Main Causes of Divorce

It is widely known that divorce is common –  too common!  Whether the actual divorce rate is 50% or slightly less than that, it is still alarmingly high.  What shifts from the time we say “till death do we part” to “I want out, NOW?”

What Do The Numbers Say?

Researchers have studied the reasons for divorce using different approaches.  The National Fatherhood Initiative survey (2005) polled over 400 respondents from across the US and came up with the following list (only items listed by more than 30% of the respondents are included):

Lack of commitment 73.2%
Too much conflict and arguing 55.6%
Infidelity 54.6%
Married too young 45.7%
Unrealistic expectations 45.3%
Lack of equality 43.7%
Inadequate preparation 41.1%

While this was a national sample – it did not survey every couple.  Another approach was taken in 2012 (Hawkins, et all).  The 2012 survey was given in one county in Minnesota – but asked every couple divorcing to complete the survey.  In this survey the following were endorsed by more than 30% of the respondents:

Growing apart 55%
Not able to talk together 53%
How my spouse handles money 40%
Infidelity 37%
Personal problems of my spouse 34%
Not getting enough attention 34%

Other items endorsed at lower percentages, such as: domestic violence, lack of support from family members, religious differences.

Could We Have Done Something Different?

What do these two lists of reasons have in common?   Most of the reasons are things that CAN be modified with the proper attention.  Lack of commitment is a perception, and it can and does change.  If you do not feel commitment from your partner, ask yourself , “how can I invite more commitment?  What might I do to engage my partner more?”  If you are growing apart, explore how you can grow together.  If you were closer in the past, what was different then?  What could you do to develop more interest in your partner’s activities?   How can you attract your partner to more of your interests?   Are there some new arenas you might both enjoy?

Too much conflict and arguing and not able to talk together are both problems that are quite amenable to change.  Often couples therapy is focused on helping the couple learn new communication skills.  And communication is at the base of developing more realistic expectations and creating equality.

Some of these reasons seem like they may not be changeable – like “married too young”.  However, “married too young” is NOT a real reason for divorce, rather it is code for another kind of problem – lack of marital skills.  “Inadequate preparation”.  Because there is a specific skill set – couples can learn them and decrease the likelihood of divorce.

Three of the reasons clearly implicate the partner’s flaws: How my spouse handles money, Personal problems of my spouse and Not getting enough attention – but again are not the real problem.  If I do not like the way my spouse handles money – but we have methods to explore my concerns, then differences in money management may be a feature of our relationship, but not a reason for ending it.


The only item that appears on both lists – infidelity – is also amenable to change!  I have worked with many couples who decide to stay together after an affair.  When you see an affair as a symptom that needs are not being met, then you can start to build strategies to get both partners needs met.  Of course, an affair, or other sources of deep and ongoing conflict may be very painful.  Even if there is the desire to reconnect – it often takes much time, effort, and willingness to try on new attitudes and actions.   Often the work of reconnecting is best done with the assistance of an experienced couples counselor.  Look for an experienced pro-marriage counselor who has helped couples re grow their love and connection.   In most cases, it is possible to not only recommit, but live more happily as well.

This blog post has introduced these reasons for divorce – watch for future blogs that will detail ways to manage each of the  reasons in more detail.  In the mean time, if you need assistance now, please seek a competent couples counselor  and start work .  Remember, most marriages can be repaired!

Michael Winters is a Psychologist in Houston focusing on marriage counseling and therapy. Michael received his PhD from the University of Memphis and has been practicing since 1991.