How Long Distance Relationships Have Influenced My Happiness [Analysis]- Happiness Essay on Love: Part 2
Updated 14 August 2019
by Hugo: Founder of Tracking Happiness, marathon runner, data junkie and happiness tracker for almost 6 years.
Long distance relationships suck. I think we can all agree here. I wonder though, just how much did mine suck exactly? My girlfriend and I have survived quite some long distance relationship periods, and I have tracked my personal happiness throughout every single one of them! I've been able to analyze this data, in order to find the answers to my main questions. This article will cover my observations from start to finish.
The animation below shows you how my long distance periods have influenced my relationship over time. It might look complicated at first, but I've explained exactly how I got to create this graph in this article. Also, I've included a static, interactive version of this graph at the bottom of this post.
Ever since I started tracking my happiness, I've been fascinated by the effect my girlfriend has on my happiness. We have faced some challenging and difficult times together, but I can honestly that say she makes me a happier person.
It's what I have analysed in the previous part of this series. As far as I know, this is still the most in-depth analysis of happiness in a relationship. I have been able to analyse the exact effect of my relationship on my happiness. At the time, I used over 3,5 years of happiness tracking data in order to find my observations.
My observations were quite simple: I'm truly happy with my girlfriend, and she has a great positive influence on my happiness.
However, we have experienced some periods that had quite an opposite effect on my happiness: the long distance relationship periods.
Long Distance Relationship (LDR) periods
During the 5 years that my girlfriend and I have been together now, we have experienced quite some long distance relationship periods. These periods have lasted anywhere from a couple of weeks to almost half a year.
Before I go into detail, let me specify what I consider to be a long distance relationship period:
A LDR period is when my girlfriend and I are separated by a boatload of distance, and with no opportunity to see each other in person. Also, it has to last at least a month.
The early stage of my career required me to work on a project across the country during the weekdays. Because of this, I only saw my girlfriend during the weekends. I don't consider this to be a LDR period. I also spent a couple of short visits abroad on projects or holidays. If these periods were shorter than 1 month, I omitted them from this analysis.
With all that said, I have experienced 4 significant long distance relationship periods, and have tracked my happiness during every single one of them.
- New Zealand
- Costa Rica
I'll get into the details of these periods in a minute. But let me first give you a heads-up about the data that I'm about to present!
About the data
As I've said before, I track my happiness on a daily basis. I've been doing this for more than 4 years now. I track my happiness by determining a daily happiness ratio on a scale from 1 to 10. Pretty simple, right?
But there's more!
In addition to the happiness ratings, I have also tracked the factors that have influenced these ratings.
I call these the happiness factors, and low and behold: my relationship is one of these factors.
In fact, it's the factor that influences my happiness the most frequently!
I have tracked all the times in which my happiness was both positively and negatively influenced by my relationship. The ratio of positive versus negative influenced is something I call the happiness ratio. It's a great metric that indicates how healthy my relationship is. What I do is, I count all the days that were positively influenced by my relationship and divide those by the number of days that were negatively influenced.
I've covered the happiness ratio of my relationship with a lot of detail in part 1 of this series! I highly recommend you scan through it before reading this second part. However, if you're lazy (I won't judge), let me give you a short recap.
A healthy happiness ratio in a relationship
I've calculated the happiness ratio during my entire time spent tracking happiness. The results were pretty interesting, in that I have experienced periods during which the happiness ratio was sky high. I've had some awesome months with my girlfriend! Think about holidays, fun dates and simply having fun together. These times were obviously great.
However, I have also experienced periods with a terrible happiness ratio from my relationship. The ratio has gone below 1.0 during multiple months in a row! This is a period I have been referring to as 'relationship hell'. During these periods, the negative influence of my girlfriend on my happiness was bigger than the positive influence! Bad news!
This whole 'relationship hell' period happened to occur during one of our long distance relationship periods. Coincidence? I don't think so.
I want to dive into each LDR period, and show you exactly how both my happiness ratings and ratios have been affected by them.
Let's not waste any more time, and start with the first period!
At the end of January, 2014, I traveled to New Zealand to start my final internship of my Bachelor's degree. My girlfriend and I hadn't even been dating for a year, and we were about to enter a 5 month long distance relationship. We both didn't know what to expect, and were going to try our best to survive it as well as we could.
It was the first big test of our relationship.
And it actually wasn't THAT BAD. At least, not for me! I have charted my happiness ratings for you in the chart below.
This chart shows my daily happiness ratings, in addition to the 30 day averages. The x-axis shows the number of days into the long distance relationship period. This period started on the 24th of January, which is day 0 in this graph.
I've included the 30 days before the start of the LDR as well, as a reference point for my happiness. This graph is pretty wide, so feel free to scroll to the right!
I've included some comments in this chart, to provide some much-needed context.
You can see that my happiness didn't really decrease while being away from my girlfriend, right?
But didn't I determine that the correlation between my relationship and happiness is pretty high in part 1 of this series?
Well, apparently I found other happiness factors that were able to replace the void that my long distance relationship created. I wasn't able to enjoy as much time with my girlfriend anymore, but simultaneously, I found a great deal of happiness in exploring New Zealand! The weekends were truly AWESOME in this beautiful country. I was never going to be unhappy during my time there!
But this article is not about my happiness in general! No, I want to further analyse the exact effect of this long distance relationship on my happiness and my relationship.
Therefore, I've created the chart below that shows my happiness ratio from my relationship, instead of my happiness rating.
As we discussed, the happiness ratio is calculated by dividing the days in which my happiness was positively influenced by the days that were negatively influenced! This is calculated per rolling 7 week period. This might sound difficult, but let me explain.
My average happiness ratio prior to me leaving my girlfriend behind in the Netherlands was a 4,50. This means that for every day that was negatively influenced by my relationship, there were 4,5 days that were positively influenced in return. A pretty healthy ratio in my opinion!
Unfortunately, this happiness ratio quickly dropped after the long distance relationship started.
However, it still remained above 1.0 for quite some time. This is a pretty important thing to acknowledge. A happiness ratio of 1.0 could be considered critical. If the happiness ratio drops below 1.0, it means that the relationship causes more mishap than happiness. This shouldn't last too long, obviously, because it will eventually indicate the possible ending of a relationship...
This is also why the y-axis is logarithmic. A happiness ratio of 1.0 is pretty much neutral, which is why it should be located in the middle of the graph. A decrease of 1/7 below 1 is equal to an increase of 1 + 1. It's the nature of the happiness ratio metric.
So even though my happiness ratings didn't really decrease, my happiness ratio dropped quite a bit! My happy relationship was definitely challenged throughout this period, and my girlfriend and I were both extremely happy when it ended.
We had survived our first BIG long distance relationship!
If you're interested in reading more about my happiness, head over to the monthly happiness reports of this period:
- Traveling, Relationship and Happiness - Monthly Happiness Report - January, 2014
- The Travel Bug and Fluctuating Happiness - Monthly Happiness Report - February, 2014
- Friends Make You Happy - Monthly Happiness Report - March, 2014
- McLaren Falls Park and Coromandel - Monthly Happiness Report - April, 2014
- Tongariro Alpine Crossing - Monthly Happiness Report - May, 2014
- South Island Road Trip - Monthly Happiness Report - June, 2014
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Let's continue to the next long distance period, shall we? 🙂
At the end of 2014, I started my career as a marine engineer. Not long after, this job required me to travel to Kuwait for a 5 week period on a huge project.
It was time for the second long distance relationship period for me and my girlfriend!
Before explaining what this period did to me, let me just show you the same chart of happiness ratings again:
This shows quite a clear picture...
Before traveling to Kuwait, my average 30 day happiness rating was a 7,69. In my first 30 days in Kuwait, this quickly dropped to a low 6,35...
Even though my relationship definitely played a role in this drop, I want to explain the rest of my situation as well. You see, I quickly had to transition from my normal, uneventful life to a busy and demanding lifestyle.
As soon as I arrived in Kuwait, I was working about 80 hours a week on a difficult project. In addition, I was unable to do the things I was passionate about: I couldn't run outside, I couldn't play my guitar anymore, and I had zero friends in Kuwait.
It's not terribly difficult to imagine that my happiness ratings were going to decrease, despite my long distance relationship, right?
I not only missed my girlfriend, I simultaneously had no other happiness factors to fill this void. In New Zealand, I had plenty of things to do while I wasn't around my girlfriend. In Kuwait, that was a whole different story.
Let's see how this affected the happiness ratio of my relationship, then!
This graph shouldn't surprise you.
My girlfriend and I had quite a big argument at the start of this period, which had a big impact on the happiness ratio. My girlfriend caused me more mishap than happiness during this brief period. It was definitely difficult to cope with this, as my circumstances were already very challenging.
When my girlfriend and I figured out how to deal with this long distance, I was still having trouble being happy. My work was sucking the life out of me, and I was suffering from a big amount of sleep deprivation.
I eventually burned out on my 22nd day in Kuwait. This had nothing to do with my relationship though, as you can see in the happiness ratio chart. I was just feeling absolutely miserable from my work and the lack of sleep.
You can read the happiness reports of this period below if you're interested:
- Expat in Kuwait - Monthly Happiness Report - January, 2015
- Too much work - Monthly Happiness Report - February, 2015
Anyway, this period was another big challenge for me and my girlfriend. Luckily, it ONLY lasted 5 weeks! I have no clue how it would've ended if it had lasted any longer...
We were just happy and relieved when this period ended. My girlfriend and I were finally able to enjoy our normal life again.
Until my job decided I needed to visit another project again...
On the 21st of May, 2015, I left my girlfriend yet again! This time, I was traveling to Costa Rica to work on another exciting project as an engineer for 7 weeks.
We were both quite confident about this period, as I learned exactly what NOT to do in these challenging circumstances when I was in Kuwait. I'd like to believe that tracking happiness enabled me to learn from my previously made mistakes. I was not going to make the same mistakes as I did in Kuwait!
Let's see how I fared during these 7 weeks in Costa Rica:
So my happiness ratings were barely impacted, which is pretty great! Even though I had to temporarily live without my girlfriend, I wasn't that much unhappier.
I actually found a couple of happiness factors that were sufficiently filling the void my LDR left me in. So while I didn't get to enjoy spending time with my girlfriend, I tried my best to explore the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica during the days off. I also adopted a very strict exercising routine, which really helped me cope with the daily stresses of the project. And finally, I managed my sleep much better than my time in Kuwait. As a result, my happiness was NOT negatively influenced by a boatload of sleep deprivation!
It was still a challenging time, but I was able to deal with it much better than my time in Kuwait. I also didn't have any major arguments with my girlfriend!
Let's see if this is confirmed by the happiness ratio chart:
From a distance, it might look like my relationship also turned to shit during my time in Costa Rica. But I'd like to point out that my happiness ratio only dropped below 1.0 once during this entire period. We only had one argument during this long distance relationship. You can probably tell when that happened. It was a case of bad communication on my part, and it was luckily resolved pretty quickly.
After that, my relationship happiness ratio never dipped below 1.0 again, indicating that my relationship was in good waters! Especially when considering we were really limited in our communication, due to my terrible working hours and the huge time difference.
All in all, this period didn't have a really big influence on our relationship. Sure, we were really happy when it was over, but we managed to survive this period quite easily. I'd like to believe that we had learned from our previous mistakes! 🙂
Again, you can read the happiness reports of this period below if you're interested:
- New Adventure in Costa Rica - Monthly Happiness Report - May, 2015
- Kicking Ass in Costa Rica - Monthly Happiness Report - June, 2015
- Camping in Croatia - Monthly Happiness Report - July, 2015
It's time now for the mother of all LDR periods... The one that had the worst impact of them all.
At the end of the summer in 2015, my girlfriend left the Netherlands (and me) behind to work in Australia for 5 months. After all these times, it was now MY turn to sit tight and wait for her to come back. This was uncharted territory for me!
Before diving into the details, let me tell you that this was by far the worst period within our relationship. It nearly ended what we had on multiple occasions! This period also had a lasting impact on our relationship, even after it ended. The damage was real, and it took us quite some time before we fully recovered from it.
It's why I now call this period 'relationship hell'.
Let's see what it did to my happiness ratings!
This graph is quite interesting. It's the first time where you can notice a significant drop in my happiness ratings as a direct result of the long distance relationship. My happiness dropped in a similar fashion in Kuwait as well, but I believe that was mostly caused by other factors.
During this LDR, or relationship hell if you will, I was significantly less happy as a direct result of this new situation.
I still had all my other happiness factors available: I was able to run as much as I wanted, saw my friends as much as I liked and played all the music I could. Yet it still couldn't stop my happiness ratings from dropping.
My relationship was tested right from the start. Our communication was pretty terrible. My girlfriend was experiencing a completely new adventure, with lots of new friends, while I was back in the Netherlands doing the same things day in - day out. It was not easy to keep up proper communication in this situation, and we quickly started to have arguments.
Every one of those arguments was a drop in the bucket of water, which eventually reached the limit after 2 months or so. We had a major argument, and were on the verge of breaking up. We both openly doubted whether or not this was a healthy situation to be in, and if continuing would be worth it. I also got a huge fever on that day, which made it one of the worst days I ever had.
How about the happiness ratio during this period? I guess you probably know what this is going to look like...
This is quite a shocking graph, and it's reason why I believe long distances can break up any relationship if you give it enough time.
My relationship turned into a steaming pile of shit during these 5 months apart, and it took a long time before it fully recovered. The relationship happiness ratio quickly dropped below 1.0, and stayed there until well after the LDR had ended!
I have talked about this in part 1 of this series already, but I believe every relationship will crumble when the happiness ratio stays below 1.0 for too long.
We only just survived this period, and I believe it would have ended our relationship if it lasted even a month longer than it did. Our days were filled with bad communication, arguments and resentment. It was a terribly depressing period for me, and it was very hard to remain positive throughout this time.
You can read the monthly happiness reports of this period here:
- My First LONG Distance Relationship - Monthly Happiness Report - September, 2015
- Gaming For Happiness - Monthly Happiness Report - October, 2015
- Welcome to Relationship Hell - Monthly Happiness Report - November, 2015
- Mellau Snowboarding Trip - Monthly Happiness Report - December, 2015
- My Breaking Point - Monthly Happiness Report - January, 2016
Our relationship slowly improved after this period ended, luckily. It wasn't easy though, as we had many more arguments after the LDR had ended. We were a damaged couple, and needed quite some time before we were fully healed again.
We haven't experienced a LDR ever since.
I think it's for the best...
Combining this data
Luckily, that concludes the list of LDR periods my girlfriend and I had to endure. Enough is enough, alright! With all this collected data, I obviously want to create the most interesting visualization! So that's what I've tried here. I want to learn from these experiences as much as possible.
I've summarized and parsed all this data into a single graph, to give you an idea of how long distance relationships have influenced my happiness in the past.
This chart shows my happiness ratings during all four of my long distance relationship periods! It shows both the daily and 30-day periodical average happiness ratings.
I feel like there is one thing I can learn from this data by looking at it. It's that my happiness ratings don't necessarily have to decrease during long distance relationship periods, but they certainly become more volatile! The standard deviation during these LDR periods definitely increases, which is caused by some terrible days. A lot of my worst days happened during these LDR periods. Coincidence or not, I believe there is definitely some sort of relationship between the two.
It's also interesting that I was much less happier during the final long distance relationship period. You know, when my girlfriend left ME, instead of when I left HER.
Based on this observation, I could state the following: when you are the one to leave in a LDR, you are bound to have a better time than your partner.
This is of course not undeniably confirmed by my data, as the four LDR periods are not nearly enough to prove this point. Statistically speaking, the sample size is far too small. As a result, this is merely an anecdotal observation, but it does confirm my feelings. Dealing with a LDR was much harder on me when my girlfriend left me behind, instead of the other way around.
So if you're currently reading this while in a LDR, I'd be VERY interested in hearing your opinion on this! What's it like for you?
Anyway, I still have more data to analyse! What about the happiness ratio?
One word: Ouch
You can see that every single long distance period had a negative influence on my relationship. It's to be expected, of course, but this visualization is undeniably clear.
The effect differed per LDR period, however. Our final long distance period (Australia) had a FAR bigger impact compared to our first one (New Zealand).
This could be biased though, as I left my girlfriend by traveling to New Zealand and my girlfriend left me when traveling to Australia. Maybe my judgement when tracking happiness was clouded by the fact that I was alone? Maybe my girlfriend would have judged these two LDR's exactly the opposite?
Well, we have talked about this issue thoroughly, and we both agree that New Zealand was a much less damaging period for our relationship when compared to Australia. Our last LDR period was worse in pretty much every way possible. 0/10 would recommend...
All these periods had a negative effect, of course. But only our last LDR period truly had the potential to end our relationship. We nearly broke up on multiple occasions, even after the long distance period had ended. The effect of 'relationship hell' was simply huge.
I want to point out that this is confirmed by the happiness ratios. Sure, this happiness ratio dipped below 1.0 during every long distance relationship period. But it only STAYED below 1.0 during our last LDR. It is clear to me that this period should not have lasted any longer than it did.
Avoiding long distance relationships at all cost
With all this data in front of me, it is pretty easy to point out the biggest lesson this analysis could produce. And that is to avoid long distance relationships at all cost.
My girlfriend and I are considered a good, strong couple. We trust each other and have a really happy relationship. I can honestly say that I'm happy in love with her.
However, that still didn't stop one of those long distance periods to nearly end what we had. This is why I think a LDR can break up any couple, no matter how strong you think you are together.
And that brings me to my most important advice regarding LDR's: DONT DO THEM!
If possible, you should try whatever you can to avoid being in a long distance relationship. If a LDR period is unpreventable, then at least make sure to have an end-date. Some form of light at the end of the tunnel.
An indefinite and endless LDR is one of the easiest ways to break up an otherwise very strong relationship! Better to avoid it at all costs!
But seriously, if there's no way of avoiding these situations, you should better be prepared!
My girlfriend and I survived four LDR periods. It hasn't been easy, but we have definitely grown from those periods.
My happy relationship
I'm happy to report that I've not been in a significant long distance relationship ever since my girlfriend went to Australia. PFEW!
My relationship has been pretty much perfect ever since recovering from this hellish period, and I'd like to never go back to those times again.
One of the biggest advantages of tracking happiness, is that I get to steer my life in the best direction possible with the knowledge I have. I know that I want to avoid LDR periods at all costs, and that's what I've successfully done the last 2 years. I've actively tried to avoid the possibility for long distance periods.
If my work asks me to go to another project abroad, I'd first like to know how long it would likely last. 10 days? Sure, no problem! 3 weeks? I guess that's manageable.. 4 months though? I'd like to think about it please..!
If one of us ever gets the opportunity to relocate to another country, then we will first consider the possibility to move together. I'm not saying we will, but we can at least better judge the most likely outcome of our decision, because we know now just how much long distance relationships can suck.
I will always try to use this wisdom to better my life.
And I hope you will too! 🙂
And with that, I'd like to finish this second part of my 'Happiness Essay on Love' series. As you now know, I've been fascinated with the influence of my relationship on my happiness, and it's interesting to explore the data behind it all.
Long distance relationships suck. I'm sure we can all agree, I don't need a 4.000 word article to convince you of that. But I do think it is valuable to know just how much they suck exactly. And more importantly, how much damage they could potentially do to your relationship. It's the kind of data and knowledge I try to use every single day in my life, in order to be as happy as I can!
Now my question to you is: What's your opinion about long distance relationships? Ever been in one? Care to share your experiences with me? 🙂
If you have any questions about anything, please let me know in the comments below, and I’ll be happy to answer!
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