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Thought Processes around Divorce and Separation

An interesting new study from the US has looked at the thought process people go through when considering whether to break up with their partner.

The researchers, who came from the University of Utah and the University of Toronto, hope that by obtaining a greater understanding about the factors couples take into account and why reaching a decision on separation can be so difficult, their findings can be beneficial to counsellors and therapists working with couples going through difficulties in their relationships.
“Most of the research on breakups has been predictive, trying to predict whether a couple stays together or not, but we don’t know much about the decision process — what are the specific relationship pros and cons that people are weighing out,” explained University of Utah psychology professor Samantha Joel.

The Decision Making Process

The reseachers conducted a survey that led to the creation of a list of reasons why people might stay or leave a relationship. The top three reasons on the stay list were identified as: emotional intimacy, investment and a sense of obligation. On the leave list they were: issues with a partner’s personality, breach of trust and partner withdrawal.
These factors were used to prepare a questionnaire that was given to people who were either thinking about ending a dating relationship or a marriage, to find out what factors people would take into account in the different situations. They found evidence of significantly different reasoning between those in a dating relationship and those who are married.
Those who were just dating gave more positive reasons for wanting to stay with their partner, such as personality traits they liked or the emotional intimacy they have together. Married partners were more likely to use ‘constraint’ factors, or factors perceived as posing obstacles to leaving, such as family responsibilities and logistical barriers.

Ambivalence is Common

Around half of respondents said reaching any decision was difficult, as they felt there were reasons to both stay and leave.
“What was most interesting to me was how ambivalent people felt about their relationships. They felt really torn,” commented Samantha Joel. “Breaking up can be a really difficult decision. You can look at a relationship from outside and say ‘you have some really unsolvable problems, you should break up’ but from the inside that is a really difficult thing to do and the longer you’ve been in a relationship, the harder it seems to be.”
“Humans fall in love for a reason,” she added. “From an evolutionary perspective, for our ancestors finding a partner may have been more important than finding the right partner. It might be easier to get into relationships than to get back out of them.”

Many Couples Change their Mind

If the decision is ultimately made to leave a relationship then it is not always advisable to take immediate action. A separate study, also from America, has found that people often change their mind ending a marriage. In fact, researchers from the University of Alberta say there is up to a 50% chance that people opting for divorce will change their mind.

Contact Us

For expert legal advice on divorce and separation, then contact our specialist family lawyers today.