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Four Tips for Navigating Long-Distance Relationships

Editors' note: Last week, Dr. Andy Merolla responded to a reader's question about distance in relationships; this week, he gives four tips for maintaining long-distance relationships. 

What can you do to improve your long-distance relationship? Research on relational uncertainty, expectations, and long-distance relationships offers us the following ideas.

  1. Be direct. During periods of heightened uncertainty, it’s important to openly talk about your concerns with your partner.1 In light of your budget and time constraints, you and your partner need to have some frank discussions about the appropriate number and timing of visits in the coming months. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a “magic number,” so the two of you need to determine what makes sense for you. If you aren’t sure, that’s okay. In fact, this provides a great opportunity for growth in the relationship. Whether you ultimately decide to visit once per week or once per month, to alternate driving responsibility or to always meet at your place, the way in which you and your partner communicate about these issues is probably just as important as the solutions you come up with. Why? Because through joint problem-solving, you build trust, which research reveals is your best weapon against uncertainty and dissatisfaction in long-distance relationships.2,3
  2. Develop (creative) communication routines. Related to the point above, it’s important to create communication routines that work for you. This pertains not only to visitation frequency, but also to phone calls, texts, Skype or FaceTime, and email. If, for instance, you decide to reduce the number of visits you make to your partner’s place, increase other forms of communication. You and your partner might agree to designate one text or email per night for identifying the best part of your days. Or, maybe you can send each other photos of something random or funny you saw on campus that day. These seemingly small gestures done while you’re apart can help foster feelings of connection when you come back together.4
  3. Take advantage of the distance. Inevitably, there will be periods when you’re a little short on gas money or you have a number of upcoming exams that will keep you apart for longer than usual. Bummer, right? Definitely. But once again, this provides an opportunity. Dr. Gregory Guldner, in his excellent book on long-distance relationships,5 offers practical tips for making your relationship work with—rather than against—your responsibilities. After a solitary afternoon of studying, for instance, switch gears. Quiz each other over the phone or Skype. This might actually add some fun to your studying, or even your relationship. What romantic evening is complete without an insightful discussion of Organic Chemistry II?
  4. Finally, keep things in perspective. If you really care about this person, and feel like this could be a fulfilling long-term relationship, remind yourself that this period will be a rather small part of your lives together. Plus, any effective coping and maintenance behaviors you learn now will likely come in handy down the road.

Recently, data from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that roughly 600,000 Americans spend 90 minutes or more in their daily commute to work. Each way!6 For many people, just the thought of a 90-minute daily commute is horrific. But really it depends on what’s on the other side of the commute. If it’s a great job, it might be well worth the traffic delays and frequent fill-ups. If you feel like there’s a truly special person at the end of your commute, try using the communication and perspective-taking ideas discussed above. That, and an audio book or two, should help you better navigate your burgeoning interstate romance over the long haul.   

Interested in learning more about relationships? Click here for other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed.

1Knobloch, L. K., & Solomon, D. H. (2002). Intimacy and the magnitude and experience of episodic relational uncertainty in romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 9, 457-478. 

2Dainton, M., & Aylor, B. (2001). A relational uncertainty analysis of jealousy, trust, and maintenance in long-distance versus geographically-close relationships. Communication Quarterly, 49, 171-188.

3Maguire, K. C., & Kinney, T. A. (2010). When distance in problematic: Communication, coping, and relational satisfaction in female college-students’ long-distance dating relationships. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 38, 27-46.

4Sahlstein, E. M. (2004). Relating at a distance: Negotiating being together and being apart in long-distance relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21, 689-710.

5Gulder, G. T. (2003). Long distance relationships: The complete guide. Corona, CA: JF Milne.

6Copeland, L. (2013, March 4). Americans’ commutes aren’t getting longer. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com.

Andy J. Merolla - Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Baldwin Wallace University
PhD, The Ohio State University

Andy’s research examines communication processes involved in the maintenance of relationships, especially in the context of difficult circumstances. His research includes topics such as interpersonal conflict, forgiveness, geographic separation, and individuals’ experiences following natural disasters. He has also studied communication across cultures. He teaches courses in communication theory, conflict management, interpersonal communication, nonverbal communication, and research methods.

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Reader Comments (1)

I agree with you Andy, long distance relationship is actually difficult to maintain and as you have said the first important thing needed in long distance relationship is "communication routine". It is very necessary to have proper and timely communication between the couple and must remember the communication should not turn out into a debate or argument. Most of the time long distance because of lack of communication.

September 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDF
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