Does Absence Make The Heart Grow Fonder? What Science Has To Say About Long-Distance Relationships

Relationships of all types tend to require a whole lotta work, but there is a unique set of challenges in particular that often comes with dating long-distance. Does absence really make the heart grow fonder, or is that something we just tell ourselves to help ease the pain of not being able to enjoy immediate proximity to our partners? As is the case with most matters of love and relationships, the answer is, well, complicated.

In the latest episode of Love, Factually, Bustle's video series exploring the facts and science behind love, sex, and dating, we weigh the science-backed pros and cons of long-distance relationships to see why they work for some couples, but not so much for others. While long-distance relationships don't always have the best rap, they're more common than you might think — more than 3.5 million Americans currently live apart from their spouses, and 75 percent of college students say they've been in a long-distance relationship at least once. My last serious relationship was long-distance, and it was definitely a challenge, but I'd be lying if I said there weren't any perks to living far apart. Sometimes, it's good to have a little space between you, you know?

So what makes a long-distance relationship work? We talked to Brooklyn College assistant professor of psychology Cheryl Carmichael, psychotherapist and author Esther Perel, Stanford University communications professor Jeff Hancock, and University of Denver psychology research associate professor Galena K. Rhoades to find out.

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1. Long-Distance Relationships Naturally Come Easier To Some People Than Others

When it comes to romantic attachment, there are two different types: anxiety, and avoidance. Whichever category you fall under could help explain how well you're able to handle the challenges of dating someone long-distance. So how do these two categories stack up? As Brooklyn College assistant professor of psychology Cheryl Carmichael explains, attachment-related anxiety has more to do with fear of abandonment. "These are the kinds of people who are like, 'Do you love me? Do you really love me?'" she says. People who experience high levels of attachment-related avoidance, on the other hand, don't like to be so depended on, nor do they want to depend on someone else.

According to Carmichael, people with high attachment-anxiety might struggle more with not being close to their partner on a regular basis, while high avoidance people prefer the distance. 

2. Long-Distance Relationships Can Be Super Fulfilling

Yes, living far away from you significant other isn't always the most pleasant option, but there are some definite perks to maintaining a long-distance relationship. "There are people for whom the long-distance relationship is mutually chosen, and therefore mutually beneficial," Esther Perel tells Bustle. In fact, having a little extra space between your every day life and your love life can have some advantages. "For some people, it really offers a separation between the erotic and the domestic," Perel says.

There's research to back that up, too. Studies show that couples in long-distance relationships often report higher levels of satisfaction than couples who are with each other every single day. Why? "The reason for that I think is that when you're in a long-distance relationship, each of those interactions is focused and important and more intimate," Jeff Hancock, communication professor at Stanford University, says. Plus, when you only have a limited time with your partner, you're more likely to play up their good qualities.

3. That Doesn't Mean Long-Distance Couples Are Less Likely To Break Up, Though

It's possible that you might feel closer to your partner emotionally after spending some time physically apart, but does this help your relationship in the long run? Not always. Galena K. Rhoades, psychology research associate professor at the University of Denver, points out that even if people feel super secure in their long-distance relationship, that doesn't mean they aren't any less likely to break up later on. One study even found that one-third of couples break up after reuniting.

Still, there are some steps you can take to make the transition easier. Hancock suggests couples give themselves some time to adjust. And, don't automatically assume the relationship is doomed just because things feel a little awkward at first. It can take some people a while to get used to having another person around them all the time.

Every relationship is different, and couples have their own unique ways of dealing with distance, when it comes up. At the end of the day, though, communication is key. Make sure to talk to your partner about what's working, what's not working, and be clear about what it is you both want. That doesn't sound so hard, right?

Images: Bustle/YouTube

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