Our world is getting smaller and we are all getting farther apart.
No, this isn’t a prelude to a discussion on how technology has turned us into antisocial zombies. On the contrary, in an increasingly connected world each of us has more opportunities to work in, travel to, and meet people from different places around the globe than ever before. This means there are that many more of us falling in love with people who live far away from us—in different cities, countries, continents and, maybe one day, planets?
Alternatively, some of us have fallen in love with the girl/boy next door only to find ourselves separated from the love of our lives due to their/our work commitments. In any case, few of us are strangers to being a partner in a long-distance relationship (LDR).
While there is a healthy amount of research that looks into how couples communicate with each other within a relationship, there is, surprisingly, not that much about how couples in long-distance relationships keep the flame burning.
For many of us, LDRs are a ‘test’ to see how strong a relationship is and if it can sustain itself in the face of adversity. Sure, there was a time when the only means couples in an LDR had to stay in touch was through fortnightly letters written by hand or expensive phone calls with unclear network reception. But today, with a spectrum of communication mediums literally at our fingertips, this ‘test’ is not nearly as challenging as it once was.
In a study conducted by Hampton et al. (2018) the authors set out to find out which mediums were used the most by couples in LDRs and which were the most effective at maintaining relationship satisfaction. They had a straightforward hypothesis: couples in LDRs who communicated with each other more frequently would report greater relationship satisfaction. To this hypothesis they added a caveat: not all means of communication are created equal, and some, such as Skype, may be more beneficial to relationships than others.
The researchers surveyed 588 participants in LDRs that asked them questions about how frequently they used different kinds of communication, how satisfied they were with the communication in their relationship, and how satisfied they were with their relationship overall.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, text messages were the most frequently used means of communication in LDRs. However, Skype was the only communication medium where the researchers could discern association with relationship satisfaction. Partners who spent more time video chatting via Skype did indeed report greater levels of satisfaction with their relationship. When it came to communication satisfaction, it was the use of Skype as well as picture messaging that came out on top. As for Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat? They had close to no impact on either relationship or communication satisfaction. In fact, Facebook use was associated with lower levels of relationship satisfaction. That’s something worth thinking about.
What is surprising about this study is that the humble telephone call displayed little to no relation with communication satisfaction or relationship satisfaction, quite unlike its video counterpart, Skype, revealing that being able to see your partner is a core component to maintaining a healthy relationship even when apart.
Based on this study, it seems clear that a mode of communication that involves a visual component—as Skype and picture messaging do—is an effective indicator of relationship satisfaction. The researchers suggest this is due to the presence of non-verbal as well as audio cues resulting in greater communication satisfaction and thereby more satisfaction with the relationship overall. So if you’re in an LDR, the more you talk to your partner over Skype (with the camera on), the more satisfied you will be with your relationship. Then again, if you’re in an LDR, you probably already knew that.
Hampton, A.J., Rawlings, J., Treger, S., Sprecher, A. (2017) Channels of Computer-Mediated Communication and Satisfaction in Long-Distance Relationships. Interpersona, 2017, Vol. 11(2), 171–187, doi: 10.5964/ijpr.v11i2.273
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