The last few decades have seen a substantial gradual increase in the number of separations and divorces compared to previous periods. According to data from the INE (National Institute of Statistics), in 1990 there were some 95,000 divorce proceedings . In the year 2000, the figure was around 98,000; in 2014, the total number of legal separations exceeded 100,000, 5.6% more than the previous year’s index.

In the face of this upward trend, a number of studies have attempted to shed some light on the factors that can lead to the emergence of a feeling of marital dissatisfaction and, in some cases, the decision to end the marital relationship. Let us look at some of the hypotheses studied in this regard.

What influences emotional relationships and marital dissatisfaction?

The defining and common aspect of all intimate relationships (family, friends, love, etc.) is the interdependence . Interdependence is understood as the capacity that one element has to influence the other in a reciprocal and consistent way in the respective thoughts, emotions and behaviours.

One factor that considerably influences the way an individual relates to others, and especially to his partner, is the development during childhood of the emotional bond with the parents . Evidence from published works shows that a secure bond, based on affection and trust, is associated in the future with traits of positive affection, empathy, high self-esteem and non-conflictive interactions with others.

In reference to marital relationships, the adult who has developed a secure bond in the first years of life, later seeks intimacy , feels comfortable within his or her relationship and is not constantly worried about losing it. This type of person is capable of establishing long, committed and satisfactory relationships.

Affective bonds

Bartholomew and Horowitz have established a model of classification of the affective bond in the adult that contemplates two dimensions: positive vs. negative self-evaluation and positive vs. negative heteroevaluation (Bartholomew and Worowitz, 1991).

A person with a positive self-image assumes that others will generally react to an interaction in a positive way, be esteemed by the other and treated correctly, so he or she will be comfortable in intimate relationships. A negative self-image is related to rejection by others, so the intimate relationships he or she establishes will generate anxiety, inadequacy and dependency. These facts may precipitate the individual to avoid a closer and deeper type of relationship.

Commitments versus freedom

In a 2004 study by Baron and Byrne, the authors found that most marital problems stemmed from the loss of freedom of each of the members since, since they could not act unilaterally, they had to agree on decisions with the other member.

As the study shows, the desire for independence inevitably conflicts with the need for privacy in most of the cases studied.

The end of idealization, the beginning of divorce?

On the other hand, the idealized vision of the other that each member has at the beginning of the relationship gradually disappears, and over time the negative aspects of the couple that went unnoticed before can become more relevant. Studies show that spouses tend to overestimate their level of agreement in general and especially in the style of coping with problems or difficulties.

That is to say, the couples present a greater disparity of opinions than what they themselves really consider . In addition, the nature of the verbalizations expressed by each member during a discussion also becomes a relevant factor in the perception of satisfaction of the marital relationship.

Thus, within a continuum where the extremes are delimited by the variables “destructive-critical-reflective” and “constructive-consensual-reflective”, the most dissatisfied couples are clearly located in the first typology.

Negative dynamics

Related to the above, individual differences in hostility, presence of defensive attitudes towards the couple and feelings of sadness, are determining factors in the way couples interact. In this way, it has been shown that the spouses that express more their feelings are happier : in particular, it has been concluded that satisfied women define themselves as expressive, feminine and value positively that their partners are also affectionate and protective towards them. In the case of men, the group feels more satisfied if it considers itself resolute and expressive, detesting on the other hand the fact of being rejected sexually by its partner.

In a study carried out by Fincham and Bradbury at the end of the last century, the conclusion was drawn that marital dissatisfaction is mainly determined by the sensation of monotony and boredom perceived by the members of the couple and that the discrepancy in the assessment of this aspect is a precipitating factor that marks the beginning of the deterioration of the marital relationship.

The triangular model of love

One of the most important contributions in the field of the distinction between different types of love has been made by Sternberg. With his “Triangular Model of Love” this author conceptualized love relationships in terms of three basic components: intimacy, passion and commitment .

According to the proposal, all love relationships have all three components but in different proportions. The data indicate that those couples that have all three components equally become the ones that will tend to establish more lasting and satisfactory relationships. On the contrary, if the proportions are very unbalanced, the probability of a feeling of dissatisfaction with the relationship increases.

So let’s see a brief definition of these components:

  • The Intimacy refers to the bonding and bonding of the members of the couple as they spend time together.
  • The Passion is the motivation and the sexual excitement.
  • The Commitment indicates the cognitive elements involved in the decision to form the relationship and expressions of continued commitment to it.

The sexual realm

Finally, other aspects that can negatively influence the feeling of marital dissatisfaction are: the perception that each person has of the type and quality of the sexual relations they have with each other (Henderson-King and Veroff, 1994) or the negative emotions linked to professional performance that extend to the personal sphere and end up overflowing the marital relationship.

This situation can be the prelude to a separation or divorce .


In short, as has been observed throughout the text, it seems that the aspects relating to both the establishment of a satisfactory interdependent link, and the breaking of routine and monotony, a dynamic of open and assertive communication or a balance in the components intimacy, passion and commitment are the determining factors in favouring the maintenance of a positive perception of the marital relationship and the interest in its continuity over time, being elements that correlate negatively to the appearance of deterioration at the conjugal level.

Bibliographic references:

  • Baron Robert A. & Byrne, Donn (2004): Social psychology. 10th Ed. Pearson Prentice Hall: Madrid.
  • Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L.M. (1991). Attachment styles amongyoung adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and SocialPsychology, 61, 226-244.
  • Fincham, F.D. & Bradbury, T.N. (1988b). The impact of attributions in marriage: Empirical and conceptual foundations. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 27, 77-90.
  • Henderson-King, D. H., & Veroff, J. (1994). Sexual satisfaction and marital well-being in the first years of marriages. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 11, 509-534.
  • National Institute of Statistics (2015): Statistics on separations, annulments and divorces Year 2014. Retrieved from
  • Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological review, 93, 2, 119-136.