According to a new study from Avvo, 18% of married Americans are currently considering divorcing their partners. And a lot of them are men—24% of married men said they’re thinking about splitting up with their spouses, versus 11% of women.
Those numbers might indicate love in America is going through a bit of a rough patch. And some of the data uncovered in the study show other ongoing gender differences, particularly about the role of money in marriage and relationships. But there’s good news too, with some findings offering reason for hope, as well as an enduring belief in the opportunity for happiness with a life partner.
Divorce, marriage, and happiness
Yes, some married folks—and particularly married men—are evidently wrestling with some unhappiness in their relationships. But then again, when the question is phrased around relationship “satisfaction,” a full 88% report being “very satisfied,” or “pretty satisfied,” and so hopefully most of those would-be divorces won’t actually happen.
If there is something causing an issue, what might be the problem? Some aspects seem relatively predictable; for instance, younger respondents make up the vast majority of those looking to get out of the marriage. The percentage of those aged 18-24 who are “definitely or somewhat considering” splitting from a spouse is 38%, but by the time you get to the 45-54 range, the percentage is only 13%.
And as you might expect, younger relationships are more apt to be in trouble—19% of the Avvo study respondents who had been married for five years or less were “definitely” considering divorce, but that drops to 11% for those married between 5-10 years, and then to 8% for those married for 10-15 years.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter. Like not doing the dishes, for instance. “Other research has pointed to inequality in household chores as a trigger for divorce, especially where the woman is working full-time,” says Nika Kabiri, Law and Society Analyst at Avvo. “Unresolved frustrations over division of chores could have consequences for a marriage.”
But the study data showed that many of the clearest differences in attitudes between men and women are in the realm of money and finance, differences that have real impacts on relationship satisfaction.
Gender—and gender pay gaps—are a factor
While society is moving, slowly but surely, toward increasing gender equality in the workplace, some traditional gender roles within American families remain. A much higher percentage of men (68%) than women (27%) say they make more than their partners, and more men (60%) than women (34%) see themselves as primarily responsible for making important financial decisions for the couple.
And yet men seem to be wary of being the primary breadwinner in the relationship. A solid 65% majority of men said they would not prefer to make more money than their partner; in fact, overall, 76% of all respondents would rather not make more. When asked if they would be uncomfortable in a relationship where they had to foot most of the bills, 51% of all respondents said yes, and only 29% said no.
So it seems a fair number of men who are in breadwinner roles aren’t necessarily happy about it. Maybe figuring out ways to address the gender gap and reversing wage discrimination might save a few marriages?
Fidelity versus finance
Of course, talking about divorce and actually going through with it are two different things. And while money issues are important—57% of those surveyed said money was necessary to make a serious relationship or marriage work—other factors are in play as well. Like kids, for instance. “The cost of childrearing is an important factor in deciding whether to divorce,” confirms Kabiri. “People won’t usually stay with a partner for money if they can leave and be happy. But throw kids in the picture, and that can change.”
Also, when looking at issues that drove actual divorces, the study turned up a number of more important factors than anything financial. Of those who had been divorced, disagreeing about money landed much lower in the list than cheating—71% listed infidelity as either a “primary” or a “significant” reason for the divorce.
Other factors, like “we grew apart,” “we couldn’t communicate,” and “we fell out of love” also scored high, and collectively speak to the truism about cheating being, more than anything, an indication that there are deeper issues affecting the relationship. “Cheating happens when people grow apart,” says Kabiri, “and the inability to communicate can accompany the inability to resolve conflict.”
Relationship facts 2017: It’s still about love
Couples have lots to contend with, for sure. But what came through in the data collected, more than anything, was the conviction that love and a strong bond are still the secrets to relationship happiness.
When asked what their primary reason is for getting married or making a lifelong commitment, 79% said “sharing your life with someone you love.” The option “saving money” barely cracked 4%. Even “having and raising children” could only get to 5%.
People also apparently believe that happiness should be the main factor in staying together. 78% of all married people say they’d rather be alone and happy than in a relationship where they’re not happy.
Divorced folks who are wading back into the dating pool got some positive feedback as well. Most respondents (70%) said they would be comfortable dating someone who was divorced, and that percentage climbs significantly for those above the age of 45. Kids from a previous relationship don’t seem to dim one’s dating prospects either; only 34% said that prospect would make them uncomfortable (and again, the acceptance level grows for older age ranges).
Meanwhile, the prominence of online dating offers more opportunities to find a special someone. More than one in ten married people met their spouse online, and for those couples who are not currently married, the number climbs to one in four. Overall, 60% of people who have dated online think it’s a great way to meet someone with whom you can have a meaningful relationship.
Still, whether you’re dating online or not, a solid majority (62%) still believe it’s better to meet a potential life partner in person. “If love at first sight across a crowded room isn’t feasible, an online dating site will do,” says Kabiri, adding that “even when many of us choose partners poorly, we still want to be in total control of our romantic destinies.”
I know it might be an oversimplification, but I've got to wonder if the current political climate emanating from D.C. could be contributing to these numbers.