Longer relationship length, older age and better relationship quality increase the odds of staying together
A new study examining the predictors of relationship termination in same-sex and married heterosexual couples found that male-male couples were the least likely to break up. In addition, women in same-sex relationships were twice as likely as men in same-sex couples and 1.5 times as likely as heterosexual couples to have ended their relationships.
Researchers followed 515 couples in Vermont from 2002 to 2014 and found that, when considering all couple types together, longer relationship length, older age and better relationship quality reduced the chances of a breakup. Higher education also proved protective for female-female couples, though greater social support among friends increased the likelihood of a breakup. There were no differences in break-up rates between same-sex couples who had legalized their relationship and those who had not.
“Other studies on heterosexual couples have found that women have higher standards for relationship quality than men,” said study author Esther Rothblum, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University and visiting scholar at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. “We suspect that similar dynamics may be at play with the lesbian couples in our study, leading to the higher dissolution rate. At the same time, we found that older couples were less likely to break up, and having children had no impact on the break-up rates.”
This is the first study to compare relationship breakups among same-sex and heterosexual couples over a 12-year time period during which legal relationships were recognized for same-sex couples in some U.S. states.
Key findings include:
- Female-female couples (29.3%) were twice as likely as male-male couples (14.5%) to terminate their relationship, compared to 18.6% of male-female couples.
- For female-female couples,
- Each added year of relationship length reduced the odds of a breakup by 13%;
- Each year of age lowered the likelihood of a breakup by 4%;
- Each year of increase in education reduced the odds by 16%;
- Each unit of increase in relationship quality reduced the likelihood by 82%.
- When looking at all couple types together,
- Each year of relationship length reduced the odds of a breakup by 9%.
- Each additional year of age lowered the likelihood of a breakup by 2%.
- Each unit of increase in relationship quality reduced the risk by 61%.
- There were no differences in dissolution rates between same-sex couples who had legalized their relationship and those who had not.
- For all groups, lower income and whether or not couples had children did not affect the odds of a relationship ending.
In 2000, Vermont became the first state to extend all of the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples through a civil union law. In 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. Because marriage and other types of legal recognition for same-sex couples are relatively new, there has been little research to date on same-sex divorce.
“Our study is important not only for its findings but also because of its methodology. By following the same demographically-matched couples over a 12-year period, we identified both similarities and differences in relationship dissolution according to sexual orientation and gender,” said study author Kimberly Balsam, a clinical psychologist and psychology professor at Palo Alto University. “This kind of research is crucial in combatting stereotypes about same-sex couples and can inform policy and program development to support healthy relationships for all couples. Intimate relationships are dynamic, and longitudinal designs allow us to capture these changes over time in a more nuanced way.”
The study, Longitudinal Predictors of Relationship Dissolution Among Same-sex and Heterosexual Couples, was published in Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice and co-authored by Williams Institute Visiting Scholar Esther D. Rothblum along with Kimberly F. Balsam and Robert E. Wickham.