3 Reasons Why Women are More Likely than Men to End a Relationship

While it is established that about half of all marriages end in divorce, it is commonly assumed that the breakups are initiated by both genders equally. In fact, it is surprising to most people that women are actually more likely to end their marriages than men.  

The Research

Research by Dr. Michael Rosenfeld, a sociologist from Stanford University, shows that women are more likely to initiate a divorce. This research studied 2,500 heterosexual couples from between 2009-2015. Interestingly, while he found that women are more likely to end a marriage than men, women are not more likely to initiate a breakup in non-marital relationships.

Additionally, the research shows marriage quality was influential in these decisions.  Previously, it has been shown that men have higher levels of marriage quality and satisfaction than women. Yet, in non-married relationships there was no significant difference in relationship quality between men and women. Dr. Rosenfeld discussed three possible reasons for why women end marriages more frequently than men.

Reason #1:  Relationship Sensitivity

The first reason why women were more likely to end a relationship than men was because of relationship sensitivity. This explanation simply refers to the possibility that women are more sensitive to relationship problems than men. As a result of this increased sensitivity to relationship issues, women are more likely to leave their husbands.

Reason #2:  The Gendered Institution of Marriage

The second reason Dr. Rosenfeld gives for women leaving their husbands is what he calls the “gendered institution” of marriage. This means that the notion of marriage is tailored more (in our culture) to favor men and reinforces traditional gender roles between men and women. For example, women are still sacrificing their careers to raise a family. Even within the progressive Millennial Generation, the burden of childcare and chores still falls predominately on women.

Reason #3:  Power Difference in Relationships

Power differences are based on the assumption that the partner who has the better relationship prospects after marriage is the partner more likely to initiate a break up. However, this logic isn’t consistent with the notion that women initiate divorce more frequently than men. This is because, in general, research supported the notion that men tend to have better prospects than women when it comes to attracting a partner post-divorce.

Men are generally thought to be more attractive as they age. They also have greater employability and/or earning potential. One alternate explanation of the power differential theory is that women recognize that they don’t have the same power in relationships as men and thus initiate divorce proceedings to end the marriage more often. 

Research Conclusions

Rosenfeld concludes that the institution of marriage itself contributes to women having lower marital satisfaction than men. Thus, this is the main reason why women initiate divorce more frequently. More specifically, he believes that the gendered institution bias of marriage (favoring men) in our society means that men are on average more satisfied in marriage than women. Therefore they are less likely than women to end their marriage.

What to Do if You Need Help

Overall, many couples are happily married. However, it would be helpful for couples to identify relationship difficulties and examine any power differentials or differences in gender roles in their relationship. Partners need to speak up and be candid with one another regarding these issues. However, if these issues still prove to be problematic and put your marriage at risk, it is important to consult with a skilled couples counselor  to get the help you need.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, about half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. The reasons that marriages end is more complicated than we initially thought. While issues surrounding relationship sensitivity and power differential do impact the health of a marriage, Rosenfeld’s research does implicate the gendered institution of marriage as the most likely reason why women initiate divorce more often than men. Couples would certainly benefit from discussing the above issues with one another. However, it may be necessary to get professional help from a couples counselor to thoroughly work through and resolve any relationship issues.


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