Making Long-distance Relationships Work: How Counseling Can Help

long-distance relationships

These days, long-distance relationships are more common than ever. Thanks to the increased accessibility of technology worldwide, couples can now easily stay connected with each other using text messages or video calls. Still, the convenience of digital communication doesn’t automatically resolve the emotional and psychological challenges they face.

Many couples find it hard to deal with the lack of physical presence, time zone differences, and miscommunications. All these negatively affect the intimacy in their relationship and lead to psychological distress and loneliness (e.g., Waterman et al., 2017).

However, couples counseling in long-distance relationships can help couples strengthen their connection even when they can’t have regular face-to-face interactions.

In this article, we’ll provide research-based advice to make your long-distance relationships work and explain how counseling can strengthen your emotional bond.

The Reality of Long-Distance Relationships

In 2023, about 14 million US couples report being in a long-distance relationship (LDR). According to a 2018 survey, 60% of these relationships manage to maintain their relationships without physical communication. Interestingly, about 27% of these relationships began without the partners ever living in close proximity, and nearly half of them met online.

But not surprisingly, many couples struggle with maintaining emotional intimacy while not being physically together. This is why 2 out of 3 of these couples are likely to break up at some point, usually within 3 months.

Common issues include communication misunderstandings, where messages can be misinterpreted or feelings inadequately expressed (e.g., Dargie et al., 2014). Time zone differences further complicate matters, making it difficult to find mutually convenient times to connect.

This absence of physical closeness often leads to feelings of loneliness and insecurity and results in a gradual emotional disconnect. These factors, combined with the everyday stress of life, highlight the need for effective strategies and support for couples who are in long-distance relationships.

5 Science-based Tips to Make Long-distance Relationships Work

Even though long-distance relationships come with multiple challenges, as we mentioned, most couples still manage to constructively work on their problems in order to maintain a strong connection and keep their love alive. The key lies in adopting effective strategies and understanding the nuances of managing relationships across distances.

Here are five science-based tips that can help couples in LDRs overcome these challenges successfully:

1)   Align your expectations with reality

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy shows the importance of aligning expectations and perceptions with the subjective experience of a relationship (Dargie et al., 2014). For this, couples should prioritize open communication and make sure to declare their needs, wants, and expectations, in general. This includes discussing the duration of the long-distance phase and having a clear plan for reuniting in the specific location.

Setting realistic expectations and working towards a common goal can help couples significantly improve their relationship satisfaction while being physically apart.

2)   Make the most of your remote communication

Effective communication through technology plays a crucial role when you’re dating your partner from a distance. For example, a 2021 study that involved 647 participants found that those in LDRs engaged more frequently in texting, video, and voice calls compared to those in geographically close relationships (GCRs). It’s important to note that frequent and responsive texting was linked to higher relationship satisfaction in LDRs

These findings suggest that for couples in LDRs, prioritizing regular and meaningful text communication can be an effective strategy for maintaining a strong emotional connection and overall relationship satisfaction (Holtzman et al., 2021).

3)   Establish trust and manage insecurities

People often think that being physically apart from your partner increases the chance of infidelity. However, research shows otherwise. In fact, only 22% of people in a long-distance relationship admit to cheating, which is lower compared to the general statistics of cheating.

Interestingly, it turns out that couples in long-distance relationships often have stronger bonds due to their unique communication and trust-building practices. For instance, a 2022 study found a significant difference in trust levels between long-distance and geographically close couples, where relationship satisfaction was higher among couples in LDRs (Joshi, 2022).

This means that the lack of physical intimacy might actually contribute to increased interpersonal trust. That’s why it’s important to consistently share and validate each other’s feelings in order to maintain open and honest communication. Regular, transparent conversations about daily activities, feelings, and concerns can help resolve misunderstandings and promote a deeper sense of security and connection.

4)   Spend quality time with your partner

Studies show that quality time is the foundation of any healthy and satisfying relationship (e.g., Hogan et al., 2021). But it becomes even more crucial in long-distance relationships. Being physically apart doesn’t mean you can’t create meaningful moments together. You just need to be intentional about scheduling quality time into your routine and minimizing distractions during these moments.

This can be activities like reading the same book, watching a movie simultaneously, or having regular video calls. The key is to focus entirely on your partner during these times in order to ensure they feel valued and prioritized.

5)   Keep each other informed on your daily lives

Staying connected in a long-distance relationship extends beyond deep conversations and emotional support. Sometimes it can be as simple as sharing the everyday aspects of your life with your partner.

Even if you think that it’s trivial to discuss your daily routine with your partner when they’re not physically there, these details are actually invaluable in creating a sense of shared life. That’s why it’s important to incorporate this into your daily routine, perhaps by sending a morning text outlining your day’s plan and exchanging updates as the day progresses.

This regular exchange of daily details will turn into meaningful connections over time. This, in turn, will help you strengthen your bond with your partner and make them feel like an integral part of your daily life.

How Being Apart Affects Your Mental Health

Being in a long-distance relationship can have a significant negative impact on both your and your partner’s mental health. Specifically, it often leads to feelings of loneliness and uncertainty (Waterman et al., 2017). Studies also indicate that individuals in long-distance relationships may experience higher levels of emotional distress compared to those in close proximity relationships (Du Bois et al., 2016). This is partly due to the lack of physical, mental, and emotional closeness, which can lead to a decrease in the feel-good neurotransmitters — dopamine and serotonin, both of which are crucial for mood regulation and overall well-being.

However, these negative effects can be overcome by ensuring regular communication and being proactive in maintaining their own mental well-being, such as engaging in self-care activities, seeking support from friends and family, and, if needed, seeking professional counseling.

How Counseling Can Help

Counseling can be an effective way to improve communication skills, increase relationship satisfaction, and help couples manage the unique stresses of long-distance dynamics.

Couples counseling in Grand Rapids can help long-distance couples work on issues like trust, emotional intimacy, and effective conflict resolution, all of which are crucial for the health of a long-distance relationship. Professional therapists usually help couples develop skills for active listening, explain how to use technology for better communication, and develop conflict resolution strategies. Most importantly, therapy also helps in building trust and ensuring both partners feel connected and valued.

At Health for Life Counseling, our licensed therapists specialize in helping couples in long-distance relationships. We provide a supportive environment where you can explore challenges and develop practical solutions. Whether through in-person sessions at our offices in Grand Rapids, MI, or Ada, MI, or via online counseling, we are committed to helping you strengthen your relationship.

We also accommodate a variety of health insurance options, including Priority Health, Aetna, Golden Rule, Optum, and more, to make relationship counseling more accessible. Check out the full list of insurances we accept.

Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids provides the following programs that could help your relationship.

Learn more about the Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids

Learn more about Counseling and Therapy services at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

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