How To Make Long-Distance Love Last

Illustrated by Emily Turner.
We'll come right out and say it: Relationships are tough. Like, really tough. And, when your partner isn't physically there, it's even harder. Thankfully, plenty of research has delved into what makes relationships more and less likely to work out in the long-term. And, a few recent studies have looked specifically at those partners who — by circumstance or choice — have a little extra distance between them.
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In a study published recently in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers looked at 533 people in long-distance relationships. In particular, they were interested in the effect that "relational savoring" (the act of reflecting together on past happy moments in the relationship) had on these couples. Results showed that savoring pleasant memories was associated with more positive emotions, less negative ones, and higher relationship satisfaction. The greatest effect of relational savoring was seen in partners who were already at least moderately satisfied in the relationship.
But, even those satisfied long-distance couples might not be able to stick it out — especially when they're reunited. In one study, a third of long-distance relationships broke up within three months of both partners being in the same city. This suggests that even if you manage to make it through your time away from each other, the dynamics of your relationship may have changed enough that being together again won't work.
And, another paper showed that over 80% of long-distance couples who were reunited eventually broke up, compared to 40% of those who stayed distant. The researchers suggest this might be because we tend to idealize our partners while we're apart (idealization was correlated with less communication). But, when we're stuck with them again IRL, they can't live up to our overblown expectations.
So, other than remembering fun moments together, how can long-distance couples stick it out? Another recent study showed that these couples could feel closer simply by making new friends together. Forging new relationships can keep both partners realistic about each other — something that other studies indicate is a key component for a long-term relationship. So, the answer seems to be what it's always been: Savor the good times, pay attention to your partner, and be honest. Go figure.
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