For the study, researchers from the City University of Hong Kong and Cornell University had 63 couples (30 of which were long-distance) keep track of every single interaction they had during the course of a week. Researchers also asked them how close they felt to their partner after each of these interactions. Sure enough, the long-distance couples reported higher levels of intimacy.
While it might be counterintuitive, this doesn’t come as a total shock: Previous research published in 2010 shows that long-distance couples tend to report more relationship satisfaction, higher levels of trust, and more stability than their non-long-distance counterparts.
So why does absence really seem to make the heart grow fonder? There are likely two things at work, say study authors: First, people in long-distance relationships appear to be better communicators, according to the interactions they recorded. Another factor might be that couples separated by distance in the study were more likely to idealize each other; they viewed their partners as being even more communicative than they actually were – which helped keep positive feelings about them flowing.
That’s not to say that you have to live several states away from your partner to have a solid relationship. Just follow these tips from study author Crystal Jiang, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of media and communication at the City University of Hong Kong, to steal the same strategies that people in long-distance relationships tend to use:
1. Tell Your Partner How You Feel
Sure, long-distance couples tend to express their affection and commitment more often – and it doesn’t hurt to say that you love each other on a regular basis (even if it goes without saying). But that’s not the only feeling you should be talking about with your S.O. In the study, long-distance couples did more of something researchers call “self-disclosure,” which basically means opening up about what you’ve been thinking, feeling, and doing lately. So the next time you’re debating whether to tell your partner about the annoying thing that happened at work recently, start talking. “Self-disclosure is one of the ways people communicate intimacy and caring,” says Jiang.
2. Listen Up
Whereas you might show your partner some love by picking up dinner for them or offering to go to Ikea with them to make the trip a little more fun, long-distance couples usually don’t have that option. What they can offer: their attention. “People in long-distance relationships are often valued for their ability to provide special insight, empathy, or understanding,” says Jiang. Follow their lead by really listening to what your partner says to you – even when you’re in one of those just-smile-and-nodmoods. What exactly you say in response to your partner isn’t nearly as important as clearly addressing what they’ve just said in a supportive way. ”Efforts are really the key thing here,” says Jiang.
3. Cut Your Partner Some Slack
As we mentioned earlier, one of the big reasons researchers say long-distance relationships are stronger is that people tend to idealize their S.O. when they don’t have to see them throwing their dirty socks on the floor or playing video games every day. Totally losing touch with reality obviously isn’t a good thing, but keeping mental tabs on the good things about your partner – and even building them up a little bit –is going to be way better for your bond than fuming (silently or otherwise) about his Xbox addiction. “Moderate idealization can help couples stay positive about their partner’s traits,” says Jiang. So focus on how sweet it was when he refused to let you do the dishes the other night – and maybe look the other way the next time he forgets that hampers exist.