Dating Decisions

Exploring turning points in romantic relationships

Moving Forward

Couples who commute in the same direction are happier with their relationships

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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 furniture 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 choices: where’s the best place to live geographically?

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.

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 who commute to work in the same direction are actually happier in their marriages. These effects held controlling for a wide range of other factors, such as how long the couples had been together, whether or not they had kids, whether they left for work together, and how much of a difference there was between each partner’s commute time. 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.

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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 behavior 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 that we use to describe common goals (e.g., “we’re moving forward”) versus competing goals (e.g., “we went our separate ways”, “they took 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 their partner, which is an important part of relationship quality.

So, if you’re looking to move to a new place with your partner, consider the route that you’ll both have to take to get to work. Rather than find a place that’s in between your two places of work, which would lead you to travel in opposite directions each day, you may want to consider a location that allows you to commute to work 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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