Divorce.com

Causes Of Divorce: 19 Of The Most Common Reasons

About Gabriela Bonilla | Divorce.com

By Brette Sember, JD Updated Jan 09, 2024

Contents:

content-icon Table of Contents
arrow down up

What are the most common reasons for divorce? Of course, this is a subjective question, as the reasons people get divorced are as varied as the reasons they fall in love.

However, certain issues arise more often: conflict, infidelity, poor communication, incompatibility, and a lack of romantic intimacy. Even though the overall divorce rate is decreasing among adults aged 16 to 65, approximately 45% of marriages in the US still end in divorce.

Read on to learn about the 19 most common reasons people decide to divorce.

What Are The Most Common Causes of Divorce?

According to various studies, the four most common causes of divorce are lack of commitment, infidelity or extramarital affairs, too much conflict and arguing, and lack of physical intimacy. The least common reasons are lack of shared interests and incompatibility between partners.

The 19 Most Common Reasons for Divorce

1. Too Much Conflict, Incessant Arguing

Constant conflict, bitter battles, and going to bed angry every night are no one’s idea of a healthy marriage.

"How you handle conflict is the single most important predictor of whether your marriage will survive."

Dr. Howard Markman

How long could you stick it out when your home – which is supposed to be your place of peace and release from the daily grind – is more stressful than your worst day at work? In a good marriage, your spouse is your partner, your shelter from the storm, and your number-one cheerleader when you’re down.

In a high-conflict marriage, your spouse is as emotionally dangerous as a terrible boss. Unless interrupted by marriage counseling or therapy, this negative spiral will continue downward until the only place left to go is divorce.

2. Lack of Commitment

A happy and healthy marriage requires commitment from both spouses. Unfortunately, it only takes one spouse with a lack of commitment to the relationship to doom the marriage. If one partner isn’t fully committed to the other, then the marriage will eventually suffer.

Sometimes, the spouse who is still committed to the relationship believes they can singlehandedly save their marriage if they work harder at it. After all, if they put in 200% while their spouse puts in 0%, that equals 100% – right?

When their marriage inevitably ends, after the shock and disbelief have worn off, their rage at being used and taken for granted during the relationship may lead to a very difficult divorce.

angry woman arguing

3. Infidelity / Extramarital Affairs

Being cheated on by the person who vowed to remain faithful to you forever is a bitter pill to swallow, and most people consider this to be an unforgivable offense. Infidelity doesn’t always lead to divorce, but it does destroy how you see your relationship.

Discovering that your spouse has been engaging in an extramarital affair makes you ask three questions:

  1. Can my marriage survive this betrayal?
  2. Can I ever trust my spouse/partner again?
  3. Am I willing to work on my marriage, or is my partner’s infidelity the last straw?

The answer to these questions depends on whether both of you are willing and able to repair your relationship – almost certainly with the help of a marriage and family therapist (MFT).

To rescue your relationship, you will have to forgive your partner – and your partner will have to make a genuine apology and commit to acting to end their cheating for good. If you have been drifting apart, focus on reconnecting rather than pointing fingers and playing the blame game.

4. Lack of Emotional and/or Physical Intimacy

Emotional and physical intimacy “grease the wheels” of a smooth-running relationship. When they’re gone, however, serious relationship issues often take their place.

Communication breakdown, anger, resentment, sadness, loneliness, infidelity, and greatly diminished self-esteem are some of the most serious issues – and left untreated, they can irreparably damage a relationship and pave the road to divorce.

When emotional intimacy is low or non-existent, your sex life will probably suffer as well. When you feel emotionally distant or disconnected from your spouse, your marriage may become a sexless one.

To reignite the spark, try to remember why you fell in love with your spouse and consciously view them through those lenses.

Also, think about what you used to love doing together and carve out time to do those things together again. Spending quality time doing something you both enjoy can help rebuild emotional intimacy, leading to physical intimacy.

Emotional and physical intimacy is like super-glue to strengthen your love and marriage bonds.

5. Communication Problems Between Partners

A breakdown in the lines of communication is one of the biggest predictors of divorce. Couples who don’t communicate well cannot resolve issues together and tend to suffer more misunderstandings and hurt feelings than those who have learned how to resolve conflict respectfully.

Good communication is physical as well as verbal, and it is required for almost everything in a good relationship, including sex, a couple’s finances, whether or not to have children, areas of disagreement, and other sensitive topics unhappy couples deem too dangerous to discuss.

An inability to communicate turns problem-solving sessions into shouting matches, which will eventually kill love, intimacy, and respect in your relationship.

To make it through the inevitable tough times, you must be willing and able to talk about what’s wrong or not working and decide how to resolve these issues together.

“Being able to communicate well requires both good transmission skills (articulation) and good receptive skills (listening). Without both, communication will be, at best, difficult.”

Dr. Edward Dreyfus, Clinical Psychologist and Life Coach

6. Domestic Violence: Abuse by a Partner or Parent

Domestic violence can include any act of tangible or threatened abuse – including verbal, physical, sexual, emotional, and/or economic abuse. In such a relationship, one person gains or maintains power over their partner via a pattern of abusive behavior.

This abuse can be directed solely at a spouse, or it can also involve one or more children of the marriage. If you or your children are in immediate danger, call 911 now!

For 24/7 confidential help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

In October 2022, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline) merged to form Project Opal.

For more resources, visit: https://ncadv.org/get-help

7. Opposing Values or Morals

There have been literal wars fought over differences in race, religion, nationality, and culture – and persecution based on all of these, plus gender, sexuality, and even which political party someone supports.

When two spouses have or develop opposing values and/or morals, and neither can or is willing to see things from their spouse’s point of view, the marriage is likely to end in divorce.

smiling girl and her boyfriend

She believes in a woman’s right to choose, and he believes life begins at conception; his best friend is gay, and his wife is homophobic. They fell in love despite their religious difference, but those differences are tearing them apart now that they have children.

When you’re in love, you tend to overlook or rationalize red flags that your core values and morals are too different for a healthy relationship – but when the rose-colored glasses come off, those differences make it difficult or impossible to sustain a happy marriage.

8. Addiction: Alcohol, Drugs, Gambling, or Sex

There are many different types and degrees of addiction, and many top professionals – politicians, businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, portfolio managers, actors, and athletes, to name a few – have been able to hide their addiction successfully as they rose to the top.

Their spouses may be blissfully unaware, willing to look the other way in return for lifestyle/economic benefits, or gaslighted into believing they’re crazy to suspect their spouse’s addiction. No matter how the moment of truth arrives, it is always shattering.

Whether the marriage can survive depends on several factors – including the addict’s willingness and ability to take responsibility for their addiction, a genuine desire to seek treatment, and a lifelong commitment to recovery.

9. Absence of Romantic Intimacy or Love

This one is far too common given how busy and stressful our lives are – especially when you add driving the kids to football/hockey/baseball/ballet/orchestra/theater/choir practice before and after school into the mix.

Too many couples prioritize everything except their relationships, and then one partner is blindsided when the other says, “I want a divorce.” Contrary to popular belief, romantic love is not self-sustaining: without carving out quality time for intimacy and fun as a couple – not just as a family – love withers like a plant without water or sunshine.

Create a weekly carved-in-stone date night. For example, go to bed, wake up earlier, and use the time for daily physical (cuddling and/or sex) and emotional intimacy. Remember what you loved doing while you were dating, then start doing those things again before it’s too late!

10. One Spouse Not Carrying Their Weight in the Marriage

We all know marriages like this: both spouses work full-time, but only one of them takes responsibility for grocery shopping and cooking, household chores, and child-rearing.

Over time, the spouse whose work doesn’t end when they get home can build up a powerful resentment against the other, and unless the situation is addressed and rectified, the marriage could spiral down into divorce.

Sit down and list everything that needs to be done to keep the household running smoothly. Then, place a name beside each task, making sure to divide the chores equitably.

Don’t forget to add your children’s names to tasks they are old enough to tackle or help with – from setting the table to washing the dishes to mowing the lawn to vacuuming the carpets.

“Not carrying your weight” extends to romance and intimacy; if one partner is the only one making romantic gestures, arranging date nights, or initiating sex, that will also take a toll on the marriage.

11. Financial Problems and Debt

Money has been tight for many couples over the last few years. Arguments about money can become nasty and vindictive – and if a couple lacks the communication skills to discuss their financial problems calmly and rationally, that can be a reason for divorce.

In a marriage, financial problems are not limited to carrying massive debt and/or being unable to cover necessities. When the way spouses think about money and debt – no matter how much or how little of it they actually have – are fundamentally incompatible, it can also cause the breakdown of a marriage.

If financial problems are your main issue, consider hiring an expert specializing in financial divorce issues. They could save money by recommending the most efficient property division, tax, and support strategies.

A divorce financial analyst can also provide scenarios extrapolating your cash flow and net worth 5, 10, or even 20 years into the future if you choose Settlement A vs. Settlement B.

12. Marrying Too Young

A study from the University of Utah suggests that the perfect age to get married is between 28 and 32. This is because those who marry young most likely don’t fully grasp marriage. This could be a reason why a lot of young married couples get divorced.

About 46% of couples who get married young get divorced. Also, 48% of couples who marry before they turn 18 are most likely to get divorced in 10 years, compared to 25% of people who marry after the age of 25.

13. Lack of Shared Interests / Incompatibility Between Partners

Opposites may attract, but similarities are what bind. With no shared interests, you will either start spending less and less time with your spouse as you pursue your hobbies and passions or give them up in favor of your spouse’s interests.

Both of these strategies will build resentment and weaken the bond you share. If you hope to stay together, you will likely need marriage counseling and a willingness to compromise.

For example, if he loves bowling and she loves dancing, he could bowl with his buddies on Thursdays while she goes dancing with her girlfriends – and then they identify something they both love and do that on “Friday date night.”

This applies to every area of your shared life, from household chores to choosing which extracurricular activities their children will do. If you cannot reach a compromise that both of you can commit to, your incompatibility may lead to divorce.

14. Religious Differences

Religious beliefs and practices play a pivotal role in shaping an individual's worldview, values, and daily rituals.

When two partners come from different religious backgrounds, it can sometimes lead to disagreements on fundamental life choices, from dietary habits to child-rearing practices.

While many interfaith couples find ways to blend their beliefs and traditions, for others harmoniously, the differences can become a source of recurring conflict. The challenge often lies in reconciling deeply held beliefs and finding common ground, especially during significant life events or ceremonies.

In some cases, external pressures from family or the broader community can exacerbate these differences.

Religious differences can significantly lead to marital discord without open communication and mutual respect.

15. Parenting Differences

Parenting is one of the most rewarding yet challenging responsibilities a couple can undertake together.

Differences in parenting styles, stemming from individual upbringings, personal beliefs, or cultural backgrounds, can become a significant source of tension in a marriage. While one partner might advocate for a more disciplined approach, the other might lean towards a lenient and nurturing style.

These disparities can lead to disagreements, ranging from education choices to setting boundaries and disciplinary actions. As children grow and navigate different life stages, these differences can become more pronounced, especially if not addressed early on.

Effective co-parenting requires open communication, compromise, and a unified front. Without these, parenting differences can strain the marital relationship, leading to deeper misunderstandings and conflicts.

16. External Family Pressures

Marriage often means merging two families, bringing along a mix of expectations and traditions. External pressures from in-laws, cultural differences, or unsolicited advice can strain a marriage.

Balancing the couple's needs with extended family demands is crucial. Without clear boundaries and open communication, these pressures can lead to resentment, potentially pushing a couple toward divorce.

17. Unrealistic Expectations

Every individual enters marriage with a set of expectations, often shaped by personal experiences, societal norms, or portrayals in media. While some expectations are reasonable, others can be unrealistic, setting the stage for disappointment and conflict.

Whether it's about roles in the household, financial achievements, or emotional support, when reality doesn't align with these lofty ideals, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy and resentment. For a marriage to thrive, it's essential for partners to communicate openly, adjust expectations, and understand that perfection is unattainable.

Unrealistic expectations, if unchecked, can become a silent threat to marital harmony.

18. Trust Issues

Trust is the bedrock of any strong relationship, and its absence can create deep fissures in the foundation of a marriage. Trust issues can stem from past betrayals, misunderstandings, or personal insecurities.

Whether it's doubts about fidelity, financial decisions, or even smaller daily matters, a lack of trust can lead to constant second-guessing and surveillance. This atmosphere of suspicion can stifle open communication and intimacy.

For a marriage to overcome trust issues, it often requires open dialogue, understanding, and sometimes professional counseling. If not addressed, persistent trust issues can erode the bond between partners, making reconciliation challenging.

19. Supporting Each Other's Goals

In a marriage, individual aspirations don't disappear; they intertwine with shared dreams.

Supporting each other's goals is pivotal for mutual growth and fulfillment. When one partner feels their ambitions are sidelined or undervalued, it can lead to feelings of resentment and stagnation.

Whether it's career advancements, personal passions, or educational pursuits, acknowledging and championing these aspirations strengthens the marital bond. Conversely, neglecting or undermining a partner's goals can create a rift, making one feel unsupported or isolated.

Successful marriages often thrive on mutual respect and encouragement, ensuring both partners feel valued in their pursuits.

Why Do People Get Divorced? Top Factors That Influence The Decision to Divorce

The 2013 survey published in the Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice journal outlined seven prevailing reasons for divorce. The participants included 36 couples, divorced in the previous 14 years.

The average length of marriage for these couples was 12.2 years. The median age of the participants was 25.4 years old.

The study found that the primary reason for divorce was lack of commitment, closely followed by infidelity and conflict in the family.

Why Do People Get Divorced
  • Lack of commitment (75.0%)
  • Infidelity (59.6%)
  • Too much conflict in the family (57.7%)
  • Young age at marriage (45.1%)
  • Financial issues (36.7%)
  • Substance abuse (34.6%)
  • Domestic violence (23.5%)
  • Severe diseases or physical incapacity (18.2%)

The causes of divorce for married couples in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are unique because of the major life transitions that occur during this time.

These changes include facing empty nests after children leave, financial issues, retirement, and declining health, which can pose considerable challenges to the relationship’s longevity and ultimately cause marital problems.

Another predominant factor explaining the rising number of divorces later in life is that people after 50 often live through their second or third marriages. The studies show that these marriages are less stable.

In a 2012 survey by Hawkins, Willoughby, and Doherty, a sample of 886 divorcing parents was interviewed. The research found that common causes of divorce were:

сommon causes of divorce
  • Distance in the relationship/lack of physical intimacy (55%)
  • Communication problems between partners (53%)
  • Money disagreements (40%)
  • Infidelity / personal problems (37%)
  • Not getting enough attention (34%)
  • The spouse’s habits (29%)
  • Sexual issues (24%)

Other factors include economic resources and demographic characteristics (different races have different divorce rates).

Several surveys on the reasons for divorce have been conducted among various age groups and demographics. As it turned out, divorce may be caused by low levels of educational attainment, certain religious beliefs or behaviors, age, and race.

The highest shares of divorce for the categories mentioned above are influenced by the following:

  • low level of education (some college, high school, or lower): 20.4%
  • protestant upbringing (Evangelical, Historically Black, Mainline): 19%
  • people aged 15 to 24 years old: 27%
  • Black or African American: 38.9%

According to several studies on the connection between divorce and physical or mental conditions, different risk factors may influence the decision to get divorced. The most common ones are:

The causes of divorce for married couples in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are unique because of the major life transitions that occur during this time.

The nationwide divorce causes reflect those prevalent in the individually taken states.

For instance, in a 2017 survey conducted by scholars at Dalton State College, a sample of 191 individuals formulated the following most common reasons for divorce in Northwest Georgia:

common reasons for divorce in Northwest Georgia
  • Infidelity (56%)
  • Communication problems (31.9%)
  • Abuse (21.5%)
  • Financial issues (18.8%)

All in all, surveys by Insider.com, The Huffington Post, Forbes, and the NCBI found a diversity of reasons for couples to initiate the divorce process.

  • Lack of commitment (75%)
  • Infidelity/relationships outside of the marriage (59.6%)
  • Conflict, irreconcilable differences (57.7%)
  • Marrying too young (45.1%)
  • Money issues/debt (36.1%)
  • Substance abuse/alcohol addiction (34.6%)
  • Communication problems (31.9%)
  • Inability to have children (27%)
  • Domestic violence (23.5%)
  • A child has a mental illness or is incapacitated (22.7%)
  • Health problems, mental illness of a spouse (20%)
  • Lack of support from family (17.3%)
  • Religious differences (13.3%)

Conclusion

Across the various causes of divorce surveys covered in this article, the common reasons that appear in at least two or more surveys of divorced couples are:

  • Infidelity
  • Lack of commitment
  • Alcohol addiction/substance abuse
  • Financial issues
  • Conflict/Irreconcilable differences

Luckily, in spite of the challenges that married couples face during the course of a relationship, the likelihood of divorce declines as the length of marriage increases.

In addition, resources like marriage counseling, relationship education and family law therapists assist couples in resolving conflict and building healthy marriages before divorce becomes inevitable.

If marriage partners are able to approach their relationship with open minds in order to avoid the disappointment of unrealistic, unmet expectations, they will remain flexible throughout their marriage to overcome the challenges they encounter.

Was this page helpful?

check full green icon Thanks for your feedback! close icon

Contents:

content-icon Table of Contents
arrow down up