20 Most Common Reasons Behind Real Divorce Cases

Discover the patterns and strengthen your relationship today.

It's a well-worn truism about marriage: The only people who truly know what goes on between a couple are the members of the couple themselves. But the fact is, the reasons marriage fail aren't that unique or obscure; in fact, they tend to follow some common patterns. Nearly 700,000 couples are divorced in the U.S. every year—still nearly one-half of all marriages—and experts say one or more of these factors are to blame. These are 20 of the most common reasons behind real divorce cases.

1
Communication Breakdown

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"As I'm working with couples, I am repeatedly struck by the lack of communication," says Julia Rueschemeyer, a Massachusetts attorney who has mediated more than 1,600 divorces. "Couples put off important conversations and become resentful. Many couples have different expectations about who should work and how much money they should make, for example. By the time they reach my office they have given up on the marriage, but they never had the conversations to share their assumptions."

2
Financial Conflicts

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"The most common reason I see divorce cases in my office is financial stress," says divorce attorney Derek Jacques, owner of the Mitten Law Firm in Detroit. Most of his clients who file cite their partner's lack of financial contribution as the impetus. "This usually boils down to a lack of communication, which can be improved to help avoid divorce," he adds. "If you communicate your financial concerns openly with your spouse, there is usually action taken to rectify it."

3
Resentment Over Labor Roles

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"Another common pattern is too much division of labor," says Rueschemeyer. "The father works long hours to make money for the family, the wife does all the childcare and housework, and they grow apart. The working father is resentful of being solely responsible for the breadwinning and the mother is resentful for being left with children and the house all day and sometimes on weekends. While they achieve a middle-class income, their marriage declines."

4
Divergent Expectations

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Clint Brasher, a trial lawyer in Texas and Louisiana, says spouses often split because their expectations for the marriage don't sync. "Couples frequently divorce because of difficulty in effectively expressing their requirements and concerns," he says. "Insurmountable rifts can result when spouses retain divergent perspectives regarding their futures. By establishing common objectives and conducting periodic reassessments, it is possible to foster congruence about future expectations. Couples counseling can also be beneficial."

5
Emotional Disconnection

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"Divorce often stems not from a lack of love, but a lack of understanding," says Rod Mitchell, a registered psychologist with Therapy Calgary Emotions Clinic. "It's the emotional distance, not the physical, that foretells the unraveling of a marriage."

6
Infidelity

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"When one partner cheats on the other, it breaks trust and often leads to irreparable damage in the relationship," says Michelle English, LCSW, co-founder and executive clinical manager of Healthy Life Recovery in San Diego, California. "National surveys show that 15% of married women and 25% of married men have had extramarital affairs. The impact of infidelity on a marriage can vary from couple to couple, but it is consistently listed as one of the top reasons for divorce."

7
Evolving Identities

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"People grow and evolve, and sometimes, they do so in opposite directions," says Mitchell. "A marriage can end not because of conflict, but because of growth that leads partners down divergent paths."

8
Unresolved Issues

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"Unresolved conflicts haunt many relationships," says Mitchell. "It's often the arguments couples don't have, the issues they skirt around, that spell the doom for their marriage."

9
Constant Arguing

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"Disagreements will always occur in any relationship, but the frequency and intensity of these disagreements can determine whether or not a marriage will last," says Raul Haro, LMFT, RN, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Pathways Recovery in Azusa, California. "Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and anger are frequently the result of poor communication. Avoiding difficult conversations or arguing about the same issue over and over without making any progress can quickly erode the relationship's foundation."

10
Lack of Intimacy

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"Physical and emotional intimacy are essential components of any marriage," says Gary Tucker, a licensed psychotherapist with D'Amore Mental Health in Costa Mesa, California. "When couples lose this connection, it can lead to feelings of loneliness and dissatisfaction, which can lead to a relationship breakdown. To maintain intimacy in a marriage, couples should schedule regular time for physical affection and emotional connection." For example: Date nights, small gestures of love and appreciation, and being open to trying new things together.

11
Lack of Trust

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"Lack of trust often stems from acts of dishonesty or betrayal, leading to a breakdown in the relationship," says Heather Wilson, LCSW, LCADC, CCTP, a licensed clinical social worker and executive director of Epiphany Wellness. "It's like a small crack in a vase that slowly spreads until it finally shatters – that's how trust dwindles. Repairing trust is no small task. It requires open communication, consistent actions over time, and genuine remorse and effort from the offending party."

12
"Gray Divorce"

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"Many individuals contemplating divorce have been considering it for quite some time," says Amy Colton, CDFA, a certified divorce financial analyst and family law mediator. "It's often a matter of timing—deciding when to communicate their decision to their spouse and family. A significant trend I've observed is the increase in 'gray divorce'—divorces occurring after age 50. At this life stage, with children typically grown and out of the house, individuals reassess their relationships. They often realize they want to spend their remaining years differently, sometimes without their current spouse, seeking what they consider their best life."

13
Addiction

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"Addiction is one of the most common causes of divorce in the United States," says Dr. Michael Olla, a psychiatrist and medical director of Valley Spring Recovery Center in New Jersey. This could involve substances like drugs and alcohol, or gambling and/or pornography. "All forms of addiction are incredibly detrimental to a marriage," he says.  Addiction can take over a person's life. It has a secretive nature, which can take a huge emotional toll on a marriage. It can lead to other significant marital issues, such as financial problems and even domestic violence. For a split to be avoided, it's incredibly important for the partners to go through the recovery journey together. Both partners should be committed to seeking help and undergoing the healing process."

14
Incompatibility

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"Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, two people just can't work together," says Tucker. "Their personalities, values, or aspirations might make it challenging for them to have a satisfying and happy relationship."

15
Criticism

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After studying 40,000 couples, psychologist Dr. John Gottman identified the "four horsemen"—the four habits that are most likely to predict a failed relationship. Number one: Criticism. "Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint," ehs says. "The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack. It is an attack on your partner at the core of their character. In effect, you are dismantling their whole being when you criticize."

16
Contempt

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Number two, says Gottman, is expressing contempt for your partner. "Contempt goes far beyond criticism. While criticism attacks your partner's character, contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over them," he says. Expressing contempt causes spouses to become opponents instead of partners. 

17
Stonewalling

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Stonewalling is usually a response to contempt. According to Gottman, it occurs "when the listener withdraws from the interaction, shuts down, and simply stops responding to their partner. Rather than confronting the issues with their partner, people who stonewall can make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive or distracting behaviors."

18
Defensiveness

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"When we feel unjustly accused, we fish for excuses and play the innocent victim so that our partner will back off," says Gottman. "Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don't take their concerns seriously and that we won't take responsibility for our mistakes. Defensiveness will only escalate the conflict if the critical spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner, and it won't allow for healthy conflict management."

19
Neglecting Quality Time

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"One common reason why marriages end is a lack of quality time spent together," says Connor Moss, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Pacific Psychotherapy. "Many people assume that their relationship will always be there and remain strong. However, the reality is that if you don't actively nurture your relationship by spending quality time together, it can gradually erode."

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20
A Weak Foundation

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"Some marriages are built on shaky foundations, such as rushed marriages, a lack of genuine commitment, or getting married for the wrong reasons," says Lindsey Tong, LCSW, clinical director of Profound Treatment in Woodland Hills, California. "If a couple gets married without fully understanding and knowing each other, it's only natural that they may discover incompatibilities or irreconcilable differences later on. It's crucial for couples to take the time to get to know each other, understand each other's values and beliefs, and build a strong foundation before getting married."

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is an experienced writer and editor in New York City. He specializes in helping people make life-improving decisions on their health, nutrition, finances, and lifestyle. Read more
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