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Long Distance Relationships Unlocking the Secrets to a Happy & Healthy Relationship When Couples Have to Be Apart Gregory Guldner, MD, MS.

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Long Distance Relationships An Introduction to Geographically Separated Couples Gregory Guldner, MD, MS Director, Center for the Study of Long Distance.

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Presentation on theme: "Long Distance Relationships Unlocking the Secrets to a Happy & Healthy Relationship When Couples Have to Be Apart Gregory Guldner, MD, MS."— Presentation transcript:

1 Long Distance Relationships Unlocking the Secrets to a Happy & Healthy Relationship When Couples Have to Be Apart Gregory Guldner, MD, MS

2 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.

3 Objectives Understand LDRs: –Defining LDRs –Prevalence of LDRs –Do LDRs work? –Difficulties with LDRs –Advantages of LDRs

4 Objectives Assess –Demographics –Personality –Support System –Relationship Separation Inventory

5 Objectives Support –Stages of Separation –Staying emotionally healthy –Staying intimate –Sexuality while separated Support –Communicating –Conflict at a distance –Sexual Affairs –Hellos/Goodbyes –Gender differences –Ending the separation

6 Background Clinical Psychology 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

7 Long Distance Relationships Understand LDRs Assess LDRs Support LDRs

8 Understanding LDRs Understand –Defining LDRs –Prevalence of LDRs –Do LDRs work? –Difficulties with LDRs –Advantages of LDRs

9 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.

10 Understanding LDRs Understand –Defining LDRs –Prevalence of LDRs –Do LDRs work? –Difficulties with LDRs –Advantages of LDRs

11 Prevalence of LDRs Marital LDRs Pre-Marital –College Student

12 Married and Living Apart (%) Age & YearCaucasianMinority Age Age Age

13 Married and Living Apart National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of % 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.

14 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)

15 Understanding LDRs Understand –Defining LDRs –Prevalence of LDRs –Do LDRs work? –Difficulties with LDRs –Advantages of LDRs

16 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)

17 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; –Van Horn, et al. Personal Relationships, 1997;4;25-34 –Stafford & Reske. Family Relations, 1990;39; –Stephen. Journal of Divorce, 1984;8;1-17 No adequate data on marital LDRs –Rindfuss & Stephen. J. Marriage and the Family, 1990;52;

18 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; Govaerts & Dixon. Int. J. Adv. Counseling. 1988l;11; Stafford & Reske. Family Relations, 1990;39; Woelfel & Savell. Military Families. 1978;17-31 Gerstel & Gross. Commuter Marriage Stephen. Human Com Res. 1986; 13; Delmann-Jenkins, et al. College Stud J. 1994;28; Timmerman. Doctoral Thesis. U. of Texas

19 Understanding LDRs Understand –Defining LDRs –Prevalence of LDRs –Do LDRs work? –Difficulties with LDRs –Advantages of LDRs

20 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; –Clinical Depression no more likely in LDR than in PR –Minor Depressive symptoms common –Feeling blue, lack of interest, difficulty making decisions, difficulty concentrating

21 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

22 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

23 Understanding LDRs Understand –Defining LDRs –Prevalence of LDRs –Do LDRs work? –Difficulties with LDRs –Advantages of LDRs

24 Advantages of an LDR Individual Productivity Novelty –Avoids the taken-for-granted aspect of PRs –Plan exciting activities Compartmentalization –Intimacy / autonomy fulfillment Idealization

25 Long Distance Relationships Understand LDRs Assess LDRs Support LDRs

26 Assessing an LDR Personality Demographics Support System Relationship Characteristics

27 Assessing LDRs Assess –Demographics –Personality –Support System –Relationship Separation Inventory

28 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

29 Assessing an LDR: Demographics Other demographics –Total duration of the relationship –Duration of Separation –Duration as a PR prior to LDR –Distance –Age

30 Assessing LDRs Assess –Demographics –Personality –Support System –Relationship Separation Inventory

31 Assessing an LDR: Personality Learning Style Inventory –Visualizers –Verbalizers –Touchers Attachment Styles –Secure –Avoidant –Ambivalent / Anxious

32 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

33 Assessing LDRs Assess –Demographics –Personality –Support System –Relationship Separation Inventory

34 Assessing an LDR: Support Types of Support –Emotional –Appraisal –Informational –Instrumental Sources of Support –Partner –Family –Friends –Context Those in LDRs often isolate themselves from support Distraction Awkwardness Depression Ambiguous status

35 Assessing LDRs Assess –Demographics –Personality –Support System –Relationship Separation Inventory

36 Assessing an LDR: Relationship Issues specific to LDRs –Communication issues –Expectations –Conflict Management Telephone

37 Long Distance Relationships Understand LDRs Assess LDRs Support LDRs

38 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

39 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

40 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

41 Supporting LDRs: Staying Emotionally Healthy Ten Step Program 1. Maintain a satisfying relationship 2. Socialize Emotional vs. Social Loneliness 3. Find a Confidant 4. Touching 5. Take Control

42 Supporting LDRs: Staying Emotionally Healthy Ten Step Program 6. Positive Thinking / Reframing 7. View the Separation as Temporary 8. Acknowledge Contributions 9. Transitional Objects 10. Healthy Sexuality

43 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

44 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

45 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

46 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: –Definition of LDR Groves & Horm-Wingerd. Soc Social Res. 1991;75: –Outcome happier with relationship

47 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; Schwebel, et al. J. College Student Dev. 1992; 33: Guldner. Purdue Univ, Dept. of Psych Strategies based on increasing visits likely will not work – any frequency okay

48 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?

49 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.

50 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

51 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

52 Supporting an LDR: Hellos & Goodbyes Key Strategies for Making Reunions Even Better 1.Its okay to schedule time by oneself 2.Schedule time with mutual friends 3.Schedule time out in public as a couple 4.Expect to be disappointed periodically 5.Dont over schedule 6.Keep the timing of reunions predictable

53 Supporting an LDR: Hellos & Goodbyes Key Strategies for Facilitating Goodbyes 1.Recognize multiple ways of saying goodbye 2.Develop goodbye rituals 3.Avoid anticipatory distancing if possible 4.Expect periodic disappointing reunions 5.Call one another early to discuss process 6.Accept some excitement about leaving

54 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

55 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

56 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?

57 Supporting LDRs: Conflict at a Distance Problems Inherent with Telephones –Less likely to result in conflict resolutions –Less likely to accurately guess partners opinion –Less confident in opinion about partners personality traits –More likely to feel misunderstood –More likely to think partner is insincere

58 Supporting LDRs: Conflict at a Distance Conflict Avoidance –LDRs report less conflict than PRs Guldner & Swensen, J. Social Personal Rel.1995;12; Delmann-Jenkins, et al. College Stud J. 1994;28; –Limited time together, avoid spoiling it –Ability to exit Tolerancce

59 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

60 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

61 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

62 Long Distance Sex LDRs report sexual intimacy equal to PRs. Guldner & Swensen, J. Social Personal Rel.1995;12; Honeymoon sex / novelty Timing of sex after reunion –Intimacy then sex –Sex then intimacy

63 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

64 Long Distance Sex Self-Pleasuring –Learning to be comfortable with touching –Hands-free telephones –Privacy issues

65 Long Distance Sex Erotic Letters Erotic Videos Erotic Audiotapes Erotic Pictures Timing of visits with menstrual cycle

66 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

67 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: Ortner, et al. Long Distance Marriage No difference in the rate of affairs Greater concern & anxiety about affairs

68 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

69 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 didnt survived LDR

70 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

71 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

72 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.

73 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:

74 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

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

76 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 ones career/education/goals Giving up the relationship Having an LDR –Focus on anxiety/guilt producing thoughts

77 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

78 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

79 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

80 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.

81 Questions? Guldner, GT. Long Distance Relationships: The Complete Guide LA: JF Milne Available from: Ingram Book Group Baker & Taylor


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