One year into my marriage, I moved to another stateÃ¢â‚¬”without my husband. I was following my dream of working in Manhattan, but Jason's job almost 100 miles away in Pennsylvania was too good to give up. It may have looked as if we were heading for divorce, but a year and a half later, our marriage is stronger than ever.
We're one of the estimated 3.5 million married U.S. couples who live apartÃ¢â‚¬”a stat that reflects the rise of online dating (where it's easy to meet someone in a different area), an unreliable job market, and military deployments. And recently, Cornell University researchers confirmed my suspicion: Long-distance duos often communicate better and feel more connected than close-quarter couples. "They know they're at a disadvantage, so they put more time and effort into their relationship," says Tina Tessina, Ph.D. Here, tips that can help your partnership go the distanceÃ¢â‚¬”even if you're never more than a few miles apart.
Get to the Heart of It
It makes sense that geographically divided partners in the Cornell study reported a higher level of intimacy and a closer bond than pairs who saw each other more often, say some experts. "When couples have only a limited time to communicate, they make sure to get to the emotionally important stuff first," says Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., author of How to Get Your Wife to Have Sex with You. Of course, you can'tÃ¢â‚¬”and shouldn'tÃ¢â‚¬”avoid talking about who's going to pick up the dry cleaning, but you can prevent mundane topics from sucking the life out of your relationship.
One way to strike a better balance: Tackle chores and routines over e-mail, says Tessina. With the humdrum out of the way, you can spend face-to-face time sharing the deeper stuffÃ¢â‚¬”something that geographically challenged couples in the study did more of. "Long-distance couples were more open about their thoughts and feelings and especially valued when their partner responded to them with empathy and understanding," says study author Crystal Jiang, Ph.D. That means really paying attentionÃ¢â‚¬”even when you wish he'd quit talking so you can turn on Scandal.
Connect Your Worlds
What you had for lunch, his boss's tacky tie, the guy who nabbed your seat on the busÃ¢â‚¬”who cares? Well, you should.
While deep discussions enhance intimacy, chatting about the little stuff creates "interrelatedness," or the feeling of being involved in each other's day-to-day ups and downs, says Greg Guldner, Ph.D., a long-distance relationship researcher and assistant professor at Loma Linda University. "Couples with higher degrees of interrelatedness are less likely to break up," he says. He recommends sending your mate two positive or neutral texts per dayÃ¢â‚¬”but resist the urge to make them open-ended. "You don't want to fall into a pattern where someone feels as if they have to respond immediately," he says. In other words, text your guy a compliment or send him an e-mail saying that you're still laughing about that story he told you last night. Save your coworker's rude comments for laterÃ¢â‚¬”you can tell him all about it over a glass of wine.
Be Ignorantly Blissful
If distance makes the heart grow fonder, it also makes couples more likely to focus on all the happy memories that they've made togetherÃ¢â‚¬”which is one reason why long-distance pairs are more likely to idealize their partners, says Jiang.
We're not saying you should let his tendency to bad-mouth your mom go unnoticed, but keeping a mental list of your partner's good pointsÃ¢â‚¬”and even building them up a little bitÃ¢â‚¬”is way better for your relationship than stewing over things that bug you.
Need inspiration? One study from the University of Texas at Austin found that couples who wrote about their relationshipsÃ¢â‚¬”and focused on the positivesÃ¢â‚¬”were more likely to stay together. If you're not the journaling type, try tossing out more compliments: People who make a conscious effort to appreciate their partner are more successful than those who don't give each other mental props, says research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It's not just thanking him for what he does, says study author Amie Gordon, Ph.D., but being thankful for who he is. It's the difference between "You're so sweet to make me coffee!" and "Thanks for the joe."
Put It in Writing
Guldner's research has found that long-distance couples who stayed together wrote to each other twice as often during their relationship as those who split up, with the average LDR couple sending three lettersÃ¢â‚¬”you know, the kind you put stamps on and drop in the mailboxÃ¢â‚¬”per month. Taking the time to put pen to paper shows effort and thought.
"A letter is also a transition object," explains Guldner. "You'll feel stronger about receiving one because your partner has recently held it in his hand. Plus, letters can leave traces of scentÃ¢â‚¬”and odor can stimulate the brain's limbic system, which is associated with arousal."
Slip a hot note into his gym bag or stick a Post-it on his nightstand before you leave for the weekend. And no shortcutsÃ¢â‚¬”punching out a sweet text or shooting off a quick e-mail has its place, but "there's a direct connection between writing and your emotions, so a handwritten missive is more likely to be open and honest than a typed one or a text," says Tessina.
Spice Things Up
Because couples who live across state lines have to get creative to maintain their physical bond (hello, steamy Skype sesh), they can end up with a sex life that's fresher and more exciting. "All couples need to go outside of their comfort zone and explore their boundaries," says Yvonne K. Fulbright, Ph.D., author of Sultry Sex Talk to Seduce Any Lover.
Shoot a video, or try fantasizing about a different placeÃ¢â‚¬”or even a different personÃ¢â‚¬”next time you're in the sack. "Thinking about having sex with a person who isn't your partner isn't an indication that you're bored in your relationship or unhappy with your mate," says Ian Kerner, Ph.D., author of She Comes First. "It can be an important way to increase your satisfaction."