‘Commuter Marriages’ Are The New Open Marriages

gold wedding ringsIt was only a handful of years ago that every news outlet and your mom were buzzing about open marriages. You know, the whole “Do Open Marriages Work?” and “Is Open The Answer to Infidelity?” angle. So circa 2010. But the new type of relationship that is allegedly making the word “weird” fall from people’s lips is the highly illusive “commuter marriage.”

USA Today reports that there is a dramatic rise in the number of American married couples living their matrimony apart. As in separate domiciles:

It’s called the commuter marriage, and more than 3.5 million couples in the United States are doing it. That number has more than doubled since 1990, when the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 1.7 million married couples were living apart for reasons other than a legal separation.

A husband with this exact arrangement says that he and his wife’s 1,900 mile difference definitely turns heads:

“People think that we’re weird,” David Knox said. “When you’re married, you’re supposed to live together. It just freaks them out.”

While the highly swank “commuter marriage” seems to have always existed in some way or another (think jail or soldiers), this growth is being chalked up to the following:

  • Online dating
  • A “relaxing of social norms” as they pertain to marriages
  • The sucky economy (people taking jobs wherever they get an offer)

And when it comes to the big scary D, USA Today reports that commuter marriages aren’t any more likely to dissolve into divorce than those straight-laced old-fashioned co-habitaters. Experts surmise that this has everything to do with fancy unlimited cell phone plans, Skype, FaceTime, and whatever other iPad-y what’s it that people can’t put down for five minutes.

I guess the cultural narrative that technology is uniformly ruining our relationships is out the window now, too. Oh commuter marriage. So subversive.

(photo: Julia Ivantsova / Shutterstock)

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  • Rachel Sea

    My grandmother and her “friend” have been together, in their separate, but nearly adjacent, households, for over a decade and it works great for them.

    • Andrea

      That might be a little different though. There are lots of older people that live together or as you said, “adjacent” for financial reasons. If they get married, they might lose some SS benefits, there might be complications with alimony or pensions and who wants to redo their will if a spouse comes in. Much simpler to keep being “friends”.

      I think a commuter marriage is an entirely different can of worms. Not one that I would subscribe to. I don’t think I would ever ever marry again if for some reason I were to find myself single (death, divorce, desertion). I would do what your grandmother and her “friend” are doing.

    • Rachel Sea

      In their cases it’s that they both lived on their own for decades before becoming involved, and are very fond of their individual ways. Neither wants to try to combine furniture or have to discuss the proper way to orient a roll of toilet paper.

  • Tea

    I did this for a while out of necessity, I was in school in one state, my partner was in the other. We weren’t legally married (Personal ceremony, complete with rings), and I found it both miserable, and liberating all at once. It had its perks, and I can understand why some people do it.
    I’m happy to live with him, but I still really want a separate bedroom some days.

  • Blueathena623

    I had to read this 3 times to realize it was commuter marriages, not computer marriages.

    • Psych Student

      I had the same experience!

  • http://www.facebook.com/courtney.wooten Courtney Lynn

    If it works for some, okay, but I couldn’t do it. My husband works 12 hour days and it’s hard enough to be away from him for that long. Yes, I’m one of those girls who doesn’t want to pry herself away from her man.

  • Lastango

    Another possible, contributing explanation in some cases might be limited/modified compatibality due to age. If two older, affluent people marry, they may have their own established lifestyles, and a whole house-full of furniture each. So they get along much better, and are happier, when they can each maintain what they have, in their own space.

    This may suggest that, in later years, attachment functions differently. This quote gives the flavor:
    “What you can’t know at twenty-five but learn, unhappily, by thirty-five is that, like the brief but critical period during which a mother and infant can form a deep, mammalian attachment, the life stage during which it’s possible to adjust to the foibles and weird habits of someone who may want to sleep in your bed for the rest of her life may not last long, either.”
    So, an older couple gets the good parts (companionship), while setting aside the friction imposed by each others’ foibles.

  • Gracie287

    After my husband and I had been married for 3 years (and together for 8), he got a job out of state when I had just under a year left in grad school. It was hard, but we had to do it, and 10 months later I took my last final and moved out here to join him. I agree with Tea, it was liberating in some ways to have the apartment to my self and make my own schedule for the first time in years, but we were sooooo happy when we moved back in together. I do think it would’ve been a lot tougher for us if we had kids at the time.

  • kitten

    you could do an article ON open marriage, which you reference. and it is not so 2010. there is actually a growing population of people (myself included) who have healthy and fufilling lives with a spouse and one or more other partners. though i prefer the term polyamory. look it up if youre unfamiliar. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000215449796 Kris Washburn

    My fiance lives in another country, so except for random visits, our entire relationship is on skype until we finish all the paperwork and the United States says he can come over and we can get married. It’s kind of rough, with the 8 hour time difference too. Though this time he came over for almost 3 months, and I find that I am enjoying living with him, and it will be hard to go back to being just me and the kids when he leaves. Then I have to get used to being single and having the whole house to myself, until December, when he comes back again for 3 months.

  • Dee

    I’ve seen this a lot in the military. Spouses living on different bases due to TDY, instructing at bases several hours away during the week, et cetera.

  • CW

    Most commuter marriages are NOT “open” or even by choice. I have done it 3 times in my 15 year marriage and it was career-driven every time. I hope not to have to do it again but I will if I need to.

    • kitten

      opposite of you, i have one and not the other. but i agree they are entirely not connected for the most part and really the title doesnt make a lot of sense. Why call them the “new” open marriage when they really are based on completely different things

  • Lesa R

    My husband and I have a commuter marriage. We also have two kids. We have to work very hard at it. He works in the oilfield and is gone for weeks or months at a time. We do what it takes to make it work.