Jennifer Belus is the author of this piece. Jennifer is a clinical psychologist with a Ph.D. who serves as a professor at the University of Maryland. Her dissertation focuses on designing approaches to assist partners in overcoming emotional and physical wellbeing issues as well as interpersonal difficulties. She is also a co-founder of Elevate Wellness Retreats, a weekend retreat aimed at assisting partners in being happier together. More information regarding her job can be found here.
You’re in a long-distance partnership (LDR), correct? Perhaps you or your wife relocated to another area, state, or nation for a career or educational opportunity. Perhaps one (or both) of you is serving in the military. Or maybe you meet while residing in different cities and have both remained in your respective cities. Whatever the cause, couples in LDRs understand that keeping a stable partnership at a distance requires effort! Of course, any partnership necessitates commitment, but LDRs face particular difficulties in sustaining healthy relationships.
Two big difficulties of LDRs are maintaining frequent contact and a feeling of closeness and intimacy while you are physically apart from the majority of the time. Maintaining the bond is more difficult when you’re separated because some of the forms you could express closeness or feel affection are unavailable when you’re separated—a short handshake, a soft touch, or even eye contact.
Of course, feeling attached to your spouse when geographically apart is possible; the challenge is knowing what to do and what to do to optimize warmth and closeness. Continue reading to learn more about what matters.
One Way to Consider an Ldr
Instead of seeing the whole partnership as a single major break, consider intervals of separation (when you and your partner are physically apart for long periods). There is a before and after for both of these stages of separation. Let’s take a look at this in more detail.
Before split. This is the moment that you and your partner are together but are expecting a break. Like Monday morning after a long weekend spent together, and one of you is commuting or flying home later that day.
During the split, This is the phase where you and your partner are physically apart.
Following split. This is the moment that you and your partner can be physically reunited. For certain families, this is one weekend at a time, while for others, it could be a month or more, with greater stretches of separation in between.
This before, after, and after separation is a cycle—you’re physically together, then you split, and then you reunite (after what seems like an eternity). This loop will proceed as long as you are in an LDR. So, why is this way of thinking about LDRs beneficial?
The key explanation for categorizing LDRs in this manner is that what you do to sustain a stable partnership looks different in each step. Most of what is published about LDRs focuses on the separation process. Of course, this is significant—being physically apart is most likely how you spend the majority of your time (physically apart, instead of together). However, the other phases must still be considered. But, in both of these time phases, let’s speak about what’s useful and what isn’t.
Before we get into what to do with each process, have you ever considered your LDR in this way?
What Role Should ‘i’ and ‘they’ Have In ‘us’?
Before we go through what to do and what not to do in each step of the LDR, there’s one more thing you can think about. If you’ve heard a ton about LDRs—looking for suggestions or ideas about how to better handle your long-distance relationship—you’ve also read a lot on what you and your girlfriend can be doing together. Like talking frequently. Investing a certain amount of time in each other’s business. Focusing on the emotional element makes sense, but it is not the only factor.
What you do personally, your opinions and habits, and how you integrate your wider social network, such as relying on family or friends for help, will affect you.
How you sustain the partnership has three dimensions: what each spouse does on their own (individual dimension), what the pair does together (relational dimension), and how each partner puts in their larger social network (network dimension).
Have you understood the human and network aspects of how you handle the LDR before reading on?
Different Methods For Keeping The Relationship Alive at a Distance-not All People are Created Equal
As we combine the LDR phases (before, after, and after separation) with the relationship management measurements (individual, relational, and network), we get a 3 x 3 diagram like this one (click to download a PDF outlining the three angles we can use to consider an LDR). When we look at things this way, we can see how the methods we use at each step and dimension can vary. These methods can perform well or worse depending on the step and dimension.
“So which ones are good?” you might be asking. The ones can I concentrate my efforts on?” Fortunately for you, we conducted a survey study with US adults in LDRs on this subject, which can shed some light.
The Couple’s Role
The first unsurprising result was that the social component (what the pair does together) was essential for overall relationship well-being during the breakup process. Individuals who spoke with their spouses often after their separation showed higher levels of relationship satisfaction.
What the pair did before or after their divorce, though, did not predict someone’s recorded degree of marital satisfaction.
The takeaway here is that what you do as a partner while you’re emotionally separated seems to be the most significant factor in marital well-being. Spend less time finding out what you’re going to do when you’re together and more time figuring out how to interact with each other daily when you’re separated to sustain the bond. For certain couples, this entails sending regular messages during the day and making brief phone calls at night. Other partners spend a long time catching up on video chat throughout the evening but have little time throughout the day. You and your wife must find out what fits best for you as a team.
The Individual’s Position
Now for the more exciting discoveries. As we examined the individual component of relationship maintenance—each person’s feelings and actions apart from what they do with their partner—we discovered that individual behaviors before, after, and after the breakup are both linked to relationship satisfaction—but in separate ways. Individually based activities before and after separation (e.g., emotionally planning for the separation, focusing on the partnership during the actual separation) were associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction.
In other terms, individuals who participated in more emotional planning and personal contemplation before the physical breakup, and then again when physically separating from their spouse, were happier in their partnership. This emphasizes that what you do on your own is crucial for the success of your relationship, not necessarily what you and your spouse do together.
What you do on your own is just as critical as what you and your wife do together for the good of your relationship.
Jennifer Belus’s Formal Name is Jennifer Belus.
And if you’ve been in an LDR for a while and feel like you’ve settled into a routine with the splitting and reuniting, the process can always be physically and emotionally draining. Taking the time to prepare for the split and get into the correct “mind room” will ease the process.
It also helps if you have optimistic beliefs regarding your friendship and though you are separating from your spouse. Of course, if you’re still unhappy in your partnership, just speaking positively won’t fix the root issue. However, keeping optimistic future-oriented thoughts on hand as a relationship tool, such as telling oneself that the relationship can survive the gap, can be beneficial.
You should still do some individual reminiscing if you are missing your mate after the split. Thinking back on past happy moments in the partnership can be rewarding and can help to reinforce your bond with your partner even though you are not together. (Here are few more things you should do when you’re separated to make yourself happy and healthier.)
While these more individual-focused habits tend to be very beneficial before and after the breakup, in our research, the use of these patterns when the pair was reunited was associated with lower relationship satisfaction. Processing the latest breakup on your own while you and your wife have already reunited is possibly ineffective because it diverts your attention away from spending time with your partner and developing new relationships.
The Network’s Role
What about the network’s position in partnership maintenance? It turns out that such habits don’t matter all that much. If you want to talk a little or a ton about your partnership with friends or relatives, it does not seem to have an impact on how happy you are with your relationship.
Here are the top three takeaways from this research report, as well as several action items to consider:
1. The Frequency at Which You and Your Spouse Spoke When Physically Apart Was Correlated With Relationship Satisfaction—more Contact Was Associated With Higher Relationship Satisfaction.
Any time you and your partner interact, you can form a fresh, deeper bond.
Consider how much you and your partner interact during your time apart.
Are you and your spouse utilizing contact as an ability to create new links with each other, regardless of the mode (text, phone call, video chat)? If not, as a first move, try altering whether or how you interact.
You may even have been stuck in a rut about what you write about. Experiment with video date nights or trying new subjects of discussion to have fun and get to know each other better.
2. What You do Alone (Your Feelings and Actions) Before and After The Breakup is Almost as Crucial for Your Marital Fulfillment as What You and Your Wife Do Together.
Getting into the correct “mind room” before you and your wife split up will help ease the change back to flying solo. Once divorced, you should use your alone time to feel connected to your spouse by consciously dwelling on previous good partnership memories (like that wonderful holiday you took together last summer) and also by thinking positively regarding your relationship in the future (“Our relationship can survive the distance”).
What types of feelings do you have before and after physical separation from your partner? If they’re all gloomy, consider beginning with an intentional reflection on a good memory. It’s also fine if you experience any disappointment or longing when reflecting—it only shows that you care for your spouse and enjoy the partnership.
3. In our Research, Higher Levels of Partner Happiness Predicted Higher Levels of Personal Well-being.
People who recorded higher levels of partner satisfaction have registered lower levels of psychiatric problems (lower levels of depression and anxiety) and higher levels of overall life satisfaction. The advantage of improving your friendship is that there’s a fair possibility you’ll boost your well-being as well.
Consider how your physical well-being relates to your intimacy fulfillment. Take note of how you feel when your friendship is flourishing and when you and your partner are failing. If you notice that these two things go hand and hand with you, it’s even more justification to prioritize your relationship wellbeing. Begin by implementing the partnership action items mentioned above and observe how this affects mental well-being.