Study: Long Distance Relationships Can Work

Greater distance apart actually predicted more intimacy, communication, and satisfaction.
valentinastorti/flickr

Problem: Long-distance relationships (or LDRs, as they are sometimes known) are pretty universally acknowledged to be a bad idea, especially if the separation has no finite end-date. And sure, there are exceptions to the rule. One of the best couples I know dated long-distance for years, and they’re married now. But do you really want to bank on being an exception, in the face of a hazy future filled with Skype calls and expensive plane tickets?

But of course people do defy the advice of their more level-headed friends and go for the LDR. And a recent study provides them with some warm and fuzzy data to snuggle up to on nights when they’re missing their partners.

Methodology: Researchers at Queen's University in Ontario, and the University of Utah, looked at 717 people in long-distance relationships, and 425 people in “geographically close relationships.” The sample size included both students and non-students, people of different sexualities, and a wide range of actual distances. The participants answered questions about their attitudes toward LDRs, and then completed multiple questionnaires designed to assess the quality of their relationships:

  • An assessment that measures emotional, social, sexual, intellectual and recreational intimacy
  • A commitment scale
  • A scale that measures a relationship’s communication levels
  • “Dyadic Adjustment Scale,” which measures couples’ disagreement on things like demonstrating affection and handling finances.
  • “Dyadic Sexual Communication Scale,” which measures how well couples communicate about their sexual relationship.
  • A measurement of female sexual satisfaction
  • A measurement of male sexual satisfaction
  • An assessment of the amount of psychological distress, anxiety, and depression a person has felt in the last month.

Results: “It appears as though those in [LDRs] are no less satisfied than those in [geographically close relationships],” the study reads. “Indeed, comparing participants based on sexual orientation, relationship composition, and student status revealed very similar relationship patterns. These results indicate that being in an [LDR] does not guarantee negative relationship outcomes.”

The factors that predicted positive relationship outcomes were not measured in miles. For example, those who felt more certainty in their relationships’ future had higher quality relationships. What’s more, greater distance apart actually predicted more intimacy, communication, and satisfaction in the relationship.

Implications: I made a tagline for a romantic comedy based on the results of this study: “It isn’t the length of the distance; it’s the strength of your love.” We could call it “LDR” and cast Shailene Woodley or Selena Gomez as an earnest college freshman who constantly Skypes with her boyfriend Josh Hutcherson.


The study, "Go Long! Predictors of Positive Relationship Outcomes in Long Distance Dating Relationships" appeared in Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy.

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Julie Beck is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Health Channel.

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