The Psychology of Long Distance Relationships

The idea of long distance relationships opens a debate between those who believe it is possible to pull off and those who think it’s just a matter of time until one partner bails out. Looking from a psychological perspective, the possibility of success and the chances of failure are fairly balanced out. Depending on various factors, long distance relationships can function just as well as those in which partners live close to each other. In fact, recent studies have shown that between people with strong emotional connection, the longer the distance is, the better the relationship functions.

However, this depends on how much both sides are dedicated to the common goal of keeping the relationship alive. A few aspects such as commitment, trust and loyalty have a great psychological impact on the success of a relationship. While all three aspects are relevant for geographically close relationships as well, when speaking of long distance relationships things need to be taken to a further level.

The psychological effects of a long distance relationship

The number one reason everyone assumes LDRs will fail is lack of trust in terms of being sure the person will stay loyal to you. This is a common, natural reaction because the first thing that comes to mind when being apart from someone is being replaced. Our thoughts are influenced by high levels of anxiety we feel when we realize that someone else could easily be taking our place. In attempts to protect us from being hurt, our brain tends to highlight all the negative aspects to prepare us for the worst.

This is an inevitable process but that doesn’t mean it cannot be controlled. In nearly every case, one person will at some point feel insecure and unsure of the long distance relationship. This depends on how strong are the foundations of the relationship itself. 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.

The way around this issue is constant reassurance. It is necessary for both sides to show their interest in maintaining the relationship. The key to building trust in a long distance relationship is keeping your partner up to date with everything that is going on in your life. They themselves are a part of your life which is reason enough to include them in everything else.

Simply letting your partner know about your plans and openly talking to them about your whereabouts will strengthen the trust between you. The way to build intimacy over a long distance is showing your partner bits and pieces of your day by taking photos or short videos. Sharing this will make them feel included in your daily life which will significantly improve the relationship as well as communication. Luckily, today’s technology has made this way too easy for couples all around the world with numbers of communication options such as video chat and voice messages.

No matter how much two people trust each other, when stepping into a long distance relationship, trust becomes a thin ice. If one person is caught in even the smallest, most irrelevant lie, it triggers a series of thoughts and insecurity which will lead to the other person questioning the whole relationship. That is, again, our brain’s self defense system which is a natural reaction that cannot be shut off. No matter how insignificant the lie is, it can shake the whole foundation and cause serious damage to the whole relationship. It is crucial to avoid causing insecurity in any way. In contrary, the key to a successful long distance relationship is confidence. 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 will solve most of the insecurities caused by the distance.

Studies have shown that staying positive and avoiding negative thoughts almost always leads to positive results. This goes for every aspect of life, not just relationships. So instead of counting the days you’ve been apart, count down how many days are left until you reunite with your partner. Look at things from the bright side, instead of taking each day as one more day without them, think of it as one day closer to seeing them. 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 such as work or college.

A study by Katherine Maguire back in 2007 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.  Surprising them with old school love letters or even a visit here and then will highly improve the quality of the relationship. Understanding the psychology of trust issues will help you stay in a long distance relationship much, much longer.

In many terms, long distance relationships tend to be stronger than geographically close ones. According to a 2013 study by researches 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. Reason being, 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. Another reason why long distance relationship can be stronger than geographically close ones is better 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.

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.

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, 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.

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.

In a 2012 study by University of Denver, researchers followed 870 people in the U.S. who were in long distance relationships. Most of them stated with certainty that they will be dating that person next year as well and that they will eventually marry them. However, after they received a follow-up questionnaire about five months later, one fifth of them had broken up. That shows how confidently people get into long distance relationships without realizing the amount of patience and understanding it requires.

In fact, the hardest thing is maintaining that confidence throughout the relationship. After months of not seeing your partner, chances are you might grow apart. However, those who are committed and ready to do what it takes to keep the relationship working will surely succeed. When in love, people wont allow themselves to see perfection in anyone else other than their chosen one. This mindset is the one that is surely going to make it through the long distance relationship.

To sum up our analysis of the psychological aspects of long distance relationships, it is important to point out three main issues. The issue of trust, the issue of commitment and the issue of the mindset. The issue of trust is an inevitable part of any long distance relationship, especially if the couple hadn’t been together for long. It is important to remember that it takes time to build up trust and only two seconds to destroy it. The issue of commitment is a matter of how much effort you’re willing to put into the relationship. If you wont give it your all, it is not worth it. Last but not least, the issue of the mindset. The mindset is proven to influence your relationship as well your performance at work. These are aspects of life which are a reflection of your thoughts. Positive thoughts will cause positive outcomes and less stress which is the key to a happy life.

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.