Get access

Desperate Housewives? Communication Difficulties and the Dynamics of Marital (Un)happiness*


  • *

     Support from the College of Arts & Sciences Summer Research Fund, Florida International University, is gratefully acknowledged. I am grateful for helpful comments from my wife, few of which I understood.


The quality of a marriage depends on the proximity of a collective action to a unknown target. Individuals receive private signals about the target, and can communicate them only imperfectly to their spouses. Because of imperfect communication, spouses may hold different beliefs about the optimal action. If a couple's beliefs diverge too widely, one or both of them may prefer to dissolve the marriage. The article explores how poor communication contributes to marital unhappiness, as well as its implications for the dynamics of divorce risk, the welfare properties of divorce decisions and the role of counselling.