Not Doing This Led 53 Percent of Couples to Divorce

A couple’s divorce can be emotionally devastating to family members. Children may lose friendships, fathers and mothers are affected, and the financial future of one or both spouses is at risk.

Couples thinking about splitting up should look for warning signs that might indicate it is time to seek help or leave the relationship, say researchers who study marriage.

For example, partners should think about their goals for the future and how they might be able to reach them if they stay together. If these goals seem unreachable, it could indicate that divorce may be an option.

“Depending on what has led couples to the point of considering divorce, sometimes it is possible to work through problems and improve the relationship, but other times it’s best to end the relationship,” said Hui Liu, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University.

Liu has studied divorce for more than a decade. Her research focuses on the division of labor within families, including how household tasks are divided among married couples and also single mothers. She also looks at how couples divide “care work” responsibilities, including looking after relatives.

In general, women tend to do more care work than men, whether they are married or not, Liu said. This is a concern for all couples with children and no matter what their income levels are because “it’s often the case that both parents are working full time, but women are still doing more of the unpaid work,” she said.

Women also tend to feel more resentment when they do care work while their husbands are earning income and spending time with friends or other leisure activities. This can eventually lead to divorce, Liu said.

“If couples believe that the woman is doing too much while the man is doing too little, they are more likely to end their marriages,” she said. “Men’s leisure time becomes very important in these situations.”

Another sign of trouble is one member of the couple who wants to stay home while the other works full time. This can cause problems for both partners if they have different values, Liu said.

The research is detailed in the article “Understanding Marital Quality and Stability Among Married Couples” that was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Liu said there are signs both partners have stopped investing in their relationship. “When couples stop being affectionate with each other, they become more detached, they have fewer things in common, they become less close and it can lead to marital dissatisfaction,” she said.

This lack of affection is often a key indicator for divorce among couples who already have children or plan to have them, Liu said. “Couples with kids are at the highest risk of divorce because their children become more dependent on them, so they fight more often over things like disciplining the children and what activities to enroll them in.”

While conflict is an important warning sign for divorce, it’s not always easy to tell if someone is unhappy in their marriage. “Some people are good at hiding their feelings,” Liu said.

If one partner thinks divorce is a better option, he or she should keep a positive attitude and bring up the idea of getting counseling. It may be hard for couples to find a counselor who can meet their needs, but it’s worth the effort because many people have been able to save their marriages with help from counseling, Liu said.

“Divorce is a big decision and it should be thought out carefully, but if you believe your marriage is over, don’t drag things on,” she said. “Try to work together with your partner so you can both come up with a plan.”

If couples become aware of some of the signs of divorce before more serious problems arise it could help them work together to repair their relationship, Liu said.

“When people go into relationships thinking that it might end in divorce, they may do things differently because they want to avoid the negative consequences,” she said. “Instead of avoiding talking about issues in your marriage you can work through them.”

Another key is to understand that your partner may not always need to be told how much he or she is loved.