The Psychology of Long Distance Relationships

Long-distance relationships can spark quite a debate amongst daters. Is it possible to pull an “LDR” off? Or is it a matter of time until one partner bails? If you ask a psychologist, they will tell you that the possibility of success or failure is pretty even! Long-distance relationships can function just as well as “traditional” relationships where both partners live close to each other. Studies show that various factors play into the “success” of a relationship. Moving closer together may even be the factor that splits a couple apart! 

Interested in learning more about long-distance relationships? Keep reading!

Can Long-Distance Relationships Work? 

Yes! Distance is just one factor that contributes to a relationship’s “success.” Trust, loyalty, commitment, and mindset also play a role. Couples in long-distance relationships may have to approach communication differently than other couples, but their efforts can be rewarded in a loving, beneficial relationship. 

What Kills Long-Distance Relationships? 

Lack of trust, lack of commitment, and a negative mindset can all kill an LDR. These factors play a role in any relationship, but distance really puts them to the test. If you can maintain trust in your partner, fully commit, and have a positive mindset, you will stay together!

Building Trust In Long-Distance Relationships

Trust is central to any relationship. The number one reason many assume that LDRs fail is a lack of trust. When you don’t see your partner as often, you cannot be as sure that they are being faithful, right? Our minds want to “fill in the blanks” when we don’t know what our partner is doing or where they are or who they are with. In attempts to protect us from being hurt, our brain tends to highlight all the negative aspects to prepare us for the worst.

This might be a natural response to distance, but it’s not one that reflects reality. When a person in an LDR abandons the trust they have in their partner and follows the assumption that their partner is cheating, whether it’s the truth or not, the relationship may face serious strains. 

How do you prevent this from happening to your relationship? There are a few strategies for building a foundation of trust:  

  • Make promises to each other – and stick to them
  • Have conversations about accountability and goals 
  • Be a trustworthy person in all your relationships 
  • Talk openly and honestly 
  • Practice vulnerability 
  • Attend a couple’s counseling session

Not all of these practices will feel comforting and easy, but that is what relationships are about! What’s important is moving through these moments together. Treat trust as a project that you and your partner can develop as a team, rather than seeing it as an overarching cloud that threatens your relationship. 

Practice Anxiety Management 

Anxiety can begin and end in our own minds. Knowing the signs of anxiety can help you stop it in its tracks. If you start to notice your mind drifting to thoughts of infidelity or other assumptions that challenge your trust, take time to breathe and come back to the present moment. 

Get to know the signs of anxiety by:

Manage symptoms of anxiety by: 

  • Practicing breathing exercises 
  • Practicing yoga or meditation
  • Going for a walk or exercising 
  • Talking to a friend 
  • Sticking to a healthy routine and diet 
  • Focusing on a task that brings you into the present moment 

Communicate With Your Partner 

Doubts can be overcome when both partners offer constant reassurance. Both sides must show their interest in maintaining the relationship! This happens when you clearly communicate with each other and take the time to make the other partner a part of your life.

Simply letting your partner know about your plans and openly talking to them about your whereabouts will strengthen the trust between you. Plan times to communicate every day or every week. When you and your partner consistently show up for each other, you have more and more reasons to trust each other. When you show up to chat, show your partner bits and pieces of your day. Sharing this will make them feel included in your daily life which will significantly improve the relationship as well as communication. 

If both people are willing to put in the effort of maintaining the relationship, they will find ways to communicate more effectively and avoid arguing as much as possible.

Technology today has made it easy for couples all around the world to communicate with video chat and voice messages. Ironically, this form of communication can also threaten trust among couples. This includes couples who live together! Having private access to people through Instagram, email, and other forms of communication can be a threat to every couple. Let this be a reassurance that trust is important in all relationships, and building that trust is often more important than distance. 

Commitment: Strengthening Your Foundation 

When you and your partner have a strong foundation, small things won’t threaten your relationship. Couples who have created strong bonds over longer periods of time are less likely to experience these issues than couples who hadn’t been together for that long.

Ways that you can work on the foundation of your relationship include: 

  • Enjoy new experiences together 
  • Discuss your goals for your relationship 
  • Talk about how you want your partner to support you 
  • Discover your love languages 
  • Find ways to laugh together 
  • Celebrate anniversaries and recall old, happy memories 

Mindset: How Positivity Impacts Long Distance Relationships

Anxiety management and intentionally building trust put your relationship in the right direction. You can continue to do this even when you’re not on the phone with your partner. Stay positive and stay confident in your relationship. Being confident that you will and you want to spend your life with that person will make them feel confident as well and that alone can solve many of the insecurities caused by distance.

As much as LDRs can be tiring and mentally draining, they can positively affect our mindset and life in general. As long as the right amount of trust and commitment is present in the relationship from both sides equally, the chances of success are highly increased. What will most positively affect the relationship, in the psychological aspect, is knowing that both partners are equally committed and loyal to one another. Staying positive about the distance and knowing it is not forever will help you deal with the situation more easily.

When you see the world as a positive place, all results become positive, too. This applies to relationships, career opportunities, health, you name it! So instead of counting the days you and your partner have been apart, count down how many days are left until you reunite with your partner. Look at things from the bright side. A positive mindset will leave you stress-free and allow you to enjoy your relationship as well as perform better in other areas of life.

A 2007 study shows that couples who stay positive and take their long-distance as temporary, knowing they will reunite soon in the future, are much happier and less distressed in general. To keep a long-distance relationship healthy and satisfying, it is important to constantly show your partner you care and wish to keep them in your life, no matter how difficult the circumstances are. Surprise them with old-school love letters or send them gifts that appeal to their interests. Learn their love language, and then express your feelings in that language. 

Additionally, don’t forget to live your own life. Trying to take your mind off of the fact that you are physically apart from your significant other is very important. You can do this by finding a hobby or a TV show which you both enjoy. Sharing these little things with them will make you feel closer and forget about the distance even for a little bit.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder! 

There are many reasons to be positive while in a long-distance relationship. In many terms, long-distance relationships tend to be stronger than geographically close ones! 

According to a 2013 study by researchers from Cornell University and the City University of Hong Kong, people who are apart from their partners tend to idealize them a lot more than those who are constantly surrounded by their presence. Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder! The distance makes us miss the person we are close with to the point where we often daydream about them. When daydreaming, our brain wanders around imagining that person just how we want them to be. This often involves lots of exaggeration, but studies have confirmed that it has a great impact on the quality of the relationship. 

When reuniting, long-distance couples focus on making every second count so they do their best not to waste time arguing. This is something other couples overlook because they have enough time with each other but what they don’t realize is that they are still negatively affecting their relationship.

Can Long-Distance Relationships Work? Advice From Reddit 

Trust, commitment, and mindset are the cornerstones of any relationship. No one knows this more than people in long-distance relationships. Whether that relationship is between two college students, LGBTQ+ couples, couples that bonded over religion, or couples with an age gap, the advice often sounds the same: communicate, plan to see each other, and be honest. 

You can find plenty of advice on how to be in a long-distance relationship on Reddit! Here are just some answers that offer great advice: 

Scarlett137 says: “I will say it’s definitely a struggle. I don’t do so bad without the lack of physical touch, but I think my SO struggles with it more than I do. We manage by constantly doing calls, playing games together as a duo, FaceTiming when possible, etc. It’s always important to make sure you have trips planned to meet your SO when possible though, any physical touch, at all, is SUPER important!! Purely online-dating doesn’t get far for most people.” 

tmbgfactchecker says: “Sometimes a successful relationship is successful simply because you’ve both chosen for it to be successful. If I’d wanted to have more fun while we weren’t able to be together, I could have broken up with her and messed around with people in my immediate area who are less compatible with me as a person, but more compatible with my (hypothetical) desire for the physical aspects of a romantic relationship. It’s all about what you want, what she wants, and what your compatibility actually provides.” 

Sockphotos says: “The advantages of long distance dating are that you get to know the person intellectually– we talked on the phone for hours (this was at the dawn of text messaging and before smart phones and video chat). We used to rent the same movie and press play at the same time then chat on IRC or MSN messenger while watching and doing homework. We would buy each other books when we were together and talk about them when we were apart. Some people play MMORPGs together. You are only limited by your creativity!” 

Best of luck to you and your partner!

Theodore T.

Theodore is a professional psychology educator with over 10 years of experience creating educational content on the internet. PracticalPsychology started as a helpful collection of psychological articles to help other students, which has expanded to a Youtube channel with over 2,000,000 subscribers and an online website with 500+ posts.