Divorce may have less to do with an increase in conflict and more to do with a decrease in positive feelings.
Via Psychology Today:
First, contrary to popular belief, Huston found that many newlyweds are far from blissfully in love. Second, couples whose marriages begin in romantic bliss are particularly divorce-prone because such intensity is too hard to maintain. Believe it or not, marriages that start out with less “Hollywood romance” usually have more promising futures. Accordingly, and this is the third major finding, spouses in lasting but lackluster marriages are not prone to divorce, as one might suspect; their marriages are less fulfilling to begin with, so there is no erosion of a Western-style romantic ideal. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it is the loss of love and affection, not the emergence of interpersonal issues, that sends couples journeying toward divorce.
What surprised Huston most was the nature of the changes that led to divorce: The experiences of the 56 participating couples who divorced showed that loss of initial levels of love and affection, rather than conflict, was the most salient predictor of distress and divorce. This loss sends the relationship into a downward spiral, leading to increased bickering and fighting, and to the collapse of the union.
“This ought to change the way we think about the early roots of what goes wrong in marriage,” Huston said. “The dominant approach has been to work with couples to resolve conflict, but it should focus on preserving the positive feelings. That’s a very important take-home lesson.”
“Huston’s research fills an important gap in the literature by suggesting that there is more to a successful relationship than simply managing conflict,” said Harry Reis, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester, a leading social psychologist.
“My own research speaks to `loss of intimacy,’ in the sense that when people first become close they feel a tremendous sense of validation from each other, like their partner is the only other person on earth who sees things as they do. That feeling sometimes fades, and when it does, it can take a heavy toll on the marriage.”
Social science has a name for that fading dynamic–“disillusionment”: Lovers initially put their best foot forward, ignoring each other’s–and the relationship’s–shortcomings. But after they tie the knot, hidden aspects of their personalities emerge, and idealized images give way to more realistic ones. This can lead to disappointment, loss of love and, ultimately, distress and divorce.
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