Reading Between the Lines: What Our E-mails Say About Our Near and Far Relationships

By Guest Author Elizabeth Worlein

As a busy woman, a girlfriend in a long-distance relationship, and friend that is hard to reach by phone, I have wondered how my use of technology impacts my relationships. What does my use of e-mail say about my relationships with my friends, my romantic partner, and my family?

Johnson, Haigh, Becker, Craig, and Wigley attempt to answer this question in a recent study. Two hundred and twenty-six college students submitted their personal e-mail messages that they received in one week. The researchers examined how the e-mails maintained the students’ relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. The researchers also examined how relationships were maintained between people that were geographically close, and those that were long-distance. Researchers observed five main behaviors people exhibited to maintain their relationships in the three types of relationships:


  • Openness (sharing your experience, feelings, etc.)
  • Social Networks (references to events, school, or other relationships)
  • Positivity (e.g. “Have a great day!”)
  • Assurances (e.g. “I love you.”)
  • Joint Activities (e.g. “See you Monday!”)


  • Openness
  • Social Networks
  • Positivity
  • Joint Activities
  • Miscellaneous (Sign-offs, emoticons, etc.)

Romantic Partners:

  • Assurances
  • Openness
  • Positivity
  • Social Networks
  • Referring to cards, letters, or calls

This study illustrates that through the use of e-mail, we can continue to maintain our relationships when we are not face-to-face. What we communicate over e-mail, such as assurances or positivity, is similar to what we use to maintain our relationships when we are face-to-face with the person. The results indicate that our interactions over e-mail are not very different if we are near to or far away from the person.

What does this study’s finding say about our relationships?  Perhaps what we are communicating illustrates what we value in that relationship. For example, we may maintain friendships and family relationships to talk about our everyday experiences. For our romantic partners, we seek to communicate the importance of our relationship through assurances and openness. From all of these relationships, we are seeking positivity and openness, among many other values. Nothing radical happening on e-mail compared to any other venue–just another venue upon which to share the human condition.

Johnson, A., Haigh, M., Becker, J., Craig, E., & Wigley, S. (2008). College Students’ Use of Relational Management Strategies in Email in Long-Distance and Geographically Close Relationships. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13, 381-404.

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

College Love: Uncertainty & Satisfaction in Long Distance Dating Relationships

By Guest Author Kasie Tanabe

Going on into my third year in a long distance dating relationship, I can attest to the important role of active of maintenance in keeping a fulfilling relationship. However, I was unaware of just how closely linked satisfaction is to communication strategies and their feelings on the relationship’s future.

Surveying 186 college students in long distance dating relationships (LDDRs), Maguire looked the following subjects:
• Certainty/uncertainty of reuniting in the same city – how this affected the overall relationship satisfaction
• Relationship-enhancing/distancing communicative coping strategies – which of the two are more helpful for people in LDDRs with an uncertain and certain future
• Convergent/divergent situations – how satisfaction differs for those in convergent (high probability of a favored outcome) and divergent (low probability of a favored outcome) situations, and what communicative coping strategies work best

Maguire’s results generally strengthened existing theories regarding certainty and its positive effects on maintenance and communicative coping strategies. However, people who were comfortable with their future prospects (whether it be certain or uncertain) showed greater overall relationship satisfaction. In addition, maintenance and relationship-enhancing coping strategies were more clearly associated with relationships of reduced uncertainty.

Therefore, it should not be assumed that uncertainty will always prove problematic for LDDRs. Uncertainty management theory (UMT) offers one perspective on this issue; it recognizes that not all uncertainty is negative. In some situations, certainty may be problematic, especially if the sure future involves an undesirable outcome. It is not true that if a couple is uncertain or moderately uncertain of reuniting, then they necessarily are unsatisfied and have more distress.

Miss You (from doug88888)Maintenance strategies say a lot about a relationship as well. A commitment to a future together brings about an increased amount of openness, cooperativeness, joint-problem solving, and assurances, as more importance is placed on maintaining the relationship in hopes of making it last. But no matter the case, as the study and I both suggest, keep withdrawal and verbal attacks to a minimum. No matter the certainty or satisfaction level, all participants felt these to be harmful and unhelpful coping strategies.

Finally, another important aspect of LDDRs is idealization. This occurs often, as idealized images may arise through restricted communication. One partner is allowed to see only what the other wants them to see; it is easier in LDDRs to leave out unfavorable information. This ultimately heightens satisfaction levels.

Maguire, K. (2007). “Will it ever end?”: A (re)examination of uncertainty in college student long-distance dating relationships. Communication Quarterly, 415-432.