Does Absence Make the Heart Grow Fonder?

How much space is healthy in a relationship?
on July 12, 2023
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Whether you believe in fairytales or love at first sight — these romantic notions give us the fuel needed to tackle everyday life. 

Even though there may be some naysayers out there, believing in a happy ending is certainly no crime. So when it comes to the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder — is it just a romantic notion or is there some truth in it? 

Long-distance couples will know the saying well and the solace that it can sometimes bring, but the benefits of distance can feel like a contradiction in itself. However, even though you may want your partner by your side at all times, distance can be a key factor in a healthy relationship. 

What does “absence make the heart grow fonder” mean?

When your significant other is out of sight, it certainly doesn’t mean they’re out of mind. This idiom describes the abundance of emotions that comes from being separated from your soulmate. 

“This means you are missing your person when you are away from them,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.

“You can feel the love for them but you can’t express it directly to them, so sometimes it feels like all that love is swelling inside until you see them again, some people can not get enough of each other after being apart.” 

While you may not have physical closeness, this feeling gives you a kind of psychological closeness with your partner. No matter the time difference or distance, love doesn’t have to lapse in these cases. This longing for your loved one can feel so intense, with such relief at the other end, it really can feel like the time apart brought you closer together. 

“In a healthy relationship having time apart does not bring on unexpected or unmanageable stress, so fondness builds as you think about your partner missing you and actively waiting in excitement to see you again,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“It’s nice just knowing someone is craving to be close to you.”

What is an example of absence that makes the heart grow fonder? 

Long-distance relationships are a common example of these feelings, with these partnerships constantly having to face these feelings. While other couples may be apart for shorter periods of time, the emotions that come with the distance are often the same. 

“A partner leaves for a positive personal reason, a retreat, traveling with friends, or time to work on a personal passion,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“When they come back they miss their partner, crave catching up, and are enthusiastic about reuniting.”

Communication is key in a relationship and even though couples can keep in touch with their loved ones via Skype, Facetime, or other social media — nothing beats holding your loved one in your arms. 

Honest communication prevents a relationship from weakening during times of distance. This includes being open about why you have to go, a consistent effort being made while you’re apart, and enthusiasm during your reunion. 

This showcases your commitment to your partner, with the idea of a breakup over the distance being the last thing on your mind. If this transparency and dedication aren’t present, there is a risk of the relationship weakening. 

“Being clear about why you are separating and when you will come back together can bring a lot of safety and joy to a relationship,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“As it can be incredibly attractive to see your partner, someone you love grow as an individual and actively choose to come back together, actively choose to return to you.” 

How much space is healthy for romantic relationships? 

Space can be the make or break of a relationship. While a lot of space can be difficult, some distance is necessary for healthy partnerships to thrive. 

While it’s normal to depend on your partner, codependent relationships can lapse into some toxic tendencies if not monitored. In these dynamics, one partner may feel the need to caretake the emotions of the other and a sense of responsibility to keep them happy. Stepping away from this dynamic can feel stressful since you will not be able to take care of them. 

This is why it’s important to give your partner space for self-discovery and reflection. Especially if you’re aware that you can slip into codependent behaviors, and struggle to prioritize your own needs when together.

Taking this time for yourself shouldn’t detract from your relationship but make your connection even stronger. By practicing healthy boundaries you can be closer and have deeper intimacy.

“It’s important for either partner to work on themselves and to focus without feeling like they are navigating the relationship as an added stressor,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“Especially when the relationship itself is not stressful, but the person struggles to focus on their own internal work.” 

Relationships have rocky patches — that’s just the rollercoaster of love. Even though it seems logical to stay together to work through your issues, sometimes space is just the answer that you’re looking for. It can give you the opportunity to see what went wrong and work on how to come out stronger. 

“Space can also help give you perspective if you have been fighting or not seeing eye to eye in a discussion,” says Seeger DeGeare.  

“By taking some space you are able to think a little more clearly and organize some of your thoughts.”

Paired app’s Healthy Conflict Journey supports you and your partner in knowing when to take space in a moment of disagreement and communicate your needs so you can have satisfying discussions. Learning these relationship skills is essential for a healthy relationship. 

Does wanting space mean you’re growing apart? 

“It certainly could, and you’re too worried to say it directly to your partner, or you’re worried about being alone,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

Space in a relationship has its benefits but even though we all need our ‘me time’ — you shouldn’t want to be constantly apart from your partner. This is a sign that the relationship could be headed in the wrong direction and you may need to reevaluate your future together. 

However, wanting space isn’t always a bad omen. Sometimes you just need space to clear your head or focus on yourself, so that when you return you’re able to give your all to the relationship. 

This self-awareness is especially productive and healthy if you feel you’ve fallen into a co-dependent relationship. 

“It might mean you have been navigating codependence, and the distance can help you each feel stronger about your individual identities, and when you can come back together even stronger,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

In these cases, distance can give you the perspective you need to break old patterns and turn the relationship around.

How much distance is too much distance? 

Based on our research, it seems that distance makes the heart grow fonder, but how much distance is too much distance? 

While some space can be good for a relationship, too much distance without effort can mark the end of a successful relationship.

According to Seeger DeGeare, these are some signs that you’re growing apart.
  • When you can not reach each other and you both are not clear on why you are taking distance
  • When you both prefer spending time with other people over each other because it is simply too challenging to be together
  • When you forget to even check in with your partner, that might be a sign that you are no longer functioning as a couple
  • When you intentionally deprioritize the relationship needs
  • When you consistently feel misunderstood by your partner and have stopped desiring to understand your partner

For example, many couples can experience these feelings after they finish university or school. Without this binding element, couples no longer have anything in common, and distance can be the final straw.

How can you feel close despite the distance? 

When faced with distance in a relationship, it can feel like a very daunting prospect to try and keep the spark alive. However, with effort, it’s easy to make up for the distance by dedicating time to your partner — no matter how far apart you may be. 

With these simple steps, you can feel closer to your partner while you count down the days until you’re together again. 

1. Plan times to connect

No matter how busy your schedule is, it’s important to factor in time for your partner. Even if you’re separated by time zones or work, pick a time for a phone call that suits you both. Keeping up to date with your partner in this way makes it easier to stay connected, keeping emotional and intellectual intimacy intact. 

Even though it may be more difficult with distance, sexual intimacy still has a place in long-distance relationships. Get creative with long-distance sex toys or other fun ways to keep your physical spark alive! 

2. Be intentional 

When you’re apart, it’s more important than ever to be intentional about the time you spend with your partner — even if it’s only through digital means for now!

Don’t let your partner feel out of the loop. Share exciting news with your partner first, don’t omit the small details, and include them in the things they may be missing out on.

3. Being vulnerable 

Vulnerability may seem daunting — especially if it’s through a screen. 

However, it’s important to still share your thoughts and feelings about your life and your situation, even if you can’t physically show affection. 

Cute idea: Keep up a cuddle count for when you’re apart, so you can make up for everyone you missed when you’re reunited!

4. Using Paired 

We may be biased but we believe that Paired gives you the opportunity to consistently work on your relationship — even if you’re apart. 

After all, 81% of users credit the app for improving their communication as a couple, increasing to 85% for those using Paired daily. 

So even if you can’t squeeze in a phone call, Paired makes it easy and fun to engage with your partner. Through expertly designed quizzes, games, and questions, you’ll never run out of new ways to connect. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who said that absence makes the heart grow fonder?

    This popular idiom has been attributed to a number of sources. The earliest version of the phrase is commonly credited to Roman poet Sextus Propertius, who is known for his elegies. However, many look to Thomas Haynes Bayly for this honor, due to his poem titled ‘Isle of Beauty’.
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