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

In recent decades, the number of separations and divorces has gradually increased compared to previous eras. According to data from INE (National Institute of Statistics), in 1990 there were around 95,000 divorce proceedings. In 2000, this figure was around 98,000; in 2014, the total of 100,000 legal separations was exceeded, ie 5.6% more than the index of the previous year.

Faced with this upward trend, several studies have attempted to shed light on the factors that can lead to the emergence of a feeling of marital dissatisfaction and, in some cases, to the decision to end the marital relationship. Let’s look at some of the hypotheses studied in this regard.

What influences emotional relationships and marital dissatisfaction?

The determining aspect and common to all intimate relationships (family, friends, love, etc.) is the interdependence. Interdependence is understood as the ability of one element to influence the other reciprocally and consistently in their respective thoughts, emotions and behaviors.

One factor that greatly influences the way an individual relates to others, and in particular to the partner, is the development during childhood of the emotional bond with parents. Evidence from published work shows that a secure bond, based on affection and trust, is associated in the future with traits of positive affection, empathy, high self-esteem, and uninvited interactions. conflicting with others.

As for marital relations, the adult who has developed a secure bond in the first years of his life, later seeks intimacy, Feels comfortable in their relationship and does not constantly fear losing it. These people are able to build long, committed and fulfilling relationships.

Emotional ties

Bartholomew and Horowitz have established a classification model of the affective bond in adults that considers two dimensions: positive self-report vs. negative and positive heteroassessment 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, be loved by the other, and treated well, so that they will be comfortable in intimate relationships. Negative self-assessment is related to rejection from others, so the intimate relationships you build will generate anxiety, insufficiency, and addiction. These facts can cause the individual to avoid an increasingly close relationship.

Commitments against freedom

In a 2004 study by Baron and Byrne, the authors found that most marital problems arose from the loss of freedom of each member since, not being able to act unilaterally, they had to come to an understanding with the other member.

According to the aforementioned study, the desire for independence inevitably intersects in most of the cases studied with the need for privacy.

The end of idealization, the beginning of divorce?

In contrast, the idealized view of the other that each member has at the start of the relationship gradually disappears, and over time negative aspects of the couple that previously went unnoticed may become more relevant. Studies show that spouses tend to overestimate their level of agreement in general and especially in the style of handling problems or difficulties.

In other words, that is to say couples have a greater disparity of opinions than they actually consider. In addition, the nature of the verbalizations expressed by each member during a discussion also becomes a relevant factor in the perception of the satisfaction of the marital relationship.

Thus, in a continuum where the extremes are delimited by the “destructive-critical-thoughtless” and “constructive-consensual-reflective” variables, the most dissatisfied couples are clearly placed in the first typology.

negative dynamics

In connection with the above, individual differences in hostility, the presence of defensive attitudes towards the partner and feelings of sadness are determining in the way in which couples interact. This way, spouses who express their feelings the most have been shown to be happier: More precisely, it was concluded that satisfied women define themselves as expressive, feminine and positively appreciate the fact that their partners are also affectionate and protective towards them. In the case of men, the group feels more satisfied if they are judged to be decisive and expressive, while loathing being sexually rejected by their partner.

In a study by Fincham and Bradbury at the end of the last century, it was concluded that themarital dissatisfaction is mainly determined by the feeling of monotony and boredom perceived by the members of the couple and that the divergence of appreciation of this aspect is a precipitating factor which marks the beginning of the deterioration of the marital relationship.

The triangular pattern of love

One of the most relevant contributions to the field of distinguishing between different types of love has been made by Sternberg. With his “Triangular model of love” this author conceptualize romantic relationships based on three basic elements: intimacy, passion and commitment.

According to the proposal, all romantic relationships have all three components but in different proportions. Data shows that couples who possess all three elements also become the ones who tend to build longer, more satisfying relationships. On the other hand, if the proportions are very decompensated, the probability of the feeling of dissatisfaction appears compared to the relationship.

So let’s look at a brief definition of these components:

  • Intimacy refers to the bond and union of couple members when they spend time together.
  • Passion is sexual motivation and arousal.
  • Engagement indicates the cognitive elements involved in the decision to form the relationship and expressions of continuing to engage in it.

The realm of the sexual

Finally, other aspects that can negatively influence the feeling of marital dissatisfaction are: the perception that each has of the type and quality of the sexual relations that they have between them (Henderson-King and Veroff, 1994) or the emotions . which extend to personal intrigue and end up spilling over into the marital relationship.

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


In short, as we have observed throughout the text, it seems that the aspects relating both to the establishment of a satisfactory interdependent link, and to the rupture of routine and monotony, a dynamic open and assertive communication or balance in the intimacy of the components, passion and commitment are the determining factors to promote the maintenance of a positive perception of the marital relationship and interest in its continuity over time, elements which are negatively correlated with “the appearance of deterioration at the marital level”.

Bibliographical references:

  • Baron Robert A. and Byrne, Donn (2004): Social Psychology. 10ª Ed. Hall Pearson Prentice: Madrid.
  • Bartolomé, K. and Horowitz, LM (1991). Complementary Styles in Young Adults: Testing a Four-Category Model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-244.
  • Fincham, FD and Bradbury, TN (1988b). The impact of attributions on marriage: empirical and conceptual foundations. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 27, 77-90.
  • Henderson-King, DH and Veroff, J. (1994). Sexual satisfaction and marital well-being during the first years of marriage. Journal of Social and Personal Relations, 11, 509-534.
  • National Institute of Statistics (2015): Statistics on separations, cancellations and divorces Year 2014. Extract from http://www.ine.es/prensa/np927.pdf
  • Sternberg, RJ (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological review, 93, 2, 119-136.

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