Yesterday I discovered an article in Slate magazine about relationships and commuting. A Swedish university has conducted a study and determined that couples where one partner has over a 45 minute commute daily are 40% more likely to divorce. It seems that sitting in a car pushing your way through traffic is bad for your waistline, your mental health, your stress levels, and your connection to your loved ones. As the article points out, “If you are commuting, you are not spending quality time with your loved ones. You are not exercising, doing challenging work, having sex, petting your dog, or playing with your kids (or your Wii). You are not doing any of the things that make human beings happy.”
It’s also worth noting that this commute research shows that the joys of having a big house with a yard in the suburbs is completely zeroed out by the negative affects of commuting. You’re better off in a smaller home, closer to your job.
It’s the negative affects of commuting that seem to spill over into our relationships. We don’t exercise as much. We eat more fast food, and so we feel worse physically. Commuting makes us feel more lonely, and more worrisome. If we have children, we feel more disconnected from them and guilty.
…AND ITS GETTING WORSE. Now, 1 in 6 Americans commutes 45 minutes a day or more, each way. Over 3 million people are what’s called “extreme commuters” traveling more than 90 minutes each way from home to work.
As with many relationship issues the first step and partial solution is to be aware of the problem. So many people just accept the idea of their commute and shrug off the negative impacts. They aren’t aware of the subtle ways that this car time hurts their body and spirit. This prevents them from doing things to compensate. You may not be able to move closer to your job, but knowing that three hours in a car each day makes you more likely to lose your marriage might encourage you to look into time shifting – arriving very early and leaving very early so as to avoid the apex of the rush hour. It might make you more dedicated to the idea of packing a home cooked meal, instead of stopping at Arby’s on the way home. It might make you more committed to taking a walk with your spouse and children when you get home.
It also might make you pause, for just a moment, and think about your life. What is really important? How can you change things so you aren’t living someone else’s version of the American dream. I was on Facebook yesterday and saw a post where some women were talking about the amount vacation workers had in other countries. They wondered why they were unable to get 5 or 6 weeks of vacation a year in their country. A man jumped in and said, “So, our GDP will be the strongest!” One of the women wrote, “Really, I get to spend less time with my family so we can be at the top of some GDP list? Sounds like a bad deal to me.”
It may not be a great deal for everyone. If you do find that your commute is killing you, perhaps you can join the increasing number of workers who are asking for compensation for their commutes. Research shows that extreme commuters would need as much as a 40% raise to adequately compensate for the damage they endure on the road.