Long-distance marriages may actually be better for you

Apr 28, 2015 at 1:18 p.m. ET

My personal experience with long-distance relationships was never great. They'd always start out strong, but over time, the distance would wear on us, and someone would get unnecessarily jealous or frustrated. Eventually the relationship would fall to pieces, and I was left with the understanding that long-distance trysts inevitably fail. But perhaps that's only because none of those relationships were marriages.

According to a new study from Northwestern University, married couples in long-distance relationships do just as well if not better than those who see each other every day. How does one measure such a thing, you may ask? Well, they decided to do what science usually does when it tries to take something qualitative and make it quantitative — they monitored the couples' health over time.

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Researchers looked at 296 couples who are either in "proximal marriages" (meaning they see each other pretty much every day) or "long-distance marriages." For the purpose of this study, "long-distance" was qualified by a couple who spends most of the week more than 50 miles apart. Their findings were pretty surprising — overall, the couples in long-distance relationships were healthier than those in proximal marriages.

Image: Giphy

And that doesn't just mean they did better in their physicals. Based on several surveys, they found couples who were doing long-distance marriages exercised more, had better diets and far fewer cases of emotional distress (aka depression and anxiety) than those who came home to each other every night. This makes a lot of sense to me, considering my boyfriend and I spend most nights lounging on the couch watching Modern Family reruns, rather than doing evening workouts.

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Steve Du Bois, the study's coauthor (and also my human sexuality teacher from when I attended Northwestern), says couples in long-distance relationships get to experience life as a single and married person simultaneously. He told the The Boston Globe that they have "more independence to do things such as work out, socialize with friends and sleep uninterruptedly, which are important to maintaining their mental and physical well-being." You're preaching to the choir, Professor Du Bois. While I love my guy, he is a major snorer, so I relish the stretches of time when he's out of town.

Image: Giphy

However, it's not all fun, games and snore-less nights. The study's surveys showed that LDMs (long-distance marriages) are not without their emotional difficulties. Because they have less actual time together, communication gets cut down significantly and little problems often get swept under the rug, only to erupt at inopportune times. Also, not surprisingly, couples in LDMs have sex less frequently, since they're not usually in the same place.

All this contributes to higher levels of stress, which Du Bois finds particularly interesting, since these same couples seem overall physically healthier despite this fact. He does however believe these findings will help pinpoint the major stressors that get in the way of a happy marriage medium between distance and proximity. Perhaps as the idea of conventional marriage continues to evolve, these findings will help couples deal with other difficulties that arise, both at home and on the go.

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