How To Make A Long Distance Relationship Work

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I found this really concise article on the elements of a successful long distance relationship (LDR), so if you happen to be in this boat or on the precipice of one, this may be an interesting read for you. This study was in the Annals of Emergency Medicine (my Googling skills to find highly relevant articles are unparalleled). The paper outlines the challenges of dating a resident, and there’s also a few emergency medicine-specific pointers, but I’ll keep this general for the most of you. This is mostly paraphrased, so click through if you want sources.

One caveat about these sociological studies is that it’s really good at identifying trends, but you can’t always effect change. The soft sciences are frustrating in how many confounding variables there are. Sigh.

For good or ill, let the wheel turn.

Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot

Do long distance relationships even work?

If by “working”, one means staying together, several studies have found no difference in the rates of breakup between couples in premarital long-distance relationships with those in more traditional relationships.

That’s not true. My/my friend’s relationship ended because of the distance.

The numbers in aggregate prove otherwise. It may be the case that the distance just happened to be the easiest culprit to blame, since it makes the breakup more emotionally tolerable than focusing on fundamental incompatibilities. Couples in long distance relationships report the same level of intimacy, commitment, relationship satisfaction, and trust than couples in non-LDRs. Long distance relationships are also no likelier to have infidelity than traditional relationships.

Fuck it, I’m going to do give this long distance thing a shot. How could it be good for me?

Compared to students in traditional relationships, college students in long distance relationships had higher grades, less difficulty with class projects, more free time, and slept more. Long distance relationships are especially complementary for people who have busy careers, because geographically close relationships can be time-consuming without you even knowing it. People are less likely to feel guilt, anger, and resentment when being apart is perceived as a circumstance, not a choice.

Also, that honeymoon sense of novelty is extended, since every meeting is more likely to be reinvigorated with exciting, premeditated activity than just mindless hanging out.

It’s going to be hard. I’ll miss him/her so much. How do I make it better?

There are two main things you need to focus on: 1) learning how to cope with the separation, and 2) maintaining intimacy. Based on research, people in long-distance relationships who fare best possess the following traits:

  • Have higher self-esteem
  • View the relationship very optimistically
  • Have good social support
  • Have a confidante with whom they can discuss the relationship
  • Have control over their schedules
  • View the separation as temporary

I can definitely see why the above traits would point towards healthier coping mechanisms towards separation.

How would our relationship progress when we’re apart? Heck, how can we even stay close?

Intimacy requires 2 distinct foundations: 1) emotional sharing and 2) interrelatedness. Emotional sharing constitutes the sharing of deeply personal feelings and gestures. Keep that conversation level 5 and above, baby!

As for interrelatedness, it’s really about sharing mundane details of your lives. No longevity without banality. Geographically close couples take the interrelatedness of their lives for granted, while couples in long distance relationships have to put in a little more conscious effort to review the details of their day. Texting, email – keeping a log of things you want to chat about could also be helpful. Parallel activities, which are chores that occur within the other’s presence but do not revolve around them such as doing laundry while being on the phone with your partner can also keep the mundanity alive. During reunions though, you want to keep the focus on each other and be present.

And there you have it. The formula for the perfect long distance relationship. You are all set up for success now.


The Author

Singaporean in NYC, analyzing relationships with a boozy brownie in hand.


  1. rainawareness says

    I’m sorry, but how could you make a post called: “How To Make A Long Distance Relationship Work” without ever mentioning Skype or common problems like the other being always busy or running out of things to say?


    • Why couldn’t I? My post was meant to cover off on the research-backed points from the article, not give a laundry list of tactics. People figure out the tactics that work best for them, whether it is Skype or texting or what have you.

      The paper I referenced also framed being busy as a positive thing, preventing the development of resentment and allowing personal careers to flourish. Running out of things to say could potentially be combated by the idea of parallel activities, and making an effort to keep a log of things to say. But now I’m just repeating myself.


      • rainawareness says

        “laundry list of tactics”. I’ve never seen a person refer to Skype in a long distance relationship as just a “tactic”.
        You say being busy is a positive thing, but positive just for YOU. The other person will obviously resent you for it
        You’re not repeating yourself, you never mentioned “Running out of things to say” when that’s a millenniums-long problem


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