Take a moment to reflect on heterosexual couples you’ve known whose relationship ended in divorce. Whose decision was it to end the relationship – the man or the woman?
According to a recent paper by Parker and collaborators, published in the February 2022 issue of Current Opinion in Psychology, research shows that despite it being more costly for them, women are more likely than men to ask for a divorce. Furthermore, women report greater life satisfaction post-divorce than men do.
As explained in an article in Psychology Today which covers the report, the paper’s authors claim that the likelihood of a couple’s divorce can be predicted by evolutionary theory. More specifically, the authors explain that for heteosexual couples in Western countries, the odds that a relationship will be unsuccessful increases when there are ‘mismatches’ between the sexes.
The mismatches, as purported by the authors, are as follows:
- Women desire men with ‘good genes’ (i.e: masculinity, facial symmetry, attractiveness, and social dominance), but men with ‘good genes’ are “usually more interested in short-term relationships and do not make the best long-term partners (e.g., are less resourceful).” The authors claim that the evolutionary reason for a women’s desire for ‘good genes’ is that they “correlate with health and physical strength, which are attributes that increase survival and reproductive success.”
- Women desire ‘rich and successful’ men due to their evolutionary “need to rely on men capable of providing for them during pregnancy and breastfeeding, which are periods of high energy expenditure and low mobility.” But society is evolving, and these days women often earn more money and a higher status than their husbands.
- Couples are not as interdependent as they used to be, partially due to the earnings disparity mentioned above. According to the paper, women are now “less willing to sacrifice their own happiness and well-being just to make their romantic partner happy.” Furthermore, women who are able to support themselves financially on their own are able to more easily leave their partner if they so choose.
- Finally, women have a strong intrinsic desire to provide care for their children and/or spouses, but on top of their duties at home, many are overwhelmed with work. This stress “reduces their well-being, relationship satisfaction, and sexual desire for their romantic partner.” Add to this the fact that men who ask for parental leave are “often judged by their coworkers as weaker and less assertive, competent, and ambitious,” and both partners become overloaded.
Potential solutions, according to the authors:
- Challenge gendered norms: Reject the idea that men have to be the breadwinners and women have to be the caregivers, or that certain jobs or chores are for men and others are for women. This will eliminate tension or discomfort when it comes to what needs to be done to ensure the home and relationship runs smoothly. According to the authors, “otherwise, neither husbands or wives will be happy functioning in gender-atypical roles and may thus choose divorce instead.”
- Obtain assistance with childcare
- Become specialists: Couples can foster independence by not simply “sharing” household chores, but deciding that one partner “specializes” in a certain role while the other finds their own area of expertise.
- Obtain meta-knowledge: Partners can gain a new perspective on relationship satisfaction by trying to “look at each person’s desires from a more detached perspective.” The authors explain that this may be “particularly helpful for individuals who take relationship problems (i.e. preference mismatches) too personally, as though reflecting their personal shortcomings.”
For more information, click here to read the full report.