Over the last couple of weeks on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we have written much about the dangers of conducting intimate relationships in The Digital Age using modern communication technologies. This week, we’d like to share some of the benefits! (Hooray!)
We will begin with the intuitive and proceed quickly into the counter-intuitive.
Modern communications technology gives couples who are separated by distance the opportunity to share their lives with each other. In long-distance relationships, couples can now connect not only by phone, but also in video-chat by using services such as Skype and FaceTime, which provide access to their partner’s eyes, face, and body language.
We would like to turn your attention to an article in the Health section of US News, The Upside of Long-Distance Relationships, which tackles some issues directly related to our current series, and includes several important quotes from Robert Navarra, one of our very own Certified Gottman Therapists. While the research cited in the article focuses on long-distance relationships, the results carry implications for all couples who use virtual communication technologies. We’d like to explore this US News piece as a way of sharing our own thoughts on the subject.
The article opens with a description of a study run by researchers in Hong Kong and at Cornell University. The reported results follow:
Long-distance lovers felt as much or more trust and satisfaction in their unions as “geographically close” partners…[and] those in long-distance relationships disclosed more personal details to their partner and also idealized each other more.
To clarify, the researchers did not find that idealization of partners improves all relationships. They found a correlation between idealization and greater trust and satisfaction in long-distance relationships. In truth, this makes perfect sense by virtue of a simple fact – idealization of one’s partner is a natural result of distance. We all know how easy it is to romanticize someone when they are away!
This is not to call into question the importance of “magic” and “special idealization” described by Suzanne Phillips as a benefit of long-distance, but to clarify something important. As Dr. Gottman discusses in his books (and as we’ve previously shared on our blog), remembering all of the beautiful, amazing things you saw in your partner when you first met is key to maintaining lasting love, especially during times of stress and conflict. The purpose of this is to avoid creating a false, negative perspective of him or her as a result of your current state.
Dr. Gottman writes about this in his books as a part maintaining a culture of fondness and admiration – the idea of which is not to idealize your mate as a “goddess” or a “genius,” but rather to maintain a realistic image of your lover in circumstances which make it very easy to vilify or lose respect for them. The resulting positive perspective is about seeing each other’s real beauty and loving each other despite human imperfections, even when the going gets rough.
Now that we have clarified the results of the study and their implications, it’s safe to say that the study does provide unqualified cause for celebration. It suggests that new communication technology, if used in healthy ways, can be wonderful for long-distance relationships – and that its existence may actually give couples separated by distance some advantages over those who live close-by!
As the author points out, using virtual communication to connect with a partner long-distance confers unexpected benefits. In requiring extra effort to overcome certain challenges, couples learn to maintain intimacy, care, and healthy problem solving. Also, because daily conflicts over mundane minutiae are often less common in long-distance relationships, it is likely that the absence of daily stressors makes it easier to use technology to nurture a positive perspective, share fondness and admiration, and build a strong, satisfying relationship.
The most important take-away from this article is the following:
Couples should, as Robert Navarra says, take advantage of newly available technology (texting, video chat, social media, etc.) to maintain a strong bond, and the best way to do so is to do so regularly.
“Part of intimacy involves knowing the details of the other person’s daily life, big and small, because you’re that important to each other.” In other words, keep it real. As the article says, “The more a couple knows and appreciates each other, the stronger and healthier they are.” If you are in a long-distance relationship, take our advice:
Share your worlds with each other in all of their interesting, mundane, and complicated glory. Be present. Know each other deeply, and always keep learning. Build love maps. Communicate fondness and admiration.
Using new technologies to your advantage can create a sense of immediacy, closeness, and the feeling that you are really there in each other’s lives on a daily basis. The digital age is, in many ways, a beautiful thing. It allows us to do something unprecedented – in a way, we can be truly together, anytime.