These Feelings Predict Divorce 7 Years Later

New research examines the link between ambivalence and marital satisfaction.

Ambivalence refers to the presence of both positive and negative evaluations of a person or relationship. It is prevalent in close and intimate relationships (e.g., girlfriend/boyfriend, husband/wife).
Ambivalence is associated with significant stress. Why? Perhaps because feeling both love and hate toward a close other causes uncertainty about the stability and future of the relationship.
Could these feelings of doubt and anxiety predict breakup and separation? Yes, according to recent research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
The study, by Surjadi et al. concluded that ambivalence is associated with significant marital conflict and is predictive of divorce seven years later.

Investigating Relationship Ambivalence as a Predictor of Divorce
Data used in this research came from a sample of couples with young adult children who had participated in the Iowa Midlife Transition Project (MTP).
These families were initially part of the Iowa Youth and Family Project (IYFP), which included 451 married couples with a child in the seventh grade.
The present investigation used data collected between 1994 (when the children were in the 12th grade) and 2001.
Sample: Three hundred seventy heterosexual couples and their families; mean age of 43 years old for wives and 45 years for husbands; all Caucasian; married for an average of 23 years.
Measures (sample items in parentheses)
Marital Ambivalence: Four items (How often does your spouse make you feel he/she really cares about you?).
Marital conflict: Assessed based on reports from the couples’ adult children (How often would you say your parents argue or disagree with each other?).
Marital satisfaction: Two items asking how happy and satisfied both romantic partners were with the marriage.
Marital instability: The five-item short form of the Marital Instability Index (Have you discussed divorce or separation with a close friend?).
Divorce: Whether the couple separated.

Ambivalence predicts marital conflict and divorce.
Analysis of the data showed:
Shared ambivalence “predicted divorce seven years later through its association with couples’ marital conflict.”
Compared to those who stayed together, “spouses who eventually divorced were more ambivalent toward each other and had greater marital conflict.”
The negative effects of ambivalence were present even in spouses who chose to stay together. Indeed, shared ambivalence correlated with “greater marital conflict and lower couple-level marital satisfaction.”
At the individual level, wives’ and husbands’ own ambivalence (rather than their partners’ or shared ambivalence) was associated with worse assessments of marriage, such as reduced happiness, lower marriage satisfaction, and a greater desire to end the relationship.
These findings agree with the socioemotional selectivity theory, which suggests that as we age, our goals change, and we become more selective.
Specifically, older people pursue:
*fewer future-focused goals (e.g., making new friends)
*more present-focused goals (e.g., meaningful interactions with one’s partner).
Such increased selectivity tends to require disengaging from romantic relationships that are ambivalent and associated with conflict and distress.

Feelings of ambivalence in marriage are predictive of relationship conflict and divorce, and in couples who do not separate, they are predictive of lower happiness and marital satisfaction.
Given these findings, it would be wise to screen married clients for ambivalence and, as necessary, provide interventions at the individual and couple levels:
At the individual level, therapists can teach husbands and wives how to identify their own ambivalent feelings and use effective strategies to manage them.
Therapists could address shared ambivalence at the couple level, helping couples become more confident in their shared decision-making.
This is important because there is significant interdependence between how ambivalent husbands and wives report feeling; this may result from spouses reinforcing each other’s views, feelings, and behaviors (e.g., the push-pull dynamic). For instance, one partner becoming ambivalent may push the other partner who was already ambivalent toward ending the relationship.
A third way therapists can help is by teaching couples effective conflict resolution skills since the ability to resolve marital conflicts (e.g., through engaging in positive and cooperative behaviors) predicts marital satisfaction.

psychology today

43 replies
  1. zeinab rostami
    zeinab rostami says:

    Personal opinion: Two-sidedness or conflict, in my opinion, is rooted in a person’s attachment and clinginess, and because the person’s heart is empty, he does not see the contradictions, differences, rights, and does not accept them, and when they face the reality that the case of divorce They are or they will become empty because they have nothing to lose

  2. Alireza noche
    Alireza noche says:

    Unresolved marital disputes and lack of understanding between men and women can cause serious problems in married life or an unhealthy marital relationship.

  3. Bahar aghamiri
    Bahar aghamiri says:

    Ambivalent people are very difficult to live with because they are so unpredictable

  4. mohammad parsa younesi
    mohammad parsa younesi says:

    i think the importance of marriage consultation is completely clear here. ambivalence cause failure in relationship so it can be diognesed in pre marriage consultation and it prevents divorce.

  5. Kimiya khoshbin
    Kimiya khoshbin says:

    ‏Living with ambivalent people is very difficult, but divorce is not predictable. ‏People can change a lot over time this kind of thing is always seen in long relationships Couples should prepare themselves for these changes

  6. مبینا محمدزاده
    مبینا محمدزاده says:

    In my opinion,that if you talk to your partner and make him/her known about your personality it is the better.the family and the upbringing they do for their children and the environment are very effective

  7. Fatemeh Ebrahimi
    Fatemeh Ebrahimi says:

    A bipolar person needs treatment. I think that the person himself sometimes suffers from not knowing exactly what he wants.

  8. Setayesh bolhari
    Setayesh bolhari says:

    living with ambivalent people is very difficult because they never have a definite feeling. And you are always indecisive…

  9. Afra samadiyan
    Afra samadiyan says:

    in my opinion the most important thing in a divorce is being selfish.if you understand a relationship and comprehend it that every people has good and bad behavior and there is no human without bad habits then you can continue your marriage.divorce is not a key, it’s a way that push you in a deep hole that you can’t get rid of it. also psychologist can help you choose the best way in your marriage and shows you some good points.the article has so many good points.

  10. parsa younesi
    parsa younesi says:

    divorce is one of the most important issues in our country and most of this couples can continue their marriage with reading this topics and respecting each other.

  11. afsane.khosravi
    afsane.khosravi says:

    Adherence to certain principles is necessary to have a healthy relationship. Failure to comply with any of these principles can cause many problems in the relationship.

  12. Mohadese salimzade
    Mohadese salimzade says:

    Hi Professor, it was an interesting article regarding the divorce rate in our country, which is very catastrophic. It is better for a husband and wife to talk to a counselor and a therapist to start their life together to find out whether they can build a life together or not. Before starting a life together. The couple should see that they can accept each other’s differences so that they don’t get into trouble along the way of life. Of course, this is my point that marriage is not predictable, it’s possible for couples to change their feelings and tastes after starting a life together.
    In ambivalence, an ambivalent person does not know what he wants from life and is undecided in his relationship. In relation to ambivalence between husband and wife, it may even cause wrong upbringing of the child and the child may be harmed. That this matter really needs treatment and follow-up

  13. زهرا بابائی
    زهرا بابائی says:

    Your content is very sweet and readable. I wish it was available to everyone. For example, if we were not your students, we would not have known that such useful information could be available. Thank you very much for your efforts.

  14. کیمیا احمدوند
    کیمیا احمدوند says:

    I believe that one of the things that causes satisfaction in a joint life, couples should learn to ask their spouse’s consent once in a while and they should not postpone their problems because it causes serious problems and they should not involve themselves in everyday events and They should work on their intimacy. People can get help from a psychologist when necessary

  15. Nasim vafaii
    Nasim vafaii says:

    In order to build a healthy and mature relationship, we must try to recognize and accept this inner paradox and find solutions to solve it by increasing the capacity to tolerate ambiguity, skills and knowledge. Although if prolonged, it can suspend the atmosphere of the relationship like purgatory, because facing negative feelings and thoughts towards the person we love is complicated and exhausting!

  16. Fatemeh noorzadeh
    Fatemeh noorzadeh says:

    Hello sir,
    I agreed with your article and I think that living with ambivalent person is really hard and it’s hard to know how to treat them . They do some childish treatments for their needs and also they are not understandable.

  17. Atro soleymani
    Atro soleymani says:

    Some time ago, in the studies I read, one of every two American marriages ends in divorce. I don’t know how true it is, but if this statistic is real, it is really a disaster.

  18. فاطمه سرحدی
    فاطمه سرحدی says:

    Living with ambivalent people is impossible and unbearable, and there is no definite opinion in this regard, and the condition of happiness in a life is the same color of the parties.

  19. Sahel nafary
    Sahel nafary says:

    In my opinion, two people who love each other and intend to continue their relationship with each other should do their best to build the foundations of a relationship correctly from the very beginning of their acquaintance, in order to avoid ambivalence in the continuation of the relationship.For example, from the very beginning, they should talk to a counselor and therapist, they should fully understand each other’s differences and interests, and if there is a conflict, they should resolve it before starting a life together to prevent ambivalence and divorce.

  20. Zahra Ahmadi
    Zahra Ahmadi says:

    I totally agree with this article though divorce is completely unpredictable and both husband and wife change for one reason that reason causes different feelings.

  21. Fateme Kamandi
    Fateme Kamandi says:

    If we learn to refer to a psychologist when we encounter a problem with our spouse that we cannot solve and it takes a long time, we can prevent such problems and the differences between husband and wife will not be so great. that both parties do not think of divorce

  22. Hannaneh Ghalandari
    Hannaneh Ghalandari says:

    In my opinion, couples who disagree on various issues and cannot reach compatibility and understanding may end up in divorce. The family atmosphere of these couples is usually very tense and they should seek to resolve their differences.

  23. Davood galedari
    Davood galedari says:

    Choosing after intellectual maturity and relative stabilization of the psychological footing and having a common goal, examining approaches and goals will reduce ambivalence and flexibility after this happens.

  24. Atena soleimani
    Atena soleimani says:

    Per-marrage counseling can help a lot so that husband and wife don’t get into trouble later.

  25. Mobina Mokhtari
    Mobina Mokhtari says:

    Hi professor
    Well, I think I have some signs of ambivalence, so as an ambivalent person I wanna say that if you talk to your partner and make him/her known about your personality, you’d have a great relationship. And as you said about ways of solving these problems, I completely agree with you and I think it was really effective.

  26. chenarani
    chenarani says:

    In my opinion, ambivalence is a pervasive problem that is not noticed late, and it really needs treatment and follow-up. The important question that arises in this situation is whether to stay or go, and there is no guarantee that a change in approach will create a change that always exists in a life partner. We hoped that maybe we should focus on ourselves to get rid of ambivalence, our behaviors and automatic responses, although it is difficult, but this is the only way to grow.

  27. Marzieh Hezbi
    Marzieh Hezbi says:

    unfortunately, my closest and most intimate friends are also involved in divorce and separation these days, and in the meantime, their children are suffering the worst.

  28. Marzieh Hezbi
    Marzieh Hezbi says:

    I wish that divorce and social damage can be prevented by taking necessary measures before marriage.

  29. Marzieh Hezbi
    Marzieh Hezbi says:

    I am Marzieh Hezbi from Iranian univesity.
    An ambivalent person not know what he wants from life, and makes us undecided in the relationship,
    thank you!…

  30. Marzieh Hezbi
    Marzieh Hezbi says:

    I am Marzieh Hezbi from Iranian univesity.
    An ambivalent person not know what he wants from life, and makes us undecided in the relationship.

  31. Zahra bahram
    Zahra bahram says:

    The family as an important framework is sometimes broken for some reasons, which has bad consequences, especially for children, one of these reasons is ambivalence, which means couples love and hate each other, and couples who have this ambivalence get divorced about seven years later, fortunately. There are three methods in your article that can help these couples to resolve their conflicts

  32. Anahita Bahreman
    Anahita Bahreman says:

    Ambivalence among couples, apart from causing problems and differences in the relationship, sometimes even causes separation, causes the couple to have problems in raising their children, and causes lack of trust, severe dependence, severe jealousy, etc. in the child.

  33. Zahra choopanbishe
    Zahra choopanbishe says:

    Hi Professor
    In my opinion, the family and the upbringing they do for their children and the environment are very effective

  34. Fatemeh khorsand fard
    Fatemeh khorsand fard says:

    In my opinion, families, too much age difference, making the partner nervous,the level of education of the couple, negativity in marriage and humiliating the partner play a very important role in divorce.

  35. Fatemeh Ebrahimi
    Fatemeh Ebrahimi says:

    In my opinion, an ambivalent person suffers from a lack of peace, and from a certain point on, she cannot trust herself, and her ability to choose is disturbed, like a state of confusion.

  36. Elika Khodadi
    Elika Khodadi says:

    With increasing age, choosing a life partner is more difficult. Not only are people more selective, but their selection criteria also become stricter over time.
    As the person grows older and becomes more independent, that person does not see the need to fill that void by getting into a relationship with another person. compare and when that person was not responsive to them, the person decides to divorce and be with someone else who is on the same level as his desires

  37. Masoumeh Ashoury
    Masoumeh Ashoury says:

    In my opinion, many couples suffer from ambivalence even in spouses who prefer to stay together. In such cases, get out of the old version of the relationship. Getting out of ambivalent patterns means stepping into your own growth and seeing what happens next. fall – promise not to force yourself to stay forever in a relationship you need to leave Expand your vision to accept that grief comes both ways. Ultimately, it gives you a lot of freedom—to believe that there are new versions of our relationship.

  38. Masoumeh Ashoury
    Masoumeh Ashoury says:

    In my opinion, the age of marriage and the age difference of the couple, the level of education, the humiliation of the partner, being too affectionate at the beginning of marriage, negativity and disappointment in marriage have an effect on divorce, and with these things, divorce can be predicted in a way.

  39. nasrin shojaee
    nasrin shojaee says:

    In my opinion, these behaviors between couples can be due to social pressures, which they should solve by referring to related counseling.
    An important issue is that a child should never be added to the family at this time.

  40. mahnaz nouruzi
    mahnaz nouruzi says:

    Maybe being capricious includes all of us to a certain extent. Especially in the case of marriage, which is a very serious decision in life, and you can never estimate the future in marriage one hundred percent.
    Those who are capricious, in fact, have no proper understanding of their own needs and interests, and they may give you different thoughts every day than they did yesterday. These people are capricious not only in their married life, but in all stages of life, and unfortunately, this issue can cause wrong choices and wrong decisions.

    One of the most important reasons for marriage for each person is the moral and behavioral characteristics of the other party. When you marry a capricious person, you can’t actually get to know the moral and behavioral characteristics of your capricious spouse at any stage of life. For this reason, you may always disagree with each other on this matter
    However, pre-marriage counseling for a proper marriage, as well as counseling and couples therapy, is considered essential for everyone.

  41. Mohadeseh khan mirzaie
    Mohadeseh khan mirzaie says:

    hello teacher
    In my opinion, living with ambivalent people is very difficult because they never have a definite feeling. And you are always indecisive in this relationship.
    And if you give birth to a child, you have made a big mistake because that child is always a spectator of fights and arguments.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 × 4 =