Long-distance relationship – Very far away and yet so close: Many couples live in a long-distance relationship, only see each other on weekends or even less often. Psychologist Dr. Fanny Jimenez presents forms of communication and gives tips on how to keep love fresh despite distance
To be close to your partner, to do things together, to show mutual affection – essential elements of a relationship. In Germany, however, there are more and more couples who voluntarily or compulsorily do without it. You work in different cities, commute or even live in different countries. But how do you lead a fulfilling long-distance relationship? How do you keep love going? And how do you compensate for the lack of closeness? The psychologist and science journalist Dr. Fanny Jimenez explains how best to overcome physical distance with the right communication strategy
Miss Dr. Jimenez, how important is regular communication to a successful long distance relationship?
Regular communication is very important. But the bandwidth of the communication channels is even more decisive. The couples who use more media, i.e. who chat, make video calls and write e-mails, are more satisfied than those who, for example, only make phone calls. This has to do with the fact that each medium promotes different content and behaviors. Arguing is mostly on the phone, where you quickly say something that the other person receives incorrectly or is misunderstood. A letter, on the other hand, usually has a very positive tone. Because written or printed words are more permanent, you also think more carefully about what to say to your partner and how to say it. In these conversations, it is also important to discuss not only the important things, but also everyday things. What to eat for lunch what to give your brother for his birthday, what bike to buy. Such joint decisions promote the integration of the other in everyday life and personal life planning.
How important is it to see the partner?
Very important. Once a month you should be able to meet if possible – otherwise the partners run the risk of not being able to build up a “we” feeling in the long run and not being able to build up a common everyday life. Video telephony, for example via Windows Live Messenger or Skype, also makes it possible to assess the partner’s non-verbal behavior and the environment and is very direct. My impression is that the playful element triggers a downright childlike joy in many. The feeling of goodbye, such as when making a phone call, often disappears with video chat – because you actually have the feeling of being with the other person. That made me really happy back then and made up pretty good compensation for the time we separated.
What are the advantages of video telephony?
The advantages are the immediacy of perception and the flexibility of use. The partners can move freely in the room, talk to each other and things can be seen. Some programs offer the possibility to play games with each other and exchange files or photos. Many couples in my study have created some kind of illusion that the other is actually there. Sometimes they just leave the camera on and then study for the next exam or hang up laundry – just as if they were in the same apartment together
A few final tips: What is particularly important for a successful long-distance relationship?
In addition to a regular exchange via the various channels, relationship rituals are elementary. They help a lot in a long-distance relationship, as they signal a binding everyday life and provide security. This can be the good morning SMS or the video chat in the evening. Agreeing on the basic rules in a long-distance relationship is also important. The issue of loyalty should be clarified, for example, so that one partner does not have a different idea of the relationship than the other. The long-term perspective is also a crucial point. Talking about the future together is very important and minimizes the uncertainty that often arises in long-distance relationships. Finally, the involvement of the partner in everyday life is worth mentioning. The partners should communicate with each other. Even if this is only done via a short text message and does not contain any important news, it helps a lot to create a “we” feeling. That is the most important point of all: In the future, a common coexistence should always be recognizable. This is the best motivation for a long distance relationship.
Fanny Jimenez studied psychology and neuroscience at Free University and Indiana University in the USA. Before, during and after her studies, she also worked in media psychology and media research and did her doctorate on distance regulation in long-distance relationships at the Humboldt University in Berlin.