This is the first article in our six part Common Causes of Divorce series. Links to the other articles are at the bottom of the page.
As divorce courts have been reopening, divorce filings have been on the rise. Social scientists have spent a significant amount of time looking into the reasons why people are getting divorced. They have also studied why divorces have increased overall in the last 50 years. Some of the causes for divorce are easily measured, such as infidelity, but other causes are more nebulous and difficult to pin down. For example, a couple might disagree about what caused the end of their marriage. Nonetheless, it can be helpful to understand why other people say that their marriages have ended with the benefit of hindsight.
What are the Most Common Causes of Divorce?
Multiple studies over the years have returned the following three common causes for divorce — arguing, conflict, and an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship. Lack of physical intimacy, lack of commitment, and infidelity are also common causes of divorce. Across the board, the following reasons are those most often cited for causing a couple to divorce:
- Arguing, conflict, strife, and an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship
- A lack of commitment
- Extramarital affairs and infidelity
- Lack of physical intimacy and distance in the relationship
- Communication problems between the spouses
- Physical, verbal, emotional abuse by one or both spouses
- Domestic violence
- The realization that a spouse has different morals or values
- Alcohol addiction or substance abuse
- One partner is not carrying their weight in the marriage
- Absence of love or romantic intimacy
- Marrying too young
- Debt and other financial problems
- Lack of shared interest in incompatibility between the spouses
What Factors Influence the Decision to Get Divorced?
The causes for divorce also vary according to age and stage of life. Younger couples who get divorced cite different reasons for divorce than middle-aged or older couples. AARP conducted a study of 1,147 people who had just gotten divorced in 2004. The study asked about the causes of divorce. The individual surveyed included 566 women and 581 men who were between the ages of 40 and 79 when they got divorced.
The study also found that people seeking a divorce think hard about how divorce will impact themselves and their children, even at older ages. The study found that one of the main reasons people wait so long to decide about seeking divorce is a fear of harming their children, even when their children are adults.
Among middle-aged couples 50 years and older, the divorce rate was double that of couples in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. The study found that physical, verbal, and emotional abuse were significant reasons middle-aged couples got divorced in retirement age. Domestic violence, physical, verbal, or emotional abuse by partners accounted for 34% of divorces. A realization that a spouse has different values or morals accounted for 29% of divorces. Finally, infidelity accounted for 27% of divorces.
The Causes for Divorce are Different for Couples Nearing Retirement
A study for the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) conducted in 2013 interviewed 52 divorced individuals after their first marriage. The participants had completed a prevention and relationship enhancement program before they were married. 14 years later, they were reassessed, and the survey studied the reasons they cited for getting divorced. The reasons cited for getting divorced by this cohort included:
- Absence of romantic intimacy / love (24%)
- Alcohol / substance abuse (21%)
- Control issues (16%)
- Financial problems (14%)
- One partner not carrying their weight in the marriage (14%)
- Infidelity / extramarital affairs (10%)
- Abandonment by a partner (10%)
When asked what their final straw reasons were for getting divorced, infidelity, substance abuse, and domestic violence were at the front of the list. Interestingly, more participants blame their partners than blame themselves for the divorce happening. Many participants discussed the conflict in arguing, lack of commitment, and infidelity as an essential cause of their divorces. Other studies over time have concluded that many people seeking divorce cite growing apart, not being able to talk together, and one spouse is handling money as significant reasons for divorce.
Infidelity and Divorce
Infidelity has always been one of the strongest predictors of divorce. One study interviewing divorced individuals found that 42% of recently divorced respondents claimed their spouses had engaged in extramarital sex. Only 15% of recently divorced respondents said that they had had extramarital affairs.
How do these two statistics work together? It is possible that the people who engage in infidelity do not see the underlying problems that precipitated the infidelity. The perspectives of the two spouses are different. Sometimes it is the idea of infidelity and a new partner that pushes one spouse to seek divorce. Cheating itself is not often the main cause for a divorce, despite popular opinion. Instead, one of the main causes of divorce is a lack of trust.
Handling of Money and Divorce
For many couples, handling money, debt, and financial struggles are the final nail in the coffin for their marriage. Perhaps they have different styles of handling money. One person may be a saver, and one person may be a spender. In other cases, one person may have a gambling problem, shopping addiction, or another issue draining the marital funds. Again, many financial issues are not simply financial issues. They represent a lack of trust between the spouses.
When a couple cannot see eye-to-eye on finances, it can push them towards divorce. Once a couple has accumulated significant debt, paying off the debt can also put enormous pressure on the marriage. As a result, arguments and conflict can become nearly constant, leading a couple to divorce.
Other Articles in Our Common Causes of Divorce Series
When to Walk Away After Infidelity
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