Some people find peace in old, familiar adages. Although sayings like “everything happens for a reason,” “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder” might sound too clichéd for comfort, they can offer some calm when things feel out of control in your life. But is there any truth to these proverbs? According to experts, there may be some truth to the idea that distance makes the heart grow fonder.
Maybe you're about to embark on a long-distance relationship with your significant other. Perhaps either you or your boo has been traveling a lot for work. Whatever the case, when you’re away from them, it’s natural to miss your partner a little extra. According to New York City-based relationship expert and bestselling author Susan Winter, “Humans are designed to continually be seeking, striving, and in the process of acquisition,” and the way that translates into your romantic life is through a heightened sense of “longing and appreciation” when your partner is absent. So yes, absence can indeed make the heart grow fonder.
But does that feeling of fondness last? And is distance in a relationship really a good thing? Here’s what the experts have to say.
Why Does Absence Make The Heart Grow Fonder?
Even if your SO is your favorite person in the world, it’s natural to desire some space now and then. “As humans, when something is not new or novel or different, it commands less of our attention. It’s everything from partners to food,” says Joshua Klapow, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show. He compares being around a partner all the time to eating your favorite food over and over — no matter how much you love it, after a while, you may start getting a little tired of it. “Separation is basically a reminder to us that we get reinforcement or reward out of our partners,” he adds. “And you can’t know that until you’re separated.”
Having space from your partner now and then isn’t only good for your relationship — it’s good for you. "It is natural to need space in a relationship," sex and intimacy coach Irene Fehr previously told Elite Daily. "We have two competing needs that collide in a relationship: the need to be individuals and the need to be in relationship or connection with another human being; to be ourselves and to belong. Both nourish and feed each other. When we're supported by partners, we feel safe to be ourselves. And when we're ourselves and have our individual needs met, we're better partners.” Nothing can keep a relationship feeling fresh more than a little time spent apart, whether it’s an afternoon or a whole month.
How Much Distance Is Too Much Distance?
Of course, having distance from your SO also invites challenges, as anyone who’s ever been a long-distance relationship can probably attest. “A month or more can — not always! — cause couples to drift apart,” Klapow says. He notes that for short breaks, there’s no need to talk to your partner every day. But longer breaks can require more effort. “Anything from a month on, you need some sort of regular connection and communication,” he says. Without that, it’s easy to fall into new patterns that don’t involve your partner, which makes it harder for you to adjust once your SO is back in your daily life.
Winter agrees that in the case of a long break, you need to really consider how you’re going to maintain a connection with your partner. She says in the case of breaks that span for months or even years, “our 'new normal' is to NOT have this partner in our life.” Things like military deployments or long-distance work or schooling are examples of things that can keep couples apart. “When our lover has been gone too long, we adapt and move forward. We begin to seek new connections to fill the void,” she adds. And when you’re apart for so long that you fill the void left by your partner, then there may not be room for them in your life when they return.
How Can You Feel Close Despite The Distance?
There are things you can do to keep your bond with your partner strong, no matter how long you may be apart. Klapow recommends actively scheduling communication and time for each other, even if you can’t be there in person — and then sticking to that schedule. Winter agrees, saying, “Keep the connection by text, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, and in person. And have an end-goal to reunite. Without an end-goal to finally be together, the relationship will dissolve.”
Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but if either you or your SO is eternally absent from each other’s lives, then that fondness may have an expiration date. And if you find that you don’t actually miss your partner when you’re separated, then you may want to consider whether you’re with the right person. However, space is healthy and necessary in a relationship, and whether you choose to take space or are forced apart, know that you have nothing to worry about if you start missing your boo in their absence — it’s only natural.
Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show
Susan Winter, relationship expert and bestselling author
Irene Fehr, sex and intimacy coach
Editor's Note: This story has been updated by Elite Daily Staff.
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