Mental Health Research Explores A Common But Underrated Couple’s Problem: Relationship ‘Jet Lag’

a new one study Published in academic journals Couple and Family Psychology Trying to understand why being in a relationship feels like the everyday dilemma of transitioning between phases of separation and bonding. The study sought to decipher this “relationship jet lag” and provide insights into how couples can develop the agility to deal with it.

“For many of us, these transitions are happening every day,” explains psychologist Danielle Weber, lead author of the study. “If you live with your partner, you go through a transition when you reunite with your partner after a day at work, and you transition again the next morning when you leave your partner to go to work.”

Whether you’re too focused on your work to focus on your partner, or an argument with your partner can keep you from focusing on your work — in both cases, according to Weber, you’re likely to Experiencing relationship “jet lag,” or the feeling that you and your partner are traveling in different time zones and aren’t fully in sync.

For couples in long-distance relationships, the transition feels bigger and more important.

“I think for whatever reason, relationship jet lag happens when we’re not ready to go into that new phase,” Weber explained. “Sometimes we want to stay put and don’t want to transition. Sometimes we want to do that, but the challenges associated with the current mission are hard to let go.”

After following couples through a period of reunion and separation, Weber’s research yielded the following results:

  1. If the upcoming state is less attractive to you in some way, it will be more difficult to make this transition and will lead to more negative emotions shortly after the transition.
  2. Separation is much more difficult for long-distance relationships.
  3. People naturally vary in their level of comfort and naturalness when alone or with a partner, which affects the experience of jet lag. For example, a naturally independent person may encounter resistance during the reunion phase.
  4. Your satisfaction with your relationship also affects how much relationship “jet lag” you experience.

According to Weber, there are a lot of things you can do to prepare for relationship jet lag and even reduce it. These include:

  1. Realize what keeps you “behind.” It’s important to know yourself and when the transition is easier and harder for you. Once you have this awareness, if you know the upcoming transition may be difficult for you, it may be helpful to think and act consciously to make the transition easier.
  2. Include ‘Jet Lag’ periods in your schedule. We can also use calendar reminders and alarms to remind us to start thinking or plan for an upcoming phase so that we can prepare for it when it happens. For an upcoming reunion, this mental process may include making plans for you and your partner or thinking about your last reunion. We can also act differently by starting to engage in activities that prepare us for the phase transition. For example, if you’re having a hard time separating from your partner, don’t let the first thing you do on your own be repetitive or boring. Instead, plan an activity for yourself that engages your mind in a positive way.
  3. Normalize feelings of “jet lag,” especially in long-distance relationships. Research suggests that a period of readjustment after separation may be common in long-distance relationships. Be patient with yourself and know that if you take more time to get back into your personal routine, it doesn’t make you needy or codependent. Or, if you’re taking time to readjust to being with your partner, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad partner. This may just be part of the process.

A full interview with psychologist Danielle Weber discussing her research can be found here: A psychologist explains what ‘relationship jet lag’ means

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