The Top Scientific Reasons Why Marriages Fail

You've likely heard that half of all marriages end in divorce — but is that true? According to the American Psychological Association, that was once the case. Anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of married couples residing in the land of the free were once pursuing divorce. However, new data analyzed in 2018 by Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, shows that the divorce rate has actually dropped a whopping 18 percent between 2008 and 2016. While some love to rag on millennials, this generation is the one you should thank for the uptick in successful marriages. 

Nevertheless, even with a steadily falling divorce rate, there is still, obviously, divorce. But thankfully, scientists, sociologists, and other marital experts have discovered a set of risk factors that may lead to divorce. Just as smoking has been linked to lung cancer, certain behaviors and patterns have been cited as potential marriage-killers. Without further ado, here are the top scientific reasons why your marriage could fail.

You didn't date long enough

When it comes to finding "the one," some people say you'll just know. It sounds simple — and yet also somehow extremely complicated. Theresa E. DiDonato, a social psychologist and associate professor at Loyola University Maryland, wrote for Psychology Today that it's more about analyzing how you feel when thinking about, or are around, your partner. Do you want your friends and family to like him? Do you miss him when you're apart?

Even if you're sure you've found the person for you, you're not out of the woods yet. With emotions running high, it can become all too easy to lead with your heart and make the rash decision to take a trip down the aisle — well before you're ready. Data scientist Randal Olson compiled data from researchers at Emory University who discovered various risk factors of divorce by studying thousands of married couples. How long you date your partner matters, these experts found. Dating for three years — or more — was shown to be a viable protection against divorce. 

You waited too long to say "I do"

Is it really possible to wait too long to get married? According to statistics, yes. Data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) compiled by Nicholas Wolfinger, a professor at the University of Utah, for the Institute for Family Studies revealed that waiting until the age of 32 to get married may just be too long.

Ironically, every year you wait prior to your 32nd birthday will reduce your chances of getting divorced by 11 percent. But if you decide to wait to get hitched until you're 32 or older, the odds are not exactly in your favor as the rate of divorce increases by 5 percent with each subsequent birthday. Of course this doesn't mean that every person who's 32 or older is going to get divorced, it just means that there's a slightly higher likelihood. Nevertheless, if you're looking to set a date for your upcoming nuptials, anywhere in your 31st year of life seems to be a great bet.

Your wedding was too small

After analyzing research presented by the professors at Emery University, data scientist Randal Olson revealed some red flags that could be seen from very early on — beginning with couples' first day of marriage. That's right, whether or not your union will stand the test of time can be predicted on your wedding day.

The data shows that the more people you invite to your wedding, the less likely you are to get divorced. In fact, Olson called this statistic "perhaps the biggest factor" in predicting divorce. Couples who elope are over 12 times as likely to have a marriage end in divorce than a couple who invited 200 or more friends and family to their big day.

Olson stated that these figures show us that "having a large group of family and friends who support the marriage is critically important to long-term marital stability." Hmm, bet you didn't think your wedding guests could play a part in the success of your marriage! The more you know.

Your wedding was too expensive

The number of people that send in their RSVP cards ahead of your big day isn't the only tell-tale sign of divorce. How much you spent on your ceremony and reception can also reveal a whole lot about the future success — or failure — of your relationship, according to research study data analyzed by data scientist Randal Olson.

It may seem virtually impossible to do, but spending just up to $1,000 on your wedding is actually the sweet spot for marital success. Lavish weddings in which couples spend $20,000 or more, however, leave them much more susceptible to divorce. Olson revealed that they are three and a half times more likely get divorced than those who spent half, or less, than that amount. "In other words, Bridezilla = Divorcezilla," opined Olson, "Don't let advertisers fool you into spending your life savings on your wedding." Sage advice, to be sure.

You were all about those PDAs in the beginning

Novelist Raymond Chandler once made the comparison between alcohol and love: "The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine." While you and your partner may have been, um, let's just say hands-on in the early years of your relationship, these days "Netflix and chill" may literally mean Netflix and chill. 

It's pretty normal for seasoned married couples to have less whoopee than they did when the relationship was new — and that in itself is not a predictor of divorce. To the contrary, participating in too many displays of affection — at least in the early years of marriage — is what will actually kill the marriage, according to a study conducted by professors across the United States. 

"As newlyweds, the couples who divorced after 7 or more years were almost giddily affectionate, displaying about one third more affection than did spouses who were later happily married," the professors explained. Alright newlyweds, it's time to cut back on those PDAs.

You found looks and wealth important

What was the first thing that attracted you to your partner? Was it his warm smile? Perhaps his big, sparkling eyes? Or, maybe, just maybe, his wallet? More specifically: what was in his wallet. Now, listen, there's obviously nothing wrong with being physically attracted to the person you eventually marry. There's also no shame in only wanting to get serious with someone who can hold his own weight financially. 

Nevertheless, men and women who place too much emphasis on how good-looking their partner is or how fat that weekly paycheck might be, may just discover their marriage in a downward spiral. At least that's what data from a research study analyzed by data scientist Randal Olson tells us. According to the figures, men who find looks important are 1.5 times more likely to get divorced than men who don't and women who place importance on their partner's wealth are 1.6 times more likely to have their marriage end in divorce. Don't shoot the messenger.

Who brings home the bacon?

Putting too much emphasis on how much bacon your significant other brings home may not be good for your marriage, but if you find that your man isn't working enough hours, that could also lead to divorce. According to a 2016 study by Harvard University, a husband's "lack of full-time employment" is linked to a higher risk of divorce in marriages that began after 1975. 

Although more women are working these days than ever before, the research shows that this employment-based factor for divorce only applies to one sex. "Neither wives' full-time employment nor wives' share of household labor is associated with divorce risk," the abstract reads, "Expectations of wives' homemaking may have eroded, but the husband breadwinner norm persists."

According to another study from 2015, men and women often consider their marriages "less satisfying" if the wife is the one who is the primary earner. In turn, these couples are also more likely to divorce. Again, please don't shoot the messenger!

You're seriously stressed out

Stress comes in different forms. The American Psychological Association separates them into three categories: acute, episodic acute, or chronic (via Psychology Today). While none are exactly pleasant to manage, acute stress is the most common — and unfortunately the one that seems to be most likely to lead to divorce. This type of stress stems from "demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demand and pressures of the near future," according to the APA.  

A multinational report also revealed that participants surveyed reported "trivial daily events to be one of the main reasons contributing to their decision to divorce." Although residents from the United States were not involved in this particular study, participants from each of the three countries that did take part — Germany, Italy, and Switzerland — named "the accumulation of everyday stresses" as a "central trigger for divorce." Undoubtedly, stress is a very real problem in this country as well.

You display these behaviors toward your spouse

When stressed to the max, isn't it all too easy to take some of that out on your mate? While we all know that our partners aren't there to be our human punching bags, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't said or done something not-so-nice to their husband or wife. However, if this has become a pattern in your household, watch out. 

John Gottman, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, together with Robert Levenson, professor of psychology at the University of California, collected extensive research and published the telling paper, "The Timing of Divorce: Predicting When a Couple Will Divorce Over a 14-Year Period." The two professors discovered four specific behaviors that lead partners to divorce: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling (meaning: "listener withdrawal from marital interaction"). Unless the dissolution of your marriage is your end goal, you may want to avoid the, as Gottman dubbed them, "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." 

You have a physical illness

While divorce may be thwarted by having a smaller wedding or getting married at a certain age, divorce has also been linked to something that is completely out of our hands: illness. We all get sick — some of us more seriously than others — and sadly severe physical illnesses play a role in whether or not a marriage will end in death or divorce.

Amelia Karraker, then assistant professor of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University, and Kenzie Latham, an assistant professor of the Department of Sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), studied over 2,700 marriages and discovered a sad truth — for women.

In marriages in which the wife became seriously ill, an "elevated risk of divorce" was found. Based on this data, a married woman who experiences heart problems, for example, has "a six percent higher probability of marital dissolution." Marriages in which the husband developed a chronic illness, however, were not shown to increase divorce rates. Ahem. We'll just leave this here...