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What Causes Divorce?

Studies show that there are 10 common reasons that couples divorce, including:

  1. Lack of Commitment

  2. Infidelity – Including Physical and Emotional Affairs

  3. Endless Conflict and Arguments and an Inability to Communicate Effectively

  4. Lack of Intimacy – Including Sexual and Emotional Intimacy

  5. Financial Betrayal or Debt

  6. Addiction to Alcohol, Drugs, Porn, Sex, Shopping, Gambling, Devices or Work

  7. Unbalanced Dynamics with Children and Chores

  8. Lack of Shared Interests and Time Together

  9. Core Value Differentials

  10. Domestic Violence



Lack of Commitment

Sometimes it seems like the vows people take when they marry are given about the same amount of thought as the flowers, the music, the budget, and the guest list for the wedding. The idea that the couple is entering into a covenant for the rest of their lives might feel incomprehensible to some. But, in fact, that is exactly what happens at a wedding! The reality is that in this American culture, we don’t do a very good job preparing young adults for marriage – or even for relationships. People typically learn about marriage from what they see in their family of origin. Sometimes, what kids grow up witnessing in their own homes are not healthy marital dynamics. We also don’t educate young people about the business side of marriage. When you take your vows, you’re entering a contract that has serious financial and personal consequences, should the contract be cancelled (through divorce) years later. Very few brides and grooms think about the possibility that their marriage may fail when they’re planning their wedding, yet 50% of first marriages due, in fact end.(2) When couples are considering divorce, they often say “We’ve grown apart” or “He/She doesn’t get me” or “I had no idea how hard it would be to be married for so long.” It is hard. Marriage requires conversation, compromise, connection and perhaps most importantly, commitment.


Lack of Intimacy and Infidelity

These tend to happen in conjunction with each other, regardless of which happens first. Humans are hard wired for connection. When our primary relationship lacks emotional closeness and physical affection, we suffer. Often that suffering is paired with anxiety and the fear that we will end up alone. When these feelings become overwhelming, people often make poor decisions about managing their pain. Instead of seeking professional help together, or talking to their partner about what they’re feeling, and how they want their committed relationship to change, they look elsewhere to fill the void and to soothe the loneliness that they’re experiencing. It often starts off innocently enough, perhaps by texting with a friendly work colleague or reconnecting online with an old friend. The problem with these “innocent” beginnings is that they can lead to dishonest behavior causing more pain, and they rarely resolve any of the core issues that led to the infidelity or the lack of intimacy.       


Endless Conflict and the Inability to Communicate

These go hand in hand, and typically, when people choose each other, they move too quickly toward serious commitment, without spending the time necessary to understand each other’s core value structures, and to learn how to discuss hard things with each other. These hard things include their beliefs about money, sex, parenting, blending families, roles in the household, as well as their true feelings about what they want in their marriage, and their past experiences with their families of origin, or their previous relationships. Couples usually make lots of assumptions about their partner and about their relationship, that have, at best, a 50% chance of being accurate. Early in the relationship people are usually most interested in impressing each other, which results in hiding the behaviors that they assume will be problematic for the other person. Couples are sometimes reluctant to be their vulnerable and authentic selves because they fear they will be judged by their spouse and rejected. Additionally, what was modeled for them by their parents, while growing up, was likely not ideal, so they never learned to address conflict successfully or even to apologize well.  


Financial Betrayal and Debt

It’s not atypical for couples to either decide early on in their relationship – or by default – to allow one individual to take charge of the finances. This often happens in relationships where one person is either older, and more established in their career, or starting out in the relationship with more financial resources or with more knowledge about accumulating money than the other person. This can also happen when one partner has more debt than the other, or is financially illiterate, with no understanding of budgeting and financial goals. Regardless of how this arrangement takes shape, it can feel unbalanced for both people, and this might cause a power differential in the partnership. Over time, this lack of financial balance can lead to the partner in charge of the money, using it in ways that were not agreed upon, or developing secretive behaviors that may even include hiding assets and feeling entitled to do so.


Addiction to Substance and Unhealthy Behaviors

We live in a world full of distractions that provide the possibility of avoiding our own relationship reality. When a partnership becomes difficult, there is a tendency to turn away from each other, and focus our time and attention on other things that provide instant gratification or stress relief. Some of these things, including substances like alcohol and drugs, as well as activities outside the relationship, like the use of porn, sex, gambling, shopping, or even work. These can lead to excessive behaviors and lots of problems that are challenging to solve. Even things that seem required in our daily life can become out of control, including the use of our digital devices. One way to check in with yourself around these issues is to ask yourself if you’re using these things to “exit” your relationship and avoid conversation or conflict with your partner. The fact of the matter is, that when it comes to maladaptive coping mechanisms, the problem will be revealed at some point, and it often results in shame, blame, a loss of resources, and sometimes divorce.


Unbalanced Dynamics with Children and Chores

No one wants to feel like the disciplinarian, the chauffer, or the maid. Parenting and living together can, and should, be about shared responsibilities. This is another arena where one person unintentionally, and often by default, ends up “in charge” at home, yet feels used and unappreciated by his or her “oblivious” partner. The area of domestic responsibilities requires good conversation and a lot of appreciation for each other and that tasks that each partner takes on. A willingness to work together to define and manage expectations around order, chaos, cleanliness and child rearing is necessary. It’s helpful to go into a marriage having a solid understanding that you’re co-captains of the same team, with the same goals – financial and household – in mind.  


Lack of Shared Interests and Time Together

It’s not unusual for one or both partners to give up their own personal interests and hobbies when they become a couple, as they explore new interests together. It’s also not at all unusual for couples to lose sight of their shared interests when kids come along or other challenges emerge, including job responsibilities, financial stressors or illness. It’s hard to make time for salsa dancing, candlelit dinners and long bike rides together, when you’re faced with the demands of young children, teenagers, college tuition, and aging parents. But over time, when couples disregard prioritizing time together, engaging in fun activities, date nights, laughter, and sex, their connection is lost. As the years – then decades – pass, couples sometimes find themselves feeling like strangers, bored by each other’s company, and with no idea of how to begin to resurrect their connection. 


Core Value Differentials

Relationships, like people, have stages of growth and development that are informed by the core values that we came to understand as our very young selves. These values are influenced by the people and experiences that shaped us through childhood and young adulthood. Messages received from our family of origin, peers, and cultural realms, influence the way we view the world and our place in it. As couples age, they may realize that priorities informed by their values have over time, become wildly divergent from their partner’s, and this may be experienced as conflict when it comes to politics, religion, parenting, and existential concerns. It’s necessary to check in with each other regularly to see how values are shifting as time goes by, and to question each other’s perspectives through healthy and intentional dialog. Value differentials can be bridged with good conversation and empathy.


Domestic Violence

There’s no excuse in a marriage for physical abuse, yet 24% of divorcing couples acknowledge that violence occurred in the relationship.(2)  When this dynamic presents, everything becomes more complicated. If law enforcement and the courts become involved, then divorce often includes court-ordered assessments, anger management treatment, parenting classes, and/or substance interventions that can become costly and time-intensive. Custody arrangements can become multi-facetted, involving specific communication requirements between the parents, outside supervision and visitation limitations set in place to prevent the physical and emotional components of the abusive parental dynamic from impacting the children in the household. It’s toxic and ugly, and typically results in mandated therapy for all parties in the family. Children suffer greatly. PTSD is not an uncommon outcome with these divorces.


How to Prevent Divorce

Studies show that couples typically wait at least two and a half years after challenges in their marriage arise to start therapy together. Over the years, resentments build, and sometimes result in one or both partners feeling contempt toward each other. Conflict doesn’t have to be catastrophic – instead, it can be an opportunity for growth. Consider therapy before it’s too late for you to save your marriage. It’s a lot less expensive and far less painful than divorce. 



1.     National Library of Medicine. List of Major Reasons for Divorce by Individuals and Couples Who Participated in PREP

2.     Psychology Today

Katey Villalon, LMFT, IRT


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