The early marital roots of conjugal distress and divorce

Ted L. Huston, Sylvia Niehuis, Shanna E. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


This article summarizes research that challenges conventional wisdom about the early roots of marital distress and divorce. We abstract results from a 13-year study that focused on the extent to which long-term marital satisfaction and stability could be forecast from newlywed and early marital data. We explore the usefulness of three models - emergent distress, enduring dynamics, and disillusionment - designed to explain why some marriages thrive and others fail. The dominant paradigm, the emergent-distress model, sees newlyweds as homogeneously blissful and posits that distress develops as disagreements and negatively escalate, ultimately leading some couples to divorce. The results we summarize run counter to this model and suggest instead that (a) newlyweds differ considerably in the intensity of both their romance and the negativity of their behavior toward one another and, for those who remain married, these early dynamics persist over time; and (b) for couples who divorce, romance seems to deteriorate differently depending on how long the marriage lasts. Soon after their wedding, "early exiters" seem to lose hope of improving an unpromising relationship; "delayed-action divorcers" begin marriage on a particularly high note, yet quickly show signs of disillusionment. These delayed-action divorcers reluctantly give up on the marriage long after the romance has faded.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-119
Number of pages4
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2001


  • Disillusionment
  • Divorce
  • Longitudinal research
  • Love
  • Marriage


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