Short Stories About Marriage, Divorce and Separation

The relationship between husband and wife is the driving force behind these selections.

Some stories will feature a character who is focused on marriage, or who is thinking about their marriage.

There’s a separate heading for Divorce and Separation at the bottom.

See also:

The Arrangers of Marriage | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A woman from Lagos arrives in America to join her new husband. She discovers the reality of her new life, getting to know her husband, living situation, and American customs.

“The Arrangers of Marriage” is the first story in the Amazon preview of The Granta Book of the African Short Story.

The Enormous Radio | John Cheever

The Westcott’s live in an upscale apartment and enjoy music. Mr. Westcott buys his wife a new radio—big, ugly, and able to pick up conversations from neighboring suites.

“The Enormous Radio” is the third story in the Amazon preview of The Stories of John Cheever.

Ylla (I’ll Not Ask For Wine) | Ray Bradbury

Mr. and Mrs. K are Martians who aren’t happy anymore. One day Mrs. K has a dream about a man, tall with blue eyes. This sounds ridiculous to Mr. K, as Martians don’t have these traits. She fills in more details of the dream. She thinks it would be fascinating if there were people from another planet who could travel through space to visit them.

This story can be read in the preview of The Martian Chronicles.

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Call at Corazón | Paul Bowles

A man and woman are on their honeymoon in South America on a boat tour that stops at small ports. The man wants to buy a monkey to take with them but the woman objects. There is hostility between them. The boats are crowded and full of insects.

This story can be read in the preview of The Stories of Paul Bowles.

The Huntsman | Anton Chekhov

A hunter is walking down a country road when a woman whom he doesn’t see often—his wife—starts talking to him.

This story can be read in the preview of Stories of Anton Chekhov

The Hartleys | John Cheever

Mr. and Mrs. Hartley arrive at the Pemaquoddy Inn with their young daughter, Anne. They were there eight years ago, and had a good time. Skiing is the main pastime at the inn. It even has a hill with a primitive ski tow as a back-up, for when conditions aren’t good on the mountain. Anne only wants to ski with her father, and doesn’t participate in the regular lessons.

This is the fifth story in the preview of The Stories of John Cheever.

Rope | Katherine Anne Porter

A married couple have just moved to the country. The husband comes back from the store with some rope but he has forgotten the coffee, which his wife wanted. The rope sets off a discussion and argument about many things.

This is the fifth story in the preview of Collected Stories and Other Writings.

Shiloh | Bobbie Ann Mason

Leroy has been off work for four months since getting hurt. His wife, Norma Jean, supports them both by working at a drugstore. Leroy is glad to be home with his wife, but he’s worried that she’s drawing away from him—maybe his presence reminds her of their son who died as a baby.

This story can be read in the preview of Shiloh & Other Stories.

“The Piano Tuner’s Wives” by William Trevor

The piano tuner, a blind man, married Violet when he was young. They had a full life together. Two years after her death, he married Belle, when he was an old man. Belle wanted to marry him the first time around, but he chose Violet. She used to drive him around for his work, and would describe everything to him. Everyone in the area is aware of the circumstances around their union. Belle feels the lingering presence of her old rival.

This is the first story in the preview of Selected Stories.

Tears of Autumn | Yoshiko Uchida

Hana Omiya is on a ship going from Japan to the United States. She is seasick and nervous; she has some regret about the trip. She’s going to America to marry a man she has never met.

Popular Mechanics | Raymond Carver

A man and woman, possibly married, have an argument as he’s packing to leave home. The subject of their baby comes up, causing a quick escalation of the conflict.

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Cat in the Rain | Ernest Hemingway

An American couple is on vacation in Italy. The wife looks out the window at the rain and sees a cat huddled under a table. She wants to go down and take it in out of the rain.

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Chablis | Donald Barthelme

A man’s wife wants a dog, even though she already has a baby. He was against the baby but he got worn down. Now he’s imagining the hassle of a dog.

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The Kiss | Guy De Maupassant

A woman is upset when her husband leaves. Her aunt thinks she kissed her husband too much, so she explains the power of, and proper use of, the kiss.

Read here

The Life You Save May Be Your Own | Flannery O’Connor

An old woman and her daughter live on a run-down farm. The woman hires a drifter, Mr. Shiftlet, to do work around the place in exchange for shelter. She’s angling to marry off her daughter to him.

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The Storm | Kate Chopin

While her husband is waiting out a storm at a local store, Calixta is at home. She goes to bring in her laundry from the front porch when she sees an old love, Alcee. She invites him inside.

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This Blessed House | Jhumpa Lahiri

A newlywed Indian couple has just moved into a new house in America. As they prepare the house, the wife finds many Christian items left by the previous owners. She likes them and wants to keep them, but her husband disapproves.

Read “This Blessed House”

Neck | Roald Dahl

Lady Turton behaves indiscreetly at a dinner, paying undue attention to a male guest. Her husband is aware, but he doesn’t take any action.

Here We Are | Dorothy Parker

A newly-married couple is riding a train. They talk about their wedding and what they’re going to do. Everything that comes up leads them into a petty disagreement.

This can be read as a short story or a play.

Read “Here We Are”

Joining Charles | Elizabeth Bowen

A young woman, Louise, is staying with her husband’s family. She’s leaving this morning to join him in France. Charles’s family reveres him, but Louise isn’t eager to go.

A Point at Issue!  | Kate Chopin

Eleanor and Charles, newlyweds, go on their honeymoon and then, because of different interests, decide to spend time apart. Local society doesn’t approve of married people living this way.

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The Other Wife | Colette

A husband and wife go to a restaurant for supper. The man sees his ex-wife seated at a nearby table. The man and his new wife talk about his ex.

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Marriage a la Mode | Katherine Mansfield

William is on the way to visit his wife and kids who have moved to the suburbs. William thought they had been happy, but his wife, Isabel, wanted a change. He has an eye-opening visit with his wife and her friends.

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Say Yes | Tobias Wolff

While doing the dishes together, a husband and wife start discussing interracial marriage. The wife thinks it is fine, but the husband believes the cultural differences would be insurmountable.

Read “Say Yes”

The Good Deed | Pearl S. Buck

Mr. Pan has moved his mother from China to his home in New York. She is homesick and isolated by the language barrier. The family arranges for Lili, a young Chinese woman, to visit Mrs. Pan. When she finds out that Lili is unmarried with no prospects, she takes it on herself to arrange a match despite the family’s insistence that things aren’t done like that in America.

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Love Must Not Be Forgotten | Zhang Jie

Shanshan has a handsome suitor but she’s uncertain about marrying him. She remembers advice from her late mother, not to leap into marriage if she’s unsure about it. Shanshan’s mother didn’t remarry when her husband left, and Shanshan wonders why.

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The Gilded Six-Bits | Zora Neale Hurston

Joe and Missie, happy newlyweds, live in a modest house in an all-black community. A new man in town, Otis, opens an ice cream parlor, and makes a show of his gold accessories. He talks about his money and his success with women. Joe and Missie’s marriage is put to the test.

Read “The Gilded Six-Bits”

Mrs. Spring Fragrance | Sui Sin Far (Edith Maude Eaton)

Mrs. Spring Fragrance is a Chinese woman who’s lived in Seattle for 5 years. She has adapted quickly to the English language and American customs. Next door lives a young woman named Laura, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Laura’s parents want to follow tradition and have her marry a man she’s never met, but Laura is in love with an American man. Mrs. Spring Fragrance wants to help.

Read “Mrs. Spring Fragrance”

Jaws | Donald Barthelme

William and Natasha tell a cashier at the A&P about their relationship problems, including money issues, an extra-marital affair, and Natasha’s biting problem.

Hodel | Sholom Aleichem

Tevye’s daughter, Hodel, becomes acquainted with Feferel. When they get engaged, Tevye is upset; he wanted his daughter to marry an educated, wealthy man.

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The Letter | Laura Bulger

Domingos, living in Canada, writes a letter to his parents in Portugal. His letter puts a positive spin on things but it’s interspersed with his real thoughts on his life and family.

The Painted Door | Sinclair Ross

John walks five miles from his farm to his father’s to help him with chores. His wife Ann doesn’t want him to go because they’re expecting a storm and she wants the company. He says he’ll ask their neighbor Steven to drop in to play cards while he’s gone. Ann decides to do some painting to pass the time. After a while the weather turns bad.

Read “The Painted Door”

Blackberries | Ellen Hunnicutt

A man returns to his campsite with freshly-picked blackberries. His wife starts talking about being out of milk, and a theater tour in New York. He talks about frying up some cattails and other things they can do where they are.

Read “Blackberries”

This Plumber | Bret Lott

A plumber comes to Rick’s apartment to check for a leak in the bathroom. Rick’s wife has taken almost everything. The plumber asks if he’s moving in or moving out, but Rick doesn’t want to give any details.

Read “This Plumber”

Playing with Dynamite | John Updike

Fanshawe is in his sixties and has slowed down a lot. His wife is a bit younger and spryer. The narrator gives us a look at Fanshawe’s childhood, middle years, his marriage, and how his attitude about life has developed.

The Poison of the Blue Rose | Yasmin Marri

The narrator loves the silence of her house. She gets a visit from her friend Gulab Bibi, who has been getting letters from Rafiq. She wants to be with him but her parents have already arranged a marriage.

Five-Twenty | Patrick White

The Natwicks like to sit on their veranda to watch the traffic. They are getting on in years. The husband, Royal, is in a wheelchair with a hernia, heart trouble, and severe arthritis. The wife, Ella, is still able to get around. They get used to seeing a man in a pink and brown Holden at five-twenty. We’re told about their earlier life, how they got together and the dynamic of their relationship.

Read “Five-Twenty”

Across the Bridge | Mavis Gallant

Sylvie remembers when she was walking in Paris with her mother. She revealed that she didn’t love her fiancé, Arnaud, and instead wanted to marry a man she’d been corresponding with, Bernard. Thinking the match is a sure thing, her mother suddenly throws the wedding invitations into the river.

The Magic Barrel | Bernard Malamud

Leo Finkle, studying to be a rabbi, hears that being married would improve his job prospects. He consults a matchmaker, but is concerned about the commercial nature of the venture and wonders whether love plays any part in it.

Read “The Magic Barrel”

Blackbird Pie | Raymond Carver

A man relates his remembrances of an evening at home with his wife. He was in his study when an envelope was slipped under his door. It’s a letter from his wife but the man doesn’t believe it was written by her. He says it wasn’t her handwriting and the tone was out of character for her. The letter says their relationship has come to an end. He hesitates before going to look for her.

Premium Harmony | Stephen King

Ray and Mary have been married ten years. They argue now. Ray smokes and Mary has gained weight. Ray waits in the car while Mary goes into the Quik-Pik. It’s really hot.

Read “Premium Harmony”

Shifting | Ann Beattie

Larry and Natalie have known each other since they were ten and are now married. Larry is organized and follows a schedule. Natalie is more imaginative, and has her own interests. When Natalie inherits a car, they have different ideas about what should be done with it.

William and Mary | Roald Dahl

Mary Pearl receives a letter from her lawyer following her husband’s death. Her husband had been approached by a doctor with an unusual plan for extending his life. He went ahead with it, even though Mary was against the idea.

Read “William and Mary”

Reservations: A Love Story | Peter Taylor

Miles and Franny have just married. They sneak out their country club to go on their honeymoon. Things are going fairly well until Franny gets locked in their hotel bathroom. This escalates into an airing of grievances.

In Another Country | David Constantine

Mr. Mercer receives a letter notifying him that Katya has been found in the ice. He claims he had already told Mrs. Mercer about Katya but she doesn’t remember.

Read “In Another Country”

The Pleasure of Her Company | Jane Smiley

Philip and Frannie move in next to Florence, a single nurse. The women become friends, and Florence spend a lot of time at her place. Florence is curious about marriage; she wants Frannie to talk about it, but she doesn’t.

The Bear Came Over the Mountain | Alice Munro

Fiona, seventy-years-old, is preparing to leave home for good. A little over a year ago, she started leaving little notes around the house identifying the contents of drawers. Her husband, Grant, takes her to the facility in January. Fiona remembers many things from her past, so he wonders if she really needs to go.

Read “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”

Spring Storm | Mori Yoko

Natsuo is waiting for the elevator in her lobby. She’s very excited, having recently auditioned for a play. She’s eager to get home to tell her husband about it.

The Mole | Yasunari Kawabata

Sayoko writes a letter to her husband. She says she dreamed of the mole on her back, which was a source of contention between them. She reflects on details of their marriage, and the history of her mole, including how it became a focus for her.

Read “The Mole” (Pg 359)

A Country Love Story | Jean Stafford

Daniel, a professor who has just spent time recuperating in a sanitarium, moves with his younger wife, May, to a place in the country. A distance develops between them with Daniel working on some research and May turning to fantasy to get her through the days.

The Carved Table | Mary Peterson

A remarried woman has dinner with her husband’s family. She doesn’t express herself much, but silently compares their values.

Read “The Carved Table” (Pg 17)

Celebration | W.D. Valgardson

Mabel fries potatoes while Eric balances on a kitchen chair. Mabel says they need more wood for the stove, but Eric tells her to get it herself. Mabel has been drinking so she responds harshly; Eric has been drinking more, and he escalates the argument. Their arguments have turned violent before, and this one seems to be heading the same way.

Everything Stuck to Him | Raymond Carver

A woman visiting Milan for Christmas wants to hear a story from when she was a kid. She’s told about a young couple who lived under a dentist’s office. They were in love and ambitious. Their baby was three months old. The young man plans a hunting trip with an old friend of his father’s.

Read “Everything Stuck to Him”

• Divorce & Separation •

“Wants” by Grace Paley

A woman runs into her ex husband outside a library where she is returning books that are eighteen years late. They gently argue about their life together and what made things go wrong.

This story can be read in the preview of Enormous Changes at the Last Minute: Stories.

“Access to the Children” by William Trevor

On a Sunday afternoon, Malcolmson goes to his ex-wife’s flat and picks up his two daughters, Deirdre and Susie. They don’t want to go to the zoo again. It takes a while to settle on something. Malcolmson had had an affair with a woman he met on the train, Diana. It brought on the end of his marriage to Elizabeth. Diana later met someone else and ended things with Malcolmson. Now, he loves Elizabeth again.

This is the second story in the preview of The Collected Stories(Kindle preview)

Simple Arithmetic | Virginia Moriconi

A teenage son and his divorced parents correspond by mail. He has trouble reaching his mother, and his father nags him about various things.

Read “Simple Arithmetic”

The Kid’s Guide to Divorce | Lorrie Moore

A young daughter is visiting her mother. They watch movies and have popcorn.

Read “The Kid’s Guide to Divorce”

Separating | John Updike

A middle-aged, middle-class couple has plans to separate. They decide to wait until the summer break, so their four children will have time to adjust to the news before returning to school.

Read “Separating”

The Adulterous Woman | Albert Camus

Janine, a woman in her forties, is riding a bus with her husband, Marcel, on a business trip. She thinks about her marriage. She notices that a French soldier sitting across from her is looking at her a lot.

Read “The Adulterous Woman” (PDF Pg 4)

The Resplendent Quetzal | Margaret Atwood

Sarah and Edward are on a guided tour in Mexico. She sits by a sacrificial well. The guide moves everyone along but Sarah stays. She’s not interested in seeing everything. They’re here because Edward’s latest obsession is pre-Columbian ruins. Edward is even farther behind the group. He’s bird-watching, which is one of his long-time interests. They’re not close anymore.

Read “The Resplendent Quetzal”

Signals | Raymond Carver

Wayne and Caroline go to Aldo’s, an elegant new restaurant. They talk about the maître d’, who’s rumored to have an uncle at the Vatican and to have known some famous people. They try to enjoy themselves, but they get sidetracked with petty bickering.

See also: Four Summers (Coming of Age), The Way Up to Heaven (Revenge), A Country Love Story (Women)