Relational Connectedness: It Pays to Stay Mentally Close When Separated
Many couples share that maintaining relationships is hard work, even when living in the same city (or in the same house). When circumstances require separation between zip codes and time zones, they worry that they will drift apart. But research indicates that when it comes to quality relationships, distance does not necessarily predict dissolution. Sometimes, quite to the contrary.
Within healthy relationships of love and respect, absence will not create distance, but a desire to reconnect. Research indicates, however, this may depend on how partners spend their time apart.
Quality Time Apart
Although you love each other´s company, you and your partner do not need to everything together. It is fine to spend time apart — as long as it is time well spent. If you enjoy wholesome hobbies and interests flying solo, whether you are into sports or the symphony, you are probably not headed for a breakup.
Your partner would much rather know you are enjoying Beethoven’s 9th at a concert hall than hanging with friends at a pool hall.
Choice of company matters as well.
Spending an evening with family members is likely to create less anxiety for your partner than kicking up your heels at a bachelorette party or girls night out. And if you are flying solo to a high school reunion, your partner might be in for a long, turbulent night.
"Checking In" Has Its Benefits
In terms of communication during period of separation, both parties should be on the same page. Although some partners enjoy short phone calls or texting, others find "checking in" to be burdensome and irritating. If you have a partner with this mindset, unless you are making plans or exchanging relevant information, give your device a rest. Just think about all of the interesting information you can discuss in person at the end of the day.
If you are the one resisting contact, consider that if you have to remind yourself to check in with your partner, you might be operating under a sense of obligation, rather than a genuine desire to connect. Conversation will be more enjoyable if you contact your partner because you want to, not because you feel you have to.
There will, however, be times when you cannot contact a partner even if you want to. When periods of extended separation result from deployment or employment, there may be situations where even electronic contact is impracticable. Thankfully, research reveals there are in fact ways to reconnect mentally, if not physically.
Loneliness Prompts Connection
Giulia L. Poerio et al. (from 2016) investigated the impact of daydreaming about significant others on "helping the heart grow fonder during absence." They acknowledged that when individuals experience a threat to their sense of belonging, they behave in ways designed to re-establish a sense of social connectedness. This includes seeking out opportunities for interpersonal interaction. Perhaps this is hotel bars are so crowded on weeknights.
Socializing with strangers, however, can threaten relationships if partners are tempted to ameliorate their loneliness by seeking out more than conversation. Thankfully, research reveals another way to reduce loneliness—that involves cognition rather than conversation.
Daydreaming Has Emotional Value
Poerio et al. sought to investigate whether daydreaming could function as a substitute when significant others were unavailable. After experimentally inducing loneliness, they asked participants to daydream about either a significant other, a non-social scenario, or perform a control task. The duration of the exercise was three minutes.
The social daydreamers were instructed to envision a scenario that involves “interacting with another person that you have a close, positive, relationship with like a friend, family member, or a significant other. This person should be someone that you have regular contact with."
Poerio et al. found that social daydreamers exhibited significantly enhanced perceptions of love, connection, and belonging, as compared to participants assigned to the other two conditions.
As evidence for the suggestion that social daydreaming reloaded a sense of connectedness, social daydreamers interacted in a more pro-social manner, and expressed less desire for social interaction after daydreaming.
Absence Can Make the Heart Grow Fonder
Thankfully, modern technology affords a wide variety of real time connection options, assuming the necessary equipment and connectivity. But if you are in the middle of the ocean, on a long flight over the water, or other locations when you are out of range, you still have options.
If it can take only three minutes to mentally recover (at least temporarily) from loneliness, daydreaming can function as one component of sustaining positive emotion while separated from loved ones. By intentionally placing mind over matter, daydreaming can ensure that although loved ones might be out of sight, they are not out of mind.
This article was first published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.