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10 facts about divorce every couple should know before getting married

Shana Lebowitz
GettyImages brad pitt angelina jolie 2015 divorce
  • Divorce rates in the US are at an all-time low
  • Everyone's relationship is different, and so is every divorce
  • Research has shown certain factors make a divorce more likely
  • Don't take the findings as a prediction for your own relationship

In 2015, the US divorce rate hit a 40-year low.

According to data from Bowling Green State University, there were 16.9 divorces for every 1,000 women that year.

To determine the factors that make divorce more likely and the effects -- positive and negative -- of ending your marriage, we dug into years of research on the predictors and consequences of marital dissolution. Below, we've highlighted some of the most intriguing findings.

Keep in mind that all these studies offer general takeaways about modern relationships -- no one can predict with 100% accuracy what will happen to yours.

Couples may be most likely to divorce in March and August.

2016 research from the University of Washington, presented at the American Sociological Association, found that March and August bring spikes in divorce filings.

The researchers say it's meaningful that March and August follow holiday or vacation periods. In the paper, they suggest that holidays represent something like 'optimism cycles' -- we see them as a chance to start anew in our relationships, only to find that the same problems exist once they're over.

The researchers also suspect that oftentimes our holiday experiences can be stressful and disappointing, laying bare the real issues in our marriage. As soon as they're over, we're ready to call it quits.

Married people who watch porn may be more likely to divorce.

A 2017 study, published in the Journal of Sex Research, found that married people who start watching pornography are about twice as likely to get divorced as those who don't.

The study involved about 2,000 participants over the course of nearly a decade. It found that the effect was stronger for women, who were about three times as likely to get divorced if they started watching porn during the study period.

But, as Elizabeth Nolan Brown points out on Reason, it's possible that taking up a porn habit may signal that something else is going wrong in your relationship. Maybe you're dissatisfied with your sex life or maybe you and your partner aren't communicating well.

In other words, it might not be the porn, per se, that's causing marital problems. It might be a symptom of other underlying issues.

Couples who marry in their late 20s may be less likely to divorce.

Research led by Nicholas Wolfinger, a professor at the University of Utah, found that contrary to a long-held belief, waiting longer to wed doesn't necessarily predict a stronger marriage.

Instead, as Wolfinger wrote on the Institute for Family Studies blog in 2015, the best time to marry seems to be between the early 20s and early 30s. If you wait until you're older than 32, your chances of divorce start to creep up (though they're still not as high as if you get married in your teens).

As Wolfinger wrote, 'For almost everyone, the late twenties seems to be the best time to tie the knot.'

The closer a couple is in age, the less likely they are to get divorced.

One study from Emory University, published in 2015 in the journal Economic Inquiry, found that the odds of divorce among heterosexual couples increase with the age gap between the spouses.

As Megan Garber reported at The Atlantic:

'A one-year discrepancy in a couple's ages, the study found, makes them 3 per cent more likely to divorce (when compared to their same-aged counterparts); a 5-year difference, however, makes them 18 per cent more likely to split up. And a 10-year difference makes them 39 per cent more likely.'

Husbands who don't work full-time may be more likely to get divorced.

A 2016 Harvard study, published in the American Sociological Review, suggests that it's not a couple's finances that affect their chances of divorce, but rather the division of labour.

When the researcher, Alexandra Killewald, looked at heterosexual marriages that began after 1975, she learned that couples in which the husband didn't have a full-time job had a 3.3% chance of divorcing the following year, compared to 2.5% among couples in which the husband did have a full-time job.

Wives' employment status, however, didn't much affect the couple's chances of divorce.

The researcher concludes that the male breadwinner stereotype is still very much alive, and can impact marital stability.

Women who have more sexual partners before getting married aren't more likely to get divorced.

Wolfinger conducted another analysis, which he described on the Institute for Family Studies blog, which found that among heterosexual couples who married in the 2000s, women who'd had between three and nine sexual partners were less likely to divorce than women who'd had two partners (their husband and one other person).

Women who had at least 10 partners were most likely to divorce, however.

Meanwhile, among heterosexual couples who married in the 1980s and 1990s, women who had two or three sexual partners were more likely to get divorced than were virgins or women who had at least 10 sexual partners.

In a statement, Wolfinger distilled the lessons from this research: 'If you're going to have comparisons to your (future) husband, it's best to have more than one.'

Divorce may increase the likelihood of a heart attack in women.

Recent research from Duke University, published in 2015 in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, suggests that women who get divorced are more likely to suffer a heart attack than women who stay married.

As Time's Alice Park reported:

'Women who divorced at least once were 24% more likely to experience a heart attack compared to women who remained married, and those divorcing two or more times saw their risk jump to 77%.'

For men, however, the chances of suffering a heart attack only went up if they divorced two or more times.

Infidelity is a major reason why couples divorce.

A small study published in the journal Couple and Family Psychology in 2013, found that the top 'final-straw' reasons for divorce were infidelity, domestic violence, and substance use. Major contributors to the decision to divorce included lack of commitment, infidelity, and too much conflict and arguing.

The study included just 52 individuals. But one of the authors, Scott M. Stanley, wrote a Psychology Today post citing other studies that also showed infidelity was a common reason for divorce.

Divorce is becoming more common among older couples.

According to a study published in 2012 in the Journals of Gerontology, 'the divorce rate among adults aged 50 and older doubled between 1990 and 2010.' That's based on a survey of more than 1 million people over age 50.

The study found that while middle-aged people were more likely than older people to get divorced, the divorce rate has increased faster among older people.

These findings are especially surprising given that the overall divorce rate in the US has declined over the past two decades.

Couples who display 'contempt' for each other are more likely to split up.

As Business Insider's Erin Brodwin reported, relationship expert John Gottman's research suggests that contempt -- a mix of anger and disgust that involves seeing your partner as beneath you -- is a key predictor of divorce.

It's not simply about whether you get into fights -- it's how you respond to your partner afterward. Do you try to see things from their perspective or just assume they're an idiot? If your initial reaction is the latter, try replacing the behaviour with a more positive, patient reaction. It could save your marriage.