Long-Distance Warps Our Perceptions of Romantic Partners

By Guest Author Lyndsey ChamberlainRabby blog cell phone

As a person in a long distance dating relationship (LDDR), I found it interesting that couples in a LDDR say they are happier then geographically close dating relationships (GCDR). I also was interested to learn that idealization of each other in a long distance dating relationship can adversely affect the relationship when a couple reunites.

In a survey of 122 heterosexual couples from a large Midwestern university, Stafford and Merolla looked at whether idealization may influence why LDDR are more stable and in some cases more satisfied with their relationship.

They also factored in days between face to face communication and other forms of communication, i.e., telephone. Stafford and Merolla found LDDR spend less time together than GCDR face to face and there is no great difference between how much LDDR and GCDR communicate by other means. They also found that idealization in LDDR increased when the time between face to face communications increased. LDDR also seemed to say they were happier with their relationships then the GCDR did. This is an example of how idealization can form false impressions of a partner.

In a separate survey of approximately 400 Midwestern college students, Stafford and Merolla conducted a second study, based off the first, saying idealization, type and frequency of communication, and other relational characteristics can predict long-term stability for LDDR who remain long distant or become geographically close.

Participants completed a survey on quality of marital index adapted for dating partners, global commitment scale, idealistic distortion scale and a whether or not each partner want to live in the same location as their partner. They looked at research points from the time they contacted the couples and then again after 6 months had passed to inquire about the couples relational status. Of the sample, half stayed distant and the other half moved closer.  82% of couples that moved close ended the relationship and only 40% that stayed distant ended the relationship. Stafford and Merolla found there is more stability in LDDR that stay distant then ones that become close. They determined idealistic distortion kept the LDDR intact. They also found couples who became geographically close and had more face to face communication during the separation had more stable relationships than others in the study.

If interested in lowering the idealization for a partner, it is important to increase face to face communication and be honest with each other and the changes in one another’s lives. To reduce idealization, be realistic when thinking of a long distant partner’s true qualities.

A problem that LDDR couples encounter with their partners when they become geographically close is having overly optimistic views of one another. They may feel like they know each other completely but then feel like they reunite with a stranger. More realistic people may experience less relational trouble when they reunite because they can be better prepared for the changes. LDDR should also increase the frequency they talk about important beliefs rather than avoid them to avoid disagreement during one of the few face to face interactions. This will help a couple because they will not have a false impression of future plans.

Stafford, L., & Merolla, A. (2007). Idealization, reunions, and stability in long-distance dating relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24, 37-54

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Michael Rabby, PhD, serves as a consultant, author & professor specializing in social media, relationship building, and statistics-based research. Here, I muse about these things, along with the occasional comment about music, sports, and whatever else strikes my fancy. After all, it is still communication.