Can long-distance relationships really work out or are they doomed to fail?

Coupes in long distance relationships can be just as happy (if not happier) than couples who live close together, one study reported. Getty Images

Does absence really make the heart grow fonder in a relationship?

For some it doesn’t – but for more than 1.9-million Canadians (or 7 per cent of the population) who “live apart together” according to Statistics Canada, long-distance relationships is a romantic partnership that works in their favour.

“I think [long distant relationships] can work,” Jessica O’Reilly, relationship expert and founder of Sex with Dr. Jess, said. “I would say it takes a different type of effort [to make long distance relationship work] because there are certain things about long distance relationships that facilitate a happier relationship. So there are some areas that require more work and there are some areas that less work.”
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Having a long-distance relationship today is vastly different from just a few decades ago.

Now with the presence of technology changing the way people communicate, and cheaper and more accessible ways of travelling, having this type is not only more common, but the chances at succeeding at one are better.

According to O’Reilly, being in a long-distance relationship can be beneficial as it’s often easier to sustain the passion. As well, not seeing each other every day can help keep the interest alive.

“The reasons why they would require less work are similar to new relationships,” O’Reilly said. “So anything related to passion, excitement, change, novelty – those things are more likely to come naturally.”

One 2013 study found that this was true when they looked at 63 heterosexual dating couples between the ages of 18 to 34.

The study found that while couples in long distance relationships interacted with each other less often every day than couples who lived close to one another, they actually experienced greater intimacy with their partners than their counterparts, Today reports.

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But the success of such a relationship rests on a few factors, O’Reilly says.

The first is personality type. Those who are more likely to enjoy these types of relationships tend to be more independent by nature.

In fact, another study by Queen’s University in 2013 found that people in long-distance relationships are just as satisfied (if not more satisfied) than couples who live close to each other and that individual characteristics predict the relationship quality.

Another is knowing what you’re getting yourself into and setting realistic expectations with your partner before going forward.

If you don’t set these expectations and make sure both you and your partner are on the same page, O’Reilly warns that it could cause strife and ultimately hurt the relationship. This could mean discussing how you’ll spend your time together once you do see each other.

“It’s more challenging to shift your relationship from living together to long distance later in the relationship because you’ve already become accustomed to being together, whereas people who are forming their relationship as a long-distance relationship have better success,” O’Reilly said. “I think it probably prolongs that in-love passion phase.”

Then there’s the issue of technology, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

Technology, O’Reilly says, makes it easier for couples today to have long-distance relationships – but if not used properly, they too can contribute to the demise of the relationship.

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“I think a mistake couples make is reducing their communication to text alone,” she said. “You don’t hear each other’s voices… Couples sometimes don’t bother with FaceTime or Skype or any type of video chat software. It’s good to look one another in the eye… We need to communicate with voice and video.”

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But like any other type of relationship, long-distance couplings come with their own set of struggles.

“The biggest struggle isn’t seeing one another, it’s the fact that you develop your own lives and habits separately from your partner,” O’Reilly says. “You become accustomed to the perks of a committed relationship along with the perks of being single. So you can go out with your friends without feeling any responsibility to a partner. Now when kids are involved, that’s a little different. Obviously there’s more pressure on the partner who’s at home.”

Another issue is when it comes to thoughtful gestures. O’Reilly says it’s often easier to be more thoughtful of the other person in the relationship if you live together. So being apart often takes more effort and creativity when it comes to doing those thoughtful gestures.

So what can couples do to make sure their long distance relationship works?

One is to make the effort in doing those (perhaps missing) thoughtful gestures and try to find new ways to surprise your partner.

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Another thing to do is to sit down with your partner and discuss your expectations around the relationship. For example, will you send a text a day? How often will you video chat? What will you do with your time alone together?

And while communication is important, avoid giving your partner any play-by-plays of your days. By telling them everything that you do and keeping them in the constant loop, you make the communication can become dull and boring.