Shutterstock

A new report finds a higher rate of separation among couples that travel more than 45 minutes to work.

Another day, another drawback of a long commute. Aside from their ability to bring us to higher-paying jobs, lengthy trips to work offer very few beneficial side effects. Our stress levels go up, our sleep levels go down, and our interactions with friends and family go scarce. And now it seems our marriages — or, at least, our committed partnerships — can go awry, too.

That's according to new work from researcher Erika Sandow of Umea University in Sweden, set for publication in the British journal Urban Studies, which found that couples with longer commutes are more likely to break up than those without them:

To summarise, one might expect the social costs of long-distance commuting to reduce the quality of a relationship in many ways and thus increase the risk of separation. The statistical results from these analyses not only confirm such assumptions about social costs but can also reveal other and more unexpected results regarding the effects of long-distance commuting on relationships.

Sandow reached her conclusions by analyzing a unique dataset that tracked millions of Swedes across ten years, from 1995 to 2005. First she separated out all the people who were either married or cohabitating, then she split that group two ways: people who commuted one-way more than 45 minutes, and people who did not. Previous work has found that 45 minutes is more or less the threshold at which the maladaptive side of commuting presents itself with increased vigor.

About 11 percent of all couples in the analysis had separated by 2000. But while 14 percent of couples with one or more long-distance commuters broke up, that was only true for 10 percent of other couples. On average, then, long-distance commute couples had a 40 percent higher risk of separating than did couples whose trip to work was relatively short. (For the sake of simplicity, Sandow calls this latter group "non-commuters.")

Digging deeper into the data, Sandow found some notable wrinkles. When people commuting a long way for a long time — in this case, more than five years — their relationships actually proved much stronger. This separation rate for persistent commuters, at 11 percent, wasn't much different from the 10 percent of so-called "non-commuters" noted above. Meanwhile, separation was also less common if one partner had been a long-distance commuter before the relationship began.

Both these findings suggest that some people may simply acclimate better than others to a long trip into the office. They may also be a sign of what Sandow calls a "customization process" — the development of strategies to handle the stress and strain of long commutes so they don't interfere with a person's home life.

Some couples had a better chance of making it when the woman was the partner who commuting a long way. Compared with women who commuted a short way, women who commuted a long way for more than five years had an 8 percent reduction in odds of being separated. In simpler terms, couples handle the stress of long commutes better when it's the woman who bears most of the commuting burden.

Where the couples lived within Sweden also played a role. While long-commuting men in metropolitan areas broke up more than other men in the city, the reverse was true for long-commuting women. As it happens, people in rural regions had the highest separation rates, for reasons that left Sandow a little stumped.

Now for the caveats. The biggest, and in many ways the most troublesome, is that it's impossible to tell from this data which couples would have separated regardless of their commute. What seems safe enough to conclude for now is that if you're the type of person whose long commute bothers you in the first place, there's a good chance it will end up bothering your relationship, too.

Top image: A.KaZaK /Shutterstock.com

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. The legs of a crash-test dummy.
    Transportation

    A Clue to the Reason for Women’s Pervasive Car-Safety Problem

    Crash-test dummies are typically models of an average man. Women are 73 percent more likely to be injured in a car accident. These things are probably connected.

  2. A NASA rendering of a moon base with lunar rover from 1986.
    Life

    We Were Promised Moon Cities

    It’s been 50 years since Apollo 11 put humans on the surface of the moon. Why didn’t we stay and build a more permanent lunar base? Lots of reasons.

  3. a photo of the First Pasadena State Bank building, designed by Texas modernist architects MacKie and Kamrath. It will be demolished on July 21.
    Design

    The Lonely Death of a South Texas Skyscraper

    The First Pasadena State Bank, a 12-story modernist tower inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, has dominated this small town near Houston since 1962.

  4. People wait in line, holding tote bags in the sunshine, outside a job fair.
    Equity

    How 3 Skill Sets Explain U.S. Economic Geography

    Metro areas in the U.S. with higher cognitive and people skills, versus motor skills, perform better economically and are more resilient during downturns.

  5. Life

    The Future of the City Is Childless

    America’s urban rebirth is missing something key—actual births.

×