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Dissatisfaction in the couple and divorce: what factors explain it?

Dissatisfaction in the couple and divorce: what factors explain it?

May 10, 2021

In recent decades there has been a substantial gradual increase in the number of separations and divorces from previous periods. According to the data of the INE (National Institute of Statistics), in 1990 there were about 95,000 divorce proceedings . In the year 2000, the figure was about 98,000; in 2014, the total of 100,000 legal separations was exceeded, 5.6% more than the index of the previous year.

Faced with this upward trend, there are several investigations that have tried to shed some light on the factors that can lead to the appearance of a feeling of marital dissatisfaction and, in some cases, the decision to end the marital relationship. Let's see some of the hypotheses studied in this regard.

What influences affective relationships and marital dissatisfaction?

The defining aspect common to all intimate relationships (family, friendly, loving, etc.) is the interdependence . Interdependence is understood as the ability of one element to influence the other in a reciprocal and consistent manner in the respective thoughts, emotions and behaviors.

A factor that significantly influences the way an individual relates to others, and especially to the couple, is the development during childhood of the affective bond with parents . Evidence from published studies shows that a secure link, based on affection and trust, is associated in the future with traits of positive affect, empathy, high self-esteem and non-conflictive interactions with others.

In reference to marital relationships, the adult who has developed a secure bond in the first years of life, then seeks privacy , he feels comfortable within his relationship and is not constantly worried about losing her. These types of people are able to establish long, committed and satisfying relationships.

The affective bonds

Bartholomew and Horowitz have established a model for classifying the affective bond in adults that includes two dimensions: positive self-evaluation vs. negative and positive hetero-evaluation vs. negative (Bartholomew and Worowitz, 1991).

A person with a positive self-image assumes that others will generally react to an interaction in a positive way, will be esteemed by the other and treated correctly, so he will be comfortable in intimate relationships. A negative self-evaluation is related to rejection on the part of others, with which the intimate relationships that you establish will generate anxiety, inadequacy and dependence. These facts can precipitate the individual to avoid a closer and deeper type of relationship.

Commitments versus freedom

In a study by Baron and Byrne in 2004, the authors found that most of the conjugal problems were derived from the loss of freedom of each of the members since, being unable to act unilaterally, they had to agree on the decisions with the other member.

According to the aforementioned study, the desire for independence conflicts with the need for privacy unavoidably in most cases studied.

The end of the idealization, the beginning of the divorce?

On the other hand, the idealized vision of the other that each member possesses at the beginning of the relationship gradually disappears, and over time the negative aspects of the couple that went unnoticed earlier may become more relevant. Studies show that spouses tend to overestimate their level of agreement in general and especially in the style of coping with problems or difficulties.

That is to say, couples present a greater disparity of opinions than they themselves really consider . In addition, the nature of the verbalizations expressed by each member during a discussion also becomes a relevant factor in the perception of satisfaction of the marital relationship.

Thus, within a continuum where the extremes are delimited by the variables "destructive-critical-unreflective" and "constructive-consensual-reflected", the most dissatisfied couples are clearly placed in the first typology.

Negative dynamics

Related to the above, individual differences in hostility, presence of defensive attitudes towards the couple and feelings of sadness, are determining in the way couples interact. In this way, has been shown as the spouses who express more their feelings are happier In particular, it has been concluded that satisfied women define themselves as expressive, feminine and positively value that their partners are also loving and protective towards them.In the case of males, the group feels more satisfied if it is considered decisive and expressive, detesting on the other hand the fact of being rejected sexually by their partner.

In a study conducted by Fincham and Bradbury at the end of the last century, the conclusion was drawn thatto marital dissatisfaction is determined mainly by the feeling of monotony and boredom perceived by the members of the couple and that the discrepancy in the assessment of this aspect is a precipitating factor that marks the beginning of the deterioration of the marriage relationship.

The triangular model of love

One of the contributions that has had greater relevance in the field of the distinction between the different types of love has been the one made by Sternberg. With his "Triangular Model of Love" this author conceptualized love relationships based on three basic components: intimacy, passion and commitment .

According to the proposal, all love relationships have all three components but in different proportions. The data point out that those couples that have all three components equally become those that tend to establish more lasting and satisfactory relationships. Conversely, if the proportions are very unbalanced the probability of the dissatisfaction feeling is increased Regarding the relationship of couple.

Let's see then a brief definition of these components:

  • The Privacy it refers to the bond and the union of the members of the couple as they spend time together.
  • The Passion it's motivation and sexual arousal.
  • The Commitment indicates the cognitive elements involved in the decision to form the relationship and expressions of continuing commitment to it.

The field of the sexual

Finally, other aspects that can negatively influence the feeling of conjugal dissatisfaction are: the perception that each one has regarding the type and quality of the sexual relations that they maintain between themselves (Henderson-King and Veroff, 1994) or the negative emotions linked to the professional performance that extend to the personal plot and that end up overflowing the marital relationship.

This situation it can be the prelude to a separation or divorce .


In short, as it has been observed throughout the text, it seems that the aspects relating both to the establishment of a satisfactory interdependent link, as well as to the breaking of routine and monotony, a dynamic of open and assertive communication or a balance in the intimacy, passion and commitment components are the determining factors to favor the maintenance of a positive perception of the marital relationship and interest in its continuity over time, being elements that correlate negatively with respect to the appearance of spousal level deterioration.

Bibliographic references:

  • Baron Robert A. & Byrne, Donn (2004): Social psychology. 10th Ed. Pearson Prentice Hall: Madrid.
  • Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L.M. (1991). Attachment styles amongyoung adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-244.
  • Fincham, F.D. & Bradbury, T.N. (1988b). The impact of attributions in marriage: Empirical and conceptual foundations. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 27, 77-90.
  • Henderson-King, D. H., & Veroff, J. (1994). Sexual satisfaction and marital well-being in the first years of marriages. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 11, 509-534.
  • National Institute of Statistics (2015): Statistics of separations, nullities and divorces Year 2014. Retrieved from //
  • Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psicological review, 93, 2, 119-136.

The Sex-Starved Relationship (May 2021).

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