The Effect of Communication on Satisfaction in Long-distance and Proximal Relationships of College Students
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
HAMPTON, JR., D. P. (2001). The Effect of Communication on Satisfaction in Long-distance and Proximal Relationships of College Students. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 21, 2017 .

The Effect of Communication on Satisfaction in Long-distance and Proximal Relationships of College Students
DAVID P. HAMPTON, JR.
LOYOLA UNIVERSITY N.O. PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (bhalla@loyno.edu)
ABSTRACT
This study examined the effect of communication on college students` satisfaction in their romantic relationships. The authors hypothesized that a positive relationship would exist between communication and satisfaction in long-distance and proximal relationships, and participants in long-distance relationships would report more satisfaction. A sample of 109 college students ages 18-24, (81 females, 28 males) participated. A survey measuring satisfaction, communication, length of relationship, and commitment was used. Results indicated a significant positive relationship between number of phone conversations and total satisfaction and between number of emails sent per week and received per week indicating reciprocation. Future researchers should consider using a standardized commitment scale to measure the strength of relationships and to improve the survey.


INTRODUCTION
John Donne once said, “No man is an island.” What he meant by this line is that relationships are essential to our essence of being, to our lives. We need people’s love; we need for people to care for us; we need to be nurtured. Human beings are social animals by definition. Our methods of communication are endless and phenomenal. Man has to be involved in relationships; he seeks to define himself relative to others who surround him. Among the types of relationships including platonic (same sex and opposite sex) and parental and child relationships, marriage is at the top of what most adults seek. In order to find a soul mate to fulfill this desire of being loved and adored, people of all ages date; that is, they go out with their selected partners in a process of elimination. Along the way to finding a soul mate with whom we want to spend the rest of our lives, we may encounter problems which can hinder the relationship or help develop it into an everlasting partnership. There are many factors which can lead to a successful relationship. Recent research has shown that communication is among the most vital factors for a mutually affectionate, caring, and loving relationship to exist between the partners in both long-distance and close-distance, platonic and romantic relationships. For a successful relationship between two partners, the lines of communication must be open. Communication is the foundation of a friendship, and a close romantic relationship which is mutual and reciprocal. Buck (1989) describes two different kinds of communication which can bring about a close and loving relationship: spontaneous and symbolic. Spontaneous communication is communication based upon innate tendencies to display certain kinds of motivational and emotional information—signs of feelings and desires—unintentionally, which cannot convey false information. Whereas, symbolic communication is learned and socially based and is composed of symbols. Its content consists of propositions, of statements that can be false. Davis and Todd (1985) describe some other important characteristics which would lead to a successful friendship and relationship; these factors include respect, understanding, trust, and intimacy. Thus more research was conducted to further investigate the true factors of a successful friendship and romantic relationship. Berscheid, Snyder, and Omoto (1989) state that it is difficult to measure a close relationship or a meaningful relationship according to these terms because they are extremely abstract and too subjective; and because the object of investigation, the close relationship, surreptitiously changes its identity from one study to the next. Thus, Berscheid et al. (1989) developed a test of interdependence called the Relationship Closeness Inventory and were able to distinguish characteristics of a very close and not so close relationship. Recent research has been conducted to define a close relationship. Cramer (1998) describes three different types of classifications (each being more specific than the former) of relationships none of which are entirely satisfactory on their own or are mutually exclusive. One way is in terms of both kinship (husband and wife) and friendship (close or best friend). A second way of classifying relationships is in terms of romantic relationships and friendships. And yet, a third and more recent way of categorizing relationships is cross-sex and close-sex relationships. However, because most research (Cramer, 1998) has been carried out on married couples, cross-sex romantic relationships and same-sex friendships, there has been difficulty drawing adequate comparisons. In the past couple of decades, extensive research has been conducted to determine the most influential factors for different types of relationships. Simpson (1987) demonstrated that five variables were significant predictors of relationship stability: sexual nature of the relationship, exclusivity of the relationship, length of the relationship, orientation to sexual relations, and satisfaction. Berg and McQuinn (1986) found the more each individual loves his or her partner and engages in behaviors to maintain the relationship (for example, self-disclosure), the more likely it is that the relationship will remain intact over time. Other research has been conducted to study if any sex differences exist, and to study how they affect self-disclosure in close romantic relationships. Dindia and Allen (1992) conducted a meta-analysis to determine whether there are sex differences in self-disclosure and how large these differences were. In their meta-analysis, Dindia and Allen (1992) found that sex differences in self-disclosure are greater in same-sex interactions than in opposite-sex interactions. The results also indicated that females disclose more than males to females but not more than males to males. This disclosure may affect the love that either transpires and blossoms, or the love that dies away over time. However, love is capricious and recent research has given various reasons for why it either dwindles or transpires. Sprecher (1999) discovered that love does not tend to grow over time, but loving each other may not prevent break-up. According to Sprecher (1999), couples break up because of decreased levels of satisfaction in the relationship—not because they stop loving each other. Sprecher (1999) discovered that satisfaction and commitment were as important or more important than love for couples in their desire to stay together. The purpose of this study was to examine how communication affects the satisfaction in both long-distance and proximal loving and close relationships among college students. We explored which types of communication, such as phone conversations, letter writing, and face-to-face interaction have the most profound impact on the satisfaction of the relationships, and which type of relationship participants label as more satisfactory. Our study adds to the above research in that it explores not just loving and close relationships, but long-distance romantic relationships. We hypothesized that (1) there would be a direct correlation between the amount of communication and the maintenance of a satisfactory relationship in both long-distance and proximal relationships and (2) long-distance relationships would be more satisfactory and involve more commitment than proximal relationships.


METHOD
Participants One hundred Loyola University New Orleans students (81 women and 28 men, mean age = 21 years) volunteered or were solicited to participate. Some students received class credit from their teachers for participating. We used snowball sampling and convenience sampling in both psychology classes and the WAC Center, a writing center. All participants were currently involved in either long-distance relationships or proximal relationships. No specific ethnic group participated or was excluded. The ethnicity was diverse throughout the sample. Students who were not involved in current romantic relationships or who were married were excluded because the experiment studied current long-distance and proximal relationships of dating college students. All volunteers were treated ethically and with courtesy.Materials Consent forms consisting of two copies (one for the researchers’ records and one for the participants) which informed the participants of the experiment were used. The main instrument used was a survey consisting of thirty-two questions divided into five parts (refer to appendix). The first part consisted of a question asking the gender of the participant, with provided definitions of both long-distance and proximal relationships, and two questions which asked the participants to inform us of which type of relationship they were involved in. The second part consisted of questions which asked the length of the participants’ relationship and how often the participant communicated for each type of communication. An example is: Average length of phone conversations: less than ˝ hour ˝ to 1 hour 1-2 hours2-3 hours 3-5 hours more than 5 hours [circle one]. The third part asked which type of relationship the participants were involved in. Then we asked them to rate the importance of communication relative to their satisfaction in their relationship. An example would be: How important would you rate communication as a factor in the satisfaction of YOUR current romantic relationship? 1 2 3 4 5Not important Moderately important Very importantThe fourth part asked the participants to rate the satisfaction of their current long-distance or proximal romantic relationship. For example, a question such as this one appears on the survey:How well does your partner meet your needs?1 2 3 4 5Low satisfaction Moderate satisfaction High satisfaction The fifth part of the survey asked four questions. One asked if the participant had a picture of their significant other with them. The other three questions asked about marriage, and their plans about marriage. Pens and pencils were distributed when participants needed them; otherwise, participants provided their own writing utensils. Design and Procedure This study used a between subjects quasi-experimental design to examine a relationship between communication and satisfaction of either the romantic long-distance or proximal relationships. There were six variables in this experiment: the gender of the participants, the type of relationship, communication, satisfaction, length of relationship, and commitment. The types of relationships studied were long-distance and proximal relationships. A long-distance relationship was defined as a romantic relationship that is exclusive (not dating anyone else), emotionally and/or physically intimate, and involving some level of commitment. The relationship was long-distance, as defined here, if the two partners were separated by a physical distance that prohibits immediate physical closeness for extended periods of time. A proximal relationship was defined as a romantic relationship that was exclusive (not dating anyone else), emotionally and/or physically intimate, and involving some level of commitment. The relationship was proximal, as defined here, if the two partners were not separated by a significant physical distance so that physical closeness is generally possible on a regular basis. Commitment, here, was defined as being obligated and fully engaged emotionally and physically to the participant’s significant other. Commitment was measured by the questionnaire with the following question: How committed are you to your current partner? 1 2 3 4 5 Low commitment Moderate commitment High commitmentSatisfaction was defined as pleasure and feelings of fulfillment that the participant felt was present in their current relationship. It was measured by the survey with a question such as: 2. In general, how satisfied are you with your relationship? 1 2 3 4 5Low satisfaction Moderate satisfaction High satisfactionLength of the relationship was defined as the amount of time the participant has been with their significant other. It was defined in terms of months or years as in the question below:Length of current relationship: less than 1 month 1-3 months 3-6 months 6-12 months 1-2 years 2-3 years 3-4 years over 4 years [circle one] To eliminate any participants who were not involved in any exclusive dating relationship, or who were either currently engaged or married, on the survey, we asked them if they were included in the definitions of either a long-distance or proximal relationship. If the participants did not fit the definitions, then we asked them to discontinue with the survey. Two methods were used to acquire participants. One method was asking students as they walked into the WAC center (a writing center) if they were willing to take a survey that we were conducting on the significance of communication in both long-distance and proximal relationships. The other method of acquiring participants was by asking psychology teachers if we could solicit participants for our study. In both settings, as participants walked in, we informed the participants that we were conducting a study to look at the relationship between communication and satisfaction in two types of relationships: long-distance and proximal. When the participants arrived at the testing location, they were asked to sit down at the desks, to fill out two informed consent forms, and to turn one in to us and keep the other for themselves. We then handed them a survey and they were asked to begin answering the survey as honestly as possible. We told them to ask any questions about anything that was confusing. Then we asked them to turn in the survey to us after they were finished. We also told them if at any time, they wanted to terminate their participation in the experiment, then they could do so. Upon completion of the survey, we debriefed the participants informing them that all personal information given to us would be kept confidential; that if they were interested in the results, the contact information was at the top of their consent form; and finally, they were asked if they had any questions for us to answer, and if not, then they were free to leave.


RESULTS
The analysis compared the effect of communication on the satisfaction of both proximal and long-distance relationships. It was concluded that there was no statistically significant difference in the relationships between the total satisfaction, length of relationships, and reported commitment level in proximal and long-distance relationships. An independent groups t test was conducted to test the second hypothesis, (which was that long-distance relationships would have greater communication and thus greater relationship satisfaction). However, these results indicated no such differences between total satisfaction of participants involved in long-distance relationships (M = 34.99, SD = 5.76, n = 38) and for participants in proximal relationships (M = 35.24, SD = 4.01, n = 70), t (106) =. -27, p = .79. The researchers found very few significant relationships to support the first hypothesis asserting that there would be a positive relationship between the amount of communication and relationship satisfaction. However, in some categories of communication such as the category of phone communication, there was a significant correlation found between the number of phone conversations per week (M = 8.55, SD = 6.44) and reported relationship satisfaction based on the researcher’s scale (M = 35.15), r (106) = .21, p = .03. There was also a significant correlation found between the number of emails sent per week sent (M = 2.92, SD = 5.80) and number of emails received per week (M = 2.79, SD = 5.64), r (107) = .96, p = .000. This data indicated a very strong reciprocal relationship between emails sent and emails received by participants and their significant other. When analyzing the results to see if any sex differences existed in both types of relationships (long-distance and proximal) in total reported relationship satisfaction, no significant differences were found. Results indicated no significant mean differences in reported relationship satisfaction for males in proximal relationships (M = 34.87, SD = 3.77) and females in proximal relationships (M = 35.36, SD = 4.11). Results also showed that there were no significant mean differences in reported satisfaction for males involved in long-distance relationships (M = 35.35, SD = 3.23) and females involved in long-distance relationships (M = 34.86, SD = 6.47).


DISCUSSION
The researchers hypothesized that communication would have a positive relationship on satisfaction in both long-distance and proximal relationships. In the sample of 109 students, the authors found no such indication; the only significant correlation found was the more a participant conversed over the phone with their significant the higher they reported their satisfaction to be in their relationship. Our second hypothesis was that the researchers would find more communication among participants in long-distance, and therefore more satisfaction as well. However, again, the researchers found no such significance differences that would support this hypothesis. Results indicated no significant difference between satisfaction in long-distance relationships and satisfaction in proximal relationships. Besides finding that phone conversations are especially important in both types of relationships between both sexes, the authors found significant correlations and differences between long-distance and proximal relationships existed emails sent and received per week. These results are logical because long-distance relationships must rely on non-face-to-face forms of communication in order to communicate since they are hindered by distance. They are expected to use other methods of communicating, while proximal relationships are able to communicate via face-to-face; and thus, they use less non-face-to-face communication. The results also explain the differences found in the ranking of the five different types of communication (see Appendix for survey). Recent research supports the authors’ findings that communication is important for a satisfactory relationship. Because the participants communicate so often via phone, they are bound to be successful in their relationship. According to Berg and McQuinn (1986), the more each individual loves his or her partner and engages in behaviors to maintain the relationship, such as communicating as often as possible via phone, the more likely it is that the relationship will remain intact over time. According to Sprecher (1999), communication and love are not the only factors which can sustain a relationship between couples, but satisfaction and commitment were found to be just as important if not more important than love for couples in their desire to stay together. Although a myriad of results were found, the study consisted of limitations, which should be addressed in future research. While conducting the experiment, the researchers realized that they would have changed a few aspects. First, this study examined a dyadic relationship; however, only one of the participants was present for the study. In only studying one side of the relationship, the researchers had no way of knowing about any possible reciprocation between the participants and their significant other. This limitation greatly affected the results because only one side of the study is represented. Secondly, convenience sampling and snowball sampling may have crippled the study as well because some of the participants were offered extra credit in psychology classes from their professors to participate in the study. In accepting extra credit, the students may have been biased or apathetic when filling out the survey. Rather than taking their time, students may have been worried about time restraints and other preoccupations, and may have rushed through the survey as well; for this reason, the results may not be as thorough as they could be. Thirdly, some of the questions were not answered for a number of reasons. Some of them were not as clear as they should have been, and because of this, they were skipped, thus the researchers were missing data which could have affected the results as well. In the future, some of the questions on the survey should be asked more clearly; and some should be rephrased entirely. Fourthly, the sample of 109 participants is made up of 81 females and 28 males, a lopsided sample to say the least. Because of this lopsided sample, they believe that there would have been a significant sex difference in the measurements of satisfaction. In fact, the sample of men in long-distance relationships was so small, that the authors could not generalize the results to the population. Also, although the authors ideally wanted to recruit equal numbers of each subgroup: proximal males, proximal females, long-distance males, and long-distance females, they were unable to do so. The theoretical implications consist of helping tremendously in aiding couples with what may seem like hopeless relationships. They will realize that keeping the lines of communication open is vital in maintaining and sustaining a loving relationship. Long-distance relationships could especially benefit because if one or both partners feel despair for their lack of satisfaction in their relationship, they could possibly increase their satisfaction by conversing more with not just their significant other but also with their friends. Although, this would put them in a bind with their phone companies and phone bills, the person would feel it worthwhile after they realized how much their satisfaction has increased by talking on the phone. Also, if any people in proximal relationships are struggling, either because their face-to-face contact causes too many problems, or because whatever form of communication they use doesn’t aid in the progress of their relationship, they could switch to phone conversations to possibly increase satisfaction. Pragmatically speaking, the phone companies stand to benefit the most from these results, especially cellular phone companies. Now that almost every cellular phone company offers free nationwide long-distance, the phone companies can use these results to publicize how satisfaction will increase in romantic relationships, and particularly target couples in long-distance relationships. One idea could be offering special cellular phone rates for couples in long-distance relationships by either increasing the number of free long-distance minutes per month or reducing the rate of the cellular phone bill per month. Counselors also can learn from these results and can utilize the information to aid and advise struggling couples both married and non-married couples with their relationships. In reading this study, counselors will learn about the effective ways of communication in relationships. Also, people will realize how much communication can affect the success of their relationship either with their significant other or their best friend. They will realize the importance of communication is in relationships, and hopefully they will use this knowledge to bandage whatever crippled relationship they may be involved in. Future researchers should consider a few suggestions to improve the limitations of this study. In order to find a significant relationship between the variables of satisfaction and communication in both types of relationships, first and foremost, the study must look at the relationships as there are: dyadic relationships. They must study both partners’ answers. For suggested follow-up research, this is vital. Suggested future research includes comparing the levels of commitment and satisfaction to see if there are any significant sex differences that this current study was unable to produce. Ideally further studies will want to increase the size of the sample in order to apply the results to the population; more males need to be recruited in order to find possible sex differences in the study. Also, each of the subgroups: long-distance males, long-distance females, proximal males, and proximal females need to be equally represented in the larger sample to accurately generalize to the population. The survey should and must be changed to ensure precision of data and results and to ensure that the participants make no unwanted mistakes. Another study could include a scale to measure commitment and strength of both types of relationships to analyze any possible differences in the relationships, and the study could compare these scales with a communication and satisfaction scale. All these scales could be used to specifically measure the strength of the relationships and possibly correlate the strength of the relationship to the length of the relationship, which could possibly predict how long the relationships would last, and this would appeal to everyone and anyone either involved in or seeking a romantic relationship.


REFERNCES
Berg, J.H., & McQuinn, R.D. (1986). Attraction and exchange in continuing and noncoming dating relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 942-952.Berscheid, E., Snyder, M., & Omoto, A.M. (1989). Issues in studying close relationships: Conceptualizing and measuring closeness. In C. Hendrick (Ed.), Close relationships (pp. 63- 91). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Buck, R. (1989). Emotional communication in personal relationships: A developmental- interactionist view. In C. Hendrick (Ed.), Close relationships (pp. 144-163). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Cramer, D. (1998). Close relationships: The study of love and friendship. London: Oxford University Press.Davis, K.E., & Todd, M.J. (1985). Assessing friendship: prototypes, paradigm cases and relationship description. In S. Duck, D. Perlman (Eds.), Understanding personal relationships: An interdisciplinary approach. (pp.17-38). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Didian, K., & Allen, M. (1992). Sex differences in self-disclosure: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 106-124.Simpson, J.A. (1987). The dissolution of romantic relationships: Factors involved in relationship stability and emotional distress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 683-692.Sprecher, S. (1999). For romantic couples, love increases over time, a new study suggests. APA Monitor 30. Retrieved February 10, 2001, from the World Wide Web: http://www.apa.org/monitor/mar99/love.html


APPENDIX
A. Male / Female [circle one]

B. A LONG-DISTANCE relationship is defined as a romantic relationship that is exclusive (not dating anyone else), emotionally and/or physically intimate, and involving some level of commitment. The relationship is LONG-DISTANCE, as defined here, if the two partners are separated by a physical distance that prohibits immediate physical closeness for extended periods of time.

According to this definition, are you currently involved in a LONG-DISTANCE relationship? yes / no [circle one]

C. A PROXIMAL relationship is defined as a romantic relationship that is exclusive (not dating anyone else), emotionally and/or physically intimate, and involving some level of commitment. The relationship is PROXIMAL, as defined here, if the two partners are not separated by a significant physical distance so that physical closeness is generally possible on a regular basis.

According to this definition, are you currently involved in a PROXIMAL (not a long-distance) relationship? yes / no [circle one]

If you answered NO to BOTH B and C, you have finished the survey. Thank you for your participation. If you answered YES to either B or C, please continue.

D. Length of current relationship:

less than 1 month 1-3 months 3-6 months 6-12 months

1-2 years 2-3 years 3-4 years over 4 years [circle one]

E. Please write the answer that best applies to your current romantic relationship.

1. Number of phone conversations PER WEEK with your partner:___________________

2. Average length of phone conversations: less than ˝ hour ˝ to 1 hour 1-2 hours

2-3 hours 3-5 hours more than 5 hours [circle one]

3. Number of emails received PER WEEK from your partner: ____________________

4. Number of emails you send PER WEEK to your partner: ____________________

5. Number of online chatting sessions PER WEEK with your partner: ____________________

6. Number of letters received PER MONTH from your partner: ____________________

7. Number of letters you send PER MONTH to your partner: ___________________For those currently involved in a LONG-DISTANCE relationship:

8. Time between physical visits with your partner: less than 1 week 1-2 weeks

2-4 weeks 1-2 months 2-3 months more than 3 months [circle one]

9. Average length of visit: __________ days

For those currently involved in a PROXIMAL relationship:

10. Average HOURS PER DAY you spend face to face: _____________________

11. Average DAYS PER WEEK you spend face to face: ______________________

F. Please circle the answer that best applies to your current romantic relationship.

1. Please rank these forms of communication from 1 to 5, assigning a 1 to the form of communication you and your partner use most often, a 2 to the second-most used form of communication, and so on:a. face to face ______ b. phone ______ c. email ______ d. chatting online ______ e. mailing letters ______

2. In the question above, what is the reason(s) you do NOT use the two forms of communication you ranked 4th and 5th. [circle one or more]

a. 4th choice: too expensive too time consuming not available dislike other

b. 5th choice: too expensive too time consuming not available dislike other

3. Do you find yourself desiring MORE communication with your current partner? yes / no LESS communication? yes / no

4. How important would you rate communication as a factor in the satisfaction of YOUR current romantic relationship? 1 2 3 4 5Not important Moderately important Very important

5. How important would you rate communication as a factor in the satisfaction of romantic relationships IN GENERAL?1 2 3 4 5Not important Moderately important Very important

G. Please circle the number that best applies to your current romantic relationship.

1. How well does your partner meet your needs?

1 2 3 4 5Low satisfaction Moderate satisfaction High satisfaction 2. In general, how satisfied are you with your relationship?

1 2 3 4 5Low satisfaction Moderate satisfaction High satisfaction

3. How good is your relationship compared to most?

1 2 3 4 5Low satisfaction Moderate satisfaction High satisfaction

4. How often do you wish you hadn’t gotten into this relationship?

1 2 3 4 5Not very often Sometimes Always

5. To what extent has your relationship met your original expectations?

1 2 3 4 5Low satisfaction Moderate satisfaction High satisfaction

6. How much do you love your partner?

1 2 3 4 5 Not at all Moderately A lot

7. How often are there problems in your relationship?

1 2 3 4 5Not very often Sometimes Always

8. How committed are you to your current partner?

1 2 3 4 5 Low commitment Moderate commitment High commitment

9. Do you have a picture of your partner with you right now (wallet, purse, etc.)? yes / no

10. Are you married to your current partner? yes / no

11. Are you formally engaged to your current partner? yes / no

12. Do you plan on eventually marrying your current partner? yes / no / don’t know

Submitted 4/30/01 12:38:44 PM
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