Dr. Ruth has interviewed thousands of people about their sex lives — and she's found the biggest threat to a relationship happens outside the bedroom

  • Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a psychosexual therapist. She's found boredom — inside and outside the bedroom — is the biggest threat to a romantic relationship.
  • Before you give up on a boring relationship, Westheimer says you should try making your own life more exciting.
  • Other experts recommend trying new things with your partner as a way to combat boredom.


Dr. Ruth Westheimer separated from her second husband when their daughter was one year old.

In her 2015 memoir, "The Doctor Is In: Dr. Ruth on Love, Life, and Joie de Vivre," she explains what happened: "What we'd had was a great love affair, but there wasn't enough of a connection to sustain a marriage that would last a lifetime. One of the missing ingredients was intellectual stimulation."

Related: This may predict divorce

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7 things science says predict divorce
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7 things science says predict divorce

Getting married in your teens or after age 32

The best time to get married is when you feel ready, and when you've found someone you think you can spend a lifetime with. Don't force anything — or put it off — because a study told you to do so.

That said, research does suggest that couples who marry in their teens and couples who marry in their mid-30s or later are at greater risk for divorce than couples in their late 20s and early 30s. The risk is especially high for teenage couples.

That's according to research led by Nicholas Wolfinger, a professor at the University of Utah. After age 32, Wolfinger found, your odds of divorce increase by about 5% every year.

As Wolfinger wrote in a blog post for the conservative-leaning Institute for Family Studies, "For almost everyone, the late twenties seems to be the best time to tie the knot."

Other research, published in 2015 in the journal Economic Inquiry, found that the odds of divorce among heterosexual couples increase with the age gap between spouses.

As Megan Garber reported at The Atlantic:

"A one-year discrepancy in a couple's ages, the study found, makes them 3% more likely to divorce (when compared to their same-aged counterparts); a 5-year difference, however, makes them 18% more likely to split up. And a 10-year difference makes them 39% more likely."

Having a husband who doesn't work full-time

A 2016 Harvard study, published in the American Sociological Review, suggests that it's not a couple's finances that affect their chances of divorce, but rather the division of labor.

When the researcher, Alexandra Killewald, looked at heterosexual marriages that began after 1975, she learned that couples in which the husband didn't have a full-time job had a 3.3% chance of divorcing the following year, compared to 2.5% among couples in which the husband did have a full-time job.

Wives' employment status, however, didn't much affect the couple's chances of divorce.

The researcher concludes that the male breadwinner stereotype is still very much alive, and can affect marital stability.

Not finishing high school

It doesn't seem fair that couples who spend more time in school are less likely to get divorced. But that's what the research suggests.

A post on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website highlights a result from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1979), which looked at the marriage and divorce patterns of a group of young baby boomers. The post reads:

"The chance of a marriage ending in divorce was lower for people with more education, with over half of marriages of those who did not complete high school having ended in divorce compared with approximately 30 percent of marriages of college graduates."

It may have to do with the fact that lower educational attainment predicts lower income — which in turn predicts a more stressful life. As psychologist Eli Finkel previously told Business Insider:

"What I think is going on is it's really difficult to have a productive, happy marriage when your life circumstances are so stressful and when your day-to-day life involves, say three or four bus routes in order to get to your job."

Showing contempt for your partner

John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington and the founder of the Gottman Institute, calls certain relationship behaviors the "four horsemen of the apocalypse." That's because they predict divorce with scary-high accuracy:

  1. Contempt: Seeing your partner as beneath you. (Gottman calls this behavior the "kiss of death" for a relationship.)
  2. Criticism: Turning a behavior into a statement about your partner's character.
  3. Defensiveness: Playing the victim during difficult situations.
  4. Stonewalling: Blocking off conversation.

As Business Insider's Erin Brodwin reported, these conclusions are based on a 14-year study of 79 couples living across the US Midwest, which Gottman conducted along with University of California-Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson. And while that particular study was small, another decade of research supports the findings.

Being overly affectionate as newlyweds

If you're not inclined to hug and kiss and hold hands as newlyweds, that might be a problem. But if you practically have to be pulled apart, well, that might be a problem, too.

Psychologist Ted Huston followed 168 couples for 13 years — from their wedding day onward. Huston and his team conducted multiple interviews with the couples throughout the study.

Here's one fascinating finding, from the resulting paper that was published in the journal Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes in 2001: "As newlyweds, the couples who divorced after 7 or more years were almost giddily affectionate, displaying about one third more affection than did spouses who were later happily married."

Aviva Patz summed it up in Psychology Today: "[C]ouples whose marriages begin in romantic bliss are particularly divorce-prone because such intensity is too hard to maintain. Believe it or not, marriages that start out with less 'Hollywood romance' usually have more promising futures."

Withdrawing during conflict

When your partner tries to talk to you about something tough, do you shut down? If so (or if your partner is guilty of that behavior), that's not a great sign.

A 2013 study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that husbands' "withdrawal" behaviors predicted higher divorce rates. This conclusion was based on the researchers' interviews with about 350 newlywed couples living in Michigan.

Meanwhile, a 2014 study, published in the journal Communication Monographs, suggests that couples engaged in "demand/withdraw" patterns — i.e. one partner pressuring the other and receiving silence in return — are less happy in their relationships.

The lead study author, Paul Schrodt at Texas Christian University, says it's a hard pattern to break because each partner thinks the other is the cause of the problem. It requires seeing how your individual behaviors are contributing to the issue and using different, more respectful conflict-management strategies.

Describing your relationship in a negative way

In 1992, Gottman and other researchers at the University of Washington developed a procedure called the "oral history interview," in which they ask couples to talk about different aspects of their relationship. By analyzing the conversations, the researchers are able to predict which couples are heading for divorce.

In one study, published in 2000 in the Journal of Family Psychology, Gottman and colleagues put 95 newlywed couples through the oral history interview. Results showed that couples' scores on certain measures predicted the strength or weakness of their marriage. Those measures included:

  1. Fondness for each other
  2. "We"-ness: How much each spouse emphasizes unification in the marriage
  3. Expansiveness: How much each partner elaborates on what the other is saying
  4. Negativity
  5. Disappointment in the marriage
  6. How much the couple describes their marriage as chaotic
SEE ALSO: 13 facts about divorce every couple should know before getting married
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Westheimer — better known simply as Dr. Ruth — is arguably the world's most famous sex therapist. At 89 years old, she's heard from thousands of people about their most pressing sex and relationship issues. Over time, she's learned that the biggest danger to a romantic relationship is boredom — and not just in the bedroom.

In "The Doctor Is In," Westheimer writes:

"I often speak about sexual boredom, and it's certainly a topic that magazines like Cosmo address regularly, but in my opinion, sexual boredom is only a minor aspect to a couple's not having a satisfying sex life. Intellectual boredom with each other is a much bigger culprit."

Westheimer tweets frequently about the hazards of a boring relationship. From February 2012: "Boredom affects not just your sexual relationship but your entire relationship. Seek out ways to push boredom out of your life."

Boredom isn't necessarily the death knell for a relationship

Interestingly, other experts say boredom may not be an inherently negative experience. Elizabeth Bernstein at The Wall Street Journal reported that boredom can be a sign that you need to make a change in your relationship.

One therapist told The Journal that it's important to identify when and where you feel bored. Then talk to your partner about the situation — but instead of using the word "bored" or placing blame, suggest a new joint activity.

Related: Famous Hollywood breakups

22 PHOTOS
Iconic Celebrity Breakups
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Iconic Celebrity Breakups

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner... though the two are still being spotted with their wedding rings.

(Photo by C Flanigan/WireImage)

Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick

(Photo by Denise Truscello/WireImage)

Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert

(Photo by Christopher Polk/ACMA2014/Getty Images for ACM)

Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale

(Photo by Chris Polk/PMA2014/Getty Images for dcp)

Amy Poehler and Will Arnett

(Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams

(Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

Heidi Klum and Seal

(Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart

(Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries

(Photo by Kevin Winter/NBCUniversal/Getty Images)

Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise

(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI)

Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears

(Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect via Getty)

Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown

(Photo credit AFP/Getty Images)

Liam Hemsworth and Miley Cyrus

(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom

(Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic via Getty)

Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore

(Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

LeAnn Rimes and Dean Sheremet

(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver

(Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

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Indeed, research suggests that couples who try new things together are more satisfied with their relationships.

Westheimer concludes "The Doctor Is In" by answering questions she received from the audience at a production of "Becoming Dr. Ruth," a play based on her life. In response to a question about the biggest danger to a relationship, Westheimer responds (you guessed it): boredom.

She writes:

"The first step to fighting boredom is to recognize it. One clue is that you're always tired even though there's no particular cause, like a baby who wakes you five times a night or financial worries that keep you from falling asleep. The reason that you are tired is that there's nothing about your life that makes you excited."

Perhaps surprisingly, Westheimer recommends spicing up your own life as a way to combat relationship boredom: Visit the theater, join a book club, take an online course. "By investing in yourself in all these ways, you'll find that the fog of boredom will lift and the bright light of joie de vivre will being to light your life."

Related: Shortest celeb marriages

16 PHOTOS
Shortest Celebrity Marriages
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Shortest Celebrity Marriages
Mario Lopez and Ali Landry dated for six years before marrying in 2004. But it all fell apart within 18 days -- Landry found out Lopez had cheated.
The first of Drew Barrymore's three husbands, she was only 19 when she wed Jeremy Thomas. She'd only known him for six weeks when they tied the knot in 1994. Unsurprisingly, they called it quits after 39 days.
Britney Spears has long put this behind her, but the world still remembers her infamous 55-hour marriage to childhood friend Jason Alexander. Hey, things happen.
It was definitely a wild night in Vegas, and it ended with Carmen Electra marrying quirky basketball player Dennis Rodman at 7 in the morning. They had it annulled nine days later.
Drew Barrymore and Tom Green made an odd pairing, but they stuck it out for a few months. They wed in summer of 2001 and had split by the winter holidays.
A few years after Rick Salomon made his screen debut (?) alongside Paris Hilton in her infamous sex tape, Pamela Anderson snatched him up. They married in 2007, and Pam filed for divorce 60 days later. (They remarried and re-divorced in 2014.)
What it lacked in duration, it owned in overexposure. The much-hyped nuptials of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries took place in 2011 and cost an estimated $10 million. The marriage formally ended 72 days later.
Nicky Hilton and Todd Meister opted for a quickie Vegas wedding in August 2004. A promising start, but ultimately the marriage collapsed that November.
Yes, this is an actual wedding photo. Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock made it official with a ceremony on a yacht. Looks like a good time, but they'd had enough 122 days later.
In this photo, she's still Jenny from the Block! Jennifer Lopez married pro dancer Cris Judd in September 2001, but by June 2002, he'd danced right on out of her life.
Long story short, Fred Armisen and Elisabeth Moss were married for 8 months and it was really, really bad. Moss has called the experience "extremely traumatic and awful and horrible."
They made for a very cute teen-dream couple, but real life was more like a nightmare. They divorced after five months, and Bush cited "fraud" as her grounds, which is definitely concerning.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Esposito were husband and wife for a lovely four months until parting ways.
Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley wed in a beautiful Hawaii ceremony, but once they got back to reality, things weren't so picture-perfect. They divorced 107 days later.
Luann de Lesseps and Tom D' Agostino announced their divorce just seven months after they tied the knot in December 2016. Rumors of cheating and even some physical abuse plagued their short-lived marriage up until the August 2017 announcement.
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She caveats that if none of this is helping, you should seek professional guidance. And if Westheimer's experience in her second marriage is any indication, sometimes you may have to end the relationship.

The takeaway here is that, if you're on the fence about whether to stay in a boring relationship, you should exhaust all reasonable possibilities before giving up.

Here's Westheimer in "The Doctor Is In" again: "Joie de vivre isn't just a phrase that you sprinkle on your life now and then. It's an attitude that should permeate your every waking hour. It takes a little effort but let me assure you, the rewards are well worth it."

NOW WATCH: A relationship psychologist describes 3 ways to strengthen your relationship

See Also:

SEE ALSO: Dr. Ruth has interviewed thousands of people about their sex lives — and she says the most common relationship problem hasn't changed since the 1980s

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