“Be realistic, it’s never gonna last”D. X.
Anyone who was ever engaged in any kind of Long-Distance Romantic Relationship (LDRR) must have heard this comment or a similar one at least once. Distance relationships have become increasingly common. To be precise, research suggests that as many as one million people annually report being in a long-distance romantic relationship.
But what does it mean to be related at a distance? Isn’t that already a contradiction?
Erin M. Sahlstein who is a scholar at the University of Richmond, conducted research some years ago trying to explore the contradiction(s) experienced by LDRR partners as they negotiate between togetherness and separation. The results of this study showed that across all examined couples the interaction states of being together and being apart mutually enable and constrain one another in many ways. What does that mean in simple words? It means that the this blog aims to elaborate on four main areas of experience in long-distance relationships mentioned in this research and based on the “together-apart” contradiction. Thus exploring the two sides of the coin which are being together and being apart.
1. Being ‘together’ enables being ‘apart’
This area of experience in long-distance relationships has to do with ways in which the time LDRRs spent together has a positive influence on the time they spent apart from one another. The two more common ways of this area were the following:
- Rejuvenation: Partners report getting their relational or individual ‘gas tank refilled.’ They get a sense of being recharged by the time they spend together. They feel ready to face the time apart refreshed.
- Reminder of the relationship/partner: Partners report that being together evokes reminders of the relationship and/or the partner (i.e., how and why they are in the relationship, what they like about the other).
2. Being ‘together’ constrains being ‘apart’
This area of experience in long-distance relationships has to do with how the time couples spend with one another face-to-face is not a consistent positive influence on the time they spend separated from one another by physical distance. The two more common ways of this area were the following:
- Let down: Partners report that being together constructs a sense of being ‘let down’ and feeling blue when they are apart from one another.
- Face-to-face standards: The time together provides a standard for interaction that cannot realistically be achieved when the partners are apart.
3. Being ‘apart’ enables being ‘together’
This area of experience in long-distance relationships has to do with how the time couples spend apart has a positive impact on their time together. The two more common ways of this area were the following:
- Fosters Quality Time: Being apart creates a desire in the partners to want to have quality time with one another when they come together. (e.g. they plan to do certain activities when they are together)
- Segmentation: Partners can do things when apart (e.g., get work done) that help the time together. It can be focused, relational time. Being apart allows partners to accomplish certain personal tasks that in turn allow for the couple to accomplish other things when together.
4. Being ‘apart’ constrains being ‘together’
This area of experience in long-distance relationships has to do with how the time couples spend apart is a constraint on the time LDRR partners spend together. The two more common ways of this area were the following:
- Pressure for Quality/Positive Time: The time apart creates this extreme need/pressure to have a good time when partners meet up again. They report feeling like they have to do fun and often unusual things when they are together because during their time apart they are deprived of such activities and/or they feel they have to ‘squeeze’ activities into a short amount of time.
- Network Negotiation: Because partners only have a limited amount of time together when they are face-to-face, other relationships are neglected when they come together since partners spend that time, or the majority of the time, together.
By no means one single study can incorporate the way each and everyone may feel and experience an LDRR. If you wish to explore a bit more other common ways in each of the mentioned areas of experience, you can always consult the references below for the complete research. However, the purpose of this blog was neither to idealize nor criticize RDRRs. On the contrary, the goal was to close this week’s blog by saying…
“Be realistic, you never know if it’s gonna last”A.S.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Alexandra Symeonidou is an Intern at Willingness with a BSc in Psychology, who will start her MSc in Clinical Psychology this following September.
Brooks A. A. (2003). Maintaining Long-Distance Relationships. In Canary, D.J., & Dainton, M. (Eds.), Maintaining Relationships Through Communication: Relational, Contextual, and Cultural Variations (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781410606990
Sahlstein, E. M. (2004). Relating at a distance: Negotiating being together and being apart in long-distance relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21(5), 689–710. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407504046115