by Brittny Delgado.
Fall is the time of year when many young people head off to college, leaving behind not just home but the significant other from a romantic relationship. A recent study of long distance dating relationships reveals that electronic devices, despite their criticism for fostering antisocial behavior, provide a way to stay close.
According to the Pepperdine Journal of Communication, advancements in technology have created numerous ways to communicate via the internet, helping long-distance relationships to succeed. Past research has found that partners in long-distance relationships viewed technology as a positive influence in their relationships.
Twenty undergraduate students involved in a long-distance dating relationship (85 percent female, 15 percent male) from a small, private university in Southern California were asked to complete a questionnaire about attitudes and communication patterns.
The results showed, 50 percent of the participants ranked Skype as most used, 30 percent ranked Facebook chat as the second and 80 percent ranked Twitter as the least frequently used.
The study also says couples who lived apart tended to have fewer daily interactions, but those interactions were longer and more meaningful, because each person would reveal more about him or herself. The researchers are not certain why distance tended to foster deeper interactions, but they do suggest that couples who live apart idealize their partners’ thoughts, feelings, aspirations, goals and failures.
Vera Dunwoody, 36, of Riverside, is a Communications professor at Chaffey Community College.
“In romantic relationships, relational maintenance is an imperative,” Dunwoody said. “So Twitter and Instagram is a way for us to communicate with one another and to others that were together, and its a way for the couple to increase closeness.”
The professor says, these mediums give loved ones provided opportunities that weren’t there before and this allows them to increase contact with the person as a way to maintain the relationship.
“In the past, the only medium was the telephone, and it had to be when both parties were able to do that,” Dunwoody said. “With the asynchronous and synchronous communication of media you have the opportunity to do it in other ways.”
Self disclosure also tends to increase when couple’s use mediated forms of communication.
“When I’m sitting in front of someone I manage my identity differently than if I’m managing my identity via communication,” Dunwoody said. “So I can type something then hit backspace if it doesn’t sound good or draft it again.”
Although these technologies provide couples with the ability to constantly communicate with each other, it can also cause some problems.
“Skype provides a challenge if its not working, if there’s background noise, or if we made a time to get together to chat but one person got held up somewhere and that can create conflict,” Dunwoody said.
This was sometimes the case for Ricky Ferrer, 30, of San Diego, and is a U.S. Naval Air crewmen.
“Last year I was gone for about 5 months because I had to do some training in Thailand,” Ferrer said. “I wanted to Face-time my wife and kids everyday to see how they were doing, but sometimes the internet connection was bad and I had to go 2 or 3 days without talking to them.”
Cristina Ferrer, 35, of San Diego, is an accountant and shares the similar frustration with her husband.
“We depend on technology to communicate with each other and sometimes it doesn’t go our way, and we can’t understand each other because of poor connection, so we just say that well call each other later,” Ferrer said.
Ann Morgan, 57, of Claremont, is a licensed psychologist and specializes in family and relationships.
“I think long distance-relationships can succeed just as relationships where a couple is living together,” Morgan said. “They both have different challenges, but every relationship has challenges and that’s where the couple, especially those living apart, need to recognize what’s going on, what they need help with, how they can talk this through, and how they can communicate and blend their needs.”
Morgan says having constant communication is key for couples living apart, but sometimes the distance can create problems when daily routines are broken.
“You have two people living in two different locations, so if one person has a child or children, they set up that household, discipline, schedule, eating, timing, and outside activities for the children and themselves without that other person,” Morgan said.
When that person is then dropped into that dynamic, suddenly, it creates tension for the couple.
“The person has already set up this whole schedule for the kids, so they come in and they break the rhythm and routine,” Morgan said. “So the challenge is to once again get them integrated into the family dynamic.”
Cristina Ferrer says she can certainly relate to this.
“The only hard part is when he’s gone, I’m the only authority figure that the kids are used to, so when he does come back, the kids and I have to adjust to answering to him and I have to take into consideration his opinion and thoughts on what the kids are doing,” Ferrer said.
The psychologist also discusses the struggles that both couples face emotionally and physically.
Morgan remembers a couple she counseled where the man was in one location and the woman was in another. The woman enjoys going out and dancing at clubs after work and on the weekends. The man does not like to dance and when they come together he feels uncomfortable.
“He’s doing something he doesn’t like to do and is going with her to satisfy her, or she’s not doing something that she does enjoy doing,” Morgan said. “So that isn’t clearly communicated and some form of compromise has to be reached because that can spur anger and resentment between the couple.”
Another important component for couples in long distance relationships is trust.
“There is going to have to be some discipline involved, if that couple has that understanding and faith in the other person that loyalty is in place, it will be a challenge but it’s possible,” Morgan said.
For other couples, being away from each other was the hardest adjustment.
Cristina Echemendia, 26, of La Canada, is a sales associate for Gucci.
“We depended on Skype or Face-time, not really Facebook so much, unless we couldn’t get a hold of each other,” Echemendia said. “We couldn’t really talk every single day because of our schedules, so we would just text mostly.”
David Martinez, 29, of San Dimas, is a fourth year medical student and Echemendia’s boyfriend.
“I think that we were lucky to have technologies such as face-time because back in the day they could only use pay phones and write letters,” Martinez said. “The means of communication are a lot more open and it makes it easier to stay involved with each other and know each other’s day to day.”
Even though the couple could only see each other during breaks and holidays, they agree that being away from each other actually benefited their relationship.
“I think that long-distance relationships really make your relationship grow and it makes you mature more both as an individual and a couple,” Echemendia said.
Echemendia says the adjustment of not being able to see her significant other was hard at first.
“I was used to seeing him everyday and having that routine, so when it was broken, it was a struggle,” Echemendia said. “But I realized that this was his dream and I have to kind of back off.”
The couple says that the experience actually helped them to rekindle their relationship romantically.
“Distance can make the heart grow founder or it can make the heart grow yonder,” Dunwoody said. “It ultimately comes down to how the couple is communicating with one another, and if they do it effectively.”
If the couple is able to manage conflict then they will appreciate each other more when they reunite in person and recognize the struggles they’ve overcame. Conflict is inevitable and you have to manage it and if you don’t resolve it, it’s not going to go away, the professor said.
“Sometimes the problems arise because one person didn’t text, email, or Skype the other person back when they were supposed to and the sooner the couple expresses that frustration to one another the sooner they can manage that, Dunwoody said. “With the advent of all this technology it can actually benefits these relationships, but it’s all in how we use it, ultimately it can be a blessing or it can be a curse.”