Baby, You Can Drive My Car
French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery once claimed that love did not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction. Based on a new study, he could have come to this realization while he and his wife were commuting to work.
A recent study of couples in Hong Kong and the United States, reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, reveals that marital satisfaction of couples is higher when the spouses travel in the same direction to get to work. The study involved 280 American couples who had been married for an average of 8 years. The average age of the spouses was 33 years old. The Hong Kong group involved 139 couples who had been married for an average of 18 years. The average age was 42 years old.
Regardless of other factors, such as number of children, length of commute, and income level, the spouses who commuted to work in the same direction were happier in their marriages. The spouses did not necessarily commute together or even leave at the same time, they merely traveled in the same direction. The mode of transportation was also not a factor. The authors report that shared physical goals are a metaphor for larger, life-defining goals.
An additional experiment reported in the study involved 80 strangers who were asked to complete a task together. Similar to the studies of marriage, the strangers who walked in the same direction to complete their task reported higher attraction to one another.
Changes in modern life have changed the face of marriage and commuting over the last few decades. More couples have two working spouses, couples get married later in life (or not at all), people live farther from their jobs, and husbands share more responsibility for childcare and housework than ever before. Marriage does confer mental and emotional health benefits, but the negatives of modern life can overcome these positives. Specifically, studies have reported that commuting has detrimental mental health effects due to its interference with living and working conditions and family and social life. But, the authors of the new study recommend that couples do not choose a home in between each spouse’s place of employment, but, instead, choose a home that requires both spouses to travel the same direction.
Sadly, the secret to a happy marriage is elusive for many people. And, the secret is not the same for every couple. Life is a highway, and some couples prefer life in the fast lane, while other prefer taking it easy with a slow ride. Whether it’s a little red Corvette or a pink Cadillac, find the ride that works for your marriage and go the distance — preferably in the same direction.
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Costa G, Pickup L, & Di Martino V (1988). Commuting–a further stress factor for working people: evidence from the European Community. II. An empirical study. International archives of occupational and environmental health, 60 (5), 377-85 PMID: 2968322
Kamp Dush CM, & Taylor MG (2012). Trajectories of Marital Conflict Across the Life Course: Predictors and Interactions With Marital Happiness Trajectories. Journal of family issues, 33 (3), 341-368 PMID: 22328798
Roberts J, Hodgson R, & Dolan P (2011). “It’s driving her mad”: Gender differences in the effects of commuting on psychological health. Journal of health economics, 30 (5), 1064-76 PMID: 21855154
Uecker JE (2012). Marriage and mental health among young adults. Journal of health and social behavior, 53 (1), 67-83 PMID: 22328171
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