Relationship survival usually requires a blend of open communication, intimacy, and empathy. When any of these characteristics are missing or start to fade, the romantic bond between two people may weaken.
Couples may decide to divorce for many reasons. From incompatibility of lifestyles to dishonest behavior. However, researchers have found that some reasons for divorce seem to be more common across cultures and generations.
The top reasons for divorce have fluctuated over the years and vary by country, often heavily influenced by cultural beliefs and practices.
In Denmark, for example, a 2019 controlled trial study found the top reasons for divorce in that nation included:
- lack of love and intimacy
- communication problems
- lack of sympathy, trust, and respect
- growing apart because of different interests and activities
Couples who face challenges in having children also seem to be more likely to divorce if having a larger family is a priority for one or both partners.
Divorce percentages in the United States and the world
According to the most recent data available for the years 1970 to 2008, the average rate of divorce in 84 countries around the world was 4.08 for every 1,000 marriages. In the United States, the numbers are much higher.
In 2008, the divorce rate for women was 20.5 out of every 1,000 marriages, and 19.4 for men. In 2020, rates were 14 and 13.3 respectively per 1,000 marriages.
Divorce in the United States
A national survey from 2005 remains the most recent large-scale report about the leading causes of divorce in the nation.
The survey found that the 12 top reasons for divorce, from most to least common, are:
- lack of commitment
- constant arguing or conflict
- marrying too young
- unrealistic expectations about partner or marriage
- inequality between partners
- inadequate preparation for marriage
- domestic violence
- financial problems
- conflict about domestic work
- lack of family support
- religious differences
According to the 2005 national survey, reasons for divorce are complex, and most participants cite multiple causes for the decision.
Lack of commitment (73.2%)
A diminished desire to put effort into making your relationship work can look like poor communication, lack of compromise, or the absence of everyday kindness.
Too much arguing and conflict (55%)
“Infidelity can lead to feelings of betrayal, anger, and resentment, which can destroy a relationship,” explains Joni Ogle, a licensed clinical social worker from Houston, Texas.
Effects of infidelity may include anxiety, depression, trauma, trust challenges, shame, guilt, and social withdrawal.
Marrying too young (45.7%)
Hong explains that growth and change are inevitable, but if you’re not growing together, it can put a strain on your relationship.
When you marry at a young age, you may still be developing key aspects of your personality.
Signs that you may be growing apart from your spouse may include an absence of shared interests, having different life goals, and feelings of isolation or loneliness, says Hong.
Unrealistic expectations (45.3%)
Unrealistic expectations about how the household will run, where you will live, and how you will be treated as a spouse are one of the top reasons for divorce in the United States.
Assuming “things will be better after you’re married” may be a warning sign of unrealistic expectations placed on the marriage.
Lack of equality (43.7%)
Early signs of inequality in a marriage might include double standards or having one partner make all the decisions.
If you feel pigeonholed into a gender stereotype in marriage, that may be another sign of inequality.
Inadequate preparation (41.1%)
Little to no pre-marriage preparation can make cohabitation overwhelming. Having a hard time living with your spouse is a leading cause of divorce.
Signs of inadequate preparation may include underdeveloped skills in home maintenance, household routines, or finance management.
Lack of preparation may also mean skipping conversations about long-term marriage goals related to children, careers, spouse roles, and preferred lifestyles.
Domestic violence (29.1%)
Domestic violence can be any pattern of abusive behavior in an intimate relationship that’s used to maintain power or control.
Domestic violence isn’t only about physical assault. Common signs of an abusive relationship may include persistent blaming, intimidation, manipulation, and social isolation.
Financial problems (28.4%)
Having a hard time making ends meet or having a partner who overextends spending may cause stress in a marriage.
If you’re always being asked for money, it may be a sign your partner finds financial responsibility a challenge.
Unresolved financial challenges are one of the top reasons for divorce.
Conflict about domestic work (21.6%)
Unequal distribution of household chores and child care responsibilities may translate into conflict and resentment for one or both partners.
Feeling your spouse takes you for granted or that you can’t rely on them for support may lead many couples to divorce.
Lack of family support (18.7%)
If your family doesn’t agree with your marriage or your partner, the rift you feel may contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as a sense of grief for the lost connections.
Your family may exclude your partner, put them down, or encourage you to “keep your options open.”
Both you and your partner may find this pressure difficult to manage, which could cause you to consider divorce as an option.
Religious differences (13.2%)
“If you and your partner have different values, it can be tough to find common ground,” says Ogle.
If your partner ridicules or demeans your religion early in the relationship, or tries to convert you away despite your expressed disinterest, it may be an indicator of future conflict.
Should couples try separation before divorcing?
There is no evidence that couples may benefit from a separation before considering divorce.
According to Hong, research shows the majority of separations progress to the divorce phase anyway.
Separating can, however, be beneficial when both partners are invested in reconciling and just need some time to regroup.
“Some couples may find that a temporary separation can help them identify and resolve the underlying problems in their marriage,” says Hong. “Separation can give you time to reflect on your relationship and decide if you want to stay married or not.”
Reasons for divorce don’t change depending on age, but challenges may manifest differently.
Research in 2019 spanning several decades noted that divorce rates do vary depending on age groups. Dr. Danielle McGraw, a licensed clinical psychologist from Scottsdale, Arizona, points out the reasons are often the same, though.
“The causes don’t necessarily change between age groups, but they may look different,” she explains.
McGraw indicates that older couples may have learned to avoid conflict, for example, whereas younger couples may experience more fighting in the relationship. Still, unresolved conflict is a leading cause of divorce for both young and older couples.
All three experts agree: No matter how hard you try, saving a marriage is only possible if both people share that goal.
“A couple can only heal a relationship and avoid divorce if both parties are willing to work on the relationship and communicate effectively,” says Ogle.
Where there’s mutual love, even if complicated by reconcilable differences and communication barriers, marriage can be salvaged.
“In most situations, it is possible to heal a relationship with therapy,” says McGraw. “Couples therapy can help couples learn communication skills, learn how to express their feelings to one another, express their needs, and rebuild their friendship.”
McGraw adds that safety is a priority when it comes to saving a relationship. When physical, emotional, and mental health are in jeopardy in marriage, separation or divorce may be the best option.
Infidelity, arguing, infertility, and lack of commitment are some of the top reasons for divorce in the world. There’s usually more than one cause of divorce, though.
Most divorce reasons are preventable, though, when both partners are in love and willing to spend time and energy in solving the differences.