- Numerous scientific papers explore the reasons people say they got divorced.
- We took a look at some of those papers and pulled out recurring themes.
- Seven common reasons are listed below. They include infidelity, growing apart, and getting married too young.
When it comes to studying divorce, social scientists have two options. They can observe different couples and try to figure out on their own what predicts the end of a marriage, or they can simply ask people why their marriage ended.
A growing body of scientific research falls into that second category. Researchers either ask participants to choose from a list of potential reasons for divorce, or they ask participants to answer an open-ended question about why they divorced. A recent blog post on Psychology Today, by the psychologist Scott M. Stanley, for example, highlights several papers on people’s reasons for divorce.
We took a look at some of that research and pulled out seven common reasons participants gave to explain their divorce. Those reasons are listed below in random order.
Infidelity is a common explanation for divorce.
In one small study, published 2013 in the journal Couple and Family Psychology, one participant described the infidelity that led to the divorce this way:
“He cheated on me … Then I met somebody else and did the same thing … And when he found out about it we both essentially agreed that it wasn’t worth trying to make it work anymore because it just hurt too bad.”
Still, it’s worth noting that infidelity doesn’t always have to doom a relationship. The couples therapist Esther Perel previously told Business Insider that the discovery of an affair – while potentially devastating – can sometimes allow a couple to reestablish the kind of intimacy and honesty that they hadn’t had in years.
Drinking and/or drug use is a commonly cited marital problem.
One participant in the 2013 study told the researchers: “I said ‘absolutely no more bars’ and as soon as I found out he was back in them, I asked for [a divorce].”
That same study found substance abuse was also a relatively common “final straw” in the decision to end a marriage.
Lack of commitment
This turns up as a reason for divorce in at least two studies, each of which asked people to choose from a list of potential factors.
In the 2013 study, one participant said:
“It became insurmountable. It got to a point where it seemed like he was no longer really willing to work [on the relationship]. All of the stresses together and then what seemed to be to be an unwillingness to work through it any longer was the last straw for me.”
Too much conflict and arguing
“We’d have an argument over something really simple and it would turn into just huge, huge fights,” one person wrote in the 2013 study, adding: “And so our arguments never got better they only ever got worse.”
There’s no guarantee that any conflict-management strategy can prevent divorce. But for couples who feel as if they’re always having the same fight, Perel recommends simply listening and displaying empathy. Instead of always cutting your partner off so you can share your side of the story, try hearing the person out and reflecting back what he or she has told you.
In a 2003 study, published in the Journal of Family Issues, participants responded to an open-ended question about why they divorced. About 8% of people said they grew apart from their spouse, making it the fourth most common reason in that study.
Growing apart was also the top reason cited in a 2012 study, published in the Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, in which participants chose from a list of potential reasons for divorce. Participants could select more than one reason; more than half said they grew apart.
The psychologist Eli Finkel previously told Business Insider that couples do sometimes grow apart – that’s a risk you take when you tie the knot.
Finkel said couples getting married were essentially saying: “We’re going to make this promise that says, regardless of all those sorts of changes and even when all those sorts of changes might lead us in a different direction, we are going to work super hard to try to make sure this marriage works.”
Financial problems are another common reason for divorce. One person in the 2013 study said: “I had a severe illness for almost a year and I was the only employed person [before that] so obviously money ran very short.”
Interestingly, couples therapists say money is one of the main reasons people seek marriage counseling. (Problems with parenting and physical intimacy are two others.)
That’s why Business Insider’s Lauren Lyons Cole, a certified financial planner, recommends that couples know everything about each other’s money before they get married – from their student-loan debt to their spending habits.
Getting married too young
Marrying too soon turned up as an important reason for divorce in some of the studies in which participants chose from a list of potential reasons.
One participant in the 2013 study said, “The main reason [we divorced] was because of our age. I think that being 19 at the time we got married, it just didn’t take. I think that we didn’t take anything as seriously as we should have.”
Interestingly, research suggests that couples who marry in their teens and couples who marry in their mid-30s or later are at greater risk for divorce than couples in their late 20s and early 30s. The risk is especially high for teenage couples.
As Nicholas Wolfinger, a professor at the University of Utah, wrote on the conservative-leaning Institute for Family Studies blog, the late 20s appears to be the best time to get married.
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