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Communicating Distant Romance: Long Distance Relationships

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The world has changed a great deal over the past thirty years. Lives based on a comfortable home in the suburbs, a station wagon, three kids, and thirty years of job security with one employer have become memories. (1) Even the way we view relationships has changed significantly. Today more people are choosing to be in a long distance relationship than ever before. In a study recently performed by the University of North Carolina, it was shown that there are currently over 85 million people in the U.S alone are participating in a long distance relationship (1). Considering these statistics, it is reasonable to conclude that a significant number of people are engaged in some form of long distance relationship and/or correspondence, and that the number will continue to climb. It is for these reasons that I believe that although long distance relationships can present many challenges, effective communication can help maintain a romantic, long distance relationship.

All relationships have challenges and difficulties; however, long distance relationships often present additional ones. Some complications might include: loneliness, jealousy and insecurity. However, with effective communication strategies these problems can be avoided. In this paper, I will examine the types of communication strategies that can be used in a long distance relationship. In addition, I will discuss my own personal experiences and how I applied these communication techniques to my own long distance relationship.

It is not uncommon for individuals who are no longer living near the ones that they love to feel lonely. In a study conducted in 2003 by Dr. Rebecca Adams, 53% of college students in long distance relationships reported that the biggest challenge with a long distance relationship is being apart from their loved one (1). These feelings of loneliness can cause the individual to withdrawal from his or her peers. They might experience a more darkened outlook on life, and can become depressed as a result.

I have experienced what it is like to be in a long distance relationship and to struggle with the challenges that come with it. Last year I entered such a relationship with a woman named Jocelyn. Before leaving for college, Jocelyn and I would spend almost every weekend together. However, since leaving for college we are no longer able to see each other as often. The transition from seeing each other every weekend to seeing each other very rarely has been difficult. And although it has gotten better, there are times when I can’t help but feel lonely as a result of living far away from the girl that I love. During these moments when I feel lonely, I will become depressed and pessimistic. My outlook on life will become more negative, and my overall personality will become darker. It is during these moments when I will wonder if going to college is really worth the sadness and loneliness that I endure as a result of living away from my girlfriend.

My roommates are in the same situation as I, and have experienced feelings similar to my own. For example, Ken has been in a relationship with this one woman for two years, and having to be in a long distance relationship has been very difficult for him. He often talks to me about how he will sometimes feel depressed and lonely as a result of being away from her. He also tells me that when he becomes lonely, he loses interest in the things that he normally enjoys. In addition, he will become quiet and less cheerful.

There are many types of communication techniques that can be used in order to help those in such a situation. In my experience I have found that talking to my partner about how I feel over the phone can make a huge difference in how I feel. Whenever I am lonely, I will call Jocelyn and talk to her about those feelings. By talking to Jocelyn on the phone I feel closer to her. Together, Jocelyn and I would encourage each other to not feel sad. We will also offer advice and emotional support to each other.

Similar techniques have been used by other college students in similar situations. In the book “Love Online: Emotions on the Internet” Aaron Ben-Ze’ev interviewed several college students who were currently in long distance relationships (2). The students were asked to discuss strategies that they use to cope with feelings of loneliness and sadness. Two of the students described how they would write letters to their boyfriends back home. They explained that by writing and receiving letters, they felt less lonely. Other strategies that were mentioned were talking on the phone, emailing, and even sending and receiving pictures (2).

Although it can be difficult, feelings of loneliness in a long distance relationship can be avoided with the use of effective communication strategies. And for those who do chose to use these types of communication strategies, it’s important remember that they can only be effective if both individuals in the party are honest and open with their feelings while communicating. An example of this is my own long distance relationship with Jocelyn. When ever I feel lonely, I will call Jocelyn and tell her how I feel. During these conversations, I try to be honest without holding anything back. By doing this I am able to not only help my self, but our relationship as well.

In addition to loneliness, many people have reported that the biggest challenge that they have encountered while being in a long distance relationship is finding ways to keep the relationship fresh and exciting during the long periods when they are unable to be with their partner. Often times the lack of freshness and novelty can cause a relationship to become stale and tired. This can leads to a stage known as stagnation which can later result in termination (8). It has been estimated that five in ten long distance relationships end as a result of stagnation (4).

Stagnation is a problem that can occur in any type of relationship. However, it is more challenging to solve this problem when it occurs in a long distance relationship then any other type of relationship. Those in long distance relationships are very limited to what they can do to solve this problem. However, if stagnation was to occur in a traditional relationship, the couple could solve this problem by doing new things together or adding new forms of physical intimacy or romance to the relationship. So although stagnation can occur in any relationship, it is more challenging to solve if it occurs in a long distance relationship then a traditional one.

There was a period in my relationship with Jocelyn when it felt as if we had lost a lot of the excitement that we first felt when we started going out. At first it wasn’t a very big deal. However, over time our relationship began to feel monotonous and stale. I guess you could say that we had entered that stage in our relationship that is sometimes referred to as the “old married couple” stage. Eventually it got to the point where our relationship seemed to be a hollow shell of its former self. We would have the same conversation each day, and follow the same routines without any sense of joy or novelty. For me this was a very frustrating time in our relationship. I wanted to do something to bring the spark back, but I had no idea how to achieve this.

This is not an uncommon problem for those in long distance relationships. However, like most things this too can be fixed or avoided by using effective communication techniques. In my situation I found that the most effective way of bringing back the excitement was calling my girlfriend at times when I normally didn’t. Usually I would call my girlfriend everyday at 8 pm. Overtime this became a little dull. So instead of calling her at 8 pm everyday, I would call her at different times of the evening. So on Monday I might call her at around 6:30 PM, and then on Tuesday I might call her at 8:30 at night. By doing this, I was able to bring some spontaneity to the times that I called her.

Another change that we made to our relationship was the way that we spoke to each other on the phone when we talked. In the past whenever Jocelyn or I would call each other, we ended up asking each other the same questions such as, “how are you?”, “how was your day?”, and “what are your plans for this evening?” After a year of asking these same questions day after day, it became very dull and boring. So I began saying different things to her whenever I called. I might say something such as “hey sweetie, what are you thinking about?” or “did you see that movie that was being played on TV last night?”

There are many other types of communication strategies or changes that can be performed to help bring back the excitement in a long distance relationship. One strategy that has been found to be very effective is writing love letters to your partner (4). Love letters can communicate romantic feelings to your partner and can add intimacy and romance to your relationship (4). Other communication strategies include adding disclosure to your conversations, and flirting with your partner when you communicate with them. An example of this is a conversation that I had the other week with Jocelyn. During that conversation I told her that my grandmother passed away a few days ago. After I told her this, we talked about our families and the difficulties of losing a loved one. In this example, I began the conversation by telling Jocelyn that my grandmother passed away. This type of disclosure is called factual disclosure (10). By doing this I was able to make the conversation personal and meaningful.

The third most frequent problem that arises in a long distance relationship is the challenge of maintaining your level of trust in your partner. In a survey posted online on my website, 76% of college students reported that one of the most challenging aspects of a long distance relationship is maintaining a level of trust (9).

Although trust has never been an issue in my relationship with Jocelyn, I have known others who have had this challenge arise in their own relationships. An example is my friend Kimberly. Kimberly has been in a long distance relationship with her boyfriend for almost a year, and although they have a great relationship, there are times when Kimberly will have difficulty trusting him. An example of this would be if Kimberly’s boyfriend tells her that he will not be able to call because he is going to a friend’s house. Instead of trusting that he is being honest, Kimberly will suspect that he is lying to her. This lack of trust is often the cause of many fights between Kimberly and her boyfriend.

However, this too can be avoided with the use of effective communication strategies. When Kimberly asked me to help her learn how to trust, I told her that there were three very important things that she and her boyfriend needed to do in order to improve the level of trust in their relationship. I explained to Kim that the first thing that she and her boyfriend need to be doing is too keep each other informed of the friendships they have with other people and the events that take place in their personal lives. I explained that by doing this, you are keeping each other involved in what happens in your life, and leaves very little room for paranoia in the relationship.

I then told her that the second type of communication strategy is to discuss your feelings with your partner before becoming suspicious and getting upset. Often times what happens is that people will become upset with the other person without taking the time hear the other person’s side of the story (5). In Kimberly’s case, she would become suspicious of her boyfriend, and accusing him of something before discussing her feelings with him first. I told her that unless she discussed her feelings with her boyfriend, she was setting her self up to get into a conflict with him.

I then told her that the third communication strategy that she should be using is effective listening skills. I pointed out that the reason why she might have trouble trusting what he says is because she doesn’t use effective listening skills. Whenever her boyfriend mentions that he is going somewhere, she won’t ask any questions about where he is going or when he will be coming home. As a result, she is left wondering where he is going and when he will be back. Without knowing where this information, there is room for suspicion. I suggested to Kim that she should be asking more questions during their conversation. By doing this she can gain information and won’t be left wondering what he is doing. I also told her that the types of questions that she asked are just as important. I suggested that she should probably be asking sincere questions, such as “where will you be going?” and “when will you be coming back?”. These types of questions are meant to gain information, not send a message (8).

The next day I listened to Kim talk to her boyfriend on the phone. As I listened to their conversation, I heard Kim use the three communication strategies that we had discussed the day before. Instead of becoming angry with her boyfriend, Kim calmly asked her boyfriend where he went the other day. Her boyfriend explained that he had gone over to his friend’s house that day. I expected Kim to accuse him of lying; however Kim just smiled and made a friendly comment. She then told her boyfriend that she would like to get to know his friends better, and asked politely if she could chat with them online. Kim’s boyfriend said that would be fine and gave her the email addresses of his friends.

Just the other night I received a call from Kim. It had been a month since we last spoke and I was eager to hear how things were going with her relationship. Kim informed me that her relationship is doing very well. She thanked me for telling her about the three effective communication strategies. She explained that since learning about the communication strategies, she no longer argues with her boyfriend. I smiled when she said this, because I knew that it wasn’t I who helped save her relationship, it was the use of effective communication that did it

Like any relationship; long distance relationships can pose many challenges and difficulties. Those in long distance relationships might feel lonely or depressed as a result of living apart from the ones that they love. Another common problem is stagnation or difficulty trusting the other partner. But with the right amount of effort and communication on both parts, a long distance relationship can survive the obstacles it will frequently be challenged with. Through the use of effective communication strategies a long distance relationship can be extremely rewarding and successful.


1) Advice for Managing a Long Distance Relationship. Carol Tilley-Williams – 2002 http://wvwv.essortment.com/longdistancere_rgig.htm

2) Love Online: Emotions on the Internet. Aaron Ben-Ze’ev – January 19, 2004. Cambridge University Press

3) Long Distance Relationships. L. Emrich and G. Mullen- 1994 http://www.shs.uwo.ca/publications/sexstds/distancerelshps.htm

4) Official Journal of the International Association for Relationship. Research. Rebecca Adams, Blackwell. March 1. 2003.

6) Long Distance Relationships. 2002-2004 University of Missouri-Rolla. http://campus.umr.edu/counsel/selfhelp/vpl/distancerelationships.html

7) Long Distance Relationships: The Complete Guide MD, MS, Gregory Guldner JF Milne Publications (April, 2003)

8) Looking Out Looking In Ronald B. Adler. 2005 Wadsworth. Page 297, 254

9) Long Distance Relations 111 Chris L. Barnes 2005 http://groups.msn.com/LongDistanceRelationships111/survey.msnw

10) Looking Out Looking In Ronald B. Adler. 2005 Wadsworth. Page 309

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