Relationship Factors in Divorce
In general, couples who divorce have known for a long time that there were difficulties in their marriage, although they may not have contemplated divorce. These problems are made worse, in most cases, by communication problems. Some warning signs are communication avoidance (not talking about problems in the relationship); demand and withdrawal patterns of communication, whereby one partner demands that they address the problem and the other partner pulls away; and little mutually constructive communication (Christensen & Shenk, 1991).
A California divorce study demonstrated that women and men tend to complain about different things about their mates (J. B. Kelly, 1989). Women’s most frequent complaint was that they were feeling unloved by their partners. That was followed by a feeling that their competence and intelligence were belittled by their husbands and that their husbands were hypercritical of them. Men, on the other hand, complained most that their wives were inattentive or neglectful of their needs and that they and their wives had incompatible interests, value, or goals. Both sexes mentioned sexual incompatibility or loss of sexual interest as a problem.
Many problems in people’s marriages are there before they decide to get married. As one woman put it:
I had a queasy feeling before the marriage. There were signs. When we were studying for the Bar [both are lawyers], he became critical of me in ways he hadn’t been before. “Whoa! Where did this come from? I don’t need this!” We had discussions about it before the marriage. He’d say, “That’s the way I am.” It didn’t get settled. (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983, p. 357)
Many couples make poor assessments of their partner, or believe that the little annoyances or character traits that they dislike in their potential spouses will disappear or change after marriage (Neff & Karney, 2005). Marrying a person with the intention to change his or her personality or bad habits is a recipe for disaster.