Long-Distance Relationships: Just as beneficial as Proximal Relationships?

Posted on Sep 18, 2017

By Cindy Mackie

My mother always told me to never sacrifice my schooling, a career, or an important goal of mine for a guy. But what are you supposed to do if you are in a loving relationship and an opportunity arises in a location geographically far from your partner? While many people fear long-distance relationships, they may be more rewarding than you think.

Although it is well established that living near, or with, your partner has its benefits such as physical contact, researchers have shown that being in a long-distance relationship might actually be beneficial to your health. Researchers at Adler University in Chicago gathered relationship and health ratings from 296 married couples through an online survey; 201 of these couples were in proximal relationships, and 95 of these couples were in long-distance relationships [1].

Du Bois et al.’s study is based on a concept called the “Marriage-Health-Association”. This concept basically says that married couples are healthier, both mentally and physically, than their single counterparts. Up until recently, evidence for this association has primarily been gathered from couples living together or near each other. Du Bois et al. wished to expand the research on the Marriage-Health-Association to include data from couples in long-distance marriages.

The study compared two groups: married couples in a proximal relationship (PR) and married couples in a long-distance relationship (LDR). Couples in a proximal relationship had to have reported seeing each other daily in a typical month and to have spent no more than 2 days per week separated by over 50 miles. Couples in a long-distance relationship had to have reported seeing their partner less than daily in a typical month and to have spent over three days a week over 50 miles apart. There was no difference in the mean length of marriage or participant age between the two groups. Some of their key findings are highlighted here:

Compared to couples in proximal relationships, couples in long-distance relationships reported:

  • Better overall health
  • Greater satisfaction with their social role
  • Less anxiety
  • Less depression
  • Better eating habits
  • More frequent exercise

The authors speculated that couples in long-distance relationships may have more free time they can spend on themselves, which is why they may exercise more. They also suggested it could have something to do with hormone differences between LDR and PR couples. The authors referenced a study [2] that found LDR couples to have higher testosterone levels than those in a PR. Du Bois et al. suggested that these elevated testosterone levels in LDR couples can increase evolutionary “competitive behaviours”, such as working out to appear more attractive, because their hormone physiology is more similar to being “single” than “in a relationship”.

Although couples in long-distance relationships reported many positive behavior urs, they also reported higher stress levels both inside and outside the relationship. The authors hypothesized that this could be because couples living together, or near each other, have the benefit of physical contact which has been shown to decrease stress levels prior to a stressful event. Fortunately, the authors explained that developing good coping mechanisms, conflict management skills, developing more ways to support each other from afar, and incorporating each other more frequently into your daily lives (via Skype, phone calls, etc.) can alleviate some, or much, of the stress involved with being apart.

Therefore, if opportunity comes knocking a plane-ride away, you don’t necessarily have to choose between your career and your partner. As we have seen, couples in long-distance relationships can have relationships just as happy and healthy as couples in proximal relationships.

Sources:

[1] Du Bois, S. N. Du, T. G. Sher, K. Grotkowski, T. Aizenman, N. Slesinger, and M. Cohen. “Going the Distance: Health in Long-Distance Versus Proximal Relationships.” The Family Journal 24, no. 1 (2015): 5-14. doi:10.1177/1066480715616580.

[2] Anders, Sari M. Van, and Neil V. Watson. “Testosterone levels in women and men who are single, in long-distance relationships, or same-city relationships.” Hormones and Behavior 51, no. 2 (2007): 286-91. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2006.11.005.