Research-Backed Advice

What Kills Long-Distance Relationships? Plus What to Do

Highlight reel (TL;DR)

  • Long-distance relationships can be just as fulfilling as close proximity relationships. 
  • What kills long-distance relationships? Common problems include communication issues, lack of effort, and problems with trust.
  • It takes extra effort and good communication — from both partners — to keep a long-distance relationship going.

Long-distance relationships come with the same highs and lows as other relationships. It can feel like a honeymoon each time you spend a weekend together. But maintaining a relationship from afar can also be stressful. 

A couple might agree to be long-distance for a defined period while one goes to school, starts a job, or does military service. But Jaime Bronstein, licensed relationship therapist and author of MAN*ifesting: A Step-By-Step Guide to Attracting the Love that is Meant for You, says most couples she works with started their long-distance relationships on dating apps.

Bronstein says your gut will tell you pretty quickly if the match is working or not. Still, it takes effort and commitment to keep a long-distance relationship going.

Read on to find out what kills long-distance relationships — and how to spot and work on these problems before they lead to a breakup. 

What kills long-distance relationships: 7 common problems 

Research on what it takes to feel satisfied in long-distance relationships is limited. But, research does indicate that people in long-distance relationships can be just as satisfied as people in close proximity relationships. 

Here are seven relationship killers to avoid.

1. Lack of effort 

Physical distance can lead to uncertainty in relationships. One way to show your partner you’re committed is by making an effort. That could mean sending daily texts, initiating video calls, or visiting them. Reassure your partner that you love and miss them.

Distance stresses relationships. So when you do get to spend a few days together, you might feel pressure to make each minute happy. If your partner doesn’t meet your expectations, you might go home feeling disappointed.

Bronstein says a big red flag is if you don’t want to make an effort. If you start resenting your partner or the work that goes into your relationship, ask yourself whether you’re still in it.

2. Communication issues

Bronstein says one exciting part of being long-distance is having something to talk about since you didn’t spend the whole day together. 

Researchers have also found that people in long-distance relationships communicate differently than people who see their partners more consistently. Long-distance couples make up for their lack of touch with better communication skills and fewer conflicts. Happy long-distance couples also tend to talk about their future plans together.

Another study found that couples in long-distance relationships were less likely to use problematic communication techniques, like swearing, accusing, or withdrawing from the conversation. 

Unhealthy communication styles could sink a long-distance relationship.

3. Comparing your relationship with others

Every relationship is different, and it’s hard to compare a long-distance one to a close proximity one. But, of course, it happens.

In one study involving college students, a participant explained that she often felt like other people were judging her and her partner and assuming one or both of them were cheating. The participant admitted that she talked highly of her relationship to feel more confident in it herself.

4. Problems with trust 

Distance is associated with uncertainty, and that can come out as jealousy. According to one study, the less face-to-face contact a couple had, the more likely they were to worry about threats to their relationship. 

Seeing pictures or comments their partner left on social media brought up feelings of jealousy — especially when straight people were in pictures with people of the opposite sex.

Discussing your concerns can help with trust in your relationship. When agreeing to try long-distance, consider setting expectations for how often you’ll call, text, or visit. You can also set boundaries. For example, you can agree on nights out with friends, what you’ll post on social media, or when you have to disclose something to your partner.

5. Boredom

Months (or years) of phone calls can get boring. “What did you do today?” “How was work?” Yawn! 

Researchers found that when a person felt like there was nothing to talk about, they perceived their relationship to be boring. People who felt bored were also likely to feel insecure in the relationship and experienced more conflict.

The trick? To focus on what you and your partner are doing right. It could be showing gratitude for one another, being intimate, or engaging in shared activities. So get creative with your partner and try to break out of your safe and comfortable routine.

6. Mismatched expectations 

“It’s really important to communicate, to make sure that you’re on the same page, and be very clear because problems can occur if one person thinks that there’s a committed relationship going on, and the other one doesn’t,” Bronstein says.

Keep talking about your expectations. If your partner doesn’t share the same expectations for when you’ll talk, visit, and eventually be together, you might want to re-evaluate your commitment.

In the study of college students in long-distance relationships, people said distance made it difficult to know for sure that partners were still equally committed. Students also said they weren’t sure where their relationships would go in the future. This was especially true for couples at different life stages, for example, if one was in school while the other had started their career.

7. Different priorities 

People tend to be attracted to potential partners who share similar values. But what’s important to a person can change with time. 

When you’re apart, you experience different influences and might start focusing on your own future instead of your shared future. 

Couples who share their values and priorities tend to fare better than those with different priorities, research shows.

How to fix a long-distance relationship

Long distance is hard. A relationship therapist can help get you back on track if needed. But ultimately, it comes down to whether you both want the relationship to last.

“I do believe that when two people are willing to make something work, they can make it work,” Bronstein says.

Some ways to make your partner feel confident and fulfilled include:

  • speaking to one another frequently and with kindness
  • reassuring your partner that you love them and are committed to them
  • talking openly about who you’re spending time with
  • listening to your partner’s concerns
  • telling your partner what you need
  • making plans together like a trip or where you’ll move after graduation
  • daydreaming about what your future looks like

How to end a long-distance relationship 

If you’ve given the relationship a try and it just isn’t working for you, you might decide to end it. Even though it can be hard, know that everyone will be okay in the end. Because if ending the relationship is right for you, it’s right for both of you, Bronstein says.

Just don’t drag it out if you know it’s over, Bronstein suggests. There’s no need to wait to end the long-distance relationship in person. You can do it over the phone – or even text if that’s how you communicate in your relationship. The key is to focus on your feelings because no one can argue with how you feel. 

Try to keep the conversation quick, Bronstein says. Your partner doesn’t need a list of things they did wrong. There’s nothing to fix. It just isn’t right. At this moment, you need to focus on your own happiness.

The final word

Long-distance relationships have their challenges, but they can also be exciting and fulfilling. 

Open communication, plans for a future together, and reminders of your love can all help strengthen your relationship.

Candace Nelson
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Candace Nelson is a journalist, licensed nutritionist, and advocate for mental health. She believes that scientific research should be easier to read. Since it’s not, Candace makes it her mission to translate. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and cat.