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Rational-Emotional ‘Divorce’ In Iran

March 8, 2014

14.03.08 Woman turning awayInternational Women’s Day is a good time to report the paper my fellow sociologists in Tehran, Iranian academics Meysam Haddadi Barzoki and Mohhamad Tavakoll, and I have just published (March 2014). Meysam and I liaised on this work via the e-ether for quite a while; through our exchanges I learnt about a society very different from mine. (Iranian women’s fathers become only ‘stepfather’ when their daughters marry.)  I hope our paper shines light on some important issues for others too. The abstract, formal link and full text follow:

This study investigates emotional divorce in marriage in everyday life in Iran from a female perspective. Many studies have been conducted on divorce but there is vacuum in the field of emotional divorce in regard to how it is defined and which research methodologies are most appropriate.

This study aims to understand the participant’s construct of emotional divorce as well as its mechanism and causes, using grounded theory to achieve a deep and holistic understanding of the issues. Analytic induction and theoretical saturation were the criteria for selecting 22 women with severe marital dissatisfaction, as subjects for the research.

One of the core ideas considered is that emotional divorce increases when formal, legal divorce is difficult to obtain.  Findings cover four fields including:
(1) social contexts such as patriarchy, the presence of stepfathers, and female passivity;
(2) intensifying factors such as men’s sex vs. women’s love and the presence of a rival wife;
(3) unequal exchange and
(4) the sense of inequality, rational divorce and finally emotional divorce itself.

Our research findings show the occurrence of ‘emotional divorce’ often arises from rational calculation. Unequal exchange results in the sense of inequality as the main cause of emotional divorce.

The full paper, which includes compelling and sometimes heart-wrenching first person accounts, is available here: Rational-Emotional ‘Divorce’ in Iran   (text also below)

Meysam Haddadi Barzoki, Mohhamad Tavakoll, Hilary Burrage
Applied Research in Quality of Life
March 2014

Key words: divorce, patriarchy, emotional distancing, unequal exchange, inequality

Introduction: The concept of the family is of overriding importance in all societies and the matter of family stability has always given scholars of the humanities food for thought.  Influenced by different economic and social trends, the family has taken different shapes throughout history, but these varieties of form have not disrupted the family’s basic functions.

In contemporary times, with the unchecked growth of individualism, familial life has entered a new and specific phase (Bernadette 2004).  Critically, divorce is so widespread in European societies that its current rate is about 40-50 percent, with ratios of marriage to divorce on a downward trend such that of every two marriages, one ends up in divorce (Abbey &Dallos 2004).

Divorce does not necessarily carry negative connotation because marital life does not necessarily or always mean love and affection (Bernards 1997). Divorce in many cases is a very appropriate way, particularly for women, to achieve release from stress and misbehavior.

It is also however important to consider emotional divorce   a marriage-specific form of emotional distancing where one spouse (usually the wife)  shows indifference to the other spouse (usually the husband).  In experiencing ‘emotional divorce’ the wife creates  a new life for herself, with different and new emotional ties and commitments. According to Berman (1985) 25 percent of divorcees had great difficulty getting legal divorce (Bernards 1997), so this is another way for wives to achieve distance from a husband who is no longer loved or respected.

Emotional divorce is increasing more rapidly in developing countries, where technological and communication developments have revealed the ‘new’ western marital culture of egalitarian and individualist values to people in third-world communities where traditional and patriarchal cultures are the norm. But in this traditionally–oriented regime, social and legal channels for women’s divorce are obstructed. And so, in line with the theoretical constructs of Merton (1968), we observe a situation in which means and ends do not match, and the result is anomie and an increase in emotional divorce compared with legal divorce.

Literature Review Callan and Noller (1987) assert that there is no single specific explanation for divorce, but the emphasis on individualism is a major factor in the trend to more frequent divorce. Individualism brings new pressures and numerous expectations to bear (Bernards 1997). The concurrence of these causes with increasing expectations of married women has legitimized the concept of divorce. But high expectations of marriage and of family life will often still face internal constraints.

As a result general and individual marital failures increase and this has been a powerful social context for easy divorce (Matthijs et al. 2008).Berger and Kellner (1973) investigate the social construct of truth in marriage and conjugal life. Basically, this model pictures marriage as a continuous conversation through which the couple come to mutual understanding. By matching this model to all expects of marital life, this approach emphasizes the ways that people seek to achieve peace of mind. Spouses are an important influence in how we confirm our own roles and values (Bernards 1997).

Empirical research suggests that the social correlates of divorce are:
– temporary causes (the impact of historical eras like social contexts);
– life-course causes dependent on the timing of particular events in life which pave the way to marriage failure, such as parent’s divorce (Teachman 2002);
– attitudinal causes like negative effect of attitude toward gender roles and religious beliefs (Bracher et al. 1993);

Finally economic causes such as the scarcity of socioeconomic supplies (Sayer and Bianchi 2000) and women’s (non) access to these resources which undermine the marriage.

Of the economic factors, the most important has been the overall improvement in women’s socioeconomic conditions compared to men’s in the later decades of the 20th century (Hewitt et al. 2005).The Family in Iran Iranian society comprises incompatible elements deriving from its deeply-rooted ancient history, the pressures of facing an old but seemingly new value oriented regime based on the Islamic Revolution, and its opening of windows toward the world at large. This contrast suggests a 3-D culture in the Iranian experience of society (Mohseni 2003: 10).

The aforementioned contrast gives rise to specific conditions in Iran. On the one hand, youths and girls, in particular, are influenced by progressive educational and economic levels and through knowledge of Western marital values are seeking egalitarian, individualistic and humanistic values in their own lives. On the other hand, in spite of the gradual social changes, a mismatch between the state supportive legal system and the social context is observed. This suggests a specific conflict in Iranian society. To put it another way, although the consequences of urban and industrialized life hold sway over society, the government and the society have not yet assumed responsibility for people’s rights and, not unlike the past, people’s economic needs are still being met through family members’ mutual commitment.

These factors all give rise to circumstances in which financial affairs are of pivotal importance in marriage. Those families that are formed on the basis of an economic agreement cannot really possess the specific characteristics of a nuclear family. Sociologically speaking, the existence of these conditions and relationships (money-oriented and bourgeois) prevent nuclear families from being formed (Ezazi 1997: 102–104). Iranian traditional society, confronted with modernity and development, has evolved into a special situation where women, through higher education and the professions, have sometimes now achieved more than men. Therefore men are relatively traditional especially in everyday life and behaviors. This situation (difference and contrasts) is what lies behind contemporary Iranian women’s dissatisfaction.

Iran is a developing country and therefore the indices of its social and economic change are improving. According to Chicago school theorists (Beaulieu and Messner 2009), in development process, urbanization necessarily increases and urban life style seeks less social control and therefore the stigma of divorce decreases. Simultaneously, opportunities for women’s education and employment have extended greatly and the potential for women to become independent financially now exists (Trivedi et al. 2009). Economic development is therefore the most important underlying factor in the growth of divorce in Iran (Mahmodiyan and Khodamoradi 2010).

Since 1994, Iran has experienced a higher divorce rate than before (Fig. 1). According to Simonsson and Glenn (2011), this change could be the result of radical industrial development (1989–1997) and then governance changes introduced by the reformist philosophers (1997–2005) as cultural development. These reformist measurements opened up Iran’s social climate, especially concerning women and their attitude to themselves.

With the gradual development of Iran’s society, the social climate in respect of women has improved and the possibility of divorce increased; but women’s economic situation still does not often afford them an independent life. Economic factors therefore remain a potential obstacle for women, and so a reliance on ‘emotional divorce’ has developed, where full legal divorce is not feasible.

Fig. 1 Marriage to divorce ratio (1965–2011)

Also, findings also suggest that personal sexual satisfaction plays a central role in the marital satisfaction of Iranians (Rahmani et al. 2009); however, insufficient information is available to be sure about this. In this regard, Research shows that sexual dissatisfaction in one the main causes of divorce. Many analyses have been done on women’s sexual dissatisfaction from biological, social and even economic perspectives but findings differ and are in some cases conflicting. A positive correlation between sexual satisfaction and marital satisfaction, love and commitment is noted, but sexual satisfaction drops with negative changes in marital satisfaction, love, and commitment (Sprecher 2002). High degrees of sexual satisfaction contribute initially to improving the quality of life, and continuing satisfaction consequently helps to maintain life stability over time; and vice versa (Hsiu-Chen et al. 2006). Nonetheless, other research shows, especially for women, that the general condition of marital life is, conversely, a major contributing factor in sexual satisfaction (Davidson and Darling 1988; Theiss 2011).

These considerations all suggest that socio-cultural and social limitations remain obstacles for holistic studies on marital dissatisfaction. The present study therefore focuses on a deep investigation of married women’s emotional distancing looking into the social and cultural sensitivity of marital and social issues.

Research Questions The main goal of this paper is the development of a model for the causes and mechanisms in Iran of female marital dissatisfaction, which, formal divorce being difficult to obtain, gives rise to ‘emotional divorce’ by the woman in the marriage. Our focus is on how and why, in the context of Iran as a traditionally oriented country, wives seek to achieve emotional distance (‘emotional divorce’) from their husbands, on whom they continue in many formal respects to be dependent. One has to bear in mind that such explanations take abstract patterns of relationships in induction reasoning or chain reactions, and understanding the reasons that subjects have for their actions, into consideration (Blaikie 2000; Flick 2006).

The goal, therefore, is to understand emotional divorce. This study answers the following questions:
1. What is the social context for emotional divorce?
2. What are the contributing factors in emotional divorce?
3. What is the main reason of the emotional divorce?
4. What is the meaning of emotional divorce for our participants?

Research Setting The present study was conducted in Iran’s capital, Tehran, which, with a population of over 12 million (equal to 15 % of Iran’s total population), has unique features. The influx of immigrants to Tehran from other regions is grossly disproportionate to the rate of immigration to other metropolises (Hesamiyan et al. 2004). In addition to its large population, Tehran could also be taken as the Iranian reference group (Rafipoor 1998, 2003). In other words, every phenomenon needs to find its way into Tehran if it is to flourish. Due to the centrality of universities and large companies, extensive communications, high population density, ethnic variation, and finally low informal control, Tehran possesses a desirable context for individualism compared to other cities in Iran. In view of the sensitivity of the research domain, these elements have facilitated the process of finding and convincing the participants to take part in the interview and to put their trust in the interviewers. Therefore, Tehran was chosen as the main setting of the research.

Methodology Quantitative methods in social research may exercise a certain bias in favour of the dominant groups and also therefore, from the feminist viewpoint, in favour of men (Gott and Hinchliff 2003). Feminist analysis suggests that, women’s voices are less heard because of their lower status in the social and state order. Quantitative social research often leaves women’s perspectives unheard, objectifying women instead of giving their views any significant weight. Rather, Qualitative research however provides women with the opportunity to be heard and to articulate their goals. As a result, feminist research and qualitative inquiry are well aligned in view of the fact that their methods are more reflective of women’s needs and opinions (Abbey and Dallos 2004: 244; Flick 2006; DeVault 1996; Clarke 2006).

In conclusion, considering the sensitivity of women’s problems, historical, traditional and religious sensitivities of families in Iran (Ezazi 1997; Azadarmaki 2007), and given the main goal of this research which is to understand the mechanism of emotional divorce, not to collect data and generate results—a qualitative method adopting the Grounded theory has been selected for the purposes of the present study (Blaikie 2000; Flick 2006; Strauss and Corbin 1990/1998; Miller and Brewer 2003:132).

Sampling Grounded theory makes use of theoretical sampling; i.e. the process of data collection for the sake of theorizing, through which the analyst simultaneously collects, encodes, and analyzes the data and decides on the data that is we to be collected in the next step and where to search for this. This helps codify the theory while developing it. A codified theory controls the data collection process. Analytic induction for controlling negative and unique cases, and theoretical saturation as the finishing line of recruitment, have been the principal guidelines of the research (Flick 2006; Strauss and Corbin 1990/1998; Luborsky and Rubinstein 1995).

The participants were 22 people who were selected based on a criterion in the frame of analytic induction (Flick 2006). Considering the lack of an incisive definition and a precise criterion for emotional divorce, by exploring scientific resources and looking into Iranian society, three principles were chosen as criteria for selecting the participants. These criteria, which were modified and authenticated by expert consultants and specialists in the field of the family, are: extramarital sexual—emotional relationships; successive visits for divorce and consultation; and the recognition of emotional divorce among friends. Some of the participants had just one of these qualifications and some had all three. Five participants who were absolutely different as to their social class and educational level had extramarital affairs and were qualified for all three standards; nine participants were known as a symbol of emotional divorce within their friendly network and even their local setting (e.g., their regular beauty parlor), and the rest were regular depressed visitors of state counseling centers.

Six people came from the southern parts of the city (with a low income), five from northern areas (with high salaries), and the rest from the western and central areas (regarded as middle class).


An alignment between the approach and the case of study is the first principle in the evaluation of all research (Lincoln and Guba 1985; Flick 2006). In view of the sensitivity of marital relationships, correspondence between a qualitative approach and the topic is demonstrable (Flick 2006; Clarke 2006; Abbey and Dallos 2004).

Trustworthiness (Lincoln and Guba 1985), as the main criterion of a qualitative research evaluation, refers to the results obtained solely due to the observations and the exact reflection of the participants’ perceptions. Trustworthiness was improved in the present study by first carefully inspecting and selecting participants and trying to cover negative and unique cases, then verifying interviewers’ competency, reinstruction of principles, and using interview guidelines and stressing the interviewers’ note taking, then investigator triangulation while encoding (Denzin 1989: 237), after that by trying to reach a consensus in the case of contradictions, and finally by member checking, frequent control and care in transcribing audio files, and encoding (Whittemore et al. 2001; Golafshani 2003; Flick 2006; Strauss and Corbin 1990/1998).


The findings are organized around a discussion of the four major themes that emerged from the analysis of the sexual dissatisfaction data. Our first research question was: “What is the social context for emotional divorce?”

Social Context In this domain, massive social factors and influences which take cultural precedence are the primary focus. Those factors are independent of the individuals who impose them on others.

Patriarchy The over-arching factor in the social context of Iran is patriarchy (a pervading patriarchal attitude to gender relationships in everyday life). We know of course that patriarchal views of gender relationship exist in most men’s unconscious, in most parts of the world (Walby 1990; Scott 2006). On the other hand, because in modern marital relationships a grounded anticipation of this sort of inequality is not in women’s mind by rational calculation, women who experience overtly patriarchal relationships feel a sense of inequality originating from unequal exchange. Overall, there is a sense here of totalitarian and unaccountable male behavior which 15 participants in this study report in their relationships with their husbands.

This patriarchy controls three areas. These are (1) everyday life, (2) sexual relationships and (3) economic and work-related ties. Whilst the categorizing of these aspects is possible within theoretical approach, these areas cannot be distinguished in practice. Furthermore, the most important aspect of patriarchy is visible in everyday life and other two aspects are largely dependent to this aspect.

One of the essential origins of dissatisfaction is behavior based on gender relationships which, evidenced in daily interactions and embedded in husbands’ internalized patriarchy, results in unequal exchange and causes women to feel they are being prejudiced against. “Interviewer: what do you think your husband expects of you? Respondent: “Good food, ironed clothes, being neat and tidy, always wearing perfume even while cooking. I think they are selfish creatures”” (Respondent 18, 48 years old)

In Iranian society because of the power of religion and the inclination of those with influence in regard to traditions and patriarchy, men’s authoritarian behavior has its roots in social norms reproduced in daily life. Given the fact that patriarchy is part of men’s and even women’s socialization, it gives rise to action in specific social contexts. ‘Stepfather’ After marriage, a woman cannot go back home and she becomes totally dependent on her husband, to the extent that her biological / family of origin father has no further influence, taking only a ‘stepfather’ role in her life. This functions like a mental mechanism that has little to do with the father’s feelings. This mutual separation is accepted by both father and daughter as a social fact. Just as the wife’s mother-in-law brings a very tough picture to mind, here the wife’s father and family take on no responsibility for the daughter’s fate. A family’s commitment to daughters is until her marriage and thereafter her father acts only as a ‘stepfather’:
“My father says be patient, everything will fall into place. I don’t know how long I should bear up till my father is convinced that I don’t get along with this man anymore.” (Respondent 4, 29 years old)

Patriarchy can explain this matter. In a patriarchal system, women are perceived by men unquestioningly as merely objects (like slaves). Insofar as the daughter has not married, she belongs to her father, but on marriage she is handed over as a possession to her husband…On the one hand the woman cannot disobey her husband (Maundeni 2000). On the other hand she cannot go back to her father’s home. This constitutes very good grounds for her to continue life as it is; in effect she has no option.

Having grown up in patriarchal society and socialized from an early age by a range of related influences, women are likely to be less confident than men and may be afraid think incisively or decide resolutely; they hesitate, even in the most abysmal circumstances they fear a change for the worse.

Furthermore because women are in these circumstances more influenced by the context then men, they are uncertain how they want to respond. For instance on one hand due to their particular problems they are indifferent about their sexual relationship, but on the other hand they begrudge this indifference, being also under the influence of media and friends. Sixteen research study participants reported this condition. This passivity is observed in the areas of (1) economic activity and (2) divorce and remarriage. But this passivity is more intense in the contexts of divorce and remarriage.

Women in our study hope their situation will get better but they can’t decisively make up their mind and often bear up because they fear a change for the worse. More than 75% of respondents were totally dissatisfied with their ongoing life but they fear divorce because of the gloomy future they envisage would follow from it:
“This has always preoccupied me; how I can live with someone else if I get a divorce?”;
“I know that I would end up in failure but try to demonstrate to myself that I did my best”; “Insofar as one can grin and bear it and continue to get on with life it would be better to do that; but only if a woman’s feelings and spirits are not trifledwith”; “Divorce visualizes a free unconstrained woman but I don’t like being a divorcee”.

These respondents believe they are obliged to abide by their husband’s rules even in conditions of absolute dissatisfaction with their lives. Women are willing, consciously or unconsciously, to obey their husbands (spousal identity) and naturally to perform spousal duties. Nonetheless, the women don’t know what to do in unusual situations such as a husband’s cruelty and misbehavior. In addition, the emotional conditioning of their own childhood is important. Women’s high sensitivity prevents them from deciding and acting appropriately. They also think that their children’s interests have a higher priority than their own interests (maternal identity) and that they as mothers are more accountable than fathers for the care of the children.

In this regard, women’s dilemma of identity appears to result in passivity. Dilemma refers to a kind of indecisiveness. Women are uncertain about two conditions. First they are concerned about their spouse; because of the dependent identity of Iranian women, in their opinion caring and looking after the husband is a good wife’s essential duty (Huminfar 2003). And secondly women are concerned about their children.

Intensifying Supra-individual Causes This domain includes supra-individual causes that are rooted in individual acceptance. It comprises (1) men’s sex Vs. women’s love rival wife, a factor which has four aspects. This domain is quite congruent with the social context domain. It is imposed on people from outside but operates through the individuals themselves. These factors are characterized by dispute and interaction of the ‘subjective I’ and the ‘objective I’. People are not necessarily passive and are able to change.

Men’s Sex vs. Women’s Love (different attitudes of men and women to sexual relationship) Men and women look differently at sexual relationships. Men think of sex as separate from all their problems in life and believe it has little to do with other matters but women start this relationship in the context of all the problems and matters which have demanded attention in past days. If the women are distracted by these matters they cannot concentrate fully on this relationship and be attentive (Basson 2005; Barzoki et al. 2012). Fourteen participants have been in this state.
“Men always go their own way, just accept their own talk, utter obscenities, do whatever they want, regardless of these matters; they always want to have sex and always put their foot down.” (Respondent 7, 39 years old);
“Because I am emotionally disturbed and he harasses me, I don’t enjoy having sex with him. I have sex only because then I can get rid of him.” (Respondent 4, 29 years old).

With regard to research validity, studies show that generally satisfactory ties pave the way for normal sexual relationships (e.g., MacNeil and Byers 2005; Sprecher 2002); however, issues such as unresolved clashes, emotional divorce, and emotional indifference contribute to marital dissatisfaction (Davidson and Darling 1988; Theiss 2011). In Iran, on the other hand, findings suggest that sexual dissatisfaction plays a seminal role in marital satisfaction (Rahmani et al. 2009).

Rival Wife This concept refers to the sense of security which the wife has about her relationship with her husband. Women do not like to be the second best for their husband. Any phenomenon that causes men to like something or someone more, and which incites a sense of being the second best can be a women’s ‘rival wife’. Twelve participants gave reports of this case. However in conditions of economic crisis or when the situation continues for a long time, the severity of this phenomenon decreases. There are four main aspects to this concept, as follows :(1) husband’s mother or his relative, (2) husband’s attention to other women,(3) husband’s work (this occurs more usually in upper class society) and (4) sex. In respect to sex as a ‘rival wife’, biological and emotional factors may mean that women are not always willing to have sex. If men insist on having sex in these times, this will result in dissatisfaction on the women’s part:
“When I realized that he wanted me only for sex, I was deeply upset; my heart
broke, everything was for sex.” (Respondent 17, 45 years old)

Unequal Exchange The core factor under consideration in this research is unequal exchange (in three areas). Unequal exchange is the key category in marital dissatisfaction. We see here unbalanced transaction marital relationships. Almost all participants reported unequal exchange, which can be multi-dimensional. These dimensions include:

Social Relationships Women experience a sense of loss when they perceive the inequality between their husband’s freedom to develop social relationships with family and friends, compared to their own:
“I felt…. How should I say…? He can socialize with his family whenever he wants, he goes out with his friends, goes traveling, goes to their homes. But I didn’t have such rights, I was not allowed. He even chose who could be my friend, saying so and so is not a good woman, while I knew some of his friends who are not good guys and have relationships with women of ill reputation, but when I told him these things, he answered back “You are a woman, you don’t have the right to tell me with whom I should socialize.” (Respondent 10, 35 years old)

Husband’s Sex (Wife Raping) In many cases women complained about sexual injustice in their marital life. It should be mentioned that patriarchy or authoritarian relations governs all aspects of the life (McHugh 2006; Theiss and Nagy 2010);
“Sometimes I think a woman is raped in her husband’s home, I think so because many times a woman doesn’t want to sleep with her husband but he makes her do this by force. They always ignore their wife’s needs and desires, they want anything for themselves.” (Respondent 17, 45 years old)
To some extent, a sexual relationship could be positive and enjoyable, but it could also build some negative thoughts and emotions (Theiss and Solomon 2007).

Principle Concept This field includes the main research question, which is emotional divorce and understanding its mechanism. The aim of our research is to articulate and understand participants’ constructs of emotional divorce.

A Sense of Inequality (Silent Rage) Unequal exchange does not necessarily lead to a sense of inequality; it develops when a husband does not pay attention to his wife’s sacrifice and devotion. The outcome therefore rests on the husband’s understating of his wife’s devotion. In this research only three women who had experienced unequal exchange were understood by their husbands and they are less dissatisfied than others. But 15 participants feel a sense of inequality and in these cases it has been accompanied by a different kind of relationship.

“You may sometimes look back and see, you devote yourself for years. You behaved humanely but when you notice that your husband does not understand, he becomes worthless for you, now you turn love to the children or life.” (Respondent 6, 47 years old)
“If a woman has problems with children and she is disturbed by this, she is expected not to be upset when her husband comes back home. But if the man had disagreements with his colleagues, the woman is expected to quieten the home so that he doesn’t get more irritated. So [the rules are different, but the] husband does not understand…” (Respondent 9, 48 years old)

We can argue that, because of advances in social and economic aspects, contemporary women have different desires and wishes for marriage. Thus in the early years of marriage they submit totally to their husbands’ rules by suppressing their demands. But as time elapses these women face many unfulfilled wishes (in terms of their original expectations), whilst still the husband does not understand the wife’s sacrifices, or does not reveal this perception.

This condition engenders the sense of inequality in women. If this sense is accompanied by the husband having no understanding of his wife’s self-denial, and the situation continues, the wife will harbor a grudge against her husband (silent rage). Furthermore, if this situation extends over a significant time, the marital relationship will not improve even if the husband’s behavior takes a turn for a better.

Rational Divorce When women experience an inequitable situation and due to social circumstances lack any possibility of going back to a better time; and when all their efforts to convince and correct their husbands prove to have failed, this gives rise to rational divorce.

In most cases we observe a rational profit and loss calculation (instrumental rationality) by women in the marital relationships, and every day is viewed through this window. At first rational computation is done to convince and ‘correct’ the wife’s side of things; but thereafter rational calculations for not complaining are developed:
“Because I forced him to face reality, many times, but then I saw that opposition and argument don’t work, now I understand that complaining is of no use. If I complain my life will be ruined. If I don’t complain, I should just about be able to bear up.” (Respondent 11, 40 years old)

This calculation contributes to formal divorces that finally result in much worse conditions in Iranian society:
“Let’s imagine I get divorced from this man, what’s the guarantee that the next husband doesn’t have these character defects? At least I know this one well, I know how he beats me while arguing and I can defend myself; but I can’t think of someone else, no I don’t have the patience.” (Respondent 6, 47 years old)

More than emotional divorce, a kind of rational calculation for counting profit and loss in the relationship leads to rational divorce. In contemporary society women resort to different actions like formal divorce, bearing lives of pain and suffering, and having extramarital affairs. A Weberian approach to consider rational divorce is helpful. Emotional Divorce Berman defines emotional divorce as a kind of unemotional life with the spouse, whilst establishing other emotional relationships. The picture of this divorce depends on people’s construction of this phenomenon.

In view of the fact that there is no incisive and standard definition for emotional divorce in Iran, we offer a conceptual definition of it. Having analyzed the data, different aspects of emotional divorce are ranked as follows: “a horrendous perception image of the spouse”;“ a mental image of marital failures”; “continuation of life for the sake of children in spite of severe decrease in affection and intimacy in comparison with early days of marriage”; “coldness of daily interactions”; and “sexual relationships free from emotions and complete coldness of sex”.

The goal of this study was to know what the definition and mechanism for emotional divorce is.

Bohannan (1970) believes that emotional divorce is the first stage in the divorce process and it brings about a declining marital relationship, then replaced by feelings of alienation (Olson and Defrain 2006:449). But I believe this is final stage in marital relation and before that one of couples experienced a typical inequality and sense of inequality.

Based on paradigmatic model (Strauss and Corbin 1990/1998), theoretically, findings are divided into for 4 domains:

Social Contexts Include Patriarchy (patriarchal attitude to gender relationships in everyday life), stepfather, women’s passivity (stemming for women’s dependent identity compared with men’s) and divorce as cardinal sin (negative social image of divorce).

Supra-Individual Intensifying Causes Comprise Disparate attitude to divorce, the presence of a rival wife (wife’s jealousy of anything more valuable to husband).

These social and supra-individual factors are the major causes of unequal exchange and principle concepts including a sense of inequality (due to unequal exchange), which may trigger rational-emotional divorce.

It is worth noting that there are mutual (reciprocal) relations between these fields and they are here ranked in descending order of supra-individual causation. Supra-individual causes are beyond individuals’ control; these causes have cultural roots and are imposed on the individual by others. But the intensity of impact of supra-individual factors is nonetheless mediated by factors and beliefs which are within the control of the individual concerned. To this extent he or she is able to alter the influence of these factors him or herself (Fig. 2).

Rational-emotional divorce has always existed; but in modern history, with the incongruence between contemporary women’s social movements and the financial contexts of women’s lives in Iran, emotional divorce has grown unchecked and has transformed into a social concern.

A special kind of emotional divorce refers to extramarital relationships and infidelity. This has drawn much attention due to the importance of family. In the authors’ opinion, this manifestation of emotional divorce is comparable with other ways in which individuals lacking overt power to change events may suppress or accommodate the sublimation of their needs. According to the findings, unequal relationships between spouses result in sexual dissatisfaction and sexual dissatisfaction is not the direct main cause of legal and emotional divorce.

A noteworthy point about emotional divorce is its rational dimension. While discussing emotions and affections, emotional and to some extent irrational reacting is often inferred on the part of the woman concerned.

Our research findings however show the occurrence of ‘emotional divorce’ (i.e. emotional distancing) often arises from rational calculation. In societies like modern day Iran’s, a sort of rational divorce comprising Weberian instrumental rationality (Ritzer 1993, 2002) may occur even before marriage, and it is this rational awareness which makes ‘emotional divorce’ by the wife a strong possibility later on.

Limitations Many of empirical studies have been conducted on legal divorce all over the world, yet, to date, no significant study has been done in “emotional divorce”. Investigating emotional divorce via standard scales allows researchers to comparatively study patriarchy, stepfather, women’s passivity, men’s sex & women’s love, rival wife, unequal exchange, sense of inequality, rational-emotional divorce

Fig. 2: The overarching social context interrelated causes and effects

and examine and appropriately describe this phenomenon based on certain discrepancies among different societies but because there is not any articulated definition on it, therefore this area need to qualitative studies firstly although Qualitative research have special weaknesses like no generalization in quantitative research. This gap can be a starting point for building a knowledge base in this area. Along the same lines, qualitative and comparative studies, guided from social sciences experts, can be rewarding.

Acknowledgments   Firstly, we should thank all participants who have put much trust in us and shared with us their experiences. Next, our particular thanks go to all interviewers and to our colleagues, especially, Mahshid Shahidi, Azadeh Vahidnia, Sheyda Khaledi, who are experts and specialists in the field of family in Tehran. Respected officials and personnel of Amene Orphan Asylum also deserve our sincere thanks for their full collaboration.

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Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation

18.04.12 FGM books together IMG_3336 (3).JPG

Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Hilary Burrage, Ashgate / Routledge 2015).
Full contents and reviews   HERE.

FEMALE MUTILATION: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation  (Hilary Burrage, New Holland Publishers 2016).
Full contents and reviews   HERE.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Toby permalink
    March 8, 2014 09:37

    Reblogged this on Speaker's Corner.

  2. Jason Cooper permalink
    March 25, 2014 17:48

    There ought to be a push this year for women to demand that the secret war on their humanity be put to an end. I am horrified by the treatment of women in this world. I am a kind man but it makes me ashamed to be male. Good luck, I will do all I can to make this a better world, where every girl and woman can walk safely with dignity. All my love, JC

    • March 25, 2014 21:11

      Thank you Jason. It’s incredibly important that men as well as women demand fairness and decency for all human beings. Your kind comments are much appreciated.

  3. December 5, 2014 23:17

    I have often wondered whether some of the problems described in the paper above were due to female genital mutilation (FGM). This report, dated 4 December 2014, suggests that FGM may indeed be a significant factor in the issues discussed:

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