In A Long-Distance Relationship? Tips To Keep The Love Strong

In A Long-Distance Relationship? Tips To Keep The Love Strong

In A Long-Distance Relationship? Tips To Keep The Love Strong

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You're apart physically, but learning to maintain emotional strength will save your relationship.

Remember years ago when bad boy superstar actor Russell Crowe got arrested and charged with second-degree assault and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, after attacking an employee at the Mercer Hotel in New York?

As Crowe later explained to David Letterman, he repeatedly tried (and failed) to call his wife in Australia. I'm not condoning the use of a phone as a weapon, but what an example of how tough a long-distance relationship can be. It's tough enough to make even the calmest person edgy (much less a hard-rocking gladiator with a temper).

When I heard about Crowe's rage, I'd just spent three months living in France apart from my husband, Andy, while attending a language institute. 

 

My first reaction on the day I arrived—exactly six months after Andy and I married—was not aggression, but something closer to hysteria. Exhausted by 15 hours of travel, I actually cried in my coq au vin when my hosts, who had already revealed their penchant for public displays of affection, asked me how my husband felt about my leaving him for so long.

Later that night, despair escalated into a full-blown tantrum to rival Crowe's when I realized I only had one minute's worth of prepaid cell-phone time left. It's a scenario many long-distance lovers know all too well.

Despite the teary goodbyes, lonely nights, flight delays, and outrageous phone bills, an estimated 14 million Americans are currently in long-distance relationships (or, LDRs). That number includes couples of all kinds, from those who fell for each other while living on opposite coasts, to those who've been married for years but decided to live apart due to international opportunities.

How do they do it? The simple answer is that (barring the occasional attack on a hotel clerk) long-distance relationships really CAN work—and work well!

In fact, research suggests that LDR couples don't break up at any greater rate than traditional, geographically close ones. Plus, multiple studies have found that LDR couples' levels of relationship satisfaction, intimacy, trust, and commitment are identical to their geographically close counterparts.

LDR couples might worry more about infidelity, but they don't actually cheat more.

LDRs are nothing new, of course. Military personnel, academics, truckers, salespeople, athletes, and entertainers have loved across the miles for years. Experts attribute the growing number of LDRs today to a few factors:

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The working world looks different and requires more training than previous generations.

"There are more women having careers, and there's more specialization these days," says Seetha Narayan, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Long-Distance Relationships. "Many couples invested a lot in their careers, and now they have to follow through. They usually think of it as temporary—this is for now, I'll put some time into building my résumé and expand my future options."

The world is a smaller place.

"Before, people met one another by proximity," explains Greg Guldner, PhD, director of the Center for the Study of Long-Distance Relationships. "You married your classmates and you ran into people who lived in the same town. That's really changed now with the types of careers people take. There are many, many more conferences; this is a theme that comes up over and over again. People meet someone at conferences that are either national or international."

Technology is also increasing the number of people who are meeting at a distance. Consider the growing popularity of online dating services. People look in the four zip codes around them, and if that doesn't work they expand their search.

"Because of the isolation that's built into our society right now, people are more willing to take a risk with a long-distance relationship," Guldner says. Add it all up and you've got a lot of people logging a lot of cellphone minutes.

Unless, of course, it costs your significant other 31 cents a minute to call your international cell phone, in which case you must ask him to call you on a pay phone down the street.

When you finally make it to said pay phone, which is no easy task when you consider that the phrase "yield to pedestrian" doesn't have much resonance with the average French driver, you then obsess over the nasty pay-phone receiver and how many people have breathed all over it, or touched it with fingers that have been God-knows-where.

In other words, my phone conversations with my husband were not exactly the breathless, romantic calls I'd imagined they'd be—the kind where you whisper sweet nothings into your lover's ear. Instead, we spent three months communicating through emails, text messages, and quick phone calls, usually about the most prosaic of things.

As it turns out, that's one of the surest ways to a successful LDR.

Why? When psychologists talk about intimacy, they're generally referring to two components. The first is the ability to verbalize fairly deep vulnerabilities. For instance, to say "Do you love me?" and "I miss you."

The trickier, almost subconscious part is maintaining the feeling of being intermingled in your partner's life, a state the experts often refer to as "interrelatedness." Couples that are geographically close establish this by discussing the mundane details of daily life, whether it's the fact that you had to take a different route to work because of road construction, that you have a 2pm meeting with a new client, or that you had a turkey sandwich for lunch.

The fact that you had a turkey sandwich for lunch is so trivial that its shelf life is even shorter than that of the sandwich itself; if you don't talk to your partner on the day you ate it, you're probably not going to mention it.

Guldner says, "The problem is when you get a couple that is very good at sharing the deep emotional things but doesn't know anything about each other's lives. You ask them, 'What's going on with your partner today?' and they have no idea. This happens fairly frequently in long-distance relationships, especially in military ones, and it erodes a fundamental part of intimacy; people stop feeling like they're connected. You have to do things to