They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, but it sure can bring loneliness, too. Being miles away from your significant other can be a challenge, but if you know how to go about it the right way, it can be worth it, experts say.
Barry McCarthy, a professor who teaches human sexual behavior and psychology of well-being, knows that long distance relationships have high risk of failure, and said finding ways to deal with conflict is crucial.
“One of the things that is important with couples who are trying to handle a long distance relationship is that they have a clear agreement about what the parameters are,” McCarthy said. “Like anything else in psychology, motivation and context is everything.”
To succeed, the agreement between couples should be clear and realistic.
McCarthy said a good agreement between a couple addresses why they’re together, what they value about being together and what the guidelines are. Although the agreement should be specific, it is important that it leaves room for error.
“You’re never going to get perfect behavior or a perfect agreement,” McCarthy said. “[If you do], you’re going to wind up getting hurt or betrayed and it’ll destabilize you and the other person.”
It’s important for couples to communicate with one another while being specific and understanding of their partner’s wants and needs. McCarthy said the biggest thing to end a long distance relationship would be for someone to feel a sense of betrayal, whether it be emotional, financial or sexual.
Infidelity hurts relationships, although that’s usually when the couple hasn’t agreed to it, said Kaitlyn Goldsmith, a University of New Brunswick doctoral student studying clinical psychology.
“There’s a lot of couples that do have more of an open relationship arrangement, and that can work for some people,” Goldsmith said.
Those who worry about their partners cheating on them because they’re far apart can rest easy, according to Goldsmith’s research.
“In one of my studies, we actually found that the rate of infidelities don’t differ between long distance and non-long distance couples,” she said. “There’s pretty similar rates.”
When analyzing the behavioral differences between young adult relationships that are closer together and further apart, Goldsmith said she found keeping in contact to be extremely important both romantically and sexually.
“Things like texting, messaging, Facetime, Skype, any kind of social media channel are particularly important for maintaining the romance piece of it,” Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith said this includes keeping the sexual connection alive via technology as well, with sexting and other creative ways of keeping in touch with your partner.
Not everything has to be behind a screen, though. Making time to visit one another is also crucial in order to fulfill that need of being together.
“Being able to have sex more frequently when you actually do see each other is important for maintaining that sexual connection,” Goldsmith said.
Serina Williams, sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been dating her girlfriend for more than a year, with most of the relationship long distance. The couple has managed to keep their relationship alive while living across the country over 2,000 miles away. Williams attributes much of their success to planning and communication.
“Always plan ahead,” Williams said. “The key things in any relationship [are] communication and understanding. Everything is a bit harder, but with the right person it’s all worth it.”