection strong. Let’s look at some tips for success.
One of the first suggestions for long distance relationships is to give one another a personal gift. This doesn’t have to be a huge investment. It can be a blanket or a coffee mug, just something special that can remind you of one another. This can be a great reminder of how much they care for you for when the person that you want to talk to is in another time zone or doing something that requires their attention.
Many sources also encourage people in long distance relationships to get into routines and learn one another’s schedule. Setting aside time to spend together on a video chat may seem simple, but it is a great way to make and keep a promise to one another. Routines are also good ways to avoid disappointment and clashing schedules (Psych2Go, 2018). Patience is mandatory here, especially when trying to get used to a new routine after a move.
Building trust is one of the most important elements to having a long distance relationship (Psych2Go, 2018). Jealousy can be incredibly common. Many long distance couples find themselves feeling jealous that their significant other’s friends or family members get to spend time with them, while they sit thousands of miles away just waiting by the phone (Psych2Go, 2018). It’s important here to trust your significant other and communicate when reassurance is needed.
The time away from one another allows for a great deal of independence, but this can be difficult to navigate when combined with feeling lonely and missing the other person. Doubt may creep in from time to time, especially as time away from one another goes on. This is normal and validating one another’s feelings is a good way to keep building that trust and strengthen the relationship (Psych2Go, 2018).
Long distance relationships are high maintenance, but can be rewarding with effort and communication. Time spent together becomes cherished. Long distance relationships also create an opportunity for us to grow as individuals and practice patience and establishing boundaries. While they may not be for everyone, sometimes being with someone requires adapting to environmental and geographical challenges that are outside of our control.
Long Distance Relationship Statistics. (2019). What Are The Stats?
Rebecca Strong. (2020). Here’s What Happens To Your Brain in a Long Distance Relationship.
Psych2Go Youtube. (2018). Long Distance Relationship Tips.