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The science of long-distance relationships

With the proliferation of social media and online dating, more and more people are getting into long-distance relationships (LDRs) these days. But with all the challenges that accompany this type of relationship, like loneliness and longing, it’s easy to wonder: do LDRs actually work? Are they worth it?

Here’s what science has to say about how to keep your LDR functional and mutually satisfying…

Communication channels

If you’ve ever had an argument suddenly break out between you and your partner via text, then you know that written mediums aren’t always the best or clearest channels for important emotional communiqué. It’s far too easy to misread tone or take things out of context. This phenomenon has been explored in multiple studies on LDRs.

One 2009 study, for example, found that long-distance couples who regularly speak on the telephone tend to be more committed and more satisfied than those who don’t. Another study found that video chat promotes intimacy between geographically separated partners. While texting is par for the course in this technologically advanced era, it seems that real-time communication channels are important for maintaining healthy and happy long-distance relationships.

Closing the distance

Many people in LDRs would give almost anything to be physically closer to their partner – but the sad fact is, sometimes closeness ends a relationship, rather than making it better. A 2006 study found that about one-third of formerly long-distance couples end up terminating their relationship within 3 months of moving to be closer together.

Some participants cited a loss of autonomy as the main reason their relationship no longer worked after closing the geographical gap between partners. LDRs can allow for a higher degree of freedom and privacy than close-distance relationships, because your partner isn’t around as much to monitor (and perhaps judge) what you’re doing with your time.

Participants also said that being physically together enabled them to gain new knowledge about their partners, not all of which was positive. After all, someone can seem super romantic on the phone, but in person they might make a habit of leaving their dirty dishes out, listening to music too loud during work hours, or clipping their toenails in bed – and you might never know until you’re in their space more consistently!

Getting sexy

A study published earlier this year looked at the sexting habits of long-distance couples, and found that those who sext frequently tend to report higher levels of satisfaction with their relationship and their sex lives. A 2020 study found that sexually fantasizing about one’s partner increases relationship and sexual satisfaction as well. It seems that keeping your mind on your partner, especially while your hand is down your pants, is great for your relationship!

Have you ever been in an LDR? What worked well for you in keeping it happy and healthy?


Kate Sloan is a journalist, blogger, podcaster, and educator who has been writing about sex online and in print for over five years. She writes about sex, kink, relationships, fashion, beauty, writing, and mental health. She has been voted a Sex Blogging Superhero for four years running, and her words reach over 22,000 sex nerds, weirdos and queerdos every month. As a journalist and essayist, Kate has written for Glamour, Teen Vogue, Daily Xtra, the Establishment, Maisonneuve, Herizons, the Plaid Zebra, xoJane, and more.

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