Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder or Does it?

Every relationship comes with its own set of strengths, challenges and expectations. Nowhere is this truer than perhaps in a long distance relationship where partners are compelled to stay away from each other for reasons of profession, education, the availability of healthcare facilities or any other reason. While most spatially separated couples begin with honest attempt to make things work, it is often difficult to predict whether the distance will turn out to be too great to be bridged.

Distance leading to disconnect

The lack of physical togetherness is the biggest impediment to the survival of a long distance relationship. Physical intimacy in a relationship is one of the primary constituents of the bond between romantic partners. In fact the health of a committed relationship like marriage is often gauged by the quality of the sex life of the spouses. Even in a non-marital romantic relationship, it is only natural for partners to crave a physical connection and when this is lacking, as in a long distance relationship, it can be difficult to pull together.

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Again It is not just about losing out on physical intimacy which can make long distance couples drift apart but also missing the emotional support of a partner, both in good times and bad. Human beings are inherently programmed to emotionally connect with others of their species – while in childhood, one’s family fulfills this function, in adult life a partner usually performs this role. In a relationship, where even the sharing of thoughts and experiences has to depend on an external medium like the phone or computer, an element of distance – no matter how small – creeps up between the couple. A text message, a voice on the phone or even images by web chat can hardly replicate the exact sensations and unique satisfaction of having a heart-to-heart chat with your significant other. Over time such distances, both emotional and physical, take its toll with the result that the final distance turns out too big to bridge with words of love or hopes of future meetings.

Perception of distance

And yet the very concept of distance can be open to multiple interpretations which can significantly color how each partner feels about the long distance relationship and determine chances of its success. If both partners have been brought up in families where absence was the norm, the distance is not likely to matter much. For instance children of military personnel are used to having one of the parents away and find nothing wrong in such family configurations. If the relationship is made up of partners, both of whom come from a similar background, they are more likely to weather the periods of separation with a smile. On the other hand if one of the partners has always seen his or her parents together, then the absence becomes a matter completely beyond their experience. For them being a couple equals being together and such partners are unlikely to be secure in long distance marriages.

When the heart grows fonder

A relationship can suffer from growing distances on several levels – just like in a long distance relationship, physical distance can lead to loneliness and breakup, similarly conventional face-to-face relationships can suffer from too much familiarity. When couples see each other day in and day out, are always negotiating chores, roles and responsibilities in a household and relationship, they are bound to start taking each other for granted – whether unconsciously or willingly. While the relationship may have started out with the ecstasies of being in love, over time the euphoria dissipates amidst the post-it notes on the refrigerator and unpaid bills. Long distance couples on the other hand do not have this luxury of taking each other for granted. Even as each half struggles with feelings of loneliness, they are held together by efforts into the relationship and the hope of seeing each other in near future.

Technology to bridge distances

The key to making a long distance relationship work is to be in touch – always. Partners must not only share the important things happening in their lives but must be intimately cued into each other’s routine life as well. They must ask each other mundane questions like, “what are you having for dinner tonight?” or “how was your day” just as they would if they stayed together. Advances in communication technology have made it so much easier for couples to remain connected – by phone, email, text messages and the internet-based free phone services like Skype which enables people to communicate visually in real time through the means of a webcam. Being visually connected makes a huge difference to the happiness of long distance partners and the success of a relationship. Ultimately communication is key and technology must only be the medium of a deeply-ingrained practice of honest and open communication if it is to survive in the long run. Partners need to be able to express their feelings about the separation – both negative and positive – truthfully. Only then will they be able to understand each other completely and get the support that either needs to tide over the physical separation.

Finally whether distance truly makes the heart grow fonder or leads to a permanent disconnect, really depends upon the partners involved. While physical closeness is necessary in maintaining the bond between partners, equally important is mutual love and trust in making a success of any relationship – whether long distance or not. Admittedly, a long distance relationship demands that partners put in harder work into the relationship but then the chances of its succeeding are also higher than regular relationships where partners begin to take each other and their togetherness for granted.