Chapter 13: The Dissolution and
Loss of Relationships
Divorce, separation, and loss often lead to pain and hurt,
yet many do find comfort, relief, and are able to enjoy life once again.
The Changing Rate of Divorce: The
Prevalence of Divorce
l The U.S. Census Bureau keeps track of divorce and reports the
refined divorce rate, the number of divorces per 1,000 married women over age
15 that occur in a given year.
l The divorce rate has generally increased over the 20th
century. And in 1998, about 8% of men and 11% of women were either divorced or
had not married (Popenoe & Whitehead, 1999).
l By the late 1990s, 20 million children lived in single-parent
homes, usually headed by the mother (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998).
U.S. Divorce Rates in Comparative
l While almost all Western countries experienced an increase in
divorce rates during the last 50 years of the 20th century, the
United States led the pack (United Nations, 1999).
l It is important to remember that marriages did end after a
short period in older times, too. People did not live as long, and women were
especially vulnerable to the complications of childbirth, increasing the number
l Nevertheless, what has changed is the way that marriages end
today, as compared to the past.
Why Has the Divorce Rate
l Numerous possible reasons for the high
divorce rates have been proposed.
l One suggestion is that too many demands are
placed on married life (Slater, 1968; Phillips, 1988).
l Other research has suggested that married
couples are less happy in recent times than couples were in the past (Popenoe
& Whitehead, 1999; Rogers & Amato, 1997).
l Factors such as increased work-family
conflicts, less traditional attitudes about gender roles, and the change in
womenís economic status, seem to have influenced the increase in divorce rates.
l Two hypotheses have been proposed regarding
money and its relation with divorce.
l The independence hypothesis postulates that
paid employment increases a personís freedom to choose divorce.
l The stabilization hypothesis states that
people with money are more likely to invest in marriage-related assets such as
children, that increase their commitment to the marriage.
supports both hypotheses and concludes that the greatest risk of divorce is for
low income wives who work 35-40 hours a week (Greenstein, 1990).
l Other sociological changes may have
influenced the divorce rate. Such as divorce laws making it easier for people
to divorce (Thorton, 1989), and divorce being passed on to the next generation
(Glenn & Kramer, 1987).
Specific Factors Associated
l Some factors that have been identified as influencing higher
risk of divorce:
l Teenage marriages
l Low-status, less education
l Premarital cohabitation
l Negative interactions
l Spending less time together
l Not having children
The Predictors of Divorce:
l George Levinger (1976) has that 3 main factors leading to
l This is enhanced by the rewards in a relationship and
diminished by its costs.
l Alternatives available
l Includes other partners, being single, or achieving
l Including legal and social pressures to stay married,
religious constraints, and financial costs of divorce
The Road to Divorce
l Joseph Hopper (1993) conducted intensive interviews with 30
divorcing people and found that most experiences were characterized by long
periods of discontent, multiple complaints about partners coupled with things
they liked, and ambivalence about getting separated.
l One model that has been offered to explain the steps leading
to separation was developed by Karney and Bradbury (1995) and is known as the
vulnerability-stress-adaptation model of marital dissolution.
l The model states that some people enter a
marriage with enduring vulnerabilities that may include negative experiences in
oneís family, poor education, maladaptive personality traits, poor social
skills, or dysfunctional attitudes about marriage.
l These vulnerabilities are thought to
interact with different circumstances people encounter and help determine the
number of stressful events couples face.
l How well partners adapt to their stresses
is a function of the stresses and of the partnersí vulnerabilities/attributes.
l Some people cope better than others and
failure to cope with stresses can lead to dissatisfaction, which in turn leads
Steps to Separation
l Baxter (1984), Duck (1982), and Lee (1984) each proposed a
model of the steps that partners go through in ending their relationships. While
the three models differ in some ways, a general pattern emerges. They all agree
that separation involves discovery of the problem, exposure, negotiations,
transformation, and grave dressing.
l Discovery of the problem:
l In this phase, the dissatisfied person assesses their
partnerís behavior, notices there is a problem, and evaluates the cost of
leaving and the benefits of alternatives. Common feelings include frustration.
l After noticing the problem the frustrated person expresses (directly
or indirectly) his or her desire to leave. Common feelings include shock,
anger, hurt, and sometimes, relief.
l Partners try to negotiate some solution during this phase and
may articulate their own needs, evaluate their partnerís point of view, or
bargain. The person trying to separate may change their mind. In any case, the
couple reaches a decision about the relationship.
l Now that a decision is reached, there are changes in
frequency, duration, and nature of interactions. A process of mourning likely
begins and partners make it known to others that they are no longer together.
l The goal of this phase is to put the relationship behind
oneself and move on. Simplification and rationalization are often involved in
order to create an acceptable story about the course of the relationship from
beginning to its end.
The Aftermath of Separation
from the Individualís Perspective
l Stewart and colleagues (1997) followed 160
families with children for 18 months after they legally intended their divorce.
l Shortly after filing for divorce
participants generally had lower well-being than later. And in the early period
after divorce, most people increased the time they spent with friends.
l For both men and women, the number of
house-related tasks increased.
l Most women reported that their financial
situation had deteriorated after the divorce.
l Relationships changed dramatically between
partners themselves. Some never speak to each other again, others can at least
be civil, still others may have an enduring friendship.
Children Whose Parents Divorce
l Studies examining the effects of divorce on children have
found that in general children of divorced parents are more likely to head
one-parent families, have lower psychological adjustment, have more behavioral
problems like alcoholism and drugs, and lower educational attainment (Amato
& Keith, 1991).
l However, these effects were modest.
l There may be several reasons why divorce negatively affects
l Divorce often involves economic deprivation, parental loss,
parental stress, and family conflict (Amato, 1993; Amato & Keith, 1991;
Hetherington et al., 1998).
l According to the parental loss view children are thought to
benefit from having two parents. Thus, children who lose a parent due to death
should show levels of well-being similar to children of parents who have
divorced and both groups should show lower well-being than those whose parents
l However, these expectations are not consistently confirmed by
l Most studies show that children who experience the death of a
parent manifest well-being that falls between that of children whose parents
divorce and those of parents who remain married.
l According to the parental stress model, stress impairs the
quality of parenting and therefore has negative effects on children. According
to this view, childrenís well-being should be associated with the psychological
adjustment of the custodial parent after divorce and the quality of the
relationship with the custodial parent.
l These expectations have been supported (Amato, 1993).
l Most studies show that if economic differences between
divorced and non-divorced families are taken into consideration, the difference
in the well-being of children in these households is reduced.
l Amato (1993) concludes that the conflict explanation has the
strongest and most consistent support. This explanation states that parental
conflict has detrimental consequences for children.†
l While some people are more vulnerable to becoming divorced
than others, situational and historical-cultural factors also influence whether
couples actually dissolve their relationships.
l Many people experience wounds due to divorce, but injuries do
heal. And children of divorced families often show remarkable resiliency in
adjusting to their new family and their new life circumstances.