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15 Common Causes of Divorce

It may be surprising to learn that 45% of marriages end in divorce in the United States. That’s an unfortunate statistic, considering how many people are hopeful on their wedding day. 

Many things explain why couples divorce. The fact remains that problems in a marriage don’t happen overnight. The more you learn and understand the leading causes for divorce, the more likely you can work through issues as they come up. 

Below are the top 15 main reasons for divorce. We’ve also included tips to help you overcome challenges in your marriage. 

  1. Conflict/Arguments

The number one reason for divorce is conflict.It’s normal for couples to argue now and then. In fact, it’s considered healthy for people in a relationship to have conflict as long as it is productive, ends quickly, and both people feel heard and validated. 

Couple having argument causes of divorce
Couple having argument

The problem comes when the arguments are excessive or repetitive. When a couple is constantly arguing over small things or unable to resolve their issues, it becomes a warning sign that the marriage is on the rocks. 

Likewise, if the couple fails to make each other feel heard, it becomes clear that they do not know how to have productive conflict. 

When the couple finds themselves fighting about the same issues over and over, it’s probably because one or both people in the marriage are not putting the emotional effort needed. It’s important to change the actions or behaviors that are causing the argument in the first place. 

It all boils down to a lack of healthy communication, the leading cause of divorce in married couples. If both people  aren’t willing to take ownership over their actions, communicate their needs clearly, and accept their partner’s wants and needs with an open mind, the marriage will be unhappy and unlikely to last. 

  1. Infidelity

One of the biggest reasons for divorce is infidelity. Pop culture may have us believe that infidelity occurs because one person is feeling unhappy in their relationship and deciding to seek fulfillment outside of the relationship. However, the truth is that cheating is much more complicated than that. 

There is no one reason why people cheat on their partners. There are several reasons that cause people to wander away from their marriage. 

Cheating can happen because one person doesn’t care that it causes the other one pain. People who cheat on their spouse may do so because they feel resentment towards their spouse. It could even be because they have low self esteem. People may even cheat because they want to get back at their spouse. Some people cheat on their spouses because they lack self respect.  

infidelity
Couple’s marital infidelity

None of these are good reasons for cheating, and it can be devastating the the relationship. It can be a huge blow to the ego to being cheated on by your spouse. It takes a lot of effort to restore trust and save the marriage after infidelity. Because it’s incredibly hurtful and trust-breaking, infidelity can damage a marriage. In fact, it leads to 20-40% of all divorces.

  1. Lack of Intimacy

Unfortunately, failing to keep things interesting in the bedroom is another common cause of divorce. Many married couples fall into the trap of getting so used to each other that they aren’t as intimate anymore. There may also be lapses in communication about desire. In some instances, one person may not be as open to trying new things. 

Usually, when there are issues in the marriage, intimacy is the first thing to disappear from the relationship. There may be other issues in the marriage that need to be addressed before a couple considers thinking about the other person intimately. Intimacy is an important and fulfilling aspect of marriage. When the intimacy is dead, it can lead to a swift breakdown of the marriage itself.

  1. Financial Issues 

Marriage is not only a symbol of two people’s undying love for one another. It is also tow people coming together and combining their finances. Student debt, credit card debt, mortgages, rent, bills, health insurance–they can pile up and make for a mountain of stress. It can be especially difficult for married couples to navigate how to manage finances and still have some money left to have fun. 

It’s important to note that this isn’t just an issue that plagues younger married couples. In fact, the elderly divorce for financial reasons all the time. 

Having different spending habits may cause tension in a marriage. Different income levels can also create stress. Married couples who are heavily in debt or hide their spending habits are especially likely to be in hot water. When it comes to financial issues, it’s easy for married couples to find themselves divorced because they just couldn’t work together to manage their money to avoid this top reason for divorce. 

break up of a couple
Breakup of a couple with bad guy and sad girlfriend with a city in the background
  1. Substance Abuse Issues

Another leading cause of divorce is substance abuse and addiction. Substance abuse is a serious illness that affects people deeply. When one person in a marriage suffers from substance abuse issues, it can be incredibly heart-wrenching, scary, and traumatic for their spouse to watch them go through it. 

A leading cause of divorce is substance abuse issues because it is difficult for the substance user to be fully present in the marriage due to their active addiction. At the same time, the spouse of the substance user may feel overwhelmed, trapped, and unable to help the situation. 

The presence of substance abuse in a marriage means that money is being spent on drugs or alcohol. This can cause financial tension. It may be difficult to have healthy communication with the spouse who uses substances. They may also become irritated, mean, angry, aloof, or dismissive when under the influence, making communication impossible. The roller-coaster of addiction is too much for many married couples to handle, and unless the substance user gets sober, the marriage often ends in divorce.

  1. Communication Breakdown

A communication breakdown happens easily. For example, some married couples choose to have kids and find that they have far less time to talk. The marriage suffers because they aren’t taking the time to have open and honest conversations about their relationship regularly. This can also happen when a couple is too busy or overwhelmed with work and doesn’t make time to talk to each other on a more intimate level. 

Communication itself is an ongoing practice. When one or both of the people in a marriage aren’t practicing healthy communication, it breaks down and can lead to a couples’ separation.

  1. Domestic Violence

Domestic violence includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and occurs within a circle of domesticity. For couples specifically, this is also known as intimate partner violence and occurs. People of all genders can be victims of intimate partner violence and experience violence differently. 

For example, emotional abuse may be present in the relationship while physical abuse is not. Regardless of what degree of violence a victim experiences, domestic violence is incredibly traumatic and has long-term negative effects on mental and physical health. 

domestic violence causes of divorce
Man beating up his wife illustrating domestic violence

Physical abuse includes (but not limited to) inflicting physical harm on a victim with or without weapons and includes physical intimidation, blocking doorways/exits, using restraint, etc. Emotional abuse includes using insults, verbal threats, manipulation, and other tactics to make the victim feel ashamed, afraid, unworthy, inferior and threatened. Sexual abuse includes forcing non-consensual sexual acts upon a victim. 

Women who successfully leave the marriage account for 25-40% of divorces initiated by women. If you are the victim of intimate partner violence and need help, call the 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233. Domestic abuse in any form is one of the most valid reLack of Romantic Love

Romantic love is separate from intimacy but equally important in a marriage. Romantic love is feeling love for and attraction to a significant other. People engaging in gestures of romantic love want to go out on dates with their partner, be intimate with their partner, and generally express love to their partner. 

A lack of romantic love in a marriage can make the couple feel as if they’re close friends or roommates. Married couples are especially at risk of losing the romantic connection if they don’t make time for the other person and put effort into ‘romancing’ them, flirting, or developing and maintaining that special connection. Many people feel that there’s no getting it back once the romance is gone. However, this isn’t always true, but it’s still a common cause for divorce. 

  1. Marrying at a Young Age

Most people can’t make good decisions at a young age. After all, the frontal lobe doesn’t fully develop until around age 25. Marrying at a young age is a common cause for divorce simply because marriage is a big decision that takes maturity. 

When a couple marries before they’re mature enough to take on the challenge, it certainly causes problems. It’s also possible for two people in a marriage to grow in separate directions and become different people. They may develop different values and ideas about responsibility and find they are no longer compatible. 

Couples who marry young may have a healthy marriage but still struggle with the idea that they are somehow “missing out” on their youth. This train of thought can certainly influence the collapse of a marriage. 

  1. Incompatibility

Growing in different directions can happen to anybody. A marriage suffers when the couple finds that they don’t have enough in common. Incompatibility comes in many forms, whether it’s having different interests and hobbies or views on politics and religion. 

 Maybe one person likes to always go out on the town on Saturday nights while the other person likes to always stay in and read a good book. There’s nothing wrong with doing either, but it means that the couple is probably incompatible. If the couple cannot see eye to eye on the values that define who they are, the marriage will likely be in trouble.

divorce
woman returned wedding ring to husband . Divorce concept
  1. Family Dynamics 

Even if a marriage is great, sometimes family dynamics threaten to put the nail in the divorce coffin. People control who they choose to marry, but they don’t always control who else will be present in their lives because of the marriage. 

When it comes to in-laws, step-kids, ex-spouses, even biological families, it’s difficult to determine how those dynamics will impact your relationship t. It’s important to identify those issues as early as possible and learn how to communicate. 

It’s all too common for marriage trouble to arise because of outside forces. People should prepare for this as much as possible and manage those relationships in healthy ways with appropriate boundaries. 

  1. Boredom

Boredom is another common cause for divorce. Married couples often find themselves stuck in a routine. They become too comfortable. One or both people in a marriage may no longer feel that they need to improve themselves or care for their partner. 

For a relationship to remain strong, it’s important that the two people in a marriage continuously work towards being well-rounded people. This looks different for everyone, but it’s generally when someone tries to better themselves by learning a new hobby, gaining more knowledge, or improving themselves emotionally. 

Some people decide that they no longer need to worry about self-improvement once they’ve got married, or maybe they never cared about being a well-rounded person in the first place. 

A marriage will be boring if one or both spouses are low-effort and lack self-improvement. People tend to opt-out if there’s nothing to look forward to and no emotional or mental stimulation in a marriage.

  1. Weight Gain 

It’s natural to gain weight as we age. However, a lot of weight gain and other physical changes are a leading cause of divorce. For intimacy reasons, it’s important that we feel physically attracted to our partners. Many marriages have ended due to one person not being physically attracted to their spouse after gaining weight. 

It seems superficial and vain, but on the flip side, weight gain has also led to divorce because the person in the marriage that gained the weight suffers from low self-esteem, causing other issues in the marriage.

Low self-esteem can affect all aspects of marriage, whether that’s maintaining intimacy in the relationship, having the ability to communicate properly without feeling under attack, or even having the confidence to go out in public to go on a romantic date. 

Scale Displaying OMG Message

When one person in a marriage constantly has to provide emotional support to their spouse due to their spouse’s issues with low self-esteem, it can feel incredibly emotionally taxing and disheartening. Likewise, if that person no longer feels physically attracted to their partner, they may deal with feelings of immense guilt. Overall, this is a recipe for a marriage to go south.  

  1. Unrealistic Expectations

Setting unrealistic expectations in a marriage is a quick way to cause the relationship to end. Wanting the other person to change who they are and their values is a common cause of divorce. People grow and change over time. It’s unfair to expect a person to be someone they are not. 

It’s especially unhealthy in marriages where a person expects their spouse to be the reason for their joy and happiness. It puts a huge amount of pressure on the spouse to be ‘perfect’.  Unrealistic expectations can also make a person feel that who they are just isn’t good enough for their spouse, leading to low self-esteem and even resentment.

  1. Lack of Equality 

Sometimes marriage troubles are just teammate troubles. This is especially true if issues center on how chores are divided. Does your husband push the trash farther down inside the can instead of taking it out when he notices it’s full? He’s a bad teammate. Does your wife bring the car home with an empty tank? Bad teammate. 

Married couples are supposed to act as a team, but when one person is left doing all or most of the chores, they will feel unappreciated and overworked. Likewise, when one person in the marriage is making all of the decisions, they’re not being very considerate of the needs and wants of their spouse. Decisions that concern both people should always be discussed, and the decision is made together. Otherwise, the marriage is not equal. 

This is one of the main reasons for divorce that can be avoided. Both people should work together to ensure that they are pulling an equal amount of weight in the marriage. 

Tips for Avoiding Divorce

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help yourself prevent divorce. Follow these simple tips to get on a path of preserving your marriage. 

Couples Counseling

Couples counseling can be an excellent way to work through marital issues. In most situations, a couple’s counselor will be able to see both sides of the issue objectively and counsel both people individually on how to make positive change. Couples counseling will also teach communication skills and allow both people to be heard.

Establish Better Communication

Therapy is an excellent resource for working through marriage issues. Practice using “I statements,” active listening, and communicating your needs are helpful. Create better communication habits with your partner by learning healthy ways to disagree and express your needs. 

Establish Boundaries

Setting boundaries is a great way to better your marriage. Both spouses work together to decide what their limits are and how they will respect each others’ boundaries.

Compromise

A healthy marriage doesn’t come without compromise. Consider your partner’s wants, needs, and boundaries and how that requires you to make some changes. Encourage your partner to do the same. Remember that you are working together as a team. 

Exercises to Create a Better Marriage

Here are some exercises, fun activities, and proven ways to better your marriage!

  • Take turns taking each other out on a date. Where do you want to go? Where does your spouse want to go? Treat each other!
  • Spice things up by talking about intimate things you want to try with your partner. 
  • Establish at least one night every week to turn your phones off and simply enjoy each other’s company.
  • Research articles on healthy communication. Print them out and read them to each other. How can you practice better communication with each other? Discuss.
  • Make a list of your values, both for yourself and the relationship. Compare similarities in your values and choose which values you can both agree on. 
  • Discuss which values are not being honored. How can you fix that? Use “I statements” and avoid blaming each other.
  • Learn each other’s love languages. Put effort into loving your partner based on their love language.
  • Learn about healing your inner child. Discuss healing your inner child. Become aware of when you are coming from a wounded place. 
  • Go to separate rooms and write down how you feel during arguments. Take time to cool down and listen to each other. 

Final Thoughts

Marriage is hard work. Both people must communicate, compromise, and respect each other. Issues certainly come up throughout your marriage. However, success comes down to your ability to work together to overcome those obstacles and move forward.

Photo of author

Sofia Bolanos

Sofia Bolanos has over seven years of experience in the mental health field and is an avid peer support counselor and volunteer. She also works closely with homeless populations in the San Francisco Bay Area and provides resources and support to vulnerable individuals within the community. Her goal is to utilize her gift of insight to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. As part of her commitment to that goal, she facilitates a monthly support group in which couples are strongly encouraged to attend. She received a B.A. in Sociology from San Francisco State University and is on track to continue her graduate studies in 2023. In addition to her passions for writing and helping others in their healing journeys, she enjoys oil painting, contemporary dance, plant care, and spending quality time with her dog.

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