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Why Do Spouses Separate? Eight Typical Causes of a Split!

The causes of divorce have been the subject of much research by sociologists and other academics. Some researchers have focused on observable risk factors for divorce, such as bride and groom ages at the union. However, other studies have gotten to the bottom of the issue by directly polling divorcees on their thoughts about what went wrong in their marriages.

We reviewed the findings of many high-quality studies (details below), identified the eight most common reasons for divorce, and ordered them from most to least frequently cited by divorcees in the studies.

A quick caveat before we dive into the list: Divorce is a complex phenomenon with multiple contributing factors (thus the sum of the percentages for the responses being greater than 100%). The likelihood of having an affair increases when marital troubles are present and money arguments are made worse when there is a communication breakdown. The fact that partners frequently have divergent accounts of the events leading up to separation is also a role.

With the advantage of hindsight, it can still be instructive to hear the reasons why other people’s marriages failed. And if you want to save your marriage from going down the same path, it can assist to be aware of the early warning signals of these issues.

1. Lack of Commitment

Lack of commitment has been identified as the leading cause of divorce in several surveys and research. (Up to 86% of respondents in one survey said this.) It’s interesting to note that another study found that lack of commitment was the reason couples were most likely to agree, even though one partner typically blamed the other for not trying harder to maintain the marriage.

Lack of commitment is often difficult to pin down, especially for the individual being accused of it. Infidelity, reluctance to communicate and a failure to work together on financial matters are just a few of the underlying issues that can lead to a divorce. Many individuals believe that a lack of commitment is at the root of many marriage difficulties, and as a result, they view divorce as a common outcome.

2. Incompatibility and Growing Apart

Legislators who settled on “irreconcilable differences” as the primary premise for no-fault divorce were on the right track. Studies have shown that when asked why their marriages ended, a large percentage of divorcees provide reasons like “we grew apart,” “we drifted away,” or “we were just incompatible” (up to 55% in one research). Other factors for divorce that have been found in various research may fall under the umbrella of “incompatibility.”

  • a lack of shared values
  • marrying too young (which makes growing apart more likely)
  • s*xual difficulties, and
  • religious differences

Many couples, of course, learn to accept and even enjoy their partners’ unique qualities. Shared (or at least overlapping) interests, priorities, and values constitute the backbone of most happy relationships. Physical incompatibility typically coexists with the next most common cause of divorce: a failure to communicate effectively.

3. Communication Problems

Poor communication, such as frequent arguments and an inability to talk to one another, was indicated as a primary cause of divorce by around half of divorcees in several studies. Disagreements over finances and child-rearing often arise from misunderstandings that could have been avoided with better communication.

When you and your partner constantly argue, it’s easy to pinpoint the cause. Keep an eye out for disputes that seem to always be over the same subject or disagreements that can’t seem to be settled, even if they don’t happen very often or get very heated. The two of you may benefit from couple’s therapy to learn how to interact with one another more successfully.

4. Extramarital Affairs

While adultery was mentioned in all of the studies we looked at, its relative frequency as a divorce-causing factor ranged from 20% in one study to 60% in another.

This variation may reflect the fact that for some people, the affair was the final straw in an otherwise troubled marriage. One partner may look outside the marriage for companionship, excitement, or distraction, or even as an unconscious strategy to provoke the other partner into calling for a divorce.

What is the Most Reason for Divorce?

5. Financial Incompatibility: Money Disagreements

Approximately 40% of respondents in several studies cited money issues as a primary reason for the breakup of their marriage. Fights about money are sometimes referred to as “financial incompatibility,” because they usually emerge from differences in priorities and attitudes around financial decisions.

You and your partner are financially incompatible if either of the following occurs:

  • One of you is dishonest or even lies about your spending habits and other monetary decisions (like making investments or withdrawing money from savings)
  • To the detriment of your financial stability as a couple, one of you does not inform the other about major expenditures or other decisions that could have an impact on your shared resources.
  • You are unable to have regular (and civil) conversations regarding money.
  • You have tried setting financial goals together but one of you keeps undermining them; you are either unable or unwilling to develop joint financial objectives (such as budgeting and saving to purchase a house, have children, or build a retirement nest fund).

Financial incompatibility is cited more frequently by low-income couples as a reason for divorce. Fights over money are more common when resources are scarce and people are worried about meeting their financial obligations. Money and property disputes will persist throughout the divorce process, regardless of the couple’s financial situation.

6. Substance Abuse

Divorces attributed to one partner’s substance abuse have been reported by anywhere from 10% to 35% of divorcees.

Indicators that your partner may be struggling with addiction to alcohol or drugs include:

  • alterations in sleeping, eating, and grooming patterns
    concealing one’s actions
    fluctuating emotions
  • changes in personality, such as paranoia
  • ignoring one’s duties at work or home
  • dropping out of previous involvements
  • an unexpected requirement for financial resources, and
  • a problem in focusing or remembering.

7. Domestic Abuse

Divorce due to domestic violence was cited by between 15 and 25 percent of respondents in several studies. In addition, more than a third of divorcing couples in an older age bracket cited some form of abuse, be it verbal, emotional, or physical, as a primary factor in their decision to split up.

Domestic violence is often cited as a reason for divorce, yet women and men have vastly different perspectives on this issue. Domestic abuse was recognized by 42% of women (but only 9% of males) in national research as a major factor in the breakdown of their marriages. One possible explanation is that women are more likely than men to be the victims of intimate partner abuse and that abuse survivors are more likely than perpetrators to attribute the breakup of their marriage to the harm they endured.

8. Conflicts Over Family Responsibilities

Twenty percent or more of people who were asked in surveys what they thought were the main causes of divorce identified problems in the marriage caused by:

  • how to raise their kids
  • child care responsibilities, and/or
  • other family and household obligations.

It’s worth mentioning that, according to at least one study, women are more likely than men to point to arguments like this as a major factor in their divorce. (Gender roles in marriages between men and women were often disregarded or assumed by social scientists, which may explain why disagreements over family responsibilities were underrepresented in earlier studies that provided participants with a checklist of possible explanations).

Some Divorce Reasons Matter More Than Others

As we’ve already mentioned, we reviewed a lot of studies to compile this list of the most common causes of divorce. It takes into account the frequency with which people reflect on these factors as major contributors to their divorces, rather than the severity of the problems themselves. Any sort of domestic abuse, for instance, is more serious than communication issues.

Some of the additional reasons cited for a divorce by couples over the age of 50, also known as a “grey divorce,” are the empty nest syndrome or the major health problems of one or both partners.

While every marriage is different, statistics show that 99% of married couples experience at least one of the issues listed here. Some problems are more likely to result in divorce than others (such as domestic violence or chronic substance misuse), but most of them may be overcome if the couple is willing to work together. That’s probably why a lack of commitment was at the top of the list in multiple studies.

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