Resources for Therapists and Clinicians

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

Frequently, therapists, counselors, psychologists and other clinicians work with geographically separated couples or individuals who are in a long distance relationship.  An understanding of how these relationships differ from more traditional relationships aids in couples therapy.  Similarly, an understanding of the emotional reactions to separation can assist those clinicians working with an individual having difficulty with a long distance relationship.

We offer an outline designed to introduce therapists to the basics of long distance relationships.  Also a downloadable PowerPoint presentation that teaches similar content can be found here.  You will also find a downloadable version of the Separation Inventory, a paper-and-pencil assessment tool for long distance couples.  Finally, we provide a downloadable PDF of resources for separated couples.  Also, you might want to go to the Media Section and look at the News Releases for long distance couples and look at recent research on separated couples.


 

Unlocking the Secrets to a Happy & Healthy Relationship When Couples Have to Be Apart

Gregory Guldner, MD, MS

Introduction

Goals

  • Enable therapists, counselors, educators, and other advisors to understand, assess, and support couples in long distance romantic relationships.
  • Expose an expert audience of professionals to the current state-of-the-art research-based understanding of long distance relationships.

 

Objectives

  • Understand LDRs:
    • Defining LDRs
    • Prevalence of LDRs
    • Do LDRs work?
    • Difficulties with LDRs
    • Advantages of LDRs
    • Assess
      • Demographics
      • Personality
      • Support System
      • Relationship
      • Support
        • Stages of Separation
        • Staying emotionally healthy
        • Staying intimate
        • Sexuality while separated
        • Communicating
        • Conflict at a distance
        • Sexual Affairs
        • Hellos/Goodbyes
        • Gender differences
        • Ending the separation

 

Dr. Guldner’s Background

  • Graduate of Purdue University’s Clinical Psychology program and Stanford University Medical School
  • Research Focus
    • Propinquity & Dating Relationships, Purdue University, Dept of Psychology, 1992
    • Time Spent Together and Relationship Quality, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships; 12, 1995
    • Long Distance Romantic Relationships, Journal of College Student Development; 37, 1996
    • Long Distance Relationships and Emergency Medicine Residency, Annals of Emergency Medicine; 37, 2001
    • Long Distance Relationships: The Complete Guide. 2003:JFMilne
    • Personal Experience

PART I – UNDERSTANDING LDRs

Long Distance Relationships


  • Understand LDRs
  • Assess LDRs
  • Support 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

 

PART II – ASSESSING LDRs

 

Long Distance Relationships

  • Understand LDRs
  • Assess LDRs
  • Support LDRs

 

Assessing an LDR

  • Personality
  • Demographics
  • Support System
  • Relationship Characteristics

 

Assessing LDRs

  • Assess
    • Demographics
    • Personality
    • Support System
    • Relationship
    • Separation Inventory

 

Assessing an LDR: Demographics

  • Least important of the four components
  • Frequency of face-to-face visits not correlated
  • Frequency of telephone calls negatively correlated with satisfaction
  • Frequency of letters predicts satisfaction

 

Assessing an LDR: Demographics

  • Other demographics
    • Total duration of the relationship
    • Duration of Separation
    • Duration as a PR prior to LDR
    • Distance
    • Age

 

 

Assessing LDRs

  • Assess
    • Demographics
    • Personality
    • Support System
    • Relationship
    • Separation Inventory

Assessing an LDR: Personality

  • Learning Style Inventory
    • Visualizers
    • Verbalizers
    • Touchers
    • Attachment Styles
      • Secure
      • Avoidant
      • Ambivalent / Anxious

 

Assessing an LDR: Personality

  • Self-Esteem
    • Low self-esteem predicts more difficulty with separation
    • Low self-esteem predicts poor relationship quality among LDRs but not PRs
    • Independence
    • Optimism
    • Trust
    • Telephone and Letter Habits

 

Assessing LDRs

  • Assess
    • Demographics
    • Personality
    • Support System
    • Relationship
    • Separation Inventory

 

Assessing an LDR: Support

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

 

Assessing LDRs

  • Assess
    • Demographics
    • Personality
    • Support System
    • Relationship
    • Separation Inventory

Assessing an LDR: Relationship

  • Issues specific to LDRs
    • Communication issues
    • Expectations
    • Conflict Management
      • Telephone

 

PART III – SUPPORTING LDRs

Long Distance Relationships

  • Understand LDRs
  • Assess LDRs
  • Support LDRs

 

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

Supporting an LDR: Contact

  • Face-to-face visits
  • 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.

 

PART IV – THERAPEUTIC STRATEGIES FOR CLINICIANS WORKING WITH SEPARATED COUPLES

 

Therapeutic Pearls

Normalize & Encourage

  • LDRs are common
    • Especially among college students
    • LDRs do not break-up more often than PRs
    • LDRs have similar quality relationships as PRs

 

Therapeutic Pearls

  • Individuals in LDRs often report mild depression
    • Persistent, not improved with experience
      • develop coping strategy, don’t wait for it to go away
  • Distance relationships do not cause major depression
    • Ending an LDR will likely not help and may hurt

Therapeutic Pearls

  • Anxiety / Guilt
    • LDRs no more uncertain than PRs
    • LDRs no more likely to have affairs
    • LDR is often the best choice between:
      • Giving up one’s career/education/goals
      • Giving up the relationship
      • Having an LDR
  • Focus on anxiety/guilt producing thoughts

 

Therapeutic Pearls

  • Progress slowed
    • Expect and normalize slower progression
    • Search for LDRs that “should” end and facilitate / support this decision
    • Idealization / Disillusionment
      • Allow idealization but anticipate and normalize unmet expectations

 

Therapeutic Pearls

  • Communication
    • Drawbacks to telephone communication
    • Address conflict avoidance
      • Ritualize relationship discussion
      • Sexuality
        • Address issues of verbal sexual expression
          • Alternatives (pictures, audio, video, letters)
  • Address issues of self-pleasuring

 

Therapeutic Pearls

  • Promote Optimism and Self-Esteem
  • Recognize minimal impact of contact
  • Encourage letter writing
  • Assess for and correct social isolation
  • Encourage discussion of day-to-day acts
  • Encourage parallel communication
    • Hands free cordless phones

 

Therapeutic Pearls

  • Discuss ground rules regarding dating others
  • Acknowledge contributions to the LDR
    • Especially for men
    • When the relationship closes the distance
      • Probably greater risk of break-up
      • Disillusionment, loss of advantages, etc.

 


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