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The Straw that Breaks the Camel’s Back, Pt. I

By: Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC

No matter how long you have been married, newlyweds and old married couples have one thing in common – they should never get too comfortable.

The Straw that Breaks the Camel’s Back, Pt. I: What Are My Risks for Divorce? 

In my practice, I see and work with many couples, and anyone who knows me or works with me knows my fascination with marriage, couples work, and relationships. Turns out that just about anything can cause divorce – from employment status to how much a couple spent on their wedding. Studies have shown that often the straw that breaks the camel’s back can come in all forms, shapes, and sizes. Many wonder if the length of the marriage can predict your odds of divorce and how long the average marriage typically lasts. 

Not surprisingly, there is no rhyme or reason, or mathematical equation or calculation that can perfectly depict this – it’s complicated. Thus far, scientists have not yet quantified the divorce risk based upon the number of years married because there are so many factors that play into a breakup. However, isolated studies do give us a general picture and idea of how likely your marriage is to end in any given year. Here’s what we know from the research: 

Divorce Risk Factors by Length of Marriage

Year 1-2: High risk  

Eventually, the honeymoon and the honeymoon phase ends. Your risk for divorce in year one is just as high as it is obvious. Typically, the first year of marriage is a challenge and it serves as an ideal time to cut ties and move on before your lives become even more intertwined. Also, prenuptial agreements tend to kick in only after one year, so this is a contributing factor as well. Studies show us that most marriages that fail (around roughly 10%) tend to do so in the first two years. Based on data from 11,000 divorce cases, men are more likely to cheat on their wives in this first stage of marriage – sorry ladies!  

Year 3-4: Average risk 

On average, typically couples begin having children on year three of marriage. There is ample evidence that having children increases relationship stability and divorce risk. It’s not always a case where you are staying together for the kids – sometimes the kids are keeping you two together. However, do not overestimate the security that a baby can bring to a marriage. With security, they also bring high levels of stress and turmoil – it’s all about how you resolve and recover from it that makes the difference. One study of 522 couples found that the overall quality of the marriage tends to decline after the first four years. According to Kurdek, “most marriages start off with such high levels of quality that it can only change down.” 

Year 5-8: High risk  

Heard of the “seven-year itch?” This phrase refers to the long-standing theory that relationship satisfaction declines after about seven years. However, there is census data that states that marriages can stall after 7 years. Here are some stats that have developed over the years. 

  • The average length of a marriage that ends in divorce 
    • 1920s: 6.6 years 
    • 1974: 7.5 years 
    • 1990: 7.2 years 
    • Today: The average length of marriage ends in divorce after 8 years. However, this extra year may be because it takes about a year to process the legal system with a divorce. 

The reason this is such a risky time for marriage is that evolution may be at work. At this point within a marriage, typically children can independently take care of themselves and they are old enough to have good chances of surviving to adulthood. This gives couples a feeling that the children would be okay if they did transition out of marriage. 

Biologically speaking, the infant mortality rate decreases as the odds of divorce increase. There are also theories that “the seven-year itch” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Studies have shown that a woman’s desire to cheat typically rises and peaks around year six – sorry gents. 

 Check out part two to this two-part blog series to learn more about your risks for divorce. 


Vinopal, L. (2021). A year-by-year guide to your risk of divorce. Fatherly. Retrieved from:

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