Finland stretches over 2000 kilometers from North to South. A colleague of mine, sex therapist Sari Hälinen was working up North in Lapland with local youth, doing sex education. When she returned, she said: “Why don’t we look a little closer at long distance relationships? It’s different when there are hundreds of kilometers in between the partners. What do we know about those relationships? How can we support them?“
We decided to conduct a small study. 266 young adults described their joys and problems of having a lover or an infatuation very far away.
What we found
Through our questionnaire, we found that long distance couples have the same emotional challenges as any other couple: am I loved enough, can I trust enough and can I build my future on this?
Many were happy with the long distance relationship. Out of the respondents, more than 50 % argued seldom, but when they did, it was about the uncertainty of the future. Partners were most satisfied with their discussions, trust, intimacy and communication. The thought of being together in the future carried them over the intense longing. Almost 100 % wanted to live with their partner in the future. They met a few times a month or less, depending on distance. Over 20 % had a partner abroad and could only meet a couple of times a year.
Messages are essential for keeping the relationship going
Long distance relationships suffer from arguments by text. There are lots of very painful misunderstandings, and also our respondents argued by text. On a good day, they sent each other over ten messages with pictures of funny situations and pets. 42 % sent sexy photos of themselves. Almost 100% wished good night to their partner. Long distance couples were most likely to use video chat and audio platforms, because they felt more intimate. Love letters on paper were rare but thoughtful.
It seems that long distance couples offer each other what living – together partners miss out on: a real interest in the partner. There are hearts in messages. There is time to text the words ”I Love You” in the middle of a busy day. The long distance partners ask questions and listen. They make each other smile with videos and jokes. They send each other symbols of love that only the two of them will understand.
Some testimonials when the long distance relationship goes well…
“I was travelling literally on the other side of the world, but when I got a message from him, I got warm and my heart started pounding and I wanted to be close to him as soon as possible. My skin shivered from the longing for his closeness. Now we’ve lived together for 15 years. Happily.” – Woman, 42 years
“He worked on another continent, but I knew I loved him and I had to be with him. It was impossible for both of us, and we tried seeing other people, but we always came back and said: -” It’s not the same” – Woman, 25 years
And some testimonials when it does not go well…
”The long distance relationship was an accident. It was a mistake. We knew each other only ten months before we went long distance. It’s not enough time to learn to know the other person, to learn to deal with problems. The whole thing was a catastrophe.” – Woman, 31 years
”My family never accepted him. What ever I tried, he was still not accepted and he did not feel welcome. We had to end the relationship”- Woman, 28 years
The critical moment
The critical moment of long distance couples is the moment when they move in together. Psychologically, help is needed in building a relationship with the idealized person, ”the perfect person” who may not feel that perfect any more. When combining two very independent lives, both partners need to learn to compromise. There is much more physical closeness. Are they ready for it? Is it fun to have each other around ALL the time?
Questions? We recommend chatting cost – free with a couples therapist at hyvakysymys.fi/ajanvarauschat weekdays at 1 pm and at hyvakysymys.fi/paivystyschat Thursdays at 6 to 8 pm. Help is available. Make use of it, and enjoy your long distance relationship!
Writer: Heli Vaaranen, psychotherapist