A study found that couples were more likely to divorce when wives reported high levels of marital tension but their husbands did not feel the same. CC0 Creative Commons

Divorce is most likely for couples when the wife reports feeling a lot of tension and resentment but the husband doesn’t feel a lot of that at all.

It sounds like a stereotype — a clueless man with an unhappy wife — but it’s what researchers found when they assessed couples several times through their marriages. Their study, in the journal Developmental Psychology, was examining the relationship between “marital tension” and divorce. Marital tension can include feeling resentment or irritation toward a partner, and the pattern showed that the woman’s feelings of tension was the best predictor of whether the couple would divorce, particularly when she felt high levels of it while her husband reported low levels of marital tension.

The researchers followed more than 350 couples in their first 16 years together, with the goal of finding “whether marital tension has unique implications for divorce,” the study says. The data came from that collected during interviews from the Early Years of Marriage Project, with roughly half of the couples studied being white and about half being black. The interview questions included whether they felt irritated or resentful in the preceding month and how often they had these feelings due to arguments or other disagreements with their partners.

It turns out there is a lot of marital tension to go around: Overall the wives reported more tension than the husbands but both groups saw an increase over time, with husbands seeing a bigger jump.

Although the two groups both had increasing tension, the likelihood of divorce rested with one of them — the women. According to the research, the woman was the biggest decider of whether a couple would stay together. “Despite the greater increases in marital tension among husbands, wives’ increased marital tension over the course of marriage is more consistently associated with divorce.”

Roughly 40 percent of the marriages being studied ended in divorce, which was close to the national average at the time the data was collected.

According to the University of Michigan, this window into the relationship between marital tension and divorce could help explain why women are twice as likely to file for divorce.

Researcher Kira Birditt said that the scenario in the studied marriages that most often led to divorce, where a woman reported a high level of accumulate marital tension while her husband reported low levels of tension, could have roots at the core of the relationship.

“It could reflect a lack of investment in the relationship on the husband’s part — they might believe it’s unnecessary to change or adjust their behavior,” Birditt said.

Birditt also said the disparity in how couples feel marital tension could speak to how the different sexes approach marriage: “It could be that wives have more realistic expectations of marriage, while husbands had more idealistic expectations of wives. … People in the same relationships have different ideas about the quality of their tie.”