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Fam Process. 2007 Mar;46(1):7-16.

The origins of modern divorce.

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History and Family Studies, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA 98505, USA.


High rates of marital dissolution and easy access to divorce are not unprecedented, historically or cross-culturally. But contemporary divorce in North America and Western Europe has different origins and features than divorce in previous cultures. The origins of modern divorce patterns date back more than 200 years, to the invention of the historically unprecedented idea that marriage should be based on love and mutual affection. Ironically, then, the fragility of modern marriage stems from the same values that have elevated the marital relationship above all other personal and familial commitments: the concentration of emotion, passion, personal identity, and self-validation in the couple relationship and the attenuation of emotional attachments and obligations beyond the conjugal unit. The immediate causes of divorce may range from factors as diverse as the personal psychological characteristics of one or both spouses to the stresses of economic hardship and community disintegration. But in a larger perspective, the role of divorce in modern societies and its relatively high occurrence both flow from the same complex of factors that have made good marriages so much more central to people's happiness than through most of the past, and deterioration of a marital relationship so much more traumatic.

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