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Patterns of communication channel use in the maintenance of long‐distance relationships

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The present study focuses on associations between communication channel use and relational maintenance by individuals in long‐distance romantic relationships. Survey data were collected from 114 individuals in long‐distance relationships (LDRs). Results indicate that use of communication channels covaries such that there are positive relationships between the use of oral channels (face‐to‐face and telephone), positive relationships between the use of written channels (internet and letters), but negative relationships between the use of oral and written communication channels. Second, the use of each communication channel was positively associated with relational maintenance, with telephone use in particular associated with the use of relational maintenance strategies. Telephone use was also positively associated with relational commitment and satisfaction, and Internet use was positively associated with trust. Finally, amount of face‐to‐face interaction could successfully distinguish between LDR types, with individuals who have periodic face‐to‐face interaction using more maintenance and experiencing greater satisfaction and commitment than individuals in LDRs with no face‐to‐face interaction.
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Patterns of Communication Channel Use in the Maintenance
of Long-Distance Relationships
Marianne Dainton Brooks Aylor
La Salle University La Salle University
The present study
focuses_ori_associatioris
hetween communication channel use
and relgtjonaLmaintenance by individualsj^rij^g^distance romantic relationships.
Survey
data
were collected from
114
individuals in long-distance
relationships
(LDRs).
Results indicate that use of communication channels
covaries
such that
there are
posi-
tive
relationships
hetween the use of
oral
channels
(face-to-face
and
telephone),
positive
relationships hetween the use of written channels (internet and letters), but negative
relationships between the use of
oral
and written communication channels.
Second,
the
use of each communication channel was positively
associated
with relational mainte-
nance, with telephone use in particular
associated
with the use of
relational
mainte-
nance strategies.
Telephone
use was
also
positively
associated
with relational commit-
ment and satisfaction, and Internet use was positively
associated
with trust. Finally,
amount of face-to-face interaction could successfully distinguish between LDR types,
with individuals who have
periodic face-to-face
interaction using more maintenance
and experiencing greater satisfaction and commitment than individuals in LDRs with
no face-to-face
interaction.
Despite the fact that personal relationships are likely maintained by both face-to-
face and mediated means (Wellman & Gulia, 1999), the majority of research on rela-
tionship maintenance has focused on face-to-face communication strategies. This is
surprising, as several research efforts have found that mediated communication serves
maintenance functions (e.g., Gunn & Gunn, 2000; Rabby, 1999; Stafford, Kline, &
Dimmick, 1999). The importance of mediated channels is likely to be heightened in
long-distance relationships, because partners typically experience limited face-to-face
contact and must rely on mediated communication (Stephen, 1986). Accordingly, this
Marianne Dainton (Ph.D., The Ohio State University, 1994) is Associate Professor of
Communication, Department of Communication, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA
19141.
Brooks Aylor
(Ph.D.,
The
University of Arizona,
1998) is
Assistant Professor of Commimication,
La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA
19141.
The authors would like to thank Jenna Katits for
data entry, and the students of Communication 316 during Fall, 1999 for assistance with data
collection.
COMMUNICATION RESEARCH REPORTS, Volume 19, Number 2, pages 118-129
Channels and Mauintenance -119
study seeks to augment previous research into communication channel usage in long-
distance relationships.
In addition to furthering scholarly examinations of channel use and relational
maintenance efforts, the present study is of practical value to individuals involved in
long-distance relationships. Distance relationships have become increasingly common
in this country and elsewhere, with as many as one million people annually reporting
being in a long-distance relationship (Maines, 1994). Distance relationships are par-
ticularly prevalent among college students, with
25%-40%
of college students involved
in a long-distance relationship (Dellman-Jenkins, Bernard-Paolucci, & Rushing, 1993).
Thus,
the sheer number of individuals involved in LDRs encourages further examina-
tion of maintenance behaviors in these relationships. The present study focuses on the
relationship between the frequency of use of differing communication channels and
relational maintenance strategies for partners in long-distance relationships. Addition-
ally, relationships between channel use and salient relational characteristics such as
satisfaction, commitment, and trust are probed.
Communication Channels
With the growth of interactive media technologies, scholars have turned their at-
tention to understanding the uses that individuals make of mediated communication.
Although several competing theoretical explanations have been formulated, the present
study is grounded in a uses and gratifications perspective on communicative channel
selection. The assumptions of a uses and gratifications (U&G) perspective make it par-
ticularly appropriate for the current study of relational maintenance in long-distance
relationships.
As Rubin and Rubin (1985) note, a U&G perspective assumes that media use is
often goal-directed to satisfy needs and is performed by an active audience that is able
to articulate needs and motives. These assumptions are consistent with most perspec-
tives of interpersonal communication (Cohen
&
Metzger, 1998) and, given the increased
cognitive and behavioral demands of many long-distance relationships (Rohlfing, 1995),
this perspective seems well suited for the study of this relational context.
Uses and gratifications theory argues that individuals choose various media forms
based on the gratifications they expect to receive from these media (e.g., Westmyer,
DiCiocco, & Ruhin, 1998). That is, certain communication channels might better meet
particular gratification needs than other channels. Westmyer et al. (1998), for example,
found that face-to-face communication was seen as more effective and appropriate for
meeting interpersonal needs than were mediated channels. Within mediated channels,
Dimmick, Kline, and Stafford (2000) found that the telephone provided more sociabil-
ity gratifications such as expressing emotion and providing companionship than did
e-mail. This is not surprising, as Westmyer et al. (1998) found that the telephone was
frequently seen as a functional alternative to face-to-face communication.
Given that these channels are differentially able to meet relational needs, at issue is
the extent to which various communication channels are used by individuals in long-
distance relationships. For example, there is a cultural belief that face-to-face commu-
nication is the preferred channel for those in romantic relationships (O'Sullivan, 2000;
Westmyer et al., 1998). By definition, however, individuals in LDRs cannot make fre-
quent use of this channel. Instead, several researchers have underscored the reliance
120 - Communication Research Reports/Spring 2002
on telephone and written commimication in LDRs (Carpenter
&
Knox,
1986;
Dellmann-
Jenkins et al.,
1993;
Holt
&
Stone, 1988). More recent research has also focused on the
frequent use of the Internet by those in LDRs (Gunn
&
Gunn,
2000).
To date, however,
no study has examined the overall pattern of communication channel use among those
in
LDRs.
From a uses and gratifications perspective, such an effort makes sense; given
the gratification of relational maintenance, the question arises as to which communica-
tion channels are used. Accordingly, our first research question in posed:
RQl: What is the pattern of communication channel use by individuals in
LDRs?
Maintaining Long-Distance Relationships
Part of the reason that maintenance researchers may have ignored communication
channel is that their primary focus has been on the identification of specific mainte-
nance strategies, and the effect of these strategies on the relationship. For example,
Stafford and Canary (1991) identified five primary maintenance strategies: positivity
(behaving in a cheerful and optimistic marmer),
openness
(self-disclosure and direct
discussion of the relationship),
assurances
(messages stressing commitment to the part-
ner and relationship), network (relying upon common friends and affiliations), and
sharing tasks (taking responsibility for accomplishing responsibilities that face the
couple). These strategies have been consistent and strong predictors of relational char-
acteristics such as satisfaction and commitment. Moreover, evidence suggests that these
strategies are performed using both mediated and non-mediated
channels;
Rabby (1999)
found evidence for the use of all of these strategies in a sample of on-line relationships.
At question is the extent to which the use of particular commimication channels
might be associated with the frequency with which maintenance is performed by LDR
partners. Previous research suggests that variations exist. Dimmick et al. (2000), for
example, found that the use of the telephone better met sociability gratifications (which
they claim
is
analogous to relational maintenance) than did e-mail. Rabby (1999) found
that assurances and positivity were used less often in
e-mail
than in face-to-face inter-
action. Finally, Gunn and Gunn (2000) found greater use of openness among on-line
relational partners than among those who did not make use of the Internet. This is
consistent with the hyperpersonal nature of the Internet (Walther, 1996).
Clearly, particular communication strategies are better suited to particular media
forms (Dimmick et al., 2000). However, from a uses and gratifications perspective,
people also adapt to the channels available in order to accomplish their goals. This
suggests that all maintenance strategies can be enacted using all communication chan-
nels,
a presumption that is supported by evidence (Dimmick et al., 2000; Rabby, 1999;
Walther, 1996). Accordingly, the focus of the present study is not the identification of
which maintenance strategies are enacted using which channels, but, rather, the rela-
tionship between the pattern of individuals' communication channel use and their use
of relational maintenance strategies. This leads to the next research question:
RQ2:
What relationships, if any, exist between communication channel use
and the frequency of use of maintenance behaviors in LDRs?
Channels and Mauintenance -121
Relational
Characteristics
and Communication Channel
The majority of research into relational maintenance has sought to uncover the
associations between particular maintenance activities and salient relational character-
istics.
Two characteristics in particular—satisfaction and commitment—have received
the lion's share of attention. However, Dainton and Kilmer (1999) argue that given the
physical separation between partners, a third relational characteristic—trust—is sa-
lient when discussing LDRs.
An interesting paradox remains unexplained when considering the success of
LDRs.
On the one hand, previous research has found no significant differences between LDRs
and geographically close relationships (GCRs) on their overall levels of satisfaction,
commitment, or trust (see Guldner, 1996; Guldner & Swenson, 1995). On the other
hand, LDRs last longer than do GCRs (Stafford
&
Reske,
1990).
A potential explanation
for this paradox is that the means for maintaining LDRs might differ from those used
in GCRs. For example, what has not yet been tested is the extent to which the use of
various communication channels might facilitate relational maintenance; it may be that
those who more frequently use particular communication channels (face-to-face,
Internet, telephone, letters) might experience more satisfaction, commitment, or trust
in their relationship. There is tentative evidence to support this contention, as Stafford
and Yost (1990) found that lack of telephone access was a major source of dissatisfac-
tion for long-distance naval couples. More directly, Gunn and Gunn (2000) found that
LDR partners who used the Internet reported more love and relational closeness than
did LDR partners who did not use the Internet. Therefore, the next research question is
posed:
RQ3:
What are the relationships between satisfaction, commitment, and trust
and the use of communication channels?
Long-Distance Relational Types
A final possibility is that communication channel use might in fact differentiate
between LDR types. Although all distance relationships, by definition, provide lim-
ited face-to-face contact, it is possible that those who experience periodic visits with
their partner may communicate differently than do those with no face-to-face contact.
According to a uses and gratifications perspective, if face-to-face interaction and the
telephone are functional equivalents (Dimmick et
al.,
2000;
Westmyer et
al.,
1998), then
one might expect individuals in LDRs with no face-to-face interaction to use the tele-
phone more frequently than would individuals in LDRs with periodic face-to-face in-
teraction. These variations in charmel use might in turn have an impact on the use of
relational maintenance strategies, as well as characteristics such as satisfaction, com-
mitment, and trust. Accordingly, the final research questions center on the possibility
that communication channel use may distinguish between LDR types. Specifically, we
ask:
RQ4:
Are there differences in the reported use of relational maintenance be-
havior among those in
LDRs
with no face-to-face interaction versus those
with periodic face-to-face interaction?
RQ5:
Are there differences in the reported satisfaction, commitment, or trust
122 - Communication Research Reports/Spring 2002
among those in LDRs with no face-to-face interaction versus those with
periodic face-to-face interaction?
METHOD
Respondents were 114 individuals currently in long-distance romantic relation-
ships.
Participants in the current study were part of a larger project on relational main-
tenance (n
=
334).
As part of a research project in an advanced research methods course,
each student was asked to distribute questionnaires to 10 individuals currently in a
romantic relationship. Attached to the questionnaire was an envelope. Upon comple-
tion of the survey, respondents sealed the survey in the envelope and either returned it
to the student (who gave the envelope to the instructor) or mailed it directly to the
course instructor. Students distributing the questionnaires were trained in survey data
collection and research ethics. Respondents were assured of complete confidentiality
and informed consent was obtained from each participant. At no time did any of the
students have access to the specific surveys that they solicited. After data collection,
the instructor contacted
35%
of the sample to verify successful completion of the sur-
veys.
Because previous research suggests that LDRs are most prevalent among first-year
college students (Knox, 1992), students in "First-Year Experience" courses at the same
university were also sampled. Students currently involved in romantic relationships
completed surveys in class as part of an FYE project. Completion was voluntary and
respondents were assured of complete confidentiality.
The average age of respondents was 20, with a range of 17-40 (sd = 3.0). There
were
61
females (53.5%) and 53 males (46.5%). Approximately 89% of the sample (n =
102) was European American, 4.5% was African American (n = 5), 3.5% was Asian
American (n = 4), and
3%
reported Hispanic ethnicity (n = 3). The average length of
relationships was
20
months (range
= 1
month to 2.5 years). The average distance sepa-
rating couples was 382
miles.
Turning to relationship type,
71%
of respondents (n
=
81)
reported being in serious romantic relationships, while 26% of respondents (n = 30)
identified their relationship as casual dating. One respondent was married, and two
were engaged but not married.
Instrumentation
Researchers have debated the most effective marmer by which to conceptualize
long distance relationships. Although some past research has used distance apart to
categorize LDRs, Dellmann-Jenkins et al. (1993) argue that a more valid approach is to
allow the respondents themselves to categorize their relationship as long-distance or
geographically close. They argue that "miles separated" standards vary considerably
across studies, causing inconsistencies in findings, and that respondents often have
difficulty accurately reporting the exact number of miles separating them from their
partner. Philosophically, they argue that a person's perceptions of their relationships
affect relational consequences and are more valid measures of relational type than
artificially created distance standards. Consistent with this approach, in the current
study we asked respondents "Would you consider your current romantic relationship
to be a long-distance relationship (for this study, a long-distance relationship is one in
which you cannot see your partner, face-to-face, most days)?" Those who answered
Channels and Mauintenance -123
this question affirmatively were utilized for the current study.
Because a primary goal of the current study was to examine relationships between
channel use and maintenance strategies in LDRs, respondents were asked how often,
during a typical week, they communicated via different communication channels.
Responses on the 5-item Likert measures included never (1), one or two days week (2),
three or four days a week (3), five or six days a week (4), and daily (5). Results indi-
cated the following frequencies: face-to-face M
=
1.8 (one or two days a week),
sd =
.79;
Internet M
=
2,6 (three or four days a week),
sd =
1,6; telephone M
=
3.7 (five or six days
a week), sd = 1.2; and letters/cards M = 1.5 (one or two days a week), sd = .66. To
answer the fourth and fifth research questions, individuals who responded with a "1"
on the face-to-face question (i.e., "never") were classified as being in a LDR with no
face-to-face (n = 37). All others were classified as being in a LDR with some face-to-
face interaction (n = 74). Three people failed to respond to this question, and were not
classified.
To date, the most used quantitative measure of relational maintenance is the scale
first developed by Stafford and Canary (1991) and subsequently revised by Canary
and Stafford (1992). For each of five maintenance categories, respondents indicated
how often they had performed the behaviors in the last two weeks using a 7-point
Likert scale. Respondents were instructed to only report those behaviors they have
done recently, and to not report things they once did but have not done lately. The five
maintenance categories in the current study were positivity (alpha =
.83,
M = 5.8, sd
=
1.4), openness (alpha =
.86,
M
=
5.6, sd
=
1.2), assurances (alpha
=
.83,
M
=
5.9, sd
=
1.3),
social networks (alpha =
.85,
M = 5.0, sd = 1.8), and shared tasks (alpha = .84, M = 5.5,
sd = 1.4).
Finally, maintenance research has sought to examine the effects of relational main-
tenance on relational characteristics. Norton's (1983) measure of satisfaction (alpha =
.93,
M
=
5.9, sd = 1.3), Stafford and Canary's (1991) commitment scale (alpha =
.90,
M
=
5.8, sd = 1.3) and Larzelere and Huston's (1980) measure of trust (alpha =
.76,
M = 6.2,
sd = .92) were used in the current study. Consistent with previous research, in this
study the maintenance strategies were significantly, positively correlated with the re-
lational characteristics, with only three exceptions; network was not sigruficantly re-
lated to either commitment (r
=
.16,
p
=
.09) or trust (r
=
.16,
p
=
.09), and openness was
not significantly related to trust (r
=
.08,
p
=
.38).
All other correlations were significant,
ranging from a high between assurances and commitment (r = .70, p
<
.001) to a low
between tasks and trust (r =
.19,
p
=
.05).
RESULTS
The first research question asked about patterns of relationships in the use of com-
munication channels, Bivariate Pearson correlations were computed, and the results
indicated four significant relationships. Specifically, face-to-face interaction was sig-
nificantly, positively related to telephone use, and significantly, negatively related to
Internet use. Internet use was also significantly, negatively related to telephone use,
but significantly, positively related to writing letters. The correlation matrix is pre-
sented in Table 1.
The second research question sought to determine the relationships between the
use of communication channels and the performance of relational maintenance strate-
124 - Commumcation Research Reports/Spring 2002
TABLE 1
Correlations Between the Use of Communication Channels
Face-to-Face Telephone Internet
,36
p = ,00
-,20
p
= .O4
,07
p=,49
-,23
p = ,02
.11
p = .24
Telephone
Intemet
Letter ,07 .11 ,24
In all cases, the df= 108
gies.
Given the interdependence of the communication charmels as assessed above,
partial correlations were run between each commtinication channel and the mainte-
nance behaviors while controlling for each additional communication channel. Results,
reported in Table
2,
indicate that there were significant, positive relationships between
each of the communication modes and at least one of the maintenance behaviors. In
particular, telephone use was positively associated with three maintenance behaviors.
TABLE 2
Partial Correlations Between Communication Channel Use and Relational Maintenance, Controlling for
Other Communication Channels
Positivity
Openness
Assurances
Network
Tasks
Face-to-Face
,14
p = .18
,00
p = ,99
,02
p = ,82
.11
p = ,28
,23
p = ,02
Telephone
.09
p = ,40
,25
p = ,02
,34
p = ,00
.20
p = ,05
.16
p = ,12
Intemet
,21
p=,04
-.03
p=,78
,13
p=,19
.28
p=,01
.19
p=,06
Letter
,02
p = ,88
,10
p = ,33
,23
p = ,03
-,15
p = ,13
.03
p = ,75
In all cases, the df= 99
The third research question sought to uncover relationships between the frequency
of communication channel use and relational characteristics such as commitment, sat-
isfaction, and trust. Again, partial correlations were run between each communication
channel and the relational characteristics while controlling for each additional com-
munication channel. Results, reported in Table 3, indicate significant, positive correla-
tions between using the telephone and commitment and satisfaction, and a significant,
positive correlation between trust and using the Internet,
The fourth research question sought to ascertain if LDRs could be differentiated by
channel use. Specifically, the question was posed whether LDRs with some face-to-
face interaction might vary in their use of maintenance relative to those without face-
to-face interaction, A MANOVA was sigruficant [F (5, 97) = 3.022, p <.O5,
eta^
= .09].
Significant tinivariate tests were found for positivity [F (1,101) = 4.72, p
<
,05,
eta^
= .05,
LDRs with no FTF M = 56.03
{sd =
8.42), LDRs with some FTF M = 59.45 (sd = 7.15)],
assurances [F (1,101) = 5.05, p
<
,05,
eta^
=
.05,
LDRs with no FTF M = 22,00 (sd = 5.67),
Channels and Mauintenance -125
TABLE 3
Partial Correlations Between Communication Channel Use and Relational Characteristics, Controlling for
Other Communication Channels
Commitment
Satisfaction
Trust
Face-to-Face
,11
p = .28
.10
p = .33
,11
p = .27
Telephone
,21
p=,03
.25
p = ,01
,17
p = .O9
Intemet
.03
p = .75
.18
p = .O6
.26
p = .Ol
Letter
.07
p = ,50
.11
p=,26
-.07
p = .5O
In all cases, df = 106
LDRs with some FTF M
=
24.52
{sd =
4.94)],
and sharing tasks
[F
(1,101) = 8.50, p
<
.01,
eta^
=
.08, LDRs with no FTF M
=
9.89 (sd = 3.16), LDRs with some FTF M = 11.48 (sd =
2.31)].
In short, individuals in
LDRs
with some face-to-face interaction were more likely
to perform three of five maintenance behaviors, providing support for a distinction
between long distance relational types based on amount of face-to-face interaction.
The final research question asked about whether LDRs with some face-to-face in-
teraction might vary in their relational characteristics from those without face-to-face
interaction. A MANOVA was significant
[F
(3,106)
=
5.15,
p
<.O1,
eta^
=
.13].
Significant
imivariate tests were found for commitment [F (1,108) =
14.05,
p
<
.001,
eta^
=
.12, LDRs
with no FTF M = 30.95 (sd = 8.33), LDRs with some FTF M = 36.66
{sd =
7.13)], and
satisfaction [F (1,108) = 9.45, p
<
.01,
eta^
=
.08,
LDRs with no FTF M
=
32.05
{sd
= 8.81),
LDRs with some FTF M = 36.61 (sd = 6.47)]. Thus, the promise of some face-to-face
interaction in LDRs appears to be associated with greater commitment and satisfac-
tion.
DISCUSSION
The present study sought
to
uncover communication channel use among individuals
in LDRs, and the relationships between communication channel use and relationship
maintenance, commitment, satisfaction, and trust. The results provide confirmation
for previous communication channel research from a uses and gratifications perspec-
tive,
but also extend that research in significant ways. Each of the results will be dis-
cussed in turn, and implications and areas for future research will be highlighted.
The first research question sought to uncover patterns of communication channel
use.
In this study, we found positive relationships in the use of oral channels, positive
relationships in the use of written channels, and negative relationships between the
oral and written channels, consistent with both Westmeyer et al. (1998) and Flaherty,
Pearce, and Rubin (1998). Specifically, the results of the present study support those of
Westmyer et al. (1998), who found that oral communication channels (face-to-face and
telephone) were functional equivalents, as were written communication channels
(Internet and letters). Specifically, Flaherty et al. (1998) found that the Internet is not
perceived as a functional equivalent of face-to-face interaction
A uses and gratifications perspective would suggest that individual preferences
for channel use in LDRS are affected by their needs. Distance relationships often in-
volve uncertainty about the nature of the relationship. It is possible that individuals
126 - Communication Research Reports/Spring 2002
who are insecure about their relationship might seek reassurance through oral chan-
nels.
That is, they may need to talk to or see their relational partner for reassurance.
Immediacy which may be integral to effectively communicating reassurance is lacking
in written channels. On the other hand, those who need to see their partner might also
find it difficult and costly to do so. Long-distance phone conversations, after all, are
often costly. It is possible that the financial needs for these partners dictate that they
make more use of written and computer-mediated channels, relatively inexpensive
and convenient methods of communication.
Another potential explanation for these patterns may be that some individuals
have preferences for written forms of communication such as
e-mail
or letters, which
would explain the positive relationship between these two channels. These individu-
als might prefer the control over the timing and pace of interactions in written form
(McKenna & Bargh, 2000; Walther, 1996), or the ability to present a more idealized
version of themselves to their lovers (McKenna, 1999; O'Sullivan, 2000), Those who
prefer telephone interactions, on the other hand, might prefer the immediacy of the
telephone, as telephone calls provide an interactive means to bridge physical distances
(Dimmick, Sikand, & Patterson, 1994).
A second focus of the study was the relationship between communication channel
use and the use of relational maintenance strategies in
LDRs.
Results suggest a promi-
nent role for mediated communication in the maintenance of distance relationships.
As noted previously, most maintenance research has ignored mediated communica-
tion channels. In our study, telephone use was significantly related to the performance
of three maintenance behaviors: assurances, openness, and shared tasks. This is consis-
tent with research by Dimmick et al, (1994), who found three gratifications of tele-
phone
use:
reassurances, socialization, and the completion of instrumental tasks. These
gratifications are conceptually similar to the maintenance strategies identified above.
Again, uses and gratifications theory provides possible explanations for these find-
ings.
As noted previously, reassurances may be perceived as more genuine —and thus
be more effective—if presented orally or in face-to-face situations. This may be par-
ticularly true in long distance relationships given the additional financial and time
commitments associated with face-to-face contact or long-distance telephone use.
Additionally, as Dimmick, et al. (2000) noted, the communication behaviors necessary
to demonstrate openness and reassurance may be more adequately suited for synchro-
nous communication channels such as telephone use rather than asynchronous written
channels. Both openness and reassurances are highly interactive in nature and require
sensitivity to social context cues, making them more beneficial to partners attempting
to successfully utilize these relational maintenance strategies.
Given this rationale, however, it is surprising that there was only one significant
correlation between face-to-face interaction and maintenance use. One would expect
stronger relationships between the two, as there is a cultural belief that face-to-face
interaction is the preferred mode for enacting romantic relationships (O'Sullivan, 2000;
Westmyer et al,, 1998) and face-to-face interaction might allow for great interactivity
and social context sensitivity. Recall, however, that this sample was of individuals in
long-distance relationships. Consistent with a uses and gratifications perspective, it
may be that they have indeed adapted to the channels available to achieve their goals.
It would be interesting to see if the relationships between face-to-face interaction and
Channels and Mauintenance -127
relational maintenance strategies might be stronger in a sample of individuals from
geographically close relationships, who presumably have not had to make the same
adaptations.
An additional goal of this study was to examine the associations between channel
use and indicators of relational success such as satisfaction, commitment, and trust.
Results of this study indicate that telephone use was positively associated with rela-
tional satisfaction and conunitment, the most common indicators of relational success
in the maintenance literature. In addition, Internet use was strongly associated with
trust, a key factor in any romantic relationship, but particularly important in distance
relationships (Dainton & Kilmer, 1999). Clearly, mediated commurucation use in dis-
tance relationships affects relational maintenance and perceptions of success.
Finally, confirming our suspicions that communication channel use might differ-
entiate between LDRs, the present study found differences in the use of maintenance
and in relational characteristics among those with some face-to-face interaction versus
those without face-to-face interaction. Too often, those studying distance relationships
have examined LDRs as a homogeneous relational type (Sahlstein, 1999). In this study,
the presence of face-to-face interaction was associated with greater use of maintenance
strategies, especially positivity, assurances, and shared tasks. More importantly, peri-
odic face-to-face contact was associated with two indicators of relational success
sat-
isfaction and commitment. Future research into the communication and success of
LDRs
should consider the possibility of face-to-face interaction as a central variable. That is,
it may be that some amount of face-to-face interaction is necessary for relational suc-
cess.
Alternatively, it may be that individuals in LDRs with little opportunity for face-
to-face interaction rely on a different set of maintenance strategies than those identi-
fied by previous maintenance research. Although Rabby (1999) found that the mainte-
nance strategies used herein were also used by those with on-line relationships, he did
identify one maintenance strategy —narratives —which has not been identified in re-
search on off-line relationships.
In summary, the current study provides support for a uses and gratifications frame-
work in that variations in channel use are associated with the gratification of relational
maintenance in long-distance relationships. Telephone use in particular seems to be
vital in maintaining LDRs, as it is more often associated with the use of maintenance
strategies than other channels. Telephone use was also associated with indicators of
relational success such as satisfaction and commitment. Taken as a whole, this study
suggests that scholars studying the maintenance of relationships, particularly LDRs,
should not limit themselves to a focus on face-to-face interaction, but should also ex-
amine the role of all communication channels in relational maintenance.
Despite the value of these findings, the nature of the sample must be recognized as
a potential limitation. The sample used was relatively young, racially homogenous,
and consisted primarily of college students. Future research should seek a more di-
verse sample to address how long-distance relationships might vary based on the age
of
participants.
It is possible, for example, that communication channel use and relational
maintenance might be quite different for a 20-year-old versus a 40-year-old in a long-
distance relationship. Relatedly, future research might further explore commuter mar-
riages as an example of relational maintenance in distance relationships, as these rela-
tionships differ from dating relationships and typically involve older participants.
128 - Commurucation Research Reports/Spring 2002
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