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Contrary to popular belief, couples in long-distance relationships may have stronger bonds than those who live geographically close to each other, a new study has found.

That's good news as a sizeable number of Canadian couples are living apart due to financial, educational or job circumstances: Seven per cent of Canadians age 20 or over were involved in a long-distance relationship in 2011, including nearly one in three individuals aged 20 to 24, according to Statistics Canada.

The study done by Crystal Jiang from the University of Hong Kong and Jeffrey Hancock from Cornell University found that couples living apart might actually communicate more effectively, even though less often than those in face-to-face relationships.

The researchers asked 63 heterosexual couples aged 18 to 34 to track their interactions and intimacy levels during those interactions for a week. Half of the couples lived together, and the other half lived apart and had been geographically separated for an average of 17 months.

Researchers measured the interactions – whether face-to-face, or via phone call, video chat, texting, IM and e-mail – by length, degree of self-disclosure, perceived partner disclosure, perceived partner responsiveness and intimacy.

They found that long-distance couples had fewer, but longer and more intimate interactions. During the interactions, long-distance couples tended to reveal more personal information about themselves. But they also idealized their partner's responsiveness.

The biggest difference between close- and long-distance couples, the study revealed, was the amount of face-to-face interaction time. Because long-distance couples have less, they speed up the intimacy process by disclosing more personal facts during each interaction.

The study acknowledges there are limitations, including that most of their participants were college students and had access to social networks. Couples separated by distance for other reasons – military deployment, for example – may not have as many communication opportunities and so the results may be different for them.

The study was published in the Journal of Communication.

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