Yoram Solomon, PhD
TRUST, DISTRUST, and Divorce
An article on marriage.com from September 2021 listed the “10 most common reasons for divorce.” When looking at the ten reasons, based on The Study of Family and Culture of 4,000 adults made by The Austin Institute, one can’t help but notice that they are all related to trust. They could be the result of a lack of trust, or be caused by the same reasons as the lack of trust, or by themselves cause a lack of trust, but either way, they are related to trust. More specifically, lack of trust.
This article will test those ten reasons for divorce against the relative trustworthiness model one by one.
One of the components of the relative trustworthiness model is Personality Compatibility. It only makes sense that a person would be looking for an extra-marital affair after noticing an incompatibility with their spouse. Another component of the model is more absolute and universal: an affair involves lying and cheating, which are universal reasons for a lack of trust. Finally, spouses are supposed to be on the same side of the marriage to satisfy the Symmetry component, and when one has an extra-marital affair, they are not.
Many couples go through financial difficulties, and instead of breaking apart, it makes their relationship stronger. Financial difficulties cause distrust and potentially divorce when one of these three components of the model come into play: (1) Personality Compatibility, when the spouses have different spending habits, when one spouse spends much more than the other or is much more frugal than the other, driving the other crazy by their different perspectives (there is no right and wrong, just incompatibility); (2) Symmetry of contribution and consumption, especially when one spouse brings in a lot more resources into the marriage; and (3) Incompetence, when one spouse considers the other incompetence in generating income, managing money, or smart spending).
Communications (or Lack Thereof)
The 7th law of trust suggests that trust is dynamic and erodes between interactions as a self-defense mechanism (we don’t know what the other person has done since we last interacted with them, and therefore we trust them less). Time and Intimacy are the two obvious components of the model that assure that we continue to communicate and increase, not reduce, trust.
Arguing (different from constructive disagreement) is unpleasant and not a positive interaction. When we argue, we typically refuse to see the other person’s perspective and lack empathy toward them. We typically use language and behavior that could be interpreted as BS, both sub-components of Positivity. When we argue constantly, it becomes unpleasant and brings negativity. Negativity is much stronger than positivity.
While odd that this would be named as one of the top 10 reasons for divorce, it could be understood if the weight gain occurs asymmetrically (i.e., one spouse gains much more than the other). We could even argue that the spouse who gains weight lacks empathy towards the other spouse, not willing to see themselves through their spouse’s perspective. This asymmetrical weight gain could hurt both the component of Symmetry and Personality Compatibility since the two partners may not be compatible as they used to be.
When the two spouses don’t have the same expectations from the marriage, you could say they are not Personally Compatible. You can also claim that they didn’t spend enough Time and Intimacy (here, in the context of deep face-to-face conversations) before deciding to marry.
Lack of Intimacy
At the risk of sounding obvious, lack of intimacy is addressed by the component of Intimacy… However, we should note a study by Paul Zak in 2004, which concluded that people who inhaled the hormone oxytocin had a significantly higher level of trust in others. And how does oxytocin relates to intimacy? In a 2018 article, Psych Central states, "In humans, oxytocin is thought to be released during hugging, touching, and orgasm in both genders. In the brain, oxytocin is involved in social recognition and bonding, and may be involved in the formation of trust between people and generosity.”
Lack of Equality
A major part of the Symmetry component of the relative trust model is the symmetry of contribution and consumption. When one spouse contributes more than the other to the marriage (effort, attention, etc.) or one is consuming more than the other, they feel a lack of equality and thus lower trust. Another feeling is shame (by the one contributing less or consuming more), which is also a trust-reducing emotion.
Being Unprepared for Marriage
Many couples focus a lot on the symbolism around marriage (the proposal, the wedding ceremony, the gifts, or even the thought of being married) rather than on the practicalities of it. A focus on symbolism more than substance is part of the BS sub-component of Positivity.
Finally, when abuse (physical and emotional) enters the relationship, it hurts the Positivity, Symmetry, and Personality Compatibility components all at once and, obviously, destroys trust.
As you can see, the 10 causes of divorce (believed to occur in 50% of U.S. marriages) strongly correlate to the causes of distrust. Whether those causes first cause distrust which, in turn, causes the divorce, or the cause both the divorce and distrust, the two (divorce and distrust) are tightly related.
Dr. Yoram Solomon is a trust expert, author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a two-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop and masterclass that help build trust in organizations.