Facts About Marital Distress and Divorce
Scott M. Stanley & Howard J. Markman
University of Denver and PREP, Inc.

Younger people in the U.S. who are marrying for the first time face roughly a 40-50% chance of divorcing in their lifetime under current trends (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992, p. 5).

Of first marriages that end in divorce, many end in the first 3 to 5 years. (As one example, for first marriages ending in divorce among women aged 25 to 29, the median length of marriage before divorce in 1990 was 3.4 years; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992, p. 4).

Adults and children are at increased risk for mental and physical problems due to marital distress (e.g., Cherlin & Furstenberg, 1994; Coie et al. 1993; Coyne, Kahn, & Gotlib, 1987; Cowan & Cowan, 1992; Fincham, Grych, & Osborne, 1993).

Mismanaged conflict and negative interaction in marriage predicts both marital distress and negative effects for children (e.g., Gottman, 1994; Markman & Hahlweg, 1993; Clements, Stanley, & Markman, 1997; Cowan & Cowan, 1992; and Grych & Fincham, 1990).

Marital problems are associated with decreased work productivity, especially for men (e.g., Forthofer, Markman, Cox, Stanley, & Kessler, 1996).

A variety of studies suggest that the seeds of marital distress and divorce are there for many couples when they say, "I Do." These studies show that premarital (or early marital) variables can predict which couples will do well and which will not with accuracies of 80% up to 94% (e.g., Clements, Stanley, & Markman, 1997; Fowers, Montel, & Olson, 1996; Gottman, 1994; Karney & Bradbury, 1995; Kelly & Conley, 1987; and Rogge & Bradbury, in press).

Many more couples live together prior to marriage than in the past--recent estimates are in the range of 60+% (Stanley & Markman, 1997; Bumpass & Sweet, 1991). These couples are less likely to stay married, probably mostly due to the fact that they are less conservative about marriage and divorce in the first place.

Money is the one thing that people say they argue about most in marriage, followed by children (Stanley & Markman, 1997). But, there is a lot of reason to believe that what couples argue about is not as important as how they argue (Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, 1994).

Married men and women in all age groups are less likely to be limited in activity (a general health indice) due to illness than single, separated, divorced, or widowed individuals (National Center for Health Statistics, 1997).

Children living with a single parent or adult report a higher prevalence of activity limitation and higher rates of disability. They are also more likely to be in fair or poor health and more likely to have been hospitalized (National Center for Health Statistics, 1997).

The "triple threat" of marital conflict, divorce, and out-of-wedlock births has led to a generation of U.S. children at great risk for poverty, health problems, alienation, and antisocial behavior.


Bumpass, L.L, & Sweet, J.A. (1991) The Role of Cohabitation in Declining Rates of Marriage. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53, 913-927.

Cherlin, A. J., & Furstenberg, F. F., Jr. (1994). Step families in the United States: A reconsideration. Annual Review of Sociology, 20, 359-381.

Clements, M., Stanley, S.M., & Markman, H.J. (1997). Predicting Divorce: A discrimant analysis. Manuscript in preparation.

Coie, J., Watt, N., West, S. G., Hawkins, J. D., Asarnow, J. R., Markman, H. J., Ramey, S. L., Shure, M. B., & Long, B. (1993). The science of prevention: A conceptual framework and some directions for a national research program. American Psychologist, 48, 1013-1022.

Coyne, J. C., Kahn, J., & Gotlib, I. H. (1987). Depression. Family interaction and psychopathology: Theories, methods, and findings. New York: Plenum Press.

Cowan, C. P., & Cowan, P. A. (1992). When partners become parents: The big life change for couples. New York: Harper Collins.

Fincham, F., Grych, J., & Osborne, L. (1993, March). Interparental conflict and child adjustment: A longitudinal analysis. Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, New Orleans, LA.

Forthofer, M.S., Markman, H.J., Cox, M., Stanley, S., & Kessler, R.C. (1996). Associations between marital distress and work loss in a national sample. Journal of Marriage and Family, 58, 597-605.

Fowers, B. J., Montel, K. H., & Olson, D. H. (1996). Predicting marital success for premarital couple types based on PREPARE. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 22, 103-119.

Gottman, J. (1994). Why marriages succeed or fail. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Grych, J., & Fincham, F. (1990). Marital conflict and children's adjustment. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 267-290.

Karney, B.R., & Bradbury, T.N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, method, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 3-34.

Kelly, E. L., & Conley, J. J. (1987). Personality and compatibility: A prospective analysis of marital stability and marital satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 27-40.

Markman, H.J., Stanley, S.M., & Blumberg, S.L. (1994). Fighting for Your Marriage: Positive Steps For A Loving and Lasting Relationship. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, Inc.

National Center for Health Statistics (1997, January). Health and SelectedSocioeconomic Characteristics of the Family: United States, 1988-90. (PHS) 97-1523. Washington D.C.: General Printing Office.

Rogge, R.D., & Bradbury, T.N. (in press). Recent Advances in the Prediction of Marital Outcomes. In R. Berger & M.T. Hannah (Eds.) Handbook of preventive approaches in couples therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Stanley, S.M., & Markman, H.J.(1997) Marriage in the 90s: A Nationwide Random Phone Survey. Denver, Colorado: PREP, Inc.

U. S. Bureau of the Census (1992). Marriage, divorce, and remarriage in the 1990's (Current Population Reports, P23-180). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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