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Top 10 reasons for divorce: Why some marriages ultimately fail

top reasons for divorce

“Divorce.”

What a heavy word.

And one not taken lightly. Because what could possibly happen between the hopeful moment you say “I do” to the stark finality of “I want a divorce” that could upend the lives of everyone involved?

Divorce is not a result anyone would ever expect. It’s messy, painful, and chaotic for anyone who didn’t see it coming. Yet in some cases, it’s a signal of a hopeful beginning, a new chapter, or healing.

Whichever side you are on, there are many valid reasons why married couples choose to divorce. But it shouldn’t be something you do on a whim. It is something you need to think long and hard on.

If you feel like your marriage is going through a rocky patch and cannot see the end of the tunnel, take a look at some of the most common reasons for divorce.

Infidelity and divorce

reasons for divorce

Infidelity is one of the most common reasons why married couples divorce, that’s true. Studies even show that more than 40% of marriages are impacted by infidelity at one point or another.

But it’s not as black and white as you might think.

Cheating is what could ultimately break down a marriage, yes, but there may be underlying elements that lead to infidelity that are the real cause of the breakup.

A 2012 study conducted 1,000 interviews asking couples under 50 why they choose to break up—and it’s not even because of infidelity.

The study’s lead author, Bente Træen, a professor of psychology at the University of Oslo says:

“I think the idea that infidelity is the main cause of divorce is exaggerated. It is rather a break down of communication and loss of love.”

Think of it like pounding a nail on the wall. It takes a few strikes of the hammer before the nail embeds itself fully. It’s the same with infidelity.

Cheating is not usually the cause, but the consequence of a relationship where someone’s needs aren’t being met. 

I’m not justifying people who cheat. Not at all. In fact, cheating is the most heinous act you could commit against the very vows you took. 

Everything could be perfect and you could be doing everything right and your partner could still cheat for reasons that have nothing to do with you or the love you share.

But in many cases, cheating is only a response to a host of deep emotional and psychological issues between married couples. Many of these reasons you will be able to find in this article.

It might be deliberate or not. It might be justifiable or completely unreasonable. But marriages don’t usually fail because of cheating itself, but the many elements that culminate in it.

10 reasons for divorce

1. Marrying for the wrong reasons

If you marry for the wrong reasons, how can you honestly expect the marriage to be a success?

Sadly, many people think differently. Maybe they don’t even think at all. Or maybe, they go into a marriage thinking their reasons are good enough to make a go of it.

But the reality is if your marriage is not made out of mutual respect, shared goals and compatibility, much less real and enduring love, your marriage is going to fail.

Clinical Psychologist and eHarmony chairman and founder Dr. Neil Clark Warren explains:

“It’s frighteningly easy to choose the wrong person. Attraction and chemistry are easily mistaken for love, but they are far from the same thing. Being attracted to someone is immediate and largely subconscious. Staying deeply in love with someone happens gradually and requires conscious decisions, made over and over again, for a lifetime. Too many people choose to get married based on attraction and don’t consider, or have enough perspective to recognize, whether their love can endure.”

Marrying for money, to escape an unpleasant situation, or to try to meet someone else’s expectations are not good enough reasons to marry. Couples divorce because ultimately, they find out that they can’t live the rest of their lives with someone they don’t respect or like.

2. Losing yourselves in the marriage

Codependency is never a good thing for any relationship, much less a marriage.

When two people are so intertwined and dependent on each other, they fail as individuals, therefore failing as a couple.

According to world-renowned shaman Rudá Iandê, codependency is “the most recurrent and terrible of patterns which can exist in a relationship.” It is when two people play two very distinct roles of the “needy” and the “savior.”

Marriage doesn’t require you to give up who you are. It’s about two complete individuals building a life together.

And that’s where most people get it wrong. Couples divorce because they find themselves lost in their marriage. They look around and find that they’ve given up so much and have become miserable. They have stopped working on their own growth, that they feel like they have no life’s purpose anymore.

3. Extreme incompatibility

reasons for divorce

I’ve always believed that the success of any relationship or marriage boils down to one thing:

The relentless decision to keep choosing each other, every day, despite differences and life’s difficulties.

After all, love is not a feeling. It’s an active choice.

Your biggest mistake is marrying someone and expecting them to be perfect. When you think like that, you’ll always be disappointed. But when you marry someone and accept that they’re human—with flaws, baggage, and history, then you’ll be more willing to compromise.

But there’s also a limit to that rule.

Sometimes, you just don’t work well with someone. And those extreme incompatibilities may ultimately lead to a marriage breakdown. Mistakes are made, people get hurt, things are said—creating a toxic environment that can be so unhealthy, that the best option is to divorce.

In this instance, couples need to draw the line between saving a marriage and saving themselves.

4. Lack of commitment

Studies also show that one of the main predictors of divorce is a lack of commitment.

But what does commitment even mean nowadays when relationships seem so expendable?

It’s easy to say that “I’m committed to this marriage” when things are nice and comfortable. But married couples need to understand that commitment goes deeper than that. It’s about taking active steps to keep the marriage going forward.

Commitment is doing what it takes to make a marriage work. So a lack of commitment is an act that disregards and disrespects not only your partner but the marriage itself.

No one wants to be with someone that doesn’t fight for them. And marriage is about two people working on life together, not by themselves.

5. The timing wasn’t right.

A lot of people marry before they’re truly ready. Unplanned pregnancies and societal pressure for example, play a part.

But research suggests that timing plays a huge factor in a marriage’s success.

According to sociological researcher Nicholas Wolfinger, there is a “window” for the perfect time to get married—between 28 and 32.

Here’s something else though:

Wolfinger analyzed data between 2006 to 2010 from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) and made a startling discovery:

Marrying after your mid-30’s is actually riskier than marrying before. In fact after age 32, “the odds of divorce increase by 5 percent per year.”

Whether or not this window might be true, you can’t deny that marriage works better when both individuals are “fully-formed” adults—meaning they are emotionally and mentally independent and have a better “sense of self.”

6. Financial problems

reasons for divorce

Financial problems don’t just create problems materialistically, it also creates emotional problems.

A survey conducted by Ramsey Solutions indicates that money problems are the second-biggest reasons for divorce, next to infidelity.

The problems are commonly caused by starting the marriage while on debt (having an expensive wedding that you can’t afford), financial infidelity, or a wide difference in salaries. One reason could also be having different financial priorities.

According to personal finance writer Andrea Woroch:

“Unfortunately, this can cause frivolous fights between two people who have completely opposite views toward money. If one partner spends without thought and the other frantically saves every penny, there’s bound to be tension. The spender may feel that his or her partner is constantly nagging and cheap, while the saver may feel vulnerable to the effects of overindulging.”

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Sooner or later, these differences in financial views will cause strain that eventually leads to divorce.

7. Addiction

Addiction can cause incredible strain in any relationship, most especially a marriage.

Currently, there are 24 million Americans who are married and have an addiction, according to statistics.

When one person suffers from any kind of addiction—be it drugs, gambling, sex or alcohol—it affects the person closest to them—their spouse.

Unfortunately, addiction can create a host of negative problems that often lead couples to divorce. Addiction creates an environment where trust and respect are lost. Addiction can also place a heavy financial burden on the whole family, not to mention causes emotional distress and abuse.

It’s no wonder couples who go through addiction often end up in divorce.

8. Violence and abuse

Violence and abuse are prevalent in marriages and intimate relationships today. In fact, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience some form of physical violence committed by an intimate partner.

But what can you consider as “abuse”? Yes, it could be physical violence. But it can be more than that too.

Domestic abuse is a pattern of physical, verbal, or psychological abuse, that affects the spouse in a negative way. It involves an attempt to control or damage someone’s physical and emotional well-being.

Unfortunately, many victims of domestic abuse find it difficult to leave that marriage. They’re stripped of their independence and the trauma has left them scared and vulnerable.

In this situation, it is best to seek help and get out of there immediately. The first step to divorce is to leave, and everything else will follow after achieving safety.

9. Growing apart

Marriage is like a plant. It needs constant love and care. If you neglect it, it will wilt away and die.

Many couples think that marriage is something you simply trudge along with. That it’s something that will take care of itself.

But marriage is work. 

That’s not to say that it’s something you constantly have to force yourself on. But you need to take active steps to connect with your partner and to nurture that connection.

David Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert explains:

“If a couple doesn’t nurture the relationship, then it will stagnate, and the partners will grow apart. This shows that in many cases divorce isn’t about a particular ‘last straw’ incident or bad behavior, but simply the relationship fizzles.”

And for a lot of people who reach that point, there’s almost nothing left to fight for anymore.

10. Inability to tackle disagreements

Conflict is normal in relationships. A marriage is made up of two individuals. It’s not a single-minded organization.

married couples will argue about things. From petty grievances to something really big. But what separates a successful marriage from a doomed one is the ability to tackle these disagreements in a healthy and mature manner.

Couples need to remind themselves that it’s both of them versus the problem, and not them against each other. Otherwise, contempt will pile up until it becomes a big element in the room.

Psychotherapist Bonnie Ray Kennan explains:

“This kind of behavior creates a culture of disconnect. If one or both partners are unwilling to soften the marital conversation and stop fighting, the problem will get worse until there is no coming back.”

When to mention the word “divorce”

If you find yourself thinking more and more about getting out of your marriage, you might be wondering when to spring the discussion out to your partner.

You’ve been unhappy for a long time. You have exhausted every option possible to fix your marriage. And now you just want to start your life alone.

But this is a delicate matter that you need to consider with great care.

According to author and divorce expert Sam Margulies:

“How you tell your husband, and what you tell him, are of critical importance because it will shape how the divorce unfolds.”

You have to consider factors like how surprised your spouse will be, their mental and emotional state, and how well they are likely going to react.

Here are some things to consider when you start talking “divorce:”

1. Be completely sure that this is what you want.

First, you need to be completely sure that you want a divorce. Remember, this is something you can’t take back.

It’s actually normal to think of divorce once in a while, especially if you’re experiencing strain in your marriage. But you should never rush into making a big decision until you’re sure beyond a reasonable doubt that this is what you want.

2. Educate yourself about divorce.

In this case, simply starting with “we need to talk” is just not enough.

This is something you definitely need to prepare for, even before you talk to your spouse about it. You probably don’t know much about divorce and its process.

So set aside some time to do your research. Divorce is a legal process, too. This means that you’ll have to think about the financial ramifications of what you’re about to embark on.

Read up on your home state’s divorce laws. Think about things like property division, child custody, and spousal support.

Divorce is a big change. You need to be prepared for it as much as possible.

3. Never talk about divorce during a fight.

Often, couples who want to get divorced already have a dysfunctional relationship. They are far more likely to throw threats about divorce during heated arguments.

Try to avoid this as much as possible. Divorce, as much as possible, is something you need to discuss rationally. Constantly throwing hallow threats will result in two possible scenarios:

  1. If you do it often, your threats will no longer be taken seriously—even if it’s something you genuinely want
  2. It will lead to more strain in your marriage and reconciliation will become harder and harder to achieve.

4. Choose the right setting.

Discussing divorce for the first time will be painful and confusing. This is why it’s essential that you pick a place and a time that allows room for boiling emotions.

Try to have this conversation somewhere comfortable and private. Don’t do it in public. And don’t do it while you’re intoxicated or distracted.

You should have this conversation when you can be fully present. You will be vulnerable enough as it is. Any added stress will only result in more distress.

5. Be direct, but also be empathic.

If your spouse is completely blindsided by your conversation, try to display some empathy for what they’re feeling, too.

Making them angry by being insensitive will only make the divorce harder than it should be. Your objective should be to try to make this process as amicable as possible.

However, you also need to be absolutely direct. They need to take you seriously. So you cannot display any signs of lingering doubt or uncertainty.

Make sure that your spouse understands you completely. Afterward, give them time to process the news.

From there, and only if this is truly a legitimate concern, you need to have a lawyer to start going through the divorce process.

Takeaway

It’s difficult to come to the conclusion that something you’ve worked hard to build is no longer what you want. If you can relate to one or more of the reasons above, divorce is something you should heavily consider.

But if there’s a possibility that you can still fix your marriage, try not to jump to conclusions.

Ask yourself:

Is this still fixable? Is there any possibility that this marriage can become a healthy and loving one again?

If the answer is yes, then you should have a completely different conversation with your spouse—how to make your marriage better.

But if the answer is no, then you need to think about what’s best for both of you as individuals. Is it better staying in a bad marriage for the sake of it? Or to go separate ways and be happier apart?

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Genefe Navilon

Written by Genefe Navilon

Genefe Navilon is a writer, poet, and blogger. She graduated from Mass Communications at the University of San Jose Recoletos. Her poetry blog, Letters To The Sea, currently has 18,000 followers. Her work has been published in different websites and poetry book anthologies. She divides her time between traveling, writing, and working on her debut poetry book.

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