Let′s play the game Word Association, shall we? I say, ″Absence.″ You say?
(I′ll give you a minute to list off one or two words that come to mind.)
If you′re anything like me, the first word you thought of was ″fonder.″ As in, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
You′ve heard this old adage. But have you ever wondered if there′s any validity to it? I have. Yep, I′m among those who′ve pondered whether we can take stock in words such as those of nineteenth-century Irish poet Thomas Moore, who said, ″Relationship at a distance can do things for the heart that a closer, day-to-day companionship cannot.″
Well, if researchers have anything to say about it, the answer would be yes.
In a 2013 study published in The Journal of Communication, L. Crystal Jiang and Jeffrey T. Hancock surveyed sixty-three college-aged couples in long-distance relationships and determined that these type of ″romantic relationships are of equal or even more trust and satisfaction than their geographically close counterparts.″
How did Jiang and Hancock come to this conclusion?
They discovered that these couples who had less in-person “face time,” worked harder to stay connected and communicated more. Not only that, but Jiang told USA Today, ″They also adapt[ed] their messages, for example, by focusing on more limited but relationally intense topics.″
Now, most of us aren′t non-married collegiates in long-distance relationships, right? I know I′m not. I′m going on thirteen years of marriage. So what can you and I as wives learn from these results?
Should we pack up and spend some time apart from our husbands in order to make our hearts grow fonder?
Nope. I don′t believe that′s the answer.
You see, I did my own ″absence makes the heart grow fonder″ experiment over the summer and found my personal results not as promising as Jiang and Hancock′s.
What exactly was this experiment of mine?
I spent one month 1,800 miles away from my husband, Ted. Don′t worry, it wasn′t because we were having any marital issues. We weren′t. I was just overdue on visiting my parents, so our four kids and I did just that.
Into weeks two and three, I began to make more and more decisions – whether it came to the kids or schedules or even finances – on my own. Even though Ted and I were communicating on a daily basis, I found myself becoming more and more independent. And that′s when I had a revelation of sorts. It was this:
Absence fosters independence, while presence fosters interdependence.
When you′re not married yet – like the couples in the 2013 study – it′s okay to still be independent. You determine your own schedule; you manage your own finances. So absence can make your heart grow fonder because the truth is you′re still writing separate stories. But when you′re married – like me – your marital relationship is supposed to be one of interdependence.
What do I mean by that?
When Ted and I said ″I do,″ we made a lifelong commitment to increasingly grow more dependent on each other. We took seriously God′s command in Genesis 2:24 that ″a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become on flesh.″ We declared that our lives and our stories would slowly and steadily become intertwined.
During my time away, I rediscovered that the independence that comes with absence can slowly eat away at this interdependency. It can leave us thinking more about ″me″ than ″we.″
Yet, interdependence isn′t guaranteed simply because you′re living in the same house, sharing a bathroom, or parenting kids together. Rather, it is presence – the act of being emotionally and mentally present – that cultivates it.
And, honestly, that takes work. A lot of it.
Just like the unmarried couples in the Jiang and Hancock study had to exert effort and energy to stay connected, we have to do the same as married couples to grow our interdependence. Day in and day out, we have to be purposeful to keep writing a mutual story.
How can we do that? I share five great tools to get you started here. These tools are things Ted and I use regularly.
So, let′s play another game of Word Association, okay? This time, I say, ″Presence.″ And you say?
Ashleigh Slater is the author of the book, Team Us: Marriage Together (Moody Publishers). As the founder and editor of Ungrind and a regular contributor at several popular blogs and websites, she loves to combine the power of a good story with biblical truth and practical application. Ashleigh lives in Atlanta with her husband Ted and four daughters. To learn more, visit AshleighSlater.com. You can also find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter at @ashslater.