Why Danes Divorce

With divorce rates in developed nations still hovering at 40-50%, much research has focused on the important question of why couples choose to end their marriages. In a new study out of Denmark, a group of four researchers from the University of Copenhagen seek to better understand why Danish people choose to divorce. This is particularly important, they remark, because divorce has been found “to detrimentally affect a wide range of mental and somatic health outcomes,” which “include depression, anxiety, stress, well-being, and physical health among divorcés and divorcées and their children.” They also note that men and women have historically reported different motives for divorce, with women more often than men reporting behaviors like violence and addiction. Previous research has suggested that such differences may be due in part to women’s decreased dependence on marriage, accompanied by an increase in the importance of emotional factors, and also an increased willingness on behalf of both partners to end the marriage.

To conduct their study, the researchers surveyed 2,371 recently divorced Danes. These couples were allowed to divorce without a mandatory separation period, and thus, the scholars report, their answers as to reasons for divorce were likely to be less impacted by issues of memory. The average age was 45.21 years, 83% of respondents had children, and the average marital duration was 12.65 years. Sixty-six percent of the respondents were women. Of note is that 41% of respondents indicated “low or very low levels of conflict” in their marriages. About 30% said they had experienced moderate levels of conflict, and only 29% indicated high levels of conflict. 

Not surprisingly, given the global trend in more divorces occurring for emotional reasons, the top reasons given for divorce “were (1) lack of love/intimacy, (2) communication problems, (3) lack of sympathy/respect/trust, and (4) growing apart, while the least frequently given motives were addiction and violence.” “These findings,” the researchers comment, “also suggest that people may place increased importance on love, intimacy, communication, sympathy, respect, trust, and feeling connected with their partner.” The study also revealed a number of gender differences in reasons for divorce. Women were more likely to report problematic behaviors such as infidelity or addiction, while men were more likely to indicate sexual problems or sexual dissatisfaction. But the results were more nuanced than age-old stereotypes would imply: “Half of the male respondents indicated lack of love/intimacy and this was significantly more than for women. We speculate that this could be because men are becoming more sensitive to relationship dynamics and placing more importance on the emotional aspects of marriage.” 

The researchers suggest that therapists should be sensitive to such motives in their counseling, and more aware that things like lack of love or connectivity could be a harbinger of divorce. “These findings,” they report, “follow global trends of the increased importance of emotional and psychological aspects of relationships.” 

Many historians have noted the rise of the companionate marriage, one that relies more on emotional connection than economic necessity. And while in many ways such a development is positive, it also means that when that emotion fades, couples have less motive to try to make things work. These Danish findings seem to support the idea that marriages are becoming more fragile, for less serious reasons. 

(Jenna Marie Strizzi, Søren Sander, Ana Ciprić & Gert Martin Hald, “‘I Had Not Seen Star Wars’ and Other Motives for Divorce in Denmark,” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy 46.1 [2020]: 57-66, doi: 10.1080/0092623X.2019.1641871.)