The effects of distance on intimacy, passion and commitment in romantic relationships in college students

Brittany Shumway
Saint Anselm College

Key Words: intimacy, passion, commitment



 
Abstract Method Discussion Tables and Appendices
Introduction Results References Relevant Links

 

Abstract

    The purpose of the current study was to assess possible differences between long-distance relationships (LDRs) and proximal relationships (PRs) in terms of intimacy, passion and commitment.  Robert J. Sternberg (1988) believed that these are the three most important components of a love relationship.  The current study attempted to look at differences in these components in order to find out why, despite all the recorded difficulties with LDRs, people strive to maintain them.
    Previous research has indicated discrepancies based on these three components.  Some research has proposed that individuals in LDRs report lower levels of intimacy than those in PRs, while others report identical levels of intimacy in LDRs and PRs.  Research on commitment has reported higher levels of commitment in LDRs than in PRs.  There is a lack of research of passion in LDRs, warranting a look at this important component of a relationship.  In this study, it was predicted that individuals in LDRs would report lower levels of intimacy, higher levels of passion, and higher levels of commitment.
    The current study enlisted 31 participants, 17 reported being in proximal relationships and 14 in long-distance relationships.  Each of the participants completed the Sternberg Triangular Love Scale (Sternberg, 1988), designed to measure levels of intimacy, passion and commitment.  Each participant also reported a level of satisfaction, as well as frequency of communication, method of communication, and frequency of visitation.
    Results of the study indicated no significant differences between LDRs and PRs for intimacy, passion commitment and satisfaction.  These findings were inconsistent with the hypothesis; however, the small existing differences were in the predicted direction for intimacy and passion, but not commitment.  Significant positive correlations were found between frequency of communication and levels of intimacy, passion, commitment and satisfaction.
    The results of this study imply that LDRs are very similar to PRs in terms of intimacy, passion and commitment.  The results also imply that frequency of communication may make the distance in LDRs seem less, therefore increasing levels of intimacy, passion, commitment and satisfaction, making LDRs just as fulfilling as PRs.  It was suggested that future research look further into the issue of communication in relationships, how varying levels of communication relate to satisfaction, as well as how effective different forms of communication are.  The current research is important for the education of individuals currently in, or thinking of entering a long-distance relationship.  It is also important for relationship counseling, so that therapists recognize the unique aspects of LDRs as well as their similarities to PRs.

Back to Top

Introduction

    Long-distance dating relationships have become increasingly popular, especially among university students.  Much of the research on the phenomenon of long-distance relationships (LDRs) has been conducted with the heterosexual university student population (Van Horn, 1997; Holt and Stone, 1988; Schwebel, 1993).  Because LDRs involve less communication and lower frequency of visits, it is intriguing to see that many LDRs can endure as long as geographically close relationships.  In an attempt to better understand the phenomenon of long distance relationships, researchers have looked at relationship satisfaction in long-distance and proximal relationships, and how it is related to different important aspects of a relationship.  Robert Sternberg (1988) theorized that the three most important components of a relationship (whether romantic or platonic) are intimacy, passion and commitment.  Researchers have looked at intimacy, passion and commitment in romantic relationships in general, as well as differences in these components when it comes to LDRs.  However, due to the relative lack of research on LDRs, further research on what makes them unique from proximal relationships is warranted.  Because intimacy, passion and commitment are such crucial parts of a relationship it is reasonable to look at these components in LDRs.  This study will attempt to find differences between LDRs and proximal relationships in terms of intimacy, passion, commitment, and satisfaction.
    The current study focuses on long-distance and proximal relationships within the heterosexual college student population.  The rationale for this being that it is not uncommon to see a mix of these romantic relationships amongst college students.  It is a common occurrence that students enter college while still engaged in a romantic relationship that began in high school.  Going away to college creates geographical distance between individuals involved in the relationship, and now these individuals have to deal with the problems associated with being in a LDR.  Therefore, most of the research cited in this study will focus on the college student population.  However, before these components (intimacy, passion and commitment) are discussed it is important to look at the unique qualities and difficulties associated with being in a long-distance relationship.

Unique characteristics of long-distance relationships
    Long-distance relationships are distinct from proximal relationships in both positive, and negative ways.  Research on LDRs has focused on what makes long-distance relationships both unique and problematic for the individuals involved.  Mary E. Rohlfing (1995) looked at some of these features in her study of LDRs.  She noted that on the negative side, LDRs cost both parties money to maintain the relationship and this can be especially costly for college students who must live on a limited budget.  Long-distance phone calls and traveling expenses can be very difficult to afford.  Also, people in LDRs tend to have very high expectations about the quality of time spent with their partner.  If the visits do not live up to the high standards of the individuals in the relationship, feelings of disappointment and even stress about the relationship can result (Rohlfing, 1995).  Emotions in LDRs are also much more extreme than the emotions experienced in proximal relationships.  Many people in LDRs report missing trivial conversations, because limited communication often facilitates conversation that is more serious.
    Maguire (2001) looked at the different ways people cope with the aforementioned stressors in LDRs.  Maguire states that much of the research categorizes coping strategies by function.  There is problem-focused coping, in which couples focus on altering the specific problem causing distress.  Each individual in the relationship can also engage in emotion-focused coping, in which he or she consciously regulates his or her own stress level.  The couple together can also take on relationship-focused coping strategies, in which the couple looks inward at their relationship and how they deal with each other.  In her interviews with 19 students in LDRs, Maguire concluded that individuals who make use of these strategies tend to experience increased relational satisfaction.
    Besides dealing with major stressors on relationships centering on finance, visitation and communication, LDRs face one more important potential problem. College students, more than any other age group involved in serious relationships, are found to hold the most idealized beliefs. Schwebel (1993) tested college students’ levels of idealization when it came to their relationship, either long-distance or proximal.  These participants felt that their own relationships would endure longer and be more satisfying than others’ relationships.  Within the college student population however, students in LDRs hold more idealized views of their relationships than those in proximal relationships (Schwebel, 1993).  Idealization has both positive and negative consequences associated with it.  Idealization can increase satisfaction in relationships because we see our partner in the best possible light.  Seeing a partner through “rose-colored glasses” increases satisfaction because it resolves the tensions between commitments and doubts.  It allows people to see their partner as virtually flawless, therefore decreasing doubts of commitment (Murray, 1996).  This can have a negative affect on the relationship in the future, however.  There comes a time in a relationship when the rose-colored glasses must be removed, even if this time does not come until marriage.  Couples who are more idealized in pre-marital relationships tend to experience dissatisfaction in marriage (Stafford, 1990).  Individuals in LDRs need to be aware of this in order to avoid another potentially damaging aspect to their relationship.  This research prompts the question, if LDRs can pose many potential problems and obstacles to satisfaction, why is it that they can endure as long as proximal ones?
    Research on LDRs has attempted to answer this question by looking at ways couples can increase satisfaction in LDRs.  A study done by Holt and Stone (1988) looked specifically at LDRs among college students and the ways in which the individuals in these relationships deal with the distance, and how these techniques relate to satisfaction.  This study looked at three specific strategies for managing the distance; frequency of visitation, verbal communication, and imaginary communication (day-dreaming).  In order to test the efficacy of verbal and imaginary communication, each subject was tested for a preference of either verbal or visual communication.  The authors of this study made three predictions.  First, they predicted that the frequency of visits would have an affect on the satisfaction in the relationship.  Second, Holt and Stone predicted that people who use their preferred coping style more frequently (verbal vs. visual) will experience more satisfaction in the relationship than those who use their preferred coping style less frequently.  Third, they predicted that people who cannot visit their partner frequently, but use their preferred coping style would experience more satisfaction.
    The results indicated that those people who were placed in the visualizer category engaged in more daydreaming than those who were verbalizers.  When frequency of visits was low, verbalizers expressed more satisfaction when they engaged in frequent communication via the telephone or letters.  Visualizers expressed more satisfaction when they engaged in frequent daydreaming.  Results also indicated that satisfaction greatly increased in LDRs when couples even 250 miles away visited once a month.  A higher quality of communication contributed to increased satisfaction, as did higher levels of intimacy.  The least satisfied group consisted of those who lived more than 250 miles away and visited less than every 6 months.  The results indicated the importance of relatively frequent visitation, quality communication and the use of daydreaming (for visualizers) in order to maintain high satisfaction in LDRs.
    The current study looks at differences in intimacy, passion and commitment between LDRs and PRs in an attempt to explain why, despite all of the aforementioned problems, people still strive to maintain LDRs.  LDRs are filled with more stress and unique complications that are simply not present in PRs.  The thought is that there must be some aspect of LDRs that makes them endurable and worthwhile.

An overview of Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love
    Despite these problems associated with LDRs, and the differences between LDRs and proximal relationships, the most necessary part of any close relationship, whether long-distance or proximal is love (Sternberg, 1988).  Many theories have been proposed to define, classify and explain love.  One of the most well-known theories of love is Sternberg’s triangular theory of love.  Robert Sternberg (1988) believes that love consists of three components; intimacy, passion, and commitment.  Intimacy is defined as feelings of being close to and bonded with a partner.  Passion refers to the arousal you experience toward your partner, including sexual attraction.  Commitment consists of making two decisions; one, that you love your partner, and two, that you desire to maintain that love and stay with your partner (Sternberg, 1988).  These three components to love can be combined in various ways, to form different kinds of love.  A relationship can have only one of these components, a combination of two, or all three.  For example, a relationship can have just passion, but no intimacy or commitment.  This type of love is referred to as infatuation.  A relationship could also have intimacy and commitment, but no passion, or physical attraction.  This is referred to as companionate love.  If a relationship has all three components, it is termed consummate love, and is seen as the ideal type of love.  Research on LDRs has looked at intimacy, passion and commitment in LDRs, and how they differ from geographically close relationships.

Intimacy
    As previously stated, intimacy is defined as feelings of being close to and bonded with a partner (Sternberg, 1988). Research on intimacy in LDRs has yielded varied results. Van Horn (1997) and his colleagues hypothesized in a study of interpersonal aspects of college students’ LDRs, that students in LDRs would report lower ratings of self-disclosure, companionship and reliable alliance, all of which are important parts of intimacy.  Although Van Horn’s definition varies slightly from that of Sternberg, self-disclosure, companionship and reliable alliance are all feelings that cause an individual to feel close and bonded with a partner, which is how Sternberg defined intimacy.  In this study, 162 undergraduate students, ages 18-22, all of whom were in relationships (both long-distance and proximal) were administered questionnaires to analyze various aspects of the relationships, such as intimacy, satisfaction and closeness.
    This study indeed found that LDRs did report lower ratings of intimacy.  Van Horn felt that the discrepancy in these ratings was because of the decreased opportunity for self-disclosure due to limited communication, as well as limited face-to-face interactions, which can have an effect of feelings of companionship.  Van Horn also considered frequency of visits as a factor in levels of self-disclosure.  Although no significant difference in self-disclosure was found between long-distance couples who saw each other less frequently or more frequently, there was a significant difference when it came to companionship.
    However, a study done by Guldner and Swenson (1995) found different results.  They gave questionnaires to 384 undergraduate students, with a median age of 19, measuring satisfaction, trust, and intimacy.  Guldner and Swenson found that individuals in LDRs reported identical levels of intimacy compared to proximal relationships.  They concluded that LDRs can still experience intimacy, even over periods of little face-to-face contact.  Guldner and Swenson believed that it must not be the frequency of visits that matters, but the quality of the time spent together, even if it is quite small.  Because the research on intimacy is conflicting, further research has been suggested, by Van Horn (1997) and others, in order to draw a more concise conclusion regarding intimacy differences in LDRs and proximal relationships.

Commitment
    Intimacy is one very important component in a satisfying relationship.  However, a serious relationship would not be complete without commitment.  It has been suggested that LDRs and PRs differ in the types of commitment that they experience (Lydon, 1997).  John Lydon (1997) conducted a study which looked at two different types of commitment found in relationships; moral and enthusiastic.  In his study, he issued questionnaires to 86 university students involved in both LDRs and PRs.  The questionnaires were designed to measure the type of commitment present in the relationship, either moral or enthusiastic.  Enthusiastic commitment was defined as the “want to” commit, or the positive attitudes and satisfactions associated with commitment.  Moral commitment was defined by the cognition that the individual ought to continue with the relationship.  Lydon thought that those individuals about to enter a long-distance relationship because of the decision to enter separate universities, would enter into moral commitment.  Lydon predicted that the more committed someone was to the relationship the more satisfaction they would feel, and the more distress someone would feel when the relationship ended.  The results showed that the transition to a long-distance relationship by embarking on the college experience increased the prevalence of break-ups.  Couples in the new LDRs showed more moral commitment, while those in proximal relationships showed more enthusiastic commitment.  Long-distance couples with more moral commitment tended to stay together, while those with less tended to break up.  Lydon explains this by stating that he believes that moral commitment causes participants to see their relationships as progressively more meaningful and as relationships that they are more invested in upholding (Lydon, 1997).  Stafford (1990) also stated that couples in LDRs appeared to be more stable in their commitment than those in geographically close relationships.

Passion
    The final relationship component is passion.  Currently, there exists no attainable research on passion in LDRs.  However, research on passion in relationships in general, may be able to shed some light on this important component in a romantic relationship.  High levels of passion in a relationship have been correlated with high levels of intimacy and commitment (Aron & Westbay, 1996).  Studies of passion in college students have also found correlations between passion and relationship satisfaction (Druen, 1997).
    Some characteristics of passion in relationships can be clearly connected to passion in LDRs.  Cunningham, Barbee and Druen (1997) did a study on attraction and passion in romantic relationships.  They found that the more frequently one sees a loved one, the more likely they are too see certain behaviors which normally happen behind closed doors.  For example, an individual may be exposed to his or her partner’s attitudes under stress or fatigue, allergies, and other somewhat unattractive characteristics.  Seeing these behaviors may in turn decrease the idealization of the partner and undermine the passion in the relationship (Cunningham et al., 1997).  For individuals in LDRs, this would not be a problem.  Individuals in LDRs would be less likely to see their partner’s habits and behaviors than those in PRs, therefore maintaining a higher level of passion.
    Much of the remaining literature on passion focuses on how to rekindle passion when it is lost in a relationship.  This type of literature, although interesting, does not pertain to this current study.  However, the research discussed above seems to suggest that passion would be higher in LDRs, due to the decrease in physical contact associated with LDRs.

    Literature on intimacy, passion and commitment has been discussed and it can be seen that research on LDRs is lacking.  Due to this relative lack of research on the topic of long-distance relationships, further research on what makes them different from proximal relationships is warranted.  Because intimacy, passion and commitment are such crucial parts of a relationship, it is reasonable to study these three components.  In the current study, it is hypothesized that individuals in LDRs will report lower levels of intimacy, higher levels of passion, and higher levels of commitment than those in proximal relationships.

Back to Top

Method

Participants
    The participants in this study were 31 undergraduate students, ranging in age from 18-22, from a small liberal arts college in Northern New England.  Twenty-seven of the participants were female, and four were male.  Seventeen of these students were in on-campus relationships, and fourteen were in long-distance relationships.  Participants were recruited to take part in the study in the form of a sign-up sheet, hung in the Psychology department.  All participants were members of general psychology courses at the college, and received class credit for participating in the experiment.  Informed consent was given for each subject’s participation in the study.

Materials
    Each participant was given a 55-question questionnaire.  Questions one through ten were designed by the experimenter.  A copy of these questions can be found in Appendix A.  These questions serve the purpose of finding out whether the individuals in the relationship are close or far away from each other, how many years the individual has been in the relationship, how often the individuals communicate and see each other and how satisfied they are with the relationship.  Individuals who live close to each other are defined as living less than sixty miles apart, while individuals who are far away from each other are defined as living more than sixty miles apart.  The frequency of communication and visitation questions were answered by circling the one of five possible answers; one time per month, two to three times per month, one time per week, two to three times per week, and every day.  Satisfaction was assessed on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being “not satisfied at all”, 3 being “neutral”, and 5 being “extremely satisfied”.
    The remaining forty-five questions are from Sternberg’s Triangular Love Scale, from The Triangle of Love, by Robert J. Sternberg (1988).  Sample questions from this questionnaire can be found in Appendix B.  This instrument has been found to be both valid and reliable, with alpha coefficients for the three components at .83 for passion, .85 for intimacy, and .93 for commitment (Aaron & Westbay, 1996). These questions are designed to measure levels of intimacy, passion and commitment in the individual’s relationship.  The order of the questions was randomized.  For each component (intimacy, passion and commitment) there are fifteen questions which yield a sub-score for each component.  For each item, the participant is asked to rate his or her level of agreement with each statement, on a scale of 1 to 9, 1 being “not at all agree”, and 9 being “extremely agree”.  Questions numbered 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 15, 17, 20, 23, 25, 26, 28, 30, 41 and 45 are designed to measure intimacy.  An example of a question assessing intimacy is question ten, “I feel close to my significant other”.  Questions numbered 1, 3, 4, 8, 12, 14, 19, 21, 24, 27, 33, 35, 36, 37 and 43 are designed to measure passion.  An example of a question measuring passion is question nine, “I find my significant other to be personally attractive”.  Questions numbered 6, 10, 13, 16, 18, 22, 29, 31, 32, 34, 38, 39, 40, 42 and 44 are designed to measure commitment.  An example of a question measuring commitment, is question six, “I will always feel a strong responsibility for my significant other”.

Procedure
    All subjects reported to a classroom at the college on one of three different sessions.  Before each participant filled out the questionnaire, they were told this was a study designed to assess qualities of romantic relationships amongst college students, and were given instructions on how to complete the questionnaire.  They then signed an informed consent form.  The participants were then each given an identical questionnaire.  Upon completion of the questionnaire, the participants were given a slip for credit toward their general psychology class as well as a debriefing statement revealing the purpose of the study.  A copy of the debriefing statement can be found in Appendix C.

Back to Top

Results

    Data from the questionnaires was tabulated by the experimenter.  A sub-score for intimacy, passion and commitment was calculated for each of the participants.  The sub-scores were calculated by adding up the total points for intimacy, passion and commitment, and then dividing each total by fifteen (the total number of questions for each of the three components).  Each participant was also given a satisfaction score based on his or her answer to item ten.  Table 1 presents the mean scores for each of these dimensions for LDRs and PRs.
    An independent samples t-test was performed on the calculated scores in order to find any group differences between LDRs and PRs in terms of intimacy, passion, commitment and satisfaction. No significant differences were found for satisfaction, t(29)= .405, p>.05,  or intimacy, t(29)= .196, p>.05.  The small difference in the means was in the direction predicted however, with intimacy being slightly higher in PRs.  No significance was found for differences in passion, t(29)= -.626, p>.05.  The small difference in these means was higher in LDRs as predicted.  Lastly, no significant differences were found for commitment, t(29)= .639, p>.05, also the direction of the small difference was not consistent with the hypothesis, as there was more commitment in the PR group than in the LDR group.
    Pearson correlations were performed on the calculated scores (intimacy, passion, commitment and satisfaction) and frequency of communication (FOC), frequency of visitation (FOV) and satisfaction.  Table 2 represents the results of these correlations.
    The most interesting aspect of the correlation was that each of the scores were significantly positively correlated with frequency of communication (r =.476 for satisfaction, r =.518 for intimacy, r =.503 for passion and r =.667 for commitment).  No significant correlations were found between the scores and frequency of visitation.  Significant correlations were found between each of the Sternberg scores (intimacy, passion and commitment) and satisfaction (r =.658 for intimacy, r =.752 for passion, and r =.727 for commitment).  It was hypothesized that, when looking at frequency of communication as a cofactor, it may be positively correlated with the Sternberg Scores.
    No analyses were done using gender as a variable in this study.  The small number of males in the sample made a gender comparison unattainable.

Back to Top

Discussion

    The purpose of this study was to determine if differences in intimacy, passion, commitment and satisfaction exist between long-distance relationships (LDRs) and proximal relationships (PRs).  Because intimacy, passion and commitment are crucial parts of a relationship, it was reasonable to study these three components.  It was hypothesized that individuals in LDRs would report lower levels of intimacy, higher levels of passion, and higher levels of commitment than those in reported by individuals in proximal relationships.
    The results of this study showed no significant differences for intimacy, passion and commitment between LDRs and PRs.  For intimacy, although the difference was not significant, the small difference indicated that individuals in LDRs report slightly lower levels of intimacy than individuals in PRs, which is consistent with the hypothesis.  These results do not provide much clarification between the conflicting views regarding intimacy in LDRs.  Guldner and Swenson (1995) found that individuals in LDRs reported identical levels of intimacy compared to PRs.  Van Horn (1997), found that individuals in LDRs reported lower levels of intimacy than individuals in PRs.  The results of the current study tend to offer some support for Van Horn’s findings, however the confirmation is statistically weak.  This is an important area to address in future research on LDRs, in order to solve the discrepancy in the research.
    For commitment, the difference in levels between LDRs and PRs was not significant. In fact, reported levels of commitment were slightly lower in LDRs, which was inconsistent with the hypothesis of this study.  This finding is consistent with research done by Helgeson (1994), which states that individuals in LDRs are less confident in the predicted length of their relationship.  Hegleson suggested that a prevailing belief among college students that LDRs do not last as long as PRs, causes this lack of confidence in regards to commitment and duration of an LDR.  However, some studies have suggested the opposite, stating that individuals in LDRs have a more stable and invested commitment than individuals in PRs (Lydon, 1997; Stafford, 1990).  This study offers some support towards the idea that LDRs have lower levels of commitment, but there is still a discrepancy in the research that should be addressed by further examination of this topic.
    For passion, no significant difference was found between LDRs and PRs, however individuals in LDRs reported slightly higher levels of passion than those individuals in PRs.  The direction of this difference is consistent with the hypothesis as well as previous research.  Previous research suggested that individuals in LDRs would be less likely to see their partner’s habits and behaviors than those in PRs, therefore maintaining a higher level of passion (Cunningham, Barbee, & Druen, 1997).  However, due to the relative lack of research in this area, future assessment of passion in both LDRs and PRs is warranted.
    Although no significant differences were found for intimacy, passion and commitment between LDRs and PRs, these results do have important implications for the understanding of LDRs.  The lack of significance suggests that LDRs do not suffer from a lack of the important components in a relationship.  Therefore, the stressors and unique difficulties associated with LDRs (Rohlfing, 1995; Maguire, 2001) do not necessarily lead to a decrease in the quality of a relationship.  If no significant differences in these components were found between LDRs and PRs, there must be some component of LDRs that compensates for all the difficulties in the relationship.  This study found that frequency of communication may be this compensating factor.
    Frequency of communication was assessed as a cofactor.  There were significant positive correlations between frequency of communication and the Sternberg scores and satisfaction.  This finding suggests that frequent communication makes the distance seem less in an LDR, therefore increasing levels of intimacy, passion, commitment and satisfaction.  This finding is supported by research on the importance of communication in relationships.  Maguire (2001) states that frequent communication provides a sense of predictability in an LDR.  This predictability is often highly correlated with levels of satisfaction in relationships.  Predictability would seem increasingly more important in an LDR, due to the lack of opportunity for communication.  It is comforting to a member of a LDR to know that he or she will have the opportunity to talk to his or her loved one a certain number of times per day, week or month.
    A study done by Andersen and Guerrero (1998) also support the importance of communication in a relationship.  They stated that communication is the foundation of a love relationship, and is the most important factor in the maintenance of a relationship. The idea that communication is the most important factor in the maintenance of a relationship is also supported by Sternberg (1988).  Sternberg recognizes that although the phrase, “good communication”, is a cliché in our society, its importance is often taken for granted.  Sternberg believed that once communication starts to deteriorate it could spread weakness throughout the whole relationship, and result in the dissolution of the relationship completely.  A study by Meeks, Hendrick and Hendrick (1998) supports this idea as well, as they found that communication variables, such as self-disclosure, were significant predictors of satisfaction in a relationship.
    Although the findings of this study are interesting, the study did have its weaknesses and limitations.  First, the population tested was composed primarily of females, containing 27 females and 4 males.  The population of students in the general psychology courses is predominantly female, and due to the title of the current study given on the sign-up sheet (Qualities of college student romantic relationships), males may have been more reluctant to volunteer participation.  Therefore, it was impossible to look at gender differences.  Most of the previous research has been conducted with populations containing equal numbers of participants of each gender.  It is possible that the abundance of female participants skewed the results in some way.  Second, the population size was rather small in comparison to previous research.  Researchers in the past have used hundreds of students, while the current study only enlisted thirty-one.  Third, the current study only focused on three aspects of a romantic relationship (intimacy, passion and commitment).  Future research may want to focus on other components of a relationship that contribute to overall satisfaction, such as jealousy, trust and perceived levels of compatibility.
    Jealousy, trust and perceived levels of compatibility are just some of the important relationship components not discussed in this study.  These three components have been found to be significant in romantic relationships and deserve further attention.  Jealousy has been correlated with levels of intimacy as well as success of a relationship (Knobloch, Solomon, & Cruz, 2001).  A positive correlation has been found between levels of jealousy and success of a relationship, indicating that maybe jealousy sustains a relationship (Mathes, 1986).  Trust in a relationship is related to jealousy, and is also positively correlated with success of a relationship (Lewicki & Wiethoff, 2000).  Compatibility is another component of a relationship found to be associated with satisfaction (Huston & Houts, 1998).  Huston and Houts found that when partners discovered incompatible information about each other, it was likely to lead to a decline in relationship satisfaction.  Therefore, these suggested changes may have made this study more comprehensive.
    Despite the methodological weaknesses of the current study, it still presents implications for future research as well as the practical field of psychology.  As previously suggested, future research should continue to look at differences in intimacy between LDRs and PRs in order to clarify the discrepancy in the research.  Some research has found lower levels of intimacy in LDRs (Van Horn, 1997) and some research found indentical levels of intimacy in LDRs (Guldner and Swenson, 1995).  Because the current study does not offer strong support to either of these findings, further research is suggested.   Future research is also warranted for differences in passion between LDRs and PRs.  There is a general lack of research in this area, and passion is an important component in romantic relationships as past research as shown.  High levels of passion in a relationship are associated with high levels of intimacy and commitment (Aron & Westbay, 1996).  Studies have also found correlations between passion and relationship satisfaction (Druen, 1997).
    Because communication has been supported as an important factor in relationships, future research should look further into the issue of communication.  Besides looking at differences in communication between LDRs and PRs as previously suggested, it would also be beneficial to study different types of communication, such as the telephone, AOL instant messenger, e-mail and letter writing, to see which type of communication is more effective.  Future research should also look at different aspects of romantic relationships previously suggested, such as jealousy, trust and perceived levels of compatibility, and how they differ between LDRs and PRs.  With continuing research on LDRs, it will be possible to attain a better understanding of the workings of a long-distance relationship and how they can be maintained.
    Continued research in this area is important for many reasons.  Members of LDRs would benefit from reading studies such as the current one.  It would be beneficial for them to read information that shows no differences in important relationship components.  Reading this type of information could be uplifting and encouraging to individuals who may be concerned or unsettled about maintaining a good relationship across distance.  Relationship counselors may also want to look at this research in order to appropriately tailor counseling to the specific needs of LDRs compared to PRs.  Counselors should focus on techniques to better communication, as it has been shown to be a vital part of romantic relationships (Andersen & Guerrero, 1998; Harrington, 1999; Meeks et al., 1998).  Counselors should focus on increasing communication, and emphasize to the individuals in the relationship that excessive worry over visitation is not necessary or beneficial, for this study provides evidence that communication is more important (Andersen & Guerrero, 1998; Harrington, 1999; Meeks et al., 1998).
    In conclusion, although the current study found no significant differences in intimacy, passion or commitment, the study has important implications for future research as well as to the field of psychology.  The current research provides evidence that LDRs can be very similar to PRs.  This research can be helpful to individuals in LDRs as well as relationship counselors.  It is also implicated that the similarities in levels of intimacy, passion, commitment and satisfaction may be due to frequent communication between members of the relationships, whether long-distance or proximal.  This finding suggests that frequent communication helps to maintain adequate levels of intimacy, passion and commitment, thereby sustaining satisfaction in the relationship.  With LDRs becoming increasingly popular, especially among college students, future research is important in order to create an enhanced understanding of the phenomenon of long-distance relationships.

Back to Top

References

Aron, A., Westbay, L. (1996).  Dimensions of the prototype of love.  Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 70(3),
    535-551.
Andersen, P.A, Guerrero, L.K. (1998).  Handbook of communication and emotion: Research, theory, application and
    contexts. San Diego: Academic Press.
Cunningham, M.R., Barbee, A.P., & Druen, P.B. (1997).  Social Antigens and Allergies: The development of hypersensitivity
    in close relationships.  In R. Kowalski, Aversive Interpersonal Behaviors.  Beverly Hills: Sage.
Druen, P.B. (1997).  Beliefs about a partner’s personal qualities that facilitate intimacy, passion, commitment and exclusivity.
    Unpublished Manuscript, York College,York, PA.
Guldner, G.T., Swenson C.H. (1995).  Time spent together and relationship quality: Long-distance relationships as a test case.
    Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12, 313-320.
Helgeson, V.S., Shaver, P., & Dyer, M. (1987).  Protoypes of intimacy and distance in same-sex and opposite sex
    relationships.  Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 4, 195-233.
Holt, P.A, Stone, G.L. (1988). Needs, coping strategies, and coping outcomes associated with long-distance relationships.
    Journal of College Student Development, 29, 136-141.
Houston, T.L., Houts, R.M. (1998).  The psychological infrastructure of courtship and marriage: The role of personality and
    compatibility in romantic relationships. In T. Bradbury, The developmental course of marital dysfunction. New York:
    Cambridge University Press.
Knobloch, L.K., Solomon, D.H., & Cruz, M.G. (2001).  The role of relationship development in the experience of romantic
    jealousy.  Personal Relationships, 8(2), 205-224.
Lewicki, R.J., Wiethoff, C. (2000).  Trust, trust development, and trust repair.  In M.Duetch, The handbook of conflict and
    resolution: Theory and practice.  San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
Lydon, John (1997). Coping with moral commitment to long-distance dating relationships. Journal of Personality & Social
    Psychology, 73, 104-113.
Maguire, Katheryn Coveley (2001).   Communication and communal coping in long-distance romantic relationships. University
    of Texas at Austin, 1-25.
Mathes, E.W. (1986).  Jealousy and romantic love: A longitudinal study.  Psychological reports, 58(3), 885-886.
Meeks, B.S, Hendrick, S.S., & Hendrick, C. (1998). Communication, love and relationship satisfaction. Journal of Social and
    Personal Relationships, 15, 755-773.
Murray, S.L., Holmes, J.G., & Griffin, D.W. (1996). The benefits of positive illusions: Idealization and the construction of
    satisfaction in close relationships. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 70, 79-98.
Rohlfing, Mary E. (1995). “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” An exploration of the under-studied phenomenon of
    long-distance relationships. Understudied relationships: Off the beaten track, Understanding relationship processes series,
    6, 173-196.
Sahlstein, Erin Marie (1996).  Time spent together in long-distance relationships: What are the effects on satisfaction?
    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1-64.
Schwebel, Andrew I. (1993, December).  Students think love conquers all. USA Today Magazine, 122, 15.
Stafford, Laura (1990).  Idealization and communication in long-distance premarital relationships. Family Relations: Journal of
    Applied Family & Child Studies, 39, 274-279.
Sternberg, R.J. (1988). The triangle of love.  New York: Basic Books.
Van Horn, Roger K. (1997).  Physical distance and interpersonal characteristics in college students’ romantic relationships.
    Personal Relationships, 4, 25-34.

Back to Top

Tables and Appendices

Table 1

Means for Intimacy, Passion, Commitment and Satisfaction Scores for Long-Distance Relationships (LDR) and Proximal Relationships (PR)

                                                                        Type of Relationship

                 Score                                    LDR                                    PR

Satisfaction Score                                 4.3571                               4.4706
 

Intimacy Subscore                                8.1071                               8.1729
 

Passion Subscore                                 7.5429                               7.2276
 

Commitment Subscore                         7.4336                               7.7888

    Note: Higher scores indicate higher reported levels of the relationship component
 

Table 2

Correlations of Sternberg Scores and Satisfaction with Frequency of Communication (FOC), Frequency of Visitation (FOV) and Satisfaction.

                        Score                            FOC                           FOV                      Satisfaction
 

                    Satisfaction                        .478**                       .267                               1

                    Intimacy                             .518**                       .294                             .658**

                    Passion                              .503**                       .178                             .752**

                   Commitment                      .667**                        .349                             .727**

    Note:  ** p<.01
 

Appendix A:  Questionnaire created by the experimenter

The following questionnaire is designed to assess different qualities in college students’ romantic relationships.  Please answer the following questions about your current romantic relationship.  If you have any questions regarding any of the material presented in this questionnaire, do not hesitate to ask.  Thank you for your participation in this study.

Please answer the following questions:

1. Are you:

               Male                Female

2.  What year are you in school?

             Freshman          Sophomore            Junior           Senior

3.  While you are at school, do you live far away or close to your significant other?
 (Note: Please answer far away if you live more than 60 miles from your
significant other, and answer close if you live less than 60 miles away)

              Far away          Close

         If far away, please estimate the number of miles you are apart:

                                    ________  miles

4.  How often do you communicate with your significant other?

    Every day     2-3 times/week     1 time/week     1 time/month     Fewer than 1 time/month

5.  How do you communicate with your significant other most often?

     Telephone     E-mail     Instant Messenger     Letter writing   Other ______________

6.  How often do you see your significant other in person?

    Every day     2-3 times/week     1 time/week     1 time/month     Fewer than 1 time/month

7.  How long have you been in your relationship?    ______________

8.   Did your relationship begin in high school?

                    YES                   NO

9.  Do you consider yourself happy with your relationship?

                   YES                    NO

10.  Please rate the level of satisfaction you feel in your relationship on the following scale:

                     1              2              3              4              5
            Not Satisfied                 Neutral                      Very
                  At all                                                      Satisfied

Appendix B: Sample questions from Sternberg's Triangular Love Scale measuring intimacy, passion and commitment

Please rate your agreement with the following statements by using the following 9 point scale:

                         1         2         3         4         5         6         7         8         9
                  Do not agree                          Moderately                           Extremely
                       at all                                      agree                                   agree
 

Questions designed to measure intimacy

2.  I feel close to my significant other.
9.  I receive considerable emotional support from my significant other.
15.  I communicate well with my significant other.

Questions designed to measure passion

3.  I adore my significant other.
8.  I fantasize about my significant other.
14.  My relationship with my significant other is very romantic.

Questions designed to measure commitment

6.  I will always feel a strong responsibility for my significant other.
19.  I would rather be with my significant other than anyone else.
22.  I am committed to maintaining my relationship with my significant other.

Back to Top

Relevant Links


Saint Anselm.College Sternberg's Triangular Love Scale
American Psychological Association Robert J. Sternberg's Webpage

Questions? Please e-mail me at BShumway118@hotmail.com

Back to Top