Did you know that women initiate divorce in nearly twice as often as men? A paper published in 2000 by Margaret F. Brinig and Douglas W. Allen entitled “These Boots Are Made for Walking”: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women reported data (Table 1, p. 128) from several studies across the United States regarding the percentage of instances where the woman had filed for divorce. According to these studies, women initiate divorce in 68.9% of cases.
The fact that women are more likely to file for divorce may be surprising to readers because women also appear to be highly invested in their marriages: in Why Most Divorces are Initiated by Women (2012), Cathy Meyer notes that women buy the majority of books about relationships and initiate most marriage counseling. And yet, wives are more likely to file for divorce despite that divorce tends to have more financial and social consequences for women.
In the bestseller His Needs, Her Needs Willard F. Harley reflects on the reasons why women file for divorce: “The most common reason women give for leaving their husbands is mental cruelty…but the mental cruelty they describe is rarely their husbands’ efforts to drive them crazy. It is usually husbands being indifferent, failing to communicate, and demonstrating other forms of neglect.” In other words, women feel the strain of distance and isolation in marriage.
Relationship researcher and author Esther Perel shares a similar sentiment about the primary issues in modern marriages in a March, 2014 interview by Slate Magazine: “It’s about longing and loss. But the American discourse is framed entirely around betrayal and trauma.” Perel continues by reflecting on how the “merged” life that has become a norm for today’s marriages stifles experiences of growth and intimacy in relationships, which contributes to feelings of dissatisfaction.
Social Isolation: A Marriage Killer
A popular notion about divorce is that it is predominantly triggered by conflict or marital crises. And yet, the contributing factor in many disillusioned marriages may be succumbing to a more insipid threat: social isolation.
Therapists at Relationships For Better, a Marriage Counseling center in Monrovia, California (www.RelationshipsForBetter.com) have noted that community support seems to increase relationship resilience. As a result, therapists at Relationships For Better have encouraged couples in premarital counseling to prioritize the development of marriage support networks.
Couples therapy and psychological literature are often helpful tools to address feelings of disconnection in marriage. Through therapy, couples often learn how to identify their feelings, communicate effectively, and tend to pain that arises from unmet expectations.
However, often couples delay treatment of relational issues through couples therapy because they aren’t sure whether feelings of disconnection is a valid reason for seeking professional help. Sadly, couples may react to cultural stigmas around psychotherapy being relegated to people who are “crazy” or for couples “on the brink of divorce.” By promoting societal support of mental health services and education about psychological issues, couples may be more likely to seek support before the patterns of disconnection contribute to feelings of hopelessness in the marriage.
Rapid therapeutic assistance for couples experiencing distance in their marriage is one avenue for decreasing risks for divorce, but perhaps society may consider how current American cultural ideals about marriage and social trends towards isolation may be aggravating feelings of disconnection in marriage.
Imagine a couple sitting on a leather couch in a serene office. As they hold one another’s hands and sneak tender glances at one another, they reflect on having “no major issues” and are simply fulfilling their church’s requirements for premarital counseling. The wife lovingly reflects, “My fiancé is the only person I can trust. He’s everything to me. If we just rely on each other, everything will be ok.”
Or will it? As described in a previous Theravive article on the importance of community in healthy relationships titled “Is Social Isolation Affecting Your Marriage Today?” (February, 2015), marriages in which spouses rely on the support of their spouse in the absence of other community supports may be at-risk of divorce. Consider the rapid changes in community support over the past twenty years: Individuals tend to interact more often with friends on social networks than in-person, workers often telecommute, and fewer Americans attend church or other religious gatherings. All of these cultural shifts may increase feelings of social isolation. Pair this phenomenon with a romanticized American narrative that true love means not having a need for anyone but one another, as reflected in nearly every tv show, movie, and magazine, and one may begin to perceive the pressure that these cultural shifts have placed on today’s marriages.
Put simply, individuals may enter a marriage with the hopes and expectations that their spouse will meet their needs for emotional and social support because insular relationships have become both a cultural norm and an ideal.
Since women are often emotionally invested in nurturing a healthy marriage and often have intensely-felt and frequent needs for meaningful connection with loved ones, wives may feel more acute pain during seasons of relational distance in marital relationships. Rather than reinforcing trends of wives divorcing their husbands in hopes of finding a more intimate relationship with another partner, society may consider taking some of the pressure off of marital relationships by encouraging couples to widen support networks.
Instead of romanticizing insular marriages that are hot in the beginning but quickly cool with feelings of disconnection, perhaps readers may begin to promote the idea that couples need to look outward: marriages are benefited by the involvement and support of their family and friends.
Brinig, M., & Allen, D. (2000). “These Boots Are Made for Walking”: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women. American Law and Economics Review, Volume 2, 126-169.
Harley, W. (2011). His Needs, Her Needs. New York City, New York: Revell.
Lundgren, M. (2015, February 2). Is Social Isolation Affecting Your Marriage Today? Retrieved April 27, 2015, from http://www.theravive.com/blog/post/2015/02/02/Is-Social-Isolation-Affecting-Your-Marriage-Today.aspx
Meyer, C. (2012, June 24). Why Most Divorces Are Initiated By Women. Retrieved April 27, 2015, from http://divorcesupport.about.com/b/2012/06/24/why-most-divorces-are-initiated-by-women.htm
Rosin, H. (2014, March 27). Why We Cheat. Slate.
Saad, G. (2014, November 13). Do Men or Women File for Divorce More Often? Psychology Today.