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Commuter Marriages

Challenges Faced By Commuter Marriage Couples

Harriett Gross (1980) suggested there are two types of couples in commuter marriages, adjusting and established. Adjusting couples tend to be younger in age, are confronting separation earlier in their marriage, and have few, if any, children. In contrast, established couples are older and further along in their marriages, and their children are typically older and often have moved out of the house. Thus, the established couples tend to find the commuter marriage less stressful in comparison to adjusting couples. Trust seems to be a bigger issue for the younger adjusting couple, whereas maintaining excitement in the relationship may be an issue for the established couple.

Clearly, the financial costs of a commuter marriage can be significant. In addition to increased phone bills and travel costs, there is the burden of maintaining two households. The necessity of attending to all work or home activities in a relatively short period of time can become a source of strain. Finally, couples report the emotional costs of separation and the lack of emotional support and companionship, as well as feelings of loneliness, isolation, tension, frustration, and even depression (Chang and Browder-Wood 1996). In particular, younger adjusting couples report fearing they will grow apart and jeopardize their marriage. Commuting couples can lose their "intimacy of routine" or daily intimacy that "helps produce the ordered world typically entailed in a marital relationship" (Gerstel and Gross 1982, p. 81). Commuting couples have less time together; thus they feel more pressure when together to make all reunions special. Such unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment. Commuting couples also experience a reduction in sexual intercourse, perhaps due to fatigue, pressure, and readjustment.

In commuter relationships where the children are in college, the children report they were not affected by their parents' commuting (Patterson-Stewart, Jackson, and Brown 2000). In contrast, where children are still living at home, the children report more concern that the commuter parent seems uninvolved in their lives. Friends of commuter marriage couples report they admire the trust in their friends' relationship, but worry about the strain that commuting can bring to a relationship. They also report missing their friends' companionship.

There appear to be four factors that add stress and strain to the commuter marriage and lead to dissatisfaction with the arrangement. First, Anderson (1992) suggests stress from the commute can be exacerbated if the spouses do not enjoy spending time alone. Second, having particularly young children seems more problematic regarding the logistics of managing the household tasks and child care (Anderson and Spruill 1993). Third, those typically younger couples, with fewer years of marriage, and without the stability or security necessarily of either a long-term relationship or career may feel more strain (Orton and Crossman 1983). Finally, not only do couples that are separated by longer distances incur more monetary costs and energy outlay to reunite; they undoubtedly have less frequent, less regular, and shorter reunions. Therefore, suggestions for helping these couples cope with this lifestyle are warranted.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaModern Marriage & Family IssuesCommuter Marriages - Demographics Of Commuter Marriages, Benefits For Commuter Marriage Couples, Challenges Faced By Commuter Marriage Couples