Commuting couples

Oct 18, 2013, 19:33 IST | Fatema Pittalwala

Travelling every day to work and back home can take a toll not only on health but also on marriage. Bharaat Vyas and Pankaj Verma explain the relationship between marriage and commuting in their new book

A media company’s CEO recalls fondly how he and his wife used to travel by train - in adjoining first-class compartments. In what sounds like a Bollywood scene, they would share a copy of the daily newspaper, and pass it to each other through the bars.

Illustration/Amit Bandre

Another journalist recounts how she actually met her to-be life partner while travelling by train to work. It’s not only media people who are affected by commuting, of course. Countless romantic pairings have happened on wheels -- and, sadly, some have ended because of commuting stress, too.

Tiring and tiresome
A long commute to work can be tiring and tiresome, and almost no one chooses to do it for reasons other than salary and career prospects. The benefits, especially when the trip is overcrowded and stressful, are hard to discern. Sleep suffers, patience is stretched thin, and many people live part of their lives en route, preparing vegetables and checking homework assignments.

Miles that bind: Authors Bharaat Vyas (L) and Pankaj Verma. Pic/Satyajit Desai

Inspired by the study of researcher Erika Sandow of Umea University in Sweden, in a new book, Decoding Happy Marriages, released earlier this month, authors Bharaat Vyas and Pankaj Verma find that a long commute to work is one of the reasons marriages fail in Mumbai.

Number of reasons
There are many reasons for a marriage to fail. It could be lack of communication and trust, monetary problems or family interference. But we have never really thought of commuting to workand back home, could also be one of the reasons why marriages fail. For better understanding of the issue, the authors of thebook conducted a survey of commuter’s problems across Mumbai.

Explaining the connection between stress and commuting, Vyas says, “On an average, a commuter in Mumbai travels for 2.5 hours daily. During this time, they are exposed to pollution, loud noise, restless fellow travellers, traffic jams and so on. By the time the commuter reaches their destination, whether it is office or home, they are already exhausted. They are stressed and are unable to calm down. Today it is very hard for a person to look at the brighter side of commuting.”

To which co-author Verma adds, “People need to reach work on time and then they need to reach home on time for different issues as well. Eventually, we tend to take our frustrations out on our spouse.” According to Verma, there is no one type of commute which is better than other. He says, “Buses are uncomfortable, trains are over crowded, rickshaws and taxis are rickety and commuting in your own vehicle is also stressful.”

Dealing with pressure
Handling stress is never an easy job. Vyas says, “Women have been proven to be better able to manage stress in the long run, and adapt positively to stressful environments. Men take to alcohol, drugs or violence in order to escape from stress, while women develop resistance and fight the situation.” LIC agent and teacher Manisha Chheda, a Dombivali resident, says, “I and my husband have been married for 16 years. Since we both work, it is already very difficult to schedule time for each other. On top of that, travelling is a pain. The buses are not easily available, roads are covered with potholes, there is no traffic sense and by the end of the day I am very frustrated. Since we both are so drained, misunderstandings easily arise and there is no immediate solution to it. It always gets carried forward to the next day. Today we are impatient instead of finding a solution, we want change.”

No time left
HR executive Bejal Lamba, who is married to businessman Deepesh, says, “Commuting for work, provides and opportunity for a better job. But life becomes very hectic. I started working two years ago, a year after marriage. In the beginning, it was so hard to manage home and work together. We live in Mansarovar and my office is in Andheri. Travelling every day for five hours take a toll on you but you can’t escape from it. <">“At one point I was so frustrated, as I could not handle the stress of work and coming home to domestic quarrels, I wanted to quit. Since most of our time is spent at office, we are away from home; an extra-marital affair is something that I am afraid is bound to happen. And if the couple is already suffering from lack of communication and misunderstandings, it acts like fuel to the fire.”

Anagha Patankar Ray, Anand Ray
Psychologist Anagha Patankar-Ray feels the time lost by a couple because of travelling is a serious issue

Blaming commuting for some amount of marital discord, psychologist Anagha Patankar-Ray, a Mumbaikar who is now based in Canada, explains, “More than the frustration, I feel that the time a couple loses away from each other tends to be more of a serious issue. The traffic, the pollution and the delays add to it. I am sure a lot of marital discord is due to of all these factors put together. For the last two years, I and my husband have been travelling to work and back together. There have been multiple instances when we were stuck in a traffic jam so bad that it left both of us irritated and having to vent our frustration on each other in the car itself, and continuing it even after reaching home. But these are bouts, and one can consciously work towards not letting things which are out of your control affect you. We realized that we cannot change a lot of things outside and so we analyzed our travel behaviour and worked towards making our commute more positive and peaceful.”

Many helpful tips

She continues, “Music and good soothing conversations always have been very helpful for us in combating the travel stress. Besides this, I strongly feel that acceptance, understanding and communication (both listening and sharing) with your partner are key factors in marriage. In addition, humour, respect and treating one another as an equal are some of the things which help us stay happy. Besides, travelling together to and back from work also provides us with some amount of essential time together.” 

Decoding Happy Marriages is published by Vyas Associates, and is available online and in leading book stores, priced at Rs 295


Combat commuting stress:

>> Keep yourself busy while travelling
>> Focus on your breathing
>> Read a book
>> Listen to music
>> Enjoy crossword
>> Make commuting groups and friends
>> Don’t focus on the negativities
>> Enjoy the ‘me time’
>> Meditate
>> Stimulate your mind

Fact files
>> According to PayScale, a US-based salary tracking firm, an average Mumbaikar commutes for 47.26 minutes, while the figure is 42.96 minutes for Delhiites and 37.91 minutes for Bangaloreans.
>> More than 20 lakh women travel on the Central and Western railway lines.
>> As per Erika Sandow’s study, a 45-minute commute could mean you are on road to divorce.
>> Long commutes lead to risks of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, bodyaches and migraines.
>> 80 percent of commuters use public transport. 

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