Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Enhance Intimacy: Lessons From Long Distance Relationships

girlon phoneThey say that “ love knows no distance” and “ absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

If you have ever been in a long-term relationship or you are one of the 14 million people (3.7 married) who define yourself in a long distance relationship due to education, dual-careers, military, etc., you might well feel this to be true.

A recent study by L. Crystal Jiang and Jeffrey Hancock reported in the Journal of Communication offers supporting scientific evidence.

This study adds to an increasing body of research that has found that the relationship stability, satisfaction and trust reported by long distance (LD) couples appears to be equal or better than those reported by geographically close (GC) couples.

The New Study

What makes this new study valuable to both LD and GC couples is that it compares both groups in terms of intimacy. Intimacy can mean different things to different people. It can mean everything from the shared throughts of soul-mates, to shared life experiences to sexual connection.  This study defines intimacy as a verbal interpersonal process.

Intimacy here is considered the sense of closeness that results from partners disclosing and responding to each other when using interpersonal media as phones, videos, emails, texting and I-messages.

What Enhances Intimacy?

According to this model, intimacy develops when one partner discloses a personal thought, fact, or feeling, and in the course of the interaction the other partner responds by addressing the specific content of the disclosure by showing understanding, validation and/or caring for the partner disclosing.

 Text Message Example

Disclosure:  Hi! Today should be a nightmare. The review is due and my boss is not in. Miss you.

Response: I hear you – they are lucky you are there. Wish I could help. Miss you too!

A Breakdown of Intimacy occurs from a pattern of lack of disclosure on the part of a partner or the lack of a perceived response of interest or care on the part of the listener.

Text Message Example

Disclosure:   Problems here – seems like it never ends.

Response: Both kids have dentist appointments and soccer practice. Great way to start the week!!!


In this study of 67 heterosexual couples in committed relationships both the LD and GC Groups were given training in the procedures and then asked to respond to a diary survey by email for seven days to report the quantity and quality of all their interactions with their partners over the course of that day.

The results show that in adapting to the parameters of a long distance relationship, the LD partners use their media interactions in a way that causes them to enhance and report more intimacy from their interactions than GC partners.

  • They self-disclose more to their partners.
  • They perceive their partner’s responses of interest and care as more intimacy enhancing than GC partners.
  • They idealize each other and their disclosures more.

Lessons Learned

Most of us would conclude that when you can’t be with your partner, it makes sense that every phone call, every text and every IM will be cherished and responded to in a way that enhances a feeling of closeness and intimacy.

While that may be true, it also invites us to consider that when we have our partner “ right there” we often take the proximity for granted. We make the calls, send the texts, but miss using these as opportunities to enhance intimacy.

Ask yourself:

Do you and your partner disclose to each other more than facts?

Do you assume that the person you live with knows how your feel?

How do you respond to your partner’s verbalized interests and life-events?

Do you respond to your partner’s emails, texts etc. in a way that is different from other people in your life?

Do you verbalize care in small and big ways to your partner?

Can your partner see your smile through your text or voicemail?

Does your partner ever know that you are just thinking of them?

Would you consider that a little idealization goes a long way in a relationship?

Do you know that positive affirmations in the best of times, out-weigh whatever happens in the worst of times?

Do you know that with laughter you can bridge the distance across miles and across a kitchen table?

I recently attended a beautiful wedding held in the middle of the woods of a couple that managed a long distance relationship in their journey of coming together. Their sense of intimacy and appreciation was contagious.

“Distance is to love like wind is to fire…it extinguishes the small and kindles the great!”