Is Your Commute Killing Your Relationship?

Posted: August 2, 2014

The Friendly City Files

How long is your commute to work? If it’s longer than 45 minutes, according to some studies you’re 40 percent more likely to get divorced.

But there’s also good news. If you’ve already been commuting for more than 45 minutes for five years or more, you’re only 1 percent more likely to get divorced than people with shorter commutes (probably because you’ve weathered the long-commute storm), and, if you were a lengthy commuter before you began the relationship, you’re also a lot less likely to get divorced (probably because you both knew what you were getting into).

Why the steep rise in divorce rates due to a long commute? I’m sure there are a number of reasons, but here are a few of my theories:
1. One partner may have to take a job closer to home, especially if the couple has kids.

Say the husband takes a job with a long commute. Limiting his wife’s job prospects to a smaller geographic area may mean she has a less satisfying career and is forced to assume an even bigger role in raising the kids and taking care of the home. That’s hardly a recipe for personal fulfillment.

2. Time is the glue that holds relationships together.

Long commutes take away time — from significant others and from kids — that is lost forever.

3. The money is rarely worth it.

Say you get a 20 percent bump in salary but you have to drive an extra hour. According to another study, economists determined you need a 40 percent increase in pay to make an additional hour of commuting time pay off in terms of personal satisfaction and fulfillment.

In simple terms: A dollar an hour more won’t make you happy, if you’re driving an hour extra every day.

4. Long commutes can be stressful, especially when heavy traffic and frequent delays are involved.

It’s hard for anyone to walk in the door happy when they’ve played bumper cars on the freeway for an hour. For three years, I commuted two hours each way but the actual drive was a breeze. I didn’t love it, but it wasn’t terrible. But I can’t imagine commuting into, say, northern Virginia every day.

5. The guilt could eventually get to you.

When your spouse and your kids so obviously miss you, it’s easy to feel like your decision that the trade-off between time and money is selfish or in some way self-serving.

So, you start to act differently, either defensively or indulgently or both. You make decisions you might not have made. You say things you might not have said.

Maybe you don’t have a choice. Maybe a long commute is your only option. In that case, it’s best to make the most of it and do what you can to make the rest of the time at home count.

But, if you do have a choice, think hard about the trade-off between time and money or job title or prestige or whatever the lure of a new opportunity. Or find ways to make it work.

My wife commutes two hours each way to her job, but through creative scheduling she only works a few days a week — granted those days are 24 hours long. The trade-off works because while she’s in the car more, she’s also at home more.

That also works for us because my commute is two flights of stairs; whenever she’s home, I’m home. And I can schedule my time to take advantage of that.

Don’t ignore the impact of a long commute. If you’re struggling to decide whether an opportunity makes sense, here’s one way to look at it: You sometimes might regret the opportunity that slipped away, but you will always regret the time lost with your loved ones.

Jeff Haden lives in Harrisonburg. He can be reached at

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