Long-distance relationships, often now called LDR’s, have a bad rap, and for good reason. They’re challenging for many and often end in breakups.
Then again, though, so do many non-distant relationships. Interestingly, research reveals that each kind of coupling actually breaks up at about the same rate as the other.
One clinician who sees real pitfalls to LDR’s yet who can also support them under certain circumstances is Ben Michaelis, PhD. From The Huffington Post, his thoughts about what can go wrong and why:
Long-distance relationships often masquerade as real relationships. They can be passionate, intense and loving. But what they can’t be is battle-tested. Developed romantic relationships require commitment, contact with reality, but most of all they require action. Because the majority of the time spent together in long-distance relationships is precious, most problems are ignored. As a result, long-distance relationships usually exist in a suspended ‘honeymoon state,’ where everything is shiny and happy but devoid of the reality that is necessary to determine if the relationship will ultimately sink or swim. This is why many long-distance relationships fail.
Exceptions, he says, are couples who have temporary separations due to certain commitments, e.g., related to the military, as the partners “generally do not fall into the fantasy trap.”
Another expert on this subject is Dr. Gregory Guldner, author of Long Distance Relationships: The Complete Guide (2004). He says, “The most challenging aspect of a long distance relationship is maintaining the feeling of simply being part of one another’s lives.”
Guldner sees the following six “critical areas” for long-distance relationships:
- Stay Optimistic! “LDRs report just as much satisfaction, intimacy, trust, and commitment as traditional relationships…”
- Re-Learn How to be Intimate. “Our research found that what couples say and how they say it matters far more than how frequently they communicate.”
- Some things must be said. Don’t postpone necessary topics—schedule such conversations.
- Don’t Isolate Yourself! “Research has found that those in LDRs very frequently cut themselves off from others…Yet, we know that the degree of social support from friends and family predicts both the emotional difficulty someone will have while separated and the likelihood that the relationship will stay together.”
- Expect Disappointment. “Couples in LDRs sometimes measure the success of their relationship by the perceived quality of the most recent time spent together…Simply realizing that there will be some disappointing times together – and that this is normal – will help with those less than glorious weekends.”
- And Finally, Learn the Art of Long Distance Sex. “When apart, couples need to learn how to be sexual without being physically close.”
Guldner’s research found that most people in LDRs experience some mild depression, probably related to the separations. Also, a few stages tend to occur related to the regular periods of distance: protest, despair/depression, and detachment.
Protest can range from a mild, playful, ‘please stay’ to significant anger. Despair and depression are ubiquitous, though mild, and this probably helps to prevent people from staying in the ‘protest’ phase, which would be generally fruitless and very psychologically tiring. The ‘detachment’ phase occurs as people move into the ‘apart’ compartment…This is usually a healthy move but sometimes people become too detached and are unable to reconnect appropriately when they’re together.
Another source of info regarding the success of long-distance relationships is Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, Psychology Today, who created her own suggestions from studying the research. These are verbatim from her post:
- Understand your own attachment style. You can actually take a brief online quiz to assess your own attachment style. If you find that you’re in one of the two insecure attachment style categories, you may be at risk for problems when your significant other must travel or live away from you.
- Keep your partner up-to-date on what’s going on around you. The Lee and Pistole study showed the advantage of gossip as a way to bridge the miles between distant partners. By letting your partner know what’s happening in your environment, you create a more vivid image in your partner’s mind of the people and places around you now.
- Focus on the positive. The more satisfied couples err on the side of over-idealization when they think about their partners. It’s not healthy to be completely unrealistic, but putting those rose-colored glasses on the relationship can help you navigate through the disappointments you’ll invariably face due to the forced separation between you.
- Keep the self-criticism to a minimum. Partners who were high on self-disclosure actually had unhappier long-term relationships than those who kept their doubts about themselves in check. Along with the idea that a little idealization isn’t a bad thing in romance, allow your partner to have those same rosy glasses on when thinking about you.
- Make time to stay virtually close to your partner. Long-term relationships place a particular strain on people with insecure attachment styles. Even if you’re securely attached, but especially if you (or your partner) are not, make time for regular check-ins with each other. This doesn’t mean you have to stay in constant Facebook or online chats, but schedule a time each day (or whatever schedule works for you) when you and your partner can simulate, at an emotional level, a geographically close relationship.