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Characteristics of a Healthy Long-Distance Relationship

When working with couples, I ask a series of assessment-related questions that are designed to create a clinical snapshot of the relationship. For example, the first questions correspond to the actual stability and foundation of the relationship. The other questions are concerned with the growth of the relationship. Despite popular belief, couples who have had long-distance relationships for most of the partnership actually do very well...they seem to have resiliency when situations do challenge the stability. These couples are also able to place more focus on individual and relational growth.

People find that surprising. Couples who have newly become involved in long-distance relationships, often believe the primary reason they are having problems is because of proximity. In reality that is not true. Usually the foundation of the relationship already had cracks before the couple decided to embark upon the long-distance relationship track. So, is it logical to assume they can thrive well as a pair, or that each party can place much focus on individual growth? Not really. When the foundation of a relationship is unstable, the focal point has to be repairing the foundation. Further growth can only happen after that.

So, what is it that makes many long-distance relationships so healthy? How are these people able to sustain such healthy alliances? Over the years, I have asked many couples in long-distance relationships about the challenges they have had and the things that have helped them to be successful. Keep in mind, these characteristics do exist in traditional cohabiting relationships, but we often take them for granted.

  • People who are in healthy long-distance relationships learn good communication skills. They learn how to listen and they learn how to effectively transmit information. Each party takes the time to learn their partner’s learning style and information processing style. For example, some people learn by visual means; some are more auditory or tactile. Some people process information better as a feeler (from an emotional perspective), and others process information as a thinker (from a cognitive perspective).

  • They have good relationship-building skills. These can include any of these: conflict resolution, life skills (like financial security, fitness/health, emergency planning); sex and romance; and self-management (like boundaries, assertiveness, stress management). Couples who live apart are on the same page in these areas.

  • Shared values are also common for people who live apart. Your value system is who you are and what you stand for. We generally know this long before we enter a relationship, and it’s important that we talk about our values with someone we plan to spend the rest of our lives with. For example, integrity, honesty, and loyalty might be on your list of values. In order for the foundation of the relationship to be solid, your partner has to have similar values. Many of the shared values for long-distance partners definitely has to correspond with career success.

  • People in long-distance unions are creative about quality time together. When two people live apart, they do not get to sleep in the same bed together every night; they don’t eat meals together often; they don’t get to engage in any traditional couples activities until they have their limited time in close physical proximity. These couples are understanding about time zones, and career-related challenges. Because they already have good communication and relationship-building skills, these couples are very inventive when it comes to spending quality time. They really cherish their time together, they have a chance to miss each other, and they do not spend a lot of time in conflict.

  • Each party is secure, independent, and has emotional intelligence. Neither person depends on the other...each person is capable of being alone. However, being in a partnership enhances what already exists. It’s like icing on the cake. They are choosing to be together. There is trust in the relationship. There is no constant fear/anxiety of what the other person is doing, or if the other person is being unfaithful.

  • This actually goes under the umbrella of relationship-building skills, but lots of emphasis needs to be placed on it. The proximity itself is actually viewed a healthy thing. It allows for each party to have space. It allows for some individual growth. Again, it allows them to miss each other and have something to talk about during their quality moments together. The distance forces them to always be in a problem-solving, solution-focused, team-oriented mode. These are qualities that are beneficial in other arenas.

There have been past workshops about this topic, more specifically how to sustain romance during deployment or during a long-distance relationship. Contact the Sexology Institute if you would like to either work with one of the coaches or join one of the upcoming workshops

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