Why Long-Distance Relationships Never, Ever Work (Except When They Do)

Long-distance relationships often masquerade as real relationships. They can be passionate, intense, and loving. But what they can't be is battle-tested.
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I have a confession to make, but I want you to keep it just between us, okay?

I love the movie Love Actually -- love it. Really I do. I know that this is not the most masculine thing to admit, but I'm okay with that because I'm just a sucker for that movie. I don't even mind that Hugh Grant is in it.

Although I am a big softie for all of the varied (though mostly archetypal) story lines in that film, the one that I am most drawn to is the narrative between Jamie (the spurned lover/writer) and Aurelia (the beautiful Portuguese woman who takes care of the summer house where Jamie writes his murder mystery novel). The love that these two share is so powerful that it transcends time, location, and even language and (spoiler alert!) Jamie ultimately hops a last minute flight to Portugal where he professes his love and proposes to Aurelia in front of the whole town on Christmas Eve, and they will presumably live happily ever after in either England or Portugal.

Among the many reasons that Jamie and Aurelia's relationship is pure fantasy (good fantasy mind you, but fantasy nonetheless) is that it is based on the idea that long-distance relationship can be magically transformed into the perfect domestic relationship that we all (well, at least people like me, who love movies like Love Actually) dream about.

In real life, long-distance relationships don't work. The reason that they don't work is that, like Jamie and Aurelia's relationship, they are a fantasy. Long-distance relationships often masquerade as real relationships. They can be passionate, intense and loving. But what they can't be is battle-tested. Developed romantic relationships require commitment, contact with reality, but most of all they require action. Because the majority of the time spent together in long-distance relationships is precious, most problems are ignored. As a result, long-distance relationships usually exist in a suspended "honeymoon state," where everything is shiny and happy but devoid of the reality that is necessary to determine if the relationship will ultimately sink or swim. This is why many long-distance relationships fail.

There are some exceptions to the rule. Let's consider these:

Relationships that are forced to become long-distance for a defined period of time (e.g., because of time-limited school, economic or military commitments) generally do not fall into the fantasy trap because they are actually very much based in the realities and practicalities of life. As a clinical psychologist, I have actually seen these types of relationships thrive.

From my experience, successful long-distance relationships appear to have four factors in common:

1. Prioritization
When you consciously prioritize your long-distance partner above nearly all of your local social commitments, you will be less likely to resent the effort required to make the relationship work.

2. Commitment
Commit to spending more than just weekends together. The more time you spend the greater, the chance to deepen the bonds between you and the more opportunity you have to really get to know each other.

3. Sharing
If you are in a long-distance relationship, make sure that you don't just spend the time you have together alone. Share your social/family worlds with each other. We are all part of communities. When we cut our partners off from our communities they don't really get to know who we are.

4. Planning
If you are serious about the relationship begin planning for a time (in the not to distant future) when the relationship will no longer be long-distance but when the two of you will be together in the same place. This will allow the relationship to have some forward movement so that it doesn't exist in a suspended state for too long.

If you are currently in a long-distance relationship or are considering getting into one, I strongly encourage you to consider how to apply these elements to your relationship. If you do, you and your love just might end up like Jamie and Aurelia -- happily ever after (sigh).

Dr. Ben Michaelis is a clinical psychologist in full-time private practice in Manhattan. Dr. Michaelis writes and speaks regularly about mental health, creativity, spirituality and motivation. He is the author of numerous popular and scholarly articles and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Dr. Michaelis is a frequent guest on nationally syndicated TV shows such as, NBC's The Today Show, The Hallmark Channel's Home & Family, and MSNBC's Your Business. Dr. Michaelis is the author of Your Next Big Thing: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy.

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