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Overestimating spouse’s happiness could lead to divorce

People who overestimate the happiness of their spouse are more likely to divorce, a new study claims.

Researchers from the University of Virginia asked 4,242 married couples questions about their relationship satisfaction and how this compared to how happy they would be if they were not married.

Respondents were also asked how they thought their spouse would answer the same question. After a gap of about six years, the couples were asked the same questions again.

Only 40.9 per cent of people surveyed correctly guessed their spouse’s answer, which means that a majority of marriages have “asymmetric” information about each other, said the researcher. Around a quarter of respondents had “serious discrepancies” between their perception and the reality of their partner’s happiness.

People who overestimated their spouse’s happiness had a higher divorce rate. The average divorce rate across the 4,242 respondents was just over seven per cent. By contrast, the divorce rate for those who got the question wrong was between nine and just under 12 per cent. This rate rose to between 13.1 and 14.5 per cent among the couples whose answers had a serious discrepancy.

Steven Stern is an economist and co-author of the study. He claimed that the higher divorce rate in couples who misjudge each other’s happiness could be a result of one partner bargaining “too hard”.

For example, a husband could ask his wife “to do more chores or contribute a larger portion of the family income” if he thought she was happy in their relationship. However, if she was not as satisfied as he believed, “she may decide those demands are the last straw, and decide a divorce would be a better option for her”.

The study will be published in the journal International Economic Review.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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