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Long-distance love: technology can help relationships survive this Valentine’s Day, Wayne State University researcher says

February 13, 2013

DETROIT — Whether they’re in the same house or continents apart this Valentine’s Day, romantic partners have a lot of communication tools available to help them stay part of each other’s lives.

Technology can be very useful in maintaining romantic relationships despite temporal or geographic separation, said Katheryn Maguire, Ph.D., associate professor of communication in Wayne State University’s College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts, but traditional means of communication still are critical for handling the more complex issues that arise between partners.

“The idea of maintaining a romantic relationship at a distance coincides with the notion of face-to-face contact as being essential; without that physical contact, some would even question if it is a real relationship. But with the help of communication technologies, these relationships can survive and even thrive,” Maguire said.

She has studied the use of technologically mediated communication (TMC) and believes that while there are similarities between distanced and proximal relationships when it comes to achieving mutual goals and tasks, sometimes communicating through technology can lead to unforeseen complications. Maguire’s recent work has focused on using TMC to maintain relationships, including those of wives whose husbands are serving overseas in the armed services.

Such long-distance relationships can lead to stress and coping issues, another focus of her research. Maguire’s best advice to couples trying to maintain such relationships is to “hang in there.”

“When you know you’re only going to be apart for a set amount of time (like a year), that knowledge alone makes people more satisfied and enables them to say, ‘I can do this,’” she said.

Maguire suggests that those in long-distance relationships find fun and creative ways to use technology, such as both parties reading the same book and then discussing chapters along the way online.  

“There are ways to use the technologies available to you,” she said. “Take the channel that works for what it is you want to talk about. For just a quick ‘hi’ or ‘I love you,’ a text is great.”

Maguire is quick to add, however, that old-school methods still work to enhance the sense of connection.

“Letters, particularly handwritten, have more weight than TMC,” she said. “They are gifts. You’re touching something the other person touched. And for something more serious, you probably need to have that phone conversation.”

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.

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