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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

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 rather 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.

[See published paper for tables:
Marriage to Divorce Ratio
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

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 traditionallyoriented
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
favor 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.

Passivity of Character 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 Supraindividual 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

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

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

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
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

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. Supraindividual
causes are beyond individuals’ control; these causes have cultural roots
and are imposed to the individual by others. But the intensity of impact of supraindividual
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 modernday
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,
[See Fig. 2 in published paper: 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

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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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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