How Long-Distance Relationships Work, According to Science

Updated on February 5, 2018
Kaitlyn Lo profile image

Kaitlyn has a background in psychology and writes articles that teach you how to lean on your body, mind, heart, and on those around you.

As many as 75% of college students and recent graduates are in or have been in long-distance relationships. But, despite the huge number of long-distance couples, many people believe that a couple who can’t see each other regularly is doomed to fail. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Most of us will find ourselves in a long-distance relationship at some point in our lives. Maybe we’re forced to separate to attend different universities; for a more lucrative job opportunity; or even for military deployment. If you’re currently in a long-distance relationship, don’t worry. Recent studies are finding that long-distance relationships may be more stable and of higher-quality than most people think.

Whether long-distance couples end up sticking together for the long haul or breaking up, psychologists and researchers have identified a few markers that make long-distance relationships different from couples who live close together.

This is the science on what happens in a long-distance relationship.

Poll: The Long-Distance Relationship and You

Have you ever been in a long-distance relationship?

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What Science Tells Us About Long-Distance Relationships

By Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons.
By Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons. | Source

1. Couples in long-distance relationships are better at certain kinds of communication.

Surprise, surprise! Long-distance relationships require a lot of hard work, and it looks like it’s paying off. All that time spent Skyping, texting, and talking on the phone means you’re better at communicating with each other, which is excellent news for the long-term health of your relationship.

In 2013, a study by researchers in Cornell and Hong Kong discovered that distance increases, instead of decreases intimacy. This is because couples who live far apart talk more often and have more in-depth and engaging conversations where each partner would share more about themselves. Couples who can see each other physically on the regular may not find the need to have those deep discussions as often.

Not only that, but another study has found that couples in long-distance relationships are less likely to snap or express hostility because most of the time it’s not worth it to get on the phone just to pick a fight.

2. Living apart makes couples idealize their partners.

It’s so much easier to create an idealized image of your significant other when you don’t see any of their daily flaws or weaknesses (i.e., dirty laundry, bad habits, embarrassing moments). Studies have supported this fact when researchers found that long-distance couples are more likely to view their partner’s behaviors through rose-colored glasses. When their partners are miles away, it seems they could do no wrong.

Long-distance couples were more likely to believe that they’ll still be together a year later and that they would eventually get married.

3. Women tend to adapt more easily to a long-distance relationship.

Who says women were more emotionally unstable? Studies on college students have found that women in long-distance relationships handled the initial separation and eventual breakup (if a break up did happen) better than the men in the study. The men, on the other hand, reported feeling more distressed overall, especially (perhaps understandably) when they were the ones who were broken up with.

4. Couples in long-distance relationships don’t think they will ever break up, but often do when reunited.

Sometimes, when individuals in a relationship change, the relationship won’t work anymore. And when a couple lives apart, they often don’t change together and can grow into different people who’re no longer compatible.

Psychologists at the University of Denver studied 870 young couples and found that long-distance couples were more likely to believe that they’ll still be together a year later and that they would eventually get married. But, according to a 2006 study, one-third of long-distance couples broke up less than three months after reuniting.

5. Couples in a long-distance relationship aren’t any less happy than couples living in the same area.

Another myth busted. Long-distance couples may experience more relationship stress, but that doesn’t mean they’re less happy in general.

A study conducted on 700 long-distance couples and 400 couples who lived in the same area found that the two types of relationships weren’t that different from each other. The study found that long-distance couples weren’t more likely to be unhappy, nor were they any happier than couples who lived close together. Researchers concluded that people in long-distance relationships were not worse off in comparison.

Long-Distance Relationship Tips We Can Learn From the Science

By bruce mars. CC0 Creative Commons.
By bruce mars. CC0 Creative Commons. | Source
  • Communication is even more important to keep a long-distance relationship thriving.
  • It’s essential to maintain a realistic mindset and outlook about your partner and your relationship.
  • Maintaining a high level of emotional support will help to control relationship stress in a long-distance relationship.
  • You can be just as happy in a long-distance relationship!

Poll: Longevity of Long-Distance Relationships

How long was your last (or current) long-distance relationship?

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Going the Distance

By Carlos R. CC0 Creative Commons.
By Carlos R. CC0 Creative Commons. | Source

As the research shows, there’s no reason to think long-distance relationships are destined to fail. Couples in long-distance relationships can be just as successful as couples living close together. As long as you commit to adapting to the distance, maintaining a positive outlook, and supporting each other through the tough times, your long-distance relationship can work.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 KV Lo


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    • profile image


      21 months ago

      We were in a long distance relationship for past 2 year 11 months then we got married and again we are in a long distance marriage for past 6 months. He is in Kuwait and I am in Dubai, the distance is killing and it is not at all easy to be honest. It needs a lot of determination, commitment towards the other person and most importantly honesty and loyalty that keeps the pace.

      I remember so many times we made plans withing those 2 years 11 months and due to work and financial issue we had to sacrifice a lot.

      Being a female I was the most crankiest and my then boyfriend (now husband) always kept patience will all the crap i used to throw on him be it mood swings, misunderstanding, emotional break down... he always acted sensibly and eventually we made up before the day ends.

      In the past 3.5 years we have not stayed for even a month together but I swear the wait of meeting each other after a long time cannot be explained. I really feel this long distance has not only given us time to know each other, it has immensely increased our love and respect for each other.

      Well, all i can say is I am one lucky girl to get the long distance relationship before and after marriage work out successfully!

    • profile image

      Katelyn Campos 

      2 years ago

      My husband is in the military, so we are usually on a long distance relationship, deployments and field problems. This is very useful! Loved reading about them. It’s so true.

    • profile image

      Sarah M 

      2 years ago

      I 100% agree with communication and emotional support points. I was an ambitious young person and moved around a lot. I tried and failed and three separate long distance relationships. I was almost not willing to try it again when I was faced with that decision for a fourth time. However, we both sat down and agreed to give it a try, committed to nightly phone calls and were able to physically see each other at least once a month for a short period (which some people can't). After three years of this, we decided to end the long distance and get married. While a long-distance relationship worked out for my husband and I, I found it much more challenging than any other relationship I had had. I do not recommend it, but you do what you need to do when you are in love.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Wow this is very interesting of a read. None of it is surprising, but long-distance relationships are definitely not for me. I need to be hugged and held and as much as I am independent, I also need intimacy.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Long distance relationships are hard and I have no clue how people get through them sometimes because I love having a person within reaching distance or atleast in the same city as me. Lol

    • profile image

      Brian Epie 

      2 years ago

      Thanks a lot for sharing this tips. I know of a couple facing such a situation, just got married and now living in two different countries. Will definitely recommend they read this article.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I have been in 2 long distance relationships, one failed miserably and the other was a success and we are married now... The key I think from my experience is the trust,which is of utmost importance and to give your partner the right space...

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      My hubby and I went through a long distance relationship for almost 10 months. It was hard but we made it.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 

      2 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks. Now I know ho.w to talk to my nephew about his relationship.

    • profile image

      Jennifer Prince 

      2 years ago

      I would DEFINITELY agree that absence makes you feel as though the other person is perfect. It's so easy to focus on their good points and make even jerks seem better than they really are. Ug!

    • profile image

      kartika nair 

      2 years ago

      I have been in 2 long distance relationship but both them didn't work for me at all I don't whether it was the distance or the person . It surely depends how two people bond with each other.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I tried a long distance relationship and it didn't work for me at all. We separated three months later. But I think it really depends on the people and on the strength of their relationship!


      K xx

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      My husband and I did long distance and it was super hard! Great post!

    • Kaitlyn Lo profile imageAUTHOR

      KV Lo 

      2 years ago

      @dashingscorpio. Definitely! For a couple to stay apart for the entire duration of their relationship is unrealistic and probably not very sustainable, especially if marriage is in the cards. :) Unfortunately, too many couples aren't in the position to move closer together just yet, so they shouldn't despair in thinking they won't be able to make it through the time they have to spend apart.

    • dashingscorpio profile image


      2 years ago from Chicago

      Long distance relationships were meant to be temporary!

      The goal is to be with the person you love.

      It's the counting down of the months, weeks, and days until one is finally done with the inconvenience of being in a long distance relationship that keeps it strong!

      Unless there is a "light at the end of the tunnel" where someone will be relocating in the near future eventually a couple will drift apart.

      The only reason for being in a long distance relationship is the belief that he/she is "the one". Otherwise if you're only dating someone for the fun of it you might as well do that locally.

      One man's opinion! :)

      My wife and I were 2ooo miles apart when I was living in California and she was in Chicago. We flew back and forth for about a year. However I made plans a couple of months into the relationship to relocate. College students who believe they're going to maintain LDRs with their high school sweetheart for the next 4-6 years are being unrealistic for the most part.

      There are "exceptions" but's that's just what they are exceptions.


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