Commuter Marriages are on the Rise in the United States
When epidemiologist Damien Byas got an offer to work on a long-term project in Seattle, his wife had a decision to make- leave her full-time job, or join the ranks of a growing number of couples in commuter marriages.
It was a tough choice for Ford, a newspaper reporter who lives in Arizona, because she had just gone from part-time to full-time status at her job.
“I get great joy from going to work,” she says. “I didn’t want to leave that.”
Nearly a year later, Ford, 44, and Byas keep their connection strong through text messages, phone calls and visits.
“It might sound weird to others, but it works for some,” Ford says.
Byas, 45, works in a profession that requires him to travel the world, particularly Asia, and living in Seattle makes those trips more convenient. That was another reason Ford says she wasn’t anxious to move. She has health issues that require routine care and she was well-established with her doctors and health facilities in Arizona.
“I’m also healthier when I’m not traveling a lot, and Damien’s travel schedule is a bit rigorous,” Ford says.
But their marriage of nearly eight years is successful because they keep in touch and they realize this is for a season- not forever.
The number of commuter marriages has doubled since 1990, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 3.5 million couples in the United States live separately for reasons other than an impending divorce.
Although this phenomenon is more common among military spouses, it is increasingly part of the fabric of civilian married couples – typically due to employment opportunities and educational pursuits.
Marriage specialist Andrew Cherlin part of the reason for the increase in commuter marriages is due to vast changes in the social norms that once defined marriage.
Cherlin says commuter marriages are an example of the “deinstitutionalization” of marriage. He wrote the following in an article on the subject: “…when social change produces situations outside the reach of established norms, individuals can no longer rely on shared understandings of how to act. Rather, they must negotiate new ways of acting, a process that is a potential source of conflict and opportunity.”
The changing social norms of marriages seem to affect couples of all ages. Former NPR star Diane Rehm, 80, whose successful talk show ended in December, just announced her engagement to John Hagedorn, a 77-year-old retired Lutheran minister, according to The Washington Post.
The Post article describes their marriage as a commuter marriage. Rehm is keeping her home in Washington, and Hagedorn is keeping his home in Lake Worth, Florida.
They aren’t the only older couple in a commuter marriage. AARP found the number of couples over 50 who live apart doubled between 2001 and 2005, according to the Courier-Post in New Jersey.