Posted on: November 13, 2020 at 3:48 pm
Last updated: January 14, 2021 at 11:43 pm

In Western society, more than 90 percent of people marry by the time they’re fifty years old. Unfortunately, forty to fifty percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. The divorce rate for second and third marriages is even higher [1]. This has led researchers who study marriages to look for signs that a marriage won’t last.

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The hope is that by studying unsuccessful marriages and the people who are a part of them, we can find patterns. These patterns, then, may provide us with clues to predict whether or not a relationship will be successful. Sometimes, these studies lead us to unexpected places and bring us to some surprising conclusions.

The following are surprising and/or subtle signs that researchers have found that may spell the end to a marriage.

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Signs a Marriage Won’t Last

Once you’re in a relationship with someone, there are often signs that indicate if it will go the distance, whether you see them right away or not. Sometimes, however, there may be signs even before a relationship begins that a person may not be marriage material.

The following are some of the more subtle, and perhaps most surprising, findings that some scientists say spell trouble for a marriage.

1. Frowning in Childhood Photos

This is possibly one of the most intriguing signs that a marriage won’t last. Of course, everyone likely has a photo from their child in which they were frowning because they were in a bad mood that day. However, if there is a distinct lack of smiles in your significant other’s childhood pictures, however, you may want to think twice.

In one study researchers looked at college yearbook photos, and rated their “smile intensity” on a scale from one to ten. The scoring was based on two muscles- one that pulls up on the mouth, and one that creates wrinkles around the eyes. They found that none of the people who ranked in the top ten percent of smile strength had divorced. Out of those in the bottom ten percent, however, one in four divorced. 

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In a second study, researchers asked people over 65 to provide childhood photos. The researchers scored these images as well, and found that only 11 percent of the biggest smilers divorced. On the other hand, 31 percent of the frowners experienced a broken marriage [2].

Overall, the results suggest that people who frown in photos are five times more likely to divorce. Matthew Hertenstein, a psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana, was the lead author of the study. He said it is possible that smiling represents a more positive disposition in life.

“Or maybe smiling people attract other happier people, and the combination may lead to a greater likelihood of a long-lasting marriage. We don’t really know for sure what’s causing it.” [2]

The results of these studies also contribute to the notion that what happens to people when they’re young can affect certain outcomes later in life. This is particularly true for interpersonal relationships. 

2. Having Colleagues of the Opposite Sex

Researchers in Denmark found that people who work primarily surrounded by members of the opposite sex are fifteen percent more likely to divorce. Interestingly, they found that this association was much stronger for men with higher education. The association with highly-educated women, on the other hand, was weak or non-existent.

The researchers hypothesize that people are more likely to marry someone with the same educational level as them. This may increase the likelihood that you meet someone similar to yourself, and thus a potential romantic partner, at your workplace.

They note, however, that the divorce rates in various sectors may be higher or lower based on the personality types those workplaces attract. For example, the divorce rate is especially high in the hotel and restaurant industry, while it is relatively low in the library and farming industry [3].

3. The Tone of Your Partner’s Voice

In 2015, scientists developed a computer algorithm that can predict whether your relationship will improve or worsen. This algorithm did a better job of predicting marital success than relationship experts.

The researchers recorded hundreds of conversations from over one hundred couples during marriage therapy sessions, then tracked their marital status for five years. They created the algorithm to assess the recording based on acoustic features like pitch, intensity, “jitter”, and “shimmer”.

They found that these features indicated intensity of emotion, which has an impact on your partner. 

“It’s not just about studying your emotions,” one researcher said. “It’s about studying the impact of what your partner says on your emotions.” [4]

The way partners talk to each other and the way they discuss problems can have a direct impact on their relationship. This study shows that partners who don’t communicate well or speak to each other poorly have a lower chance of having a successful relationship.

Read: Jada Pinkett Smith Says Friendship Is More Important Than Romance in a Marriage

4. You Never Fight

Fighting with your significant other is never fun, but it is necessary in a relationship, within reason. According to Jeanette Schneider, a relationship expert and author of LORE: Harnessing Your Past to Create Your Future, it is a bad sign when a couple stops disagreeing.

“Conflict creates intimacy if you allow it to be a place to grow as a team,” she says [5].

If you stop fighting, whether it’s because you’re giving each other the “silent treatment” or because you’re ignoring issues, this could cause problems in the long run.

5. Your Mother

No, this has nothing to do with the “monster-in-law” of chick-flick lore. Studies show that most couples copy the behavior of their parents. In particular, they tend to mimic that of their mothers. 

A 2018 study including more than seven thousand people found that if a mother frequently got into new relationships, her children were likely to do the same as adults. Essentially, if your mother didn’t exhibit great relationship skills, there’s a chance that you won’t, either [6].

6. Your Husband Doesn’t Like Your Friends

In 2018, scientists released the results of a study that showed that when a husband doesn’t like his wife’s friends, the marriage was more likely to not last to end in divorce. After analyzing 373 couples over sixteen years of marriage, they found that 46 percent of the couples divorced. The husband not liking his wife’s friends in the first year appeared to predict that future break up.

The husband’s negative perceptions of his wife’s friends was more of an indicator than the other way around. The researchers believe this is because of the difference in the way females and males form bonds.

Women tend to form long-lasting friendships based on emotional closeness and support. Men, on the other hand, tend to form relationships based on joint activities. For this reason, it is easier for men to change their circle of friends, and more difficult to come to terms with his wife’s friends, who he finds unpleasant [7].

7. Newlywed’s Excessive Affection

While this may sound counter-intuitive, newly-married couples who show more affection to each other than usual are more likely to divorce later on. We know, it sounds like an odd sign that your marriage won’t last.  

In 2001, researchers studied 168 couples who had been married for no more than thirteen years. They found that couples who divorced seven or more years after marriage showed almost one third more affection toward each other when they were newlyweds than those in more successful relationships.

The researchers said that this is likely because it is difficult for those couples to maintain that level of romantic intensity over the long-term [8].

8. Poverty and Unemployment

A 2004 study found that low-income parents are more likely to break up than those in a higher income bracket. The study found that most of the seven hundred thousand fathers who were registered with the Child Support Agency actually pay very little in child support because their incomes were so low.

In fact, in 2001, forty percent of separated fathers in Australia had a taxable income of less than 15 600 dollars. Co-author of the study, Bob Birrell, said:

“People think the agency acts in a draconian way to take money out of the pockets of men. The reality is most separated and divorced blokes are on such low incomes, they pay very little towards the wellbeing of the mother and their children.” [9]

9. Poor Sleeping Conditions

Not sleeping well? It may be a sign your marriage won’t last. As inconsequential as it may sound, couples with poor sleeping conditions are more likely to divorce. In fact, a 2013 survey found that an increasing number of couples were choosing to sleep in different beds.

Colleen Carney is the Director of Ryerson University’s Sleep and Depression Laboratory in Toronto, Ontario. She said that based on her observations, sleeping in separate beds can actually be better for the couple. This is simply because it allows them to get better sleep.

“People will say they sleep better [together], but when we actually monitor their brains we see that their brain is not getting into deeper stages of sleep because they’re continuously being woken up by movement or sound,” she says. “It creates a lot of problems.” [10]

Consistent lack of good sleep over time can make you irritable, impatient, and lead to conflicts and arguments that you would have not had otherwise.

10. You Fight in Public

Audrey Hope is a relationship counselor and author. She says that when you and your partner start bickering in public, or saying mean comments so that other people will hear, it is a sign that you no longer care about your marriage.

When you’re bringing your arguments into public, it might mean that your problems have gotten so big you cannot contain them [5]. 

All Signs a Marriage Won’t Last, But With a Side of Hope

Of course, if you and your partner relate to any of these signs that your marriage won’t last, it doesn’t immediately spell disaster. Relationships and marriages require work and commitment, and many of the aforementioned issues are surmountable.

In a similar vein, just because you come from a certain background, or have had certain experiences in your past, does not necessarily dictate your future. Just because you weren’t a very smiley kid, you have a lower income, or your mother was in and out of relationships, does not mean that you can’t have a successful relationship.

If you believe your marriage may be in trouble, consider talking to your partner about therapy, so that you can work through your issues together in a productive and healthy way.

Keep Reading: The Best Marriage Advice From A Divorced Man

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!