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The real reason people get divorced

The majority of individuals who get divorced in The Bahamas on the grounds of cruelty do so because of emotional exhaustion and pain due to years of complaint and frustration caused by a spouse’s refusal to change. I am inferring, based on my own findings from the ongoing observations in my own practice.

Here’s another source for my hypothesis. In 2013 I developed the “Brennen’s Short Survey on Marital Satisfaction” to use in my therapy sessions and at seminars where I am asked to speak to couples. The purpose of the survey is to simply ascertain the satisfaction or dissatisfaction in the following areas – romance, time spent together, intimacy and friendship. Here are the questions:

• Indicate your satisfaction with the amount of romance in your marriage.

• Indicate your satisfaction with the amount of time spent together doing fun things, dating, relaxing.

• Indicate your satisfaction with the intimacy in your marriage.

• Indicate your satisfaction with the friendship in your marriage.

The individual would select one of the following to indicate his or her satisfaction in the marriage – not satisfied, somewhat satisfied, satisfied, or happy.

Over a period of five years, the accumulative results of over 1,500 individuals revealed that 90 percent of individuals indicated somewhat satisfied or not satisfied to questions one and two in the survey. This is significant. The only exception was among individuals married one year or less. The longer the couples were married, the less satisfied they were in these two areas.

What is even more significant is the results of my exploration during the face-to-face interaction in therapy sessions. I noticed that when an individual indicated somewhat satisfied or not satisfied to the first two questions on romance and time spent together, there was also evidence of repeat disregard of request for change in behavior from one partner to the other. I also noticed that when the complaints continued over the years, the more the years of complaint, the further apart emotionally the individuals were from each other, and there was more anguish, pain, and frustration in the marriage. Yet, none of these are grounds for divorce in The Bahamas.

No specific behavior causes a divorce

Here are the startling results of my observations. In the majority of cases, the final reason for the divorce was not a specific behavior like adultery, flirting, drinking, drugs, gambling, etc., even though the partner might have admitted to any or all of these. It was the refusal to listen to the complaints of the spouse, change, admit wrong, etc. I am often surprised why wounded spouses would stay together when multiple affairs have taken place. The number one factor is that the guilty partner was willing to listen, change, and admit wrong. The guilty party shredded the cloak of pride and selfishness and became humble. The wounded partner stayed so long in the relationship, although complaining often, because of a deep and profound love for his or her partner.

The following are serious and painful scenarios where troubled couples, equipped with humility, fostered healing of the relationship:

• Both partners had an adulterous relationship simultaneously.

• One spouse had multiple affairs.

• The wife contracted two sexually transmitted diseases due to the husband’s unfaithfulness.

• The wife got pregnant for another man.

• The wife got pregnant for another man, while simultaneously the husband got another woman pregnant.

• The wife found out her husband had a child with another woman earlier in their marriage.

• A spouse stole large sums of money from the others bank account.

The healing took place because the guilty partner was willing to stop and evaluate the damaging behavior. The guilty spouse sucked up his or her pride and was humble enough to admit wrong, vulnerability, or weakness. Also, the so-called innocent spouse was able to take a deep, introspective look at his or her own behavior to see what part it played in the marital discord.

Here are a few very simple and not so painful but easy-to-fix scenarios where a spouse is saturated in pride, stubbornness, or arrogance and causes more pain and even separation and divorce, because he or she refuses to change these simple behaviors:

• Husband complains that his wife spends too much time each week talking to her mother on the phone who lives alone on another island. Here, the husband refuses to understand the importance and need of his wife spending time on the phone with her mother.

• Spouse does not want her husband to do lap dancing with another woman in a strip club.

• A spouse constantly comes home too late after work.

• A spouse is concerned about the characters of her/his partner’s friends.

• Husband complains about his wife’s girlfriends and the time she spends with them, and the places they go at nights.

• One partner continues to smoke in the home or drink heavily, causing serious medical problems to other family members – for example asthma, coughs, depression, etc.,

• One partner does not want the other partner to travel with him or her to social outings, or overseas trips like carnivals in Trinidad or New Orleans, or Family Island regattas.

It is astonishing that these seemingly fixable problems are the ones that lead many to the divorce court. The judge or lawyer may not be aware of this, but one spouse is in pain because of it. These are examples when pride takes control and prevents change.

• Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist and board-certified clinical psychotherapist. Send your questions or comments to or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit or telephone 242-327-1980.

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