Intimacy in Long-Distance Relationships over Technology

By Eshaya Siriwardane


With increased mobility of today’s population, the need to engage in long-distance relationships has increased amongst millennials. Canadian researchers Carman Neustaedter and Saul Greenberg define a long-distance relationship (LDRs) as a “relationship where partners expect to continue an emotionally close relationship but communication opportunities are restricted because of geographic distance”.  In fact, The United States Census Bureau found that, between 2007 and 2012, Millennials accounted for about 24 percent of the total population of the U.S., but they made up over 43 percent of all movers. The U.S. Census Bureau also estimates that there are currently 3.6 million married Americans, including military families, living apart, which is a 40% increase since 1999. Due to the increased number of long-distance relationships in today’s world, it is important to understand what factors impact such relationships and what new options aid these relationships and what options harm them.

Current Discussion

The aforementioned Canadian researchers Carman Neustaedter and Saul Greenberg conducted a study called “Intimacy in Long-Distance Relationships over Video Chat”, “the low cost and ubiquity of computer-mediated communication (CMC) seemingly lessen the limitations of long-distance for a number of different reasons:

1) ease loneliness

2) increase the feelings of closeness

3) increase relationship satisfaction

4) reduce jealousy

5) increase trust and commitment.

One participant stated that the main benefit was not just being able to hear her partner, but also see him. “I could not stand not seeing my husband. I mean, I needed him, I needed to see him, and actually everyday we also talk by our cell phone but it’s not enough for us. I need to see his face. And he also has the same feeling,” she stated.

While it is true that CMC is associated with a number of different benefits, this study points out the CMC does not come without challenges. CMC raises the issue of finding a time to communicate that works for both parties. Furthermore, CMC is said to be not “as rich” as true face-to-face communication.

Another study titled “Living Long-Distance Relationships Through Computer-Mediated Communication” consulted individuals in order to find vital information about long-distance relationships. Fe Nicodemus, chairperson of a nongovernmental organization and the wife of a former Overseas Filipino Worker based in Saudi Arabia, before the emergence of the Internet and cellular phone. While she was located in the Philippines and her husband was based in Saudi Arabia, they were limited to “postal service, expensive overseas calls, and voice recording”. Unfortunately the postal service was nicknamed snail mail, due to its reputation for sluggishness and unreliability. Nicodemus, in hindsight, “regretted having fewer communication options during her separation from her husband in the 1980s. This clearly signifies that long-distance relationships in the past were much harder to maintain due to the limited options of communication.

Other consulted individuals explained the benefits of certain forms of communication. Some individuals preferred cellular voice calls because of the “emotional quality provided by the auditory stimulus”. On the other hand one Overseas Filipino Worker and her husband stated “e-mail was most convenient since they had free access to the Internet at their places of work” and “were able to initiate contact without worrying about conflicting time zones. Finally, another pair seemed the most dependent on CMC, specifically Yahoo! Messenger with a web camera and microphone. They appreciated that this interaction combined visual and auditory stimulation.

But again in this study, the different couples experienced different difficulties due to the different means of communication. One of the couples admitted that the ability to communicate readily created more conflict because it caused virtual nagging as one party began to send more e-mails and text messages than was agreed upon. The couple that depended on e-mails felt overwhelmed by loneliness. Finally, overall all informants agreed that CMC was inferior to real life, face-to-face communication but, also admitted that it was more faithful in recreating face-to-face communication than any other tool available.

A third study titled “The Effect of Newer Communication Technologies on Relationship Management and Satisfaction in Long-Distance Dating Relationships”, gave twenty undergraduate students from Southern California a questionnaire about attitudes and communication tendencies in long-distance relationships. The results of their study showed that 50% of partiicpants ranked Skype most frequently, 30% listed Facebook chat, and 80% of participants ranked Twitter as least frequently used. This indicates that CMC was the most favored. Going beyond this, the correlation between time spent on Skype and relational satisfaction is r= 0.28, which indicates that there is a positive correlation between couples using newer CMC and couples with relational satisfaction.

The Debate

Is technology always a blessing or also a curse to long-distance relationships? What are the different ways that technology impacts said relationships? What are the positives and negatives of face-to-face communication compared to communication via text? Does CMC increase the sense of relational satisfaction?

My Perspective

In my opinion, there is no doubt in the fact that recent technological developments have impacted long-distance relationships. Technology has created new opportunities, which alters the way that individuals in these type of relationships interact. I believe that there are certain technological developments that are almost always beneficial to long-distance relationships: increased modes of transportation and face-to-face communication such as Facetime or Skype. Increased availability of flights, trains, car sharing apps, etc. have given long-distance relationship partakers a number of different, cheaper ways to travel to their significant others. They are no longer as limited as people have been in the past, which allows them to see their significant other more frequently than they would have in the past. Next, I believe that face-to-face communication also benefits individuals in long-distance relationships because one of the hardest parts of a long-distance relationship is feeling far away from your significant other. Video chatting options such as Skype and Facetime allow people to see the emotions on their significant other’s face, allowing the couple to feel less far away.

Interview Questions:

  1. Have you ever been in a long distance relationships?
  2. If you were, why did it end?
  3. Would you engage in a long distance relationship?
  4. In what ways do you think technology impacts long-distance relationships?