Resources for Educators

Please take note! This is original work by Dr. Guldner, all credit goes to the rightful creators.

The Center is frequently asked by instructors and professors for information to assist them in developing a lecture or discussion group on long distance relationships.  Often these are Introduction to Interpersonal Relations classes in the departments of psychology, sociology, or communication.  We provide a lesson plan / syllabus designed for college level classes (although with some modifications may be appropriate for high school).  This presentation is available in HTML, PDF, or PowerPoint presentation.

You may also want to check out recent research on long distance couples or see our recent news releases.


The Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships and JF Milne Publications grants permission for instructors and professors to reproduce the information on this website, including the PowerPoint presentations for the sole purpose of education or research.  Reproduction of any material for the purpose of sales or profit is not permitted.

An Introduction to Geographically Separated Couples

Gregory Guldner, MD, MS

Director, The Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships

Goals

  • Develop a basic understanding of long distance relationships
  • Dispel common myths about long distance relationships
  • Learn some simple techniques to support those in LDRs

Objectives

  • Understand LDRs:
    • Defining LDRs
    • Prevalence of LDRs
    • Do LDRs work?
    • Difficulties with LDRs
    • Advantages of LDRs
    • Support for those in LDRs

 

Understanding LDRs

  • Understand
    • Defining LDRs
    • Prevalence of LDRs
    • Do LDRs work?
    • Difficulties with LDRs
    • Advantages of LDRs

 

Defining an LDR

  • Specific distance cut-off
  • Specific location cut-off
  • Self-defining
    • “My partner lives far enough away from me that it would be very difficult or impossible for us to see one another every day.”

 


Understanding LDRs

  • Understand
    • Defining LDRs
    • Prevalence of LDRs
    • Do LDRs work?
    • Difficulties with LDRs
    • Advantages of LDRs

 

Prevalence of LDRs

  • Marital LDRs
  • Pre-Marital
    • College Student

 

National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972

  • 3.31% of 7191 married respondents were living in a different location than spouse
  • Of military marriages 27% of White and 63% of African-American couples were living apart.
  • 10% of all job relocations result in long distance marriages (1998) and 52% of employers expect transfers to increase.

 

Pre-Marital LDRs

  • College Students
  • Internet Dating
  • Military
  • Certain Industries
    • Oil
    • Fishing
    • Logging
    • College Students
      • 25-40% (1993)
      • 50% of First Years (1992)
      • 33% (1987)
      • 25% at any given time and 78% at any point (1996)

 

Understanding LDRs

  • Understand
    • Defining LDRs
    • Prevalence of LDRs
    • Do LDRs work?
    • Difficulties with LDRs
    • Advantages of LDRs

 

Do LDRs Work?

  • Marriage or Pre-Marital?
  • Military / combat or Civilian?
  • What does it mean “to work”?
    • Continuity (break-up rate over time)
    • Quality (satisfaction, intimacy, etc)

 

Do LDRs Break-up More Frequently than PRs?

  • Pre-marital studies have found no greater rate of dissolution in LDRs than PRs
    • Guldner. J. College Student Dev, 1996;37;289-295
    • Van Horn, et al. Personal Relationships, 1997;4;25-34
    • Stafford & Reske. Family Relations, 1990;39;274-279
    • Stephen. Journal of Divorce, 1984;8;1-17
    • No adequate data on marital LDRs
      • Rindfuss & Stephen. J. Marriage and the Family, 1990;52;259-270.

 

Do LDRs Have Poorer Quality Relationships Than Do PRs?

  • The majority of studies show no differences between LDRs and PRs on measures of
    • Satisfaction
    • Intimacy
    • Trust
    • Commitment
    • Guldner & Swensen, J. Social Personal Rel. 1995;12;313-320
    • Govaerts & Dixon. Int. J. Adv. Counseling. 1988l;11;265-281
    • Stafford & Reske. Family Relations, 1990;39;274-279
    • Woelfel & Savell. Military Families. 1978;17-31
    • Gerstel & Gross. Commuter Marriage. 1984.
    • Stephen. Human Com Res. 1986; 13;191-210
    • Delmann-Jenkins, et al. College Stud J. 1994;28;212-219
    • Timmerman. Doctoral Thesis. U. of Texas. 2001.

 

Understanding LDRs

  • Understand
    • Defining LDRs
    • Prevalence of LDRs
    • Do LDRs work?
    • Difficulties with LDRs
    • Advantages of LDRs

 

Difficulties Associated with LDRs

  • The Individual
    • Depression

–        Military Separations

  • Clinical Depression

–        Civilian

  • Guldner, GT. Long Distance Romantic Relationships: Prevalence and Separation-related Symptoms. J College Student Development, 1996; 37; 289-295.
  • Clinical Depression no more likely in LDR than in PR
  • Minor Depressive symptoms common
  • Feeling blue, lack of interest, difficulty making decisions, difficulty concentrating

 

 

Difficulties Associated with LDRs

  • The Individual
    • Anxiety
      • Uncertainty
      • Jealousy / Sexual Affairs
      • Dis-inhibition (loss of support)
  • Guilt
    • Violating norms
    • Choice of career “over” relationship
  • Emotional “rollercoaster”

 

Difficulties Associated with LDRs

  • The Relationship
    • Myths (Dissolution, Quality, Finances)
    • Relationship momentum slowed
      • Progress toward marriage more slowly
      • Break-up more slowly
  • Idealization and Disillusionment
  • Difficulties in Communication
  • Sexuality at a Distance
  • Re-integration
  • Assessment of the Status of the Relationship

 

Understanding LDRs

  • Understand
  • Defining LDRs
  • Prevalence of LDRs
  • Do LDRs work?
  • Difficulties with LDRs
  • Advantages of LDRs

 

Advantages of an LDR

 

  • Individual Productivity
  • Novelty
    • Avoids the “taken-for-granted” aspect of PRs
    • Plan exciting activities
    • Compartmentalization
      • Intimacy / autonomy fulfillment
      • Idealization

 

Demographics

  • Easily measured components of LDR (distance, duration, frequency of visits, etc)
  • Not very important
  • Frequency of face-to-face visits not correlated with satisfaction
  • Frequency of telephone calls negatively correlated with satisfaction
  • Frequency of letters predicts satisfaction

 

Support for those in LDRs

  • Types of Support
    • Emotional
    • Appraisal
    • Informational
    • Instrumental
    • Sources of Support
      • Partner
      • Family
      • Friends
      • Context

 

Supporting LDRs

  • Emotional Stages of Separation
  • Staying Emotionally Healthy
  • Maintaining Intimacy
  • Frequency of Contact
  • Hellos & Goodbyes
  • Conflict at a Distance
  • Long Distance Sex
  • Sexual Affairs
  • Dating Others
  • Gender Differences in Separation

 

Supporting LDRs:

Understanding Separation

  • Emotional Stages of Separation
    • Bowlby / Animal Studies / Evolutionary Psych
      • Protest (Anger, Bargaining)
      • Despair (Depression to various degrees)
      • Detachment (Productive or Destructive)
  • Kubler-Ross
    • Denial and Isolation
    • Anger
    • Bargaining
    • Depression
    • Acceptance

 

Supporting LDRs

  • Emotional Stages of Separation
  • Staying Emotionally Healthy
  • Maintaining Intimacy
  • Frequency of Contact
  • Hellos & Goodbyes
  • Conflict at a Distance
  • Long Distance Sex
  • Sexual Affairs
  • Dating Others
  • Gender Differences in Separation

 

Supporting LDRs: Staying Emotionally Healthy Ten Step Program

  • Maintain a satisfying relationship
  • Socialize
  • Emotional vs. Social Loneliness
  • Find a Confidant
  • Touching
  • Take Control
  • Positive Thinking / Reframing
  • View the Separation as Temporary
  • Acknowledge Contributions
  • Transitional Objects
  • Healthy Sexuality

 

Supporting LDRs

  • Emotional Stages of Separation
  • Staying Emotionally Healthy
  • Maintaining Intimacy
  • Frequency of Contact
  • Hellos & Goodbyes
  • Conflict at a Distance
  • Long Distance Sex
  • Sexual Affairs
  • Dating Others
  • Gender Differences in Separation

 

Supporting an LDR: Keys to Maintaining Intimacy

  • Intimacy Components
    • Emotional Sharing
    • Interrelatedness
    • Emotional Sharing
      • LDRs may do this more easily than PRs
      • Interrelatedness
        • Central Issue for LDR Intimacy
        • Focus on the mundane
          • Serial vs. Parallel Communication

 

Supporting LDRs

  • Emotional Stages of Separation
  • Staying Emotionally Healthy
  • Maintaining Intimacy
  • Frequency of Contact
  • Hellos & Goodbyes
  • Conflict at a Distance
  • Long Distance Sex
  • Sexual Affairs
  • Dating Others
  • Gender Differences in Separation

 

Supporting an LDR: Contact

  • Face-to-face visits
    • Conflicting research
    • Opinion suggests at least once a month
    • Early studies had design issues
      • Carpenter & Knox. College Student J.1986; 28:86-88
        • Failed vs. successful; contact related for men only
        • Holt & Stone. J College Student Dev. 1988; 29:136-141
          • Definition of LDR
          • Groves & Horm-Wingerd. Soc Social Res. 1991;75:212-216
            • Outcome “happier” with relationship
            • Larger studies & longitudinal studies
              • No correlation or impact of frequency of face-to-face visits for continuity or quality or relationship
                • Guldner & Swensen, J. Social Personal Rel. 1995;12;313-320
                • Schwebel, et al. J. College Student Dev. 1992; 33:222-230
                • Guldner. Purdue Univ, Dept. of Psych. 1992
                • Strategies based on increasing visits likely will not work – any frequency okay

 

 Supporting an LDR: Contact

  • Telephone Calls
    • No evidence to suggest positive correlation or threshold effect
    • Frequency may be negatively correlated
      • More calls more conflict?
      • More conflict more calls?

 

Supporting an LDR: Contact

  • Writing Letters.
    • Cross-sectional.
      • Strong correlation between frequency of letters and relationship quality.
  • Longitudinal.
    • Couples who stayed together wrote one another almost twice as often as those who broke-up.
    • Measures of relationship quality identical at time-one.

 

 

Supporting an LDR: Contact

  • Writing Letters
    • Peculiarities of Letters
      • Transitional objects
      • Tangible
      • Re-readable
      • Scent
      • Generally conveys mostly positive messages
  • Pre-stamp and address envelopes to facilitate letter writing
  • Discuss the mundane if writing is only contact

 

 

Supporting LDRs

  • Emotional Stages of Separation
  • Staying Emotionally Healthy
  • Maintaining Intimacy
  • Frequency of Contact
  • Hellos & Goodbyes
  • Conflict at a Distance
  • Long Distance Sex
  • Sexual Affairs
  • Dating Others
  • Gender Differences in Separation

 

 

Supporting an LDR:  Hellos & Goodbyes

  • Key Strategies for Making Reunions Even Better
  • It’s okay to schedule time by oneself
  • Schedule time with mutual friends
  • Schedule time out in public as a couple
  • Expect to be disappointed periodically
  • Don’t over schedule
  • Keep the timing of reunions predictable

 

 

Supporting an LDR:  Hellos & Goodbyes

  • Key Strategies for Facilitating Goodbyes
  • Recognize multiple ways of saying goodbye
    • Develop goodbye rituals
    • Avoid anticipatory distancing if possible
    • Expect periodic disappointing reunions
    • Call one another early to discuss process
    • Accept some excitement about leaving

 

Supporting LDRs

  • Emotional Stages of Separation
  • Staying Emotionally Healthy
  • Maintaining Intimacy
  • Frequency of Contact
  • Hellos & Goodbyes
  • Conflict at a Distance
  • Long Distance Sex
  • Sexual Affairs
  • Dating Others
  • Gender Differences in Separation

 

 

Supporting LDRs:

Conflict at a Distance

  • Issues Unique to LDRs
    • Problems with distance, travel, limited time together
    • Problems inherent with telephones
    • Conflict avoidance
    • Separation-related anger
    • Attributing all difficulties to the distance

 

Supporting LDRs:

Conflict at a Distance

  • Problems with distance, travel, time
    • How should we use our time together?
    • Ground rules about other potential partners.
    • How often should we contact / visit one another?
    • Who pays for travel?
    • Who does the traveling?
    • How long will we be separated?
    • How soon after reunion should we have sex?
    • How do we split the telephone bill?
    • How often do we write one another?
    • Who does the chores when together?

 

Supporting LDRs:

Conflict at a Distance

  • Problems Inherent with Telephones
    • Less likely to result in conflict resolutions
    • Less likely to accurately guess partner’s opinion
    • Less confident in opinion about partner’s personality traits
    • More likely to feel misunderstood
    • More likely to think partner is insincere

 

Supporting LDRs:

Conflict at a Distance

  • Conflict Avoidance
    • LDRs report less conflict than PRs
      • Guldner & Swensen, J. Social Personal Rel.1995;12;313-320
      • Delmann-Jenkins, et al. College Stud J. 1994;28;212-219
  • Limited time together, avoid “spoiling” it
  • Ability to exit
    • Tolerance

 

Supporting LDRs:

Conflict at a Distance

  • Separation-Related Anger
    • Reflex
      • Cause is difficult to determine
      • Persists despite experience

“…this anger is displaced in all directions and projected onto the environment at times almost at random.”  – Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

 

Supporting LDRs:

Conflict at a Distance

  • Attributional Error
    • “Everything would be okay but for the distance.”
    • Men more likely than women
      • Leads to fewer arguments
      • Leads to delay in progress
      • Lead to unnecessary break-up
      • Lead to resistance to therapeutic attempts

 

Supporting LDRs

  • Emotional Stages of Separation
  • Staying Emotionally Healthy
  • Maintaining Intimacy
  • Frequency of Contact
  • Hellos & Goodbyes
  • Conflict at a Distance
  • Long Distance Sex
  • Sexual Affairs
  • Dating Others
  • Gender Differences in Separation

 

 

Long Distance Sex

  • LDRs report sexual intimacy equal to PRs.
    • Guldner & Swensen, J. Social Personal Rel.1995;12;313-320
    • “Honeymoon” sex / novelty
    • Timing of sex after reunion
      • Intimacy then sex
      • Sex then intimacy

 

Long Distance Sex

  • Telephone Sex
    • Learning what to say and how to say it
      • Comfort with erotic vocabulary
        • Books of erotic fantasy
        • Learning how to say it
          • Bonnie Gabriel, The Fine Art of Erotic Talk: How to Entice, Excite, and Enchant Your Lover with Words
  • Fantasy talk
  • Sexual guidance
  • Parallel self-pleasuring

 

Long Distance Sex

  • Self-Pleasuring
    • Learning to be comfortable with touching
    • Hands-free telephones
    • Privacy issues

 

Long Distance Sex

  • Erotic Letters
  • Erotic Videos
  • Erotic Audiotapes
  • Erotic Pictures
  • Timing of visits with menstrual cycle

 

Supporting LDRs

  • Emotional Stages of Separation
  • Staying Emotionally Healthy
  • Maintaining Intimacy
  • Frequency of Contact
  • Hellos & Goodbyes
  • Conflict at a Distance
  • Long Distance Sex
  • Sexual Affairs
  • Dating Others
  • Gender Differences in Separation

 

 

Sexual Affairs in LDRs

  • Common opinion
  • Three studies
    • Pre-marital
      • Guldner, GT. Propinquity & Dating Relationships, Purdue University, Dept of Psychology, 1992
  • Marital
    • Gerstel, N. Marital alternatives and the regulation of sex. Alternnative Lifestyles, 1979; 2:145-176
    • Ortner, et al. Long Distance Marriage. 1979
    • No difference in the rate of affairs
    • Greater concern & anxiety about affairs

 

 

 Supporting LDRs

  • Emotional Stages of Separation
  • Staying Emotionally Healthy
  • Maintaining Intimacy
  • Frequency of Contact
  • Hellos & Goodbyes
  • Conflict at a Distance
  • Long Distance Sex
  • Sexual Affairs
  • Dating Others
  • Gender Differences in Separation

 

Dating Others during an LDR

  • Two studies
  • 6-month longitudinal study
    • 30% of couples who dated others broke up
    • 27% of couples who did not broke up
    • 70% of couples who did not discuss this issue broke up.
    • Cross sectional study
      • 15% of those who dated others survived LDR
      • 48% of those who didn’t survived LDR

 

Supporting LDRs

  • Emotional Stages of Separation
  • Staying Emotionally Healthy
  • Maintaining Intimacy
  • Frequency of Contact
  • Hellos & Goodbyes
  • Conflict at a Distance
  • Long Distance Sex
  • Sexual Affairs
  • Dating Others
  • Gender Differences in Separation

 

Gender Differences in LDRs

  • Emphasis on sexuality
  • Jealousy issues
  • Interpretation of Love
    • Romanticism vs Practicality
    • Separation as a test vs. obstacle
    • How to build intimacy
      • Through sharing ideas
      • By cataloging shared activities

 

Gender Differences in LDRs

  • Impact of Separation Greater on Men
  • Did distance contribute to the end of your LDR?
    • 41% of men agree
    • 28% of women agree
    • Distance was the only common problem cited more frequently by men as leading to a break up.

 

Gender Differences in LDRs

“Distance is represented as an empirical, absolute obstacle that precludes continuation of a relationship.  These accounts offer no recognition of possibilities for managing distance; neither do they acknowledge any personal responsibility for its impact on relationships.”

-Wood, JT. Different voices in relationship crises. American Behavioral Scientist.1986; 29:273-301.

 


For more in depth information I recommend you to check out this book:

Guldner, GT. Long Distance Relationships: The Complete Guide. 2003. LA: JF Milne