Divorce. It’s an ugly word, carrying connotations of failure, unhappiness, and protracted legal maneuvers. And though the oft-stated factoid “50% of all marriages end in divorce” was always an exaggeration (half of all marriages never ended in divorce and the divorce rate, in fact, has been declining for many years now), the fact of the matter is that divorce is still all-too common, and virtually no one going through it is prepared for it. After all, hardly any person marching down the aisle, still in the first blushes of love and filled with hope for the future, is focused on the possibility of a messy dissolution down the road.
When experts speak of the common causes of divorce, really what they are lecturing on are the reasons for an unhappy relationship. Though the great Leo Tolstoy famously wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” this is not precisely true. Divorces occur due to failed relationships. And the reasons that marriages fail and end in divorce are hardly unique to each couple; rather, they are commonplace and occur all-too frequently. Let’s look at the most common factors that lead to divorce.
5 Surprisingly Common Causes of Divorce
1. Lack of Support in Good Times
It seems axiomatic that when a marriage has irretrievably broken down, one of the causes must be the lack of support for a partner in tough times. Maybe it’s a career setback or health issues. But the bottom line is, when we are down, we need and expect our spouse to be at our side and help us get through it. If they are not, the marriage may be headed for failure.
When it comes to divorce, however, an oft-cited reason is seemingly counter-intuitive: many spouses want out of a marriage because they feel their partner has not been happy and celebratory enough during their moments of triumph. Supporting your partner when they’ve been promoted at their job or are experiencing some other personal triumph is absolutely pivotal to a long and healthy marriage.
The inability of one partner to be happy for another is a far greater cause of divorce than you would think. Put more simply: if you are experiencing a moment of joy and success and your spouse is not the first person you call, or the one you most want to celebrate with, then your marriage is in trouble.
2. Incompatibility with Finances
There is no way around it: money is a common cause for divorce. But not necessarily the lack of money. Sure, divorce rates among the working class are higher than among the college educated. But it is overly simplistic to think that people get divorced because they are in perpetual financial straits. When money is a factor in divorce – and it often is – the reason is incompatibility.
A spendthrift and a frugal penny-pincher are going to argue even if there is more than enough money coming into the household.
Want a happy marriage? Make sure you and your potential spouse have similar financial goals and are on the same page when it comes to spending. If you do not see eye to eye when it comes to money and how to save and spend it, sooner or later you will be staring at a divorce attorney. And you can take that to the bank.
3. Communication Issues
We’ve all heard the expression: “We have our problems, but we solve them.” Good. Problem-solving stems from good communication. And communication encompasses everything in a relationship: sex, money, family planning, et al.
Every relationship has its ups and downs; it’s not just love that will get a couple through lean times. It is the ability to sit down, have a conversation about what’s not working, and settle on a path to move forward. If you are comfortable talking to your partner, and if you have a history of moving past issues and hurdles and not getting bogged down in looking back – then there is a good chance you have a happy, stable relationship ahead of you.
Addiction can take many forms. It could be alcohol, prescription medication, or illegal substances. It could be online pornography or gambling. It could even be the addict-like behavior that results from an obsession with social media. It can also destroy a marriage. Even in the age of rehab and support groups, oftentimes married couples have difficulty surviving the pain and upheaval caused by one partner (and sometimes both) being an addict.
While no one is surprised to see adultery on this list, why people have affairs may be surprising. Yes, oftentimes it is unhappiness sexually or romantically that leads a partner to stray. But there are many reasons that a partner may seek sexual gratification outside of their marriage. For instance, a couple may be having sex regularly, but if one partner feels ignored, they may look for connection with someone else.
Perhaps the sex is fine, but the relationship is boring and overly predictable. In this case, a husband or wife may have an affair for the rush of danger and excitement it brings.
It could even make a partner – usually the man – feel young and invigorated again, since they may feel they are throwing caution and maturity to the winds.
Alongside financial issues, adultery is often considered one of the most common causes for divorce. But any expert will tell you: having an affair is a sign of problems in a relationship, not necessarily the cause of those problems.
6. Take Action
Divorce is painful and filled with unforeseen consequences. It is not to be undertaken lightly. It involves not only the division of assets – but the divvying up of debt. When there are children in the relationship, there will be issues of joint or sole custody. Divorce can be contested or uncontested. And, of course, not all states have the same laws regarding the dissolution of a marriage.
If your marriage has irretrievably broken down, whether you’re living in a small town or in a big city and seeking a divorce lawyer, you should take action to protect yourself and your family.
The marriage may be over, but there are still so many pitfalls an empathetic, experienced attorney can help you avoid. The sooner you receive the advice you need, the easier the process will be.
Leticia Summers is a licensed marriage counselor in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she has been specializing in couple’s therapy and post-divorce counseling for nearly 10 years. She writes about her experiences with relationships for numerous publications, and in her free time, she enjoys diving into Russian literature.