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Reasons for Divorce: Why Do People Get Divorced?

Sophia Merton
June 3, 2022

You’ve likely heard the statistic that one out of every two marriages in the U.S. will end in divorce. However, the reality is a lot more complicated than this, and a lot of the data points to the fact that the divorce rate is the lowest it’s been since 1970. Regardless of precisely how many marriages end each year, it can be useful to understand the most common reasons for divorce when you’re married or contemplating marriage yourself.

When you’re dreaming of your wedding day, it really puts a damper on things to imagine all the things that could go wrong in a marriage.

That being said, examining the reasons why people get divorced can give you valuable insight that might help you save your marriage before it goes sour.

So, why do people get divorced? Let’s take a look at the most common reasons.

What Is the Most Common Reason for Divorce?

Unfortunately, there is no cut-and-dry answer to this question. One study that we will reference repeatedly in this article, led by the researcher Shelby B. Scott at the University of Denver, polled 52 people that had been involved in a “prevention and relationship enhancement program” before marriage but still ended up getting divorced.

The study found that the top three major contributors to these marriages falling apart were lack of commitment, infidelity, and conflict/arguing. When participants indicated a “final straw” reason that led to their divorce, the most common three reasons were infidelity, domestic violence, and substance abuse.

Are you wondering if you can get divorced in Texas without hiring a lawyer? Check out this article about getting a DIY divorce in the Lone Star State.

Constant Conflict

two people arguing so much it leads to divorce
Constant arguing is one of the most common reasons that people get divorced.

According to a study published in Couple and Family Psychology, one of the most commonly reported major contributors to divorce was conflict and arguing, along with infidelity and lack of commitment.

All couples fight from time to time, and the complete absence of conflict can sometimes even point to a lack of communication and honesty in a relationship. However, when spouses are constantly embroiled in arguments and lack the ability to resolve them, it can create a truly uncomfortable and unsustainable situation at home.

According to some stats, excessive arguing plays a role in more than half of U.S. divorces. As you might imagine, always expecting a fight when you go home can put a serious strain on a marriage. Not only is it exhausting, but it can reduce the feeling of mutual support and positive connection in a relationship.

Financial Issues

Another major contributor to divorce in the U.S. is financial problems. Many times, issues with money might not be the only factor that leads to a divorce, but they can seriously increase the amount of tension and stress within the marriage.

Having financial issues play a part in a divorce doesn’t even have to mean that a couple is facing bankruptcy or some other catastrophic money-related situation. Even having different “money styles” can create a tremendous amount of stress in a relationship.

For example, let’s say that you are committed to aggressively saving money and building wealth so you can retire early and gain financial independence. You can imagine that it could create a lot of conflicts if your spouse is the type of person that spends money as soon as it hits the bank account or is a compulsive shopper.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that couples have to have identical money styles in order to have a successful relationship. However, it is good for your financial goals to be harmonious with each other in the long term.

One way to help avoid financial problems in marriage is to create a prenup before you tie the knot. While a lot of people think that prenups are just documents you sign when you believe a marriage is doomed to fail, they can actually help you and your partner make decisions about how you will deal with money issues throughout your marriage.

It is surprisingly common for people to get married without having first discussed finances at any length. Not only can people neglect to talk about future financial goals, but they can also avoid conversations about the assets or debts that each person is bringing into the marriage.

Getting a prenup might be precisely what saves your marriage from financial disagreements and chaos. Check out this article to learn what a woman should ask for in a prenuptial agreement.

Lack of Commitment

In the same study referenced above, lack of commitment was found to be one of the most commonly reported major contributors to divorce.

Marriage, in many ways, is one of the biggest commitments you can make in life. When you are married, it means that you are with your spouse through thick and thin– for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health– that type of thing. It is no small feat to be truly committed to another person through all the ups and downs in life.

If one or both partners is not fully committed to making the relationship work, it most likely won’t. Though this reason might sound vague and is likely often connected with other marital issues, a lack of commitment is by far one of the most common reasons that marriages fall apart.

Infidelity or Extramarital Affairs

Married people might decide to cheat on their spouses for a variety of reasons. In general, men and women tend to cheat for different reasons.

When men cheat on women, it is often because they aren’t sexually satisfied. Men often see sex and love as intimately connected, and not receiving what they need sexually can leave them feeling unloved.

Women, on the other hand, often cheat in order to try and fill an emotional void they feel. When explaining why they chose to be unfaithful to their husbands, women often say that they felt ignored or unappreciated and therefore sought the emotional intimacy they felt was lacking in their marriage.

Of course, these are just generalizations, and men can certainly cheat due to feeling emotionally unsupported and women can cheat because they aren’t feeling sexually satisfied. Both men and women can also be driven to cheat due to self-reported boredom in their marriage.

Relationships are complicated, which means that there are often a lot of interconnected issues that lead to a marriage falling apart. However, when it comes to divorce, many times there is a “final straw.” Along with domestic violence and substance abuse, infidelity was one of the most common “final straws” reported in the study referenced above.

If you generally feel you can’t trust your spouse, to be honest, you might need to watch out for sneaky tactics that are commonly employed during a divorce.

Marrying Too Young

young married couple
While getting married young can sometimes lead to decades of marital bliss, other times it can be a primary cause of divorce.

While we’re all aware of the stereotype of high school sweethearts that get married right after graduation and spend the rest of their lives joyfully together, marrying young isn’t always a recipe for matrimonial bliss.

Over the past half-century, the average marriage age has changed drastically. Back in 1960, nearly 60% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 were married. In 2010, fifty years later, the percentage of people in that age group that were married had dropped all the way down to 20%.

The median age that men and women got married in 1960 was in their early 20s. In 2011, the median age for a first marriage was 26.5 for a woman and 28.7 for a man.

In the study referenced above, it was found that marrying too young was a major contributing factor to divorce. The participants in the study that reported this as one of the reasons they got divorced had an average age of 23.3 years old when they got married.

Some people said that they wished they had dated their spouse longer before marriage, while others said that they had only known their spouse for a brief period before they decided to tie the knot.

In some cases, marrying too young can mean that people pair off before they have determined their values, goals, and beliefs in a way that can cause discord in the marriage. In others, though, couples can grow together in a way that creates a particularly harmonious marriage.

Substance Abuse

substance abuse problem leading to divorce
One of the most common "final straws" that pushes people to file for divorce is addiction.

Substance abuse is another one of the most common “final straws” for people when they decide to get divorced. 12.1% of study participants that stated there was a final straw to their marriage reported that it was substance abuse that pushed them over the edge.

When one or both partners has a problem with drugs or alcohol, it can be a slippery situation indeed. The person who has the substance abuse issue might not admit it or even realize it, which can put a tremendous amount of strain on the relationship. On the other hand, one partner might accuse the other of having a substance abuse problem when that isn’t the case.

If either or both partners suffer from an addiction, though, it’s likely that the relationship is suffering as well. When a person is addicted to a substance (or behavior, for that matter,) seeking out the drug of choice can become the number one priority. Many other aspects of life fall by the wayside, including finances, family relationships, domestic stability, and more.

Physical and Emotional Abuse

As you might imagine, one of the reasons that marriages fall apart is that one or both partners feel that they are being abused. Abuse can be emotional, physical, verbal, sexual, or fiduciary.

Sadly, people will often stay in abusive relationships for longer than they should because they are emotionally tied to their abusive partner or because they are afraid of what might happen if they leave.

For this reason, abused partners often won’t leave until they feel that things have gotten so intolerable there is no other option. Things can also get very complicated when a child is involved.

In cases of extreme abuse, an individual might need to seek outside help and legal assistance in order to safely leave the marriage.

There are a lot of different ways that marriages can go south in regard to the emotional relationship between people. If you have realized that you’re married to a narcissist, you likely know that you are in a particularly tricky situation. Whether or not they are abusive toward you, divorcing a narcissist can require specific considerations and tactics because of the psychological traits of narcissism.

If you need to get divorced from a narcissist, you’ll want to check out this article before you make any moves.

Health Problems

Despite the whole “in sickness and in health” part of the traditional marriage vows, health problems are actually one of the most common reasons for divorce. While this might sound cruel, you have to imagine the reality that illness can create serious financial issues.

When one partner has serious health problems, it often requires the other partner to step up to the plate. Not everyone might know how to do this, and it can seriously change what they expect their marriage and life to be like. At the end of the day, some marriages fall apart when debt, pain, loss of self, and all the other stuff that can come along with a serious illness.

Lack of Family Support

Lack of family support is also not an uncommon factor when it comes to why people get divorced– according to one study, 17.3% of respondents cited it as one of the reasons their marriage ended.

According to the Huffington Post, one 26-year-long study found that the risk of divorce decreased by 20% when the husband had a close relationship with his wife’s family. However, the risk of divorce actually increased when a wife had a close relationship with her husband’s family.

One of the researchers behind the study insinuated that there are lessons to be learned here in terms of how relationships with our in-laws can impact our marriage. In short, husbands should work to build relationships with their in-laws. Women, on the other hand, should put in place and maintain boundaries with their in-laws.

Religious Differences

According to a study from the Pew Research Center, nearly 70% of married individuals say that their spouse shares the same religion as they do. Several studies have found that there is greater marital instability in interfaith marriages than in marriages where the two partners share the same basic religious beliefs.

Lack of Communication

Have you ever seen a couple that seemed to not particularly fight much, but they also didn’t seem like they really knew each other? Unfortunately, sometimes people settle into relationships with their spouses where they are more like really good roommates than husband and wife.

It isn’t uncommon for couples to report that they “Can’t communicate.” This can mean a number of different things, including:

  • Dishonesty
  • Withdrawal (avoidance)
  • Unproductive arguing
  • Stonewalling (evasion)

Sometimes, the people in a relationship simply haven’t learned the necessary communication skills. In other instances, those, these communication problems can be masking deeper problems that are lying under the surface.

Growing Apart

Sometimes, the end of a marriage isn’t a big dramatic circumstance involving infidelity, betrayal, and enormous, blow-out fights. In some instances, two people really just grow apart.

This can mean a lot of different things. It might mean that the couple grows apart in their political views, their religious views, their financial goals, or their sense of what they want out of life.

That being said, that doesn’t mean that growing apart cant create immense amounts of discord in a relationship. It can take a while to realize that the two of you are going separate ways. Similarly, you might have to take some time to determine whether or not the two of you can stay together despite the fact that you have been changing and evolving in separate directions.

Unrealistic Expectations

couple getting engaged with unrealistic expectations of marriage leading to divorce
Sometimes a person's expectations of what married life will be like is so far from the reality that it ends up leading to divorce.

In some cases, one or both spouses have unrealistic expectations of what marriage even really consists of.

They might expect marriage to b

e some type of fairy tale and for the honeymoon phase to carry on infinitely. In reality, this isn’t really how things normally go. If no one in your family or life has helped you understand what to expect out of marriage as the years go on, it might lead you to realize that married life really isn’t what you thought you were signing up for.

Lack of Intimacy

Having a healthy sexual relationship is an important part of any marriage. While what this specifically means for different couples might vary widely, it is generally agreed that a lack of intimacy can take a serious toll on just about any relationship. While it is possible to make a sexless marriage survive, it’s often not easy.

Intimacy isn’t just about the fact that people are human and have sexual urges. Intimacy requires a lot of ingredients that can help to build strong relationships, including:

  • Trust
  • Safety
  • Openness
  • Presence
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-esteem
  • Autonomy
  • Courage
  • Mutuality

Having a healthy intimate relationship with your spouse is one of the things that helps the two of you bond. When a relationship lacks intimacy, it can be one of the driving factors behind the marriage bond being severed.

Infertility and Impotence

While lack of intimacy can happen for a lot of reasons, one of them is impotence. In many states, impotence is considered a valid cause of divorce because it is understood that intimacy is an essential part of a healthy marriage.

Infertility is also a common cause of divorce in the United States. A lot of the time, individuals have a sense of whether or not they expect to have kids. When one partner isn’t biologically able to have children, it can mean that the other partner has to decide whether they are willing to compromise their expectation of having children in their lives.

The realization of infertility can be completely devastating to a marriage. While some couples might decide to adopt or otherwise choose to carry on child-free, others might choose to end the marriage and go their separate ways. According to one study, infertile couples are three times more likely to get divorced when they fail to conceive a child after treatment versus those that don’t.

Are You Contemplating Getting Divorced?

Making a decision about whether you should get divorced or try to make your marriage work is likely one of the most impactful choices you’ll ever make. While it can feel overwhelming, one of the best things you can do is empower yourself with knowledge of your rights and responsibilities under the law.

Do you live in Texas? Are you wondering what you need to know about the divorce process in the Lone Star State? If so, be sure to check out our ever-expanding library of resources at TexasDivorceLaws.org.

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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