Social scientists and other academics have long been interested in divorce. Some academics have looked at easily measured criteria that enhance the likelihood of divorce, such as marriage age. Other research has gone straight to the source, asking divorced people about why they believe their marriages ended.
We looked at the findings of several of the best studies (details below), compiled a list of the top eight reasons for divorce, and ranked them according to how often study participants said those issues were a major role in their divorce.
Before continuing to the list, it’s critical to declare the obvious: A couple’s divorce frequently has numerous causes (which is why the percentages for the answers total more than 100%), and those factors are sometimes linked. Extramarital affairs are more likely when people are having other problems in their marriage, and communication issues exacerbate issues like money difficulties. Another complication is that couples typically disagree on what caused their breakup, which is understandable.
Even yet, with the benefit of hindsight, hearing what other people have to say about why their marriages ended can be illuminating. Knowing when symptoms of these problems develop in your marriage can help you escape the same outcome.
1. A lack of commitment
In numerous studies, people were asked to choose from a list of significant reasons for their divorce, and lack of commitment came out on top. (In one study, up to 85% of participants responded in this way.) Even though one spouse frequently blames the other for not working harder to repair the marriage, another study indicated that lack of commitment was the reason couples were most likely to agree on.
Lack of commitment may look nebulous and difficult to demonstrate (or disprove), particularly to the person accused. Extramarital relationships, a refusal to discuss the relationship, and a failure to work together toward a common financial objective are all signs that the couple is on the verge of divorce. That’s why so many people blame a lack of commitment for their divorce—they see it as the root of a bunch of other, more visible problems.
2. Separation and Incompatibility
The legislators who chose “irreconcilable differences” as the basis for no-fault divorce were completely correct. Many divorced people reply things like “we grew apart,” “we drifted away,” or “we were just incompatible” when asked why their marriages failed (up to 55 percent in one study). Other reasons for divorce that have been mentioned in other studies could be included in this concept of incompatibility, such as:
- a scarcity of ideas that have been shared
- Getting married at a young age (which makes growing apart more likely)
- Issues with sexuality, as well as
- Religious differences
Of course, many couples are willing to tolerate and even appreciate their differences. On the other hand, the most successful relationships are built on a foundation of shared (or at least overlapping) interests, priorities, and values. Outward signs of incompatibility frequently coexist with other common grounds of divorce, the most common of which is poor communication, which is next on the list.
3. Communication problems
In several studies, nearly half of the participants said that poor communication, such as excessive fighting and the inability to speak with one another, was a factor in divorce. Other causes of divorce, like arguments over money and family responsibilities, can be traced back to communication concerns.
It’s simple to notice when you and your partner are continually at odds. Even if the confrontations aren’t that frequent or unpleasant, keep an eye out for repeating disagreements about the same thing or disagreements that are never properly handled. This could signal that you need help learning to communicate with each other more effectively, such as through couple’s therapy.
4. Extramarital Relationships
Although infidelity (or adultery) was mentioned in all of the research we looked at, its prevalence as a cause of divorce ranged from about 20% in one to 60% in others.
This wide range may reflect the fact that, for some divorced people, having an affair is the ultimate straw after a succession of previous marital problems. Those other concerns could be the reason someone seeks connection, excitement, or distraction outside of the marriage—or even as an unconscious attempt to prod the other spouse into divorcing.
5. Financial Disagreements: Incompatibility
Financial issues, particularly concerns about how their ex-spouse managed money, were indicated as a primary reason for divorce by around 40% of participants in various surveys. Money fights are generally referred to as “financial incompatibility” since they usually stem from opposing goals and beliefs when it comes to making financial decisions.
Below are symptoms that you and your spouse are financially mismatched:
- One of you hides secrets, if not outright lies, regarding purchases or other financial decisions (like making investments or withdrawing money from savings)
- One of you does not consult the other before making large purchases or doing other activities that affect your joint money.
- You can’t have a regular (and calm) conversation about your finances.
- You are unable or reluctant to set mutual financial goals (such as budgeting and saving to purchase a house, have children, or build a retirement nest egg), and you are unable or unwilling to work together to achieve them.
- You and your partner set financial goals together, but one of you constantly fails to meet them.
According to studies, couples with lower salaries are more likely to cite financial incompatibility as a key reason for divorce. When there is less money to go around, there is more likely to be conflict over money problems, as well as heightened anxiety about being able to pay bills. Regardless of a couple’s earning level, arguments over money and property will inevitably arise during the divorce process.
6. Abuse of Substances
According to several surveys, between 10% and 35% of people divorced because their spouse had alcohol or drug problems.
There are several signs that your spouse may be suffering from a substance abuse problem which include:
- Changes in sleep, appetite, and hygiene
- behavior that is concealed
- mood swings that happen out of nowhere
- Other personality changes, such as paranoia, are also possible.
- disregarding obligations at work or home
- abandoning behind old friends or pastimes
- an irrational craving for more money, and
- You’re having problems paying attention or recalling what you’ve heard.
7. Domestic Violence
Domestic abuse was recognized as a major cause of divorce by 15% to 25% of participants in many studies. In a survey of senior divorced couples, more than a third of the participants listed verbal, emotional, or physical abuse as one of the three main reasons for their divorce.
Women and men have diverse perspectives on domestic abuse as a cause of divorce. In a national survey, domestic violence was mentioned by 42 percent of women but just 9 percent of men as a major factor in their divorce. This could be because women are significantly more likely than men to be victims of intimate relationship violence, and victims are far more likely than perpetrators to blame the behavior for their divorce.
8. Conflicts in Family Responsibilities
When asked about the top reasons for divorce in several studies, more than 20% of participants said their marriage was strained because of:
- how they should raise their children
- duties for child care, and/or
- a variety of domestic and familial obligations
It’s worth noting that, according to at least one study, women are far more likely than men to blame their divorce on these differences. (Older studies with a list of reasons rarely included arguments over family commitments, probably because many social scientists ignored or assumed gender roles in men and women’s marriages.)
Of course, each marriage is unique, and the vast majority of couples will face at least one of the problems outlined here at some point during their relationship. While certain issues are more serious than others (for example, domestic violence and serious substance abuse disorders), the majority of them do not have to lead to divorce if both partners are willing to work together to save the marriage. That’s perhaps why, according to multiple studies, a lack of commitment ranks first.