Dating Decisions

Exploring turning points in romantic relationships

How to Move Forward, Together

Your commute may matter more to your relationship than you ever thought.

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Moving in with a romantic partner is not only an important relationship decision in and of itself, but it comes with it a series of exhausting micro-decisions: How much rent or mortgage can you both afford, and how should you divvy it up? Whose furniture should you bring, and whose gets left behind? Do you want the two-bedroom without a dishwasher or the one-bedroom that’s near a grocery store? And one of the most important: Where’s the best place to live?

Common sense says that you should get a place that is in between your two places of work, to minimize your commute time. But according to recent research on romantic relationships, you may want to choose a place that allows you to both travel to work in the same direction instead.

Here's why:

In a recent series of studies, Huang and colleagues1 ran three different studies looking at the association between two seemingly random variables: Marital satisfaction and the direction in which the spouses commute to work.

The researchers found that couples that commute to work in the same direction are actually happier in their marriages. These effects held even after controlling for a wide range of other factors—how long the couples had been together, whether they had kids, whether they left for work together, and the difference in each partner’s commute times. Furthermore, the researchers obtained a similar effect experimentally, with strangers in a lab study. It seems that travelling in the same direction really is good for relationships.

Why does travelling in the same geographic direction, as opposed to travelling in opposite directions, contribute to relationship quality? The researchers argue that it’s because travelling in the same direction makes romantic partners feel like they are pursuing common goals. The act of physically travelling in the same direction is metaphorically linked to working toward the same things. This metaphorical link can be seen in the language we use to describe common goals ("We’re moving forward”) as opposed to competing goals ("We went our separate ways"; "They decided to take the project in a different direction“). By physically travelling in the same direction each day, couples may be more likely to feel that they have more goals in common with each other, which is an important predictor of relationship quality.

So, if you’re looking to move to a new place with your partner, consider the route you’ll both have to take to get to work. Rather than find a place that’s in between your offices, which would lead you to travel in opposite directions each day, you may want to consider a location that allows you to commute in the same direction, instead. These studies suggest that doing so may make an even more positive impact on your relationship than getting that extra 20 minutes of sleep in the morning.

 

1. Huang, X. I., Dong, P., Dai, X., & Wyer, R. S. (2012). Going my way? The benefits of travelling in the same direction. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 978-981.

Samantha Joel, M.A. is a Ph.D. student in psychology at the University of Toronto.

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