Our new analysis of data from the UK survey Understanding Society shows that high conflict warring couples are a rarity among couples who split. The vast majority of family breakdown involves low conflict couples, who are largely indistinguishable before they split from couples that remain together. Most of this involves happy couples and therefore comes out of the blue.
Among 22,770 men and women living as a couple, only 19 of 210 (9%) married couples who split one year later, as well as 11 of 247 (4%) unmarried couples who split, could be categorised as high conflict couples who had reported quarrelling a lot in the year before the split.
In sharp contrast 60% of the married couples who split, and 80% of the cohabiting couples who split, were low conflict couples who had also reported some degree of happiness. The remainder were low conflict couples who had reported they were unhappy.
These findings are important for two reasons. (1) Previous research shows the most damaging separations to a child involve low conflict couples. (2) The remarkable lack of conflict or unhappiness immediately prior to divorce or separation suggests a great deal of family breakdown today may be a lot more salvageable than is commonly assumed.