Commutes. They’re dull; they’re stressful. They’re even hilariously frustrating, if you’re Ron Livingston in the movie Office Space. But could a commute hurt your relationship?
A 10-year study from Sweden suggests that the answer is yes.1 More than two million married or cohabiting Swedes (from an annually updated database containing the entire Swedish population) were included in this study on long-distance commuting. In the study, a “long-distance commute” was defined as a commute spanning 30 kilometers (approximately 18.6 miles) or more, which in Sweden translates to a one-way commute lasting approximately 45 minutes by car. (The 30-kilometer distance was measured in a straight line, so the actual distances traveled were greater.) The researcher found that couples who had lengthy commutes had a 40% higher risk of separation, compared with non-commuting couples.
Why might this be? The researcher speculates that, aside from commutes being stressful (and the traffic and car issues that go hand-in-hand with a commute), long commutes also leave less time for commuters to spend with loved ones, or to sleep, enjoy hobbies, and engage with their communities. These potentially negative aspects of a longer commute may erode one’s well-being, and the well-being of one’s relationships with others.
In this study, many of the long-distance commuters continued their lengthy commutes for five years or more. (That’s a lot of gas fill-ups and frequent flier miles!) The good news, however, was that couples who had been commuting long distances for years seemed to adapt to the difficulties (especially if the long-distance commuter was a woman), and separation rates became lower as these commutes continued over the years. It was the first years of long-distance commuting that were linked to higher separation rates. The likelihood of separation for commuting couples also varied depending on other factors, such as geographic context (e.g., rural, metropolitan), the number of years the commuter had already been commuting for long distances, and whether the couple had young children. Rural commutes appeared to increase the risk of separation, whereas being accustomed to long commutes and having young children decreased the risk.
There are many factors that may increase the chance of divorce or separation. If you and your partner find yourselves unhappy and worn out all the time, consider whether your commute may be playing a role. It might be time to consider relocation…or possibly a new job closer to home.
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1Sandow, E. (in press, 2013). Til work do us part: The social fallacy of long-distance commuting. Urban Studies. doi: 10.1177/0042098013498280
Dr. Helen Lee Lin – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Helen’s past research has focused on potential problems in relationships, such as keeping secrets from a significant other. She is also interested in communication as well as the use and consumption of media in relationships, and is planning to work in applied contexts for her future projects.