Does Absence Make the Heart Grow Fonder?


It's not easy when you fall for someone in another time zone or take a job halfway across the world from your significant other. Long-distance relationships are hard work, and bring all sorts of challenges that traditional pairings never have to deal with. There's a silver lining, though: research shows that the old adage about absence making the heart grow fonder really is true. Long-distance couples spend more time fostering meaningful interactions and don't seem to sweat the small stuff. It does take work, however — but we've got relationship tips and even some unique product recommendations that can make it a little easier.


When you think about what you need to forge a great relationship, there are a lot of requirements that long-distance couples just don't have: spending time alone together, engaging in physical contact, doing things as a pair. But there are lots of other things necessary for a good relationship that distant partners do all the time, like engaging in regular communication and sharing intimate details about their lives. And in fact, studies suggest that on that front, long-distance relationships are actually doing better than couples who live in close proximity.

In studies, long-distance couples report conversations that are more intimate with less conflict, and which focus on fewer taboo subjects and heavy, "we need to talk" topics. Perhaps as a result, long-distance couples also report levels of stability, satisfaction, and trust that are equal to or higher on average than those of traditional couples.

How could that be? It turns out that when faced with the difficulty of a long-distance love affair, people tend to put in a little extra work. In a 2013 study on intimacy in long-distance relationships, researchers put this extra work in two categories: behavioral adaptation and idealization. Behavioral adaptation refers to the ways that long-distance couples subtly alter the way they interact in order to preserve the stability of the relationship, which includes being more open and staying more positive in their texts, emails, and phone calls. Idealization, on the other hand, is pretty much how it sounds: it's the tendency to perceive your partner or your relationship in wholly positive terms, even to an unrealistic degree. That means conveniently forgetting your disagreements, believing your partner is the best there is, and looking toward the future of the relationship with nothing but optimism.

That gets to another reason long-distance relationships are sunnier than most: the partners don't have the chance to get in each other's way. Because you're not getting in disagreements about where to go for dinner or how to spend the weekend, you end up experiencing less conflict overall. But that's not all good news. It can be healthy to work through conflict together since it builds trust and helps you learn more about each other. Research suggests that even though couples who avoid talking about difficult or serious relationship topics are often satisfied in their relationships, they end up with higher rates of divorce than couples who had those hard discussions. That's likely because they go into marriage without a full picture of their relationship, warts and all.

Make the Most of the Distance

That's not to say that long-distance couples are doomed. They just have different challenges than they would if they lived closer. Instead, if you've got a beau in another area code, it's important to remember to have those hard discussions and make those lofty plans together. Be honest when your partner's absence makes you sad.

As psychologist Debra Campbell writes in HuffPost, "It's 100 percent normal to have some bad days when life entails repeated or long-term separations from your partner. It's right to need and seek security through physical closeness in intimate relationships and being apart a great deal is a legitimate strain. Owning sad feelings will make it easier to deal with them head on and not get caught up in feeling ashamed of them or resentful of your partner."

To improve those blue feelings, Campbell suggests tuning in to how you both felt at the start of the relationship. In fact, a 2014 study found that long-distance couples felt a lot better after engaging in "emotional savoring," or activating the positive emotions attached to experiences like your first date, your last visit, or that day in the future when you finally share a home. Good experiences don't just have to happen at random — you can call them to mind any time you want.

That warm and fuzzy feeling also comes up when you know your partner is thinking about you. And while a loving text message is nice, sometimes it's fun to go a less traditional route. On the one-of-a-kind marketplace UncommonGoods, there are some ingenious devices designed just for long-distance relationships that can let one partner know they're on their love's mind in a secret, subtle way.

For example, touch one of these long-distance friendship lamps, and they'll both change color no matter where you are in the world — all you need is a WiFi connection. You can take love notes into the 21st century with this Lovebox Spinning Heart Messenger, which bears a big red heart that spins until your recipient opens the box to read the sweet nothings you've sent from your smartphone. It's one of the most popular long-distance relationship gifts on the site, and customers have called it "the best invention for long distance couples ever." For loving thoughts when you're on the move, this long-distance touch bracelet set lights up and vibrates the other band when you touch yours, which is a great way to give a quiet "I love you" or "you got this" when your partner is going through their day. "My boyfriend and I live two hours away from each other and it's perfect for us," says one reviewer. "It's like we're right there with each other when we send a touch."

You can check out all of the long-distance relationship products available on UncommonGoods right here.

Written by Curiosity Staff September 5, 2019