Hundreds of thousands of divorces happen in the U.S. annually, but no two are exactly alike. They’re as unique as each marriage and each couple—and so are the details behind the split.
Still, in a lonely, painful, uncertain time, it can help to know that others have been where you are; that there are common reasons—types of problems or red flags in a relationship—that prompt many people to consider and go through with a divorce.
Here are seven primary reasons people decide to end their marriage:
Lack of communication
The collapse of many marriages can be attributed, at the root, to a communication breakdown. Good communication—the ability to have a productive conversation about important matters—is the bedrock of a successful partnership. Poor communication can show up in any aspect of a marriage and affect everything—money issues, sex life, family planning, child-rearing, housework, career decisions, and more. Sadly, lack of communication can also lead to other marriage-undermining problems and behaviors—for example, a partner turning to someone outside the marriage with whom they feel more connected and closer, leading to infidelity, whether emotional or physical.
One wrong decision doesn’t always mean the end of a marriage. As hurtful as cheating is—and very damaging—many couples survive it if they decide to put in the time for healing and the hard work of rebuilding trust. However, a pattern of unfaithfulness usually points to a lack of the commitment necessary to sustain a marriage, and it can become a form of emotional abuse. It can even endanger the loyal partner’s health. Repeated affairs are often a sign that it is time to part ways.
Financial hardship can be tough on a marriage, and sometimes the crisis is too much. But any couple can run into money troubles at times. It’s also common to navigate somewhat different attitudes and money-related habits. Finding a compromise is possible if you work together and seek counseling or help with money management. But there are also actual red flags: if it’s clear that you can’t trust your spouse with money, or you have fundamentally different philosophies related to finances, or if one partner is overly controlling in money matters, it can spell real trouble for a partnership.
Despite the promise of “in sickness and in health,” addiction—whether to drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, etc.—is a disease that can be devastating to a marriage. With proper treatment, hard work, and commitment to healing, there is the hope of overcoming addiction. If you’re living with someone who refuses to seek help, won’t make a meaningful effort to engage in recovery, or has repeatedly relapsed, it might be time to move on.
Prioritize your safety, health, and well-being above all. If you or your children are in danger, you must get out. Abuse takes many forms—physical violence, emotional harm, sexual misconduct—and it can leave you feeling powerless. Make a safe plan to leave. Seek support. Help is available through local organizations or the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233. Also, be aware of early signs of potential abusive patterns in your relationship, such as controlling, manipulative behavior, or a lack of respect for boundaries.
Lack of intimacy
There’s no perfect formula that works for every couple. Sex lives vary greatly, as do other ways of showing affection and nurturing your love. What do you need in a relationship to feel close, loved, seen, and understood? Some couples call it quits because they can’t fulfill each other’s intimacy needs. If even after therapy, you consistently feel unfulfilled and lonely in your marriage, it might be time to part ways.
It’s just over
Sometimes there’s no real marriage anymore, no partnership. You’ve been trying for years, and nothing has helped, not even counseling. You don’t want to work at it anymore—or your spouse is unwilling. You feel alone in your relationship. The stress is making you ill. You can no longer envision a future together, or the thought of it makes you anxious or depressed. You or your partner is no longer invested in the marriage. The prospect of divorce makes you feel better, less confined, happier, and at peace. Sometimes you know in your gut that you’re done and have to move forward with divorce. California is a no-fault divorce state, which means you don’t need to prove a reason or any wrongdoing; if one or both of you believe your marriage is beyond saving and want out, you can get divorced.
You want to know that you’ve tried your best to make your marriage work. Only you can determine when it’s time to let go. Remember that it’s normal for couples to experience conflict at times and to go through rough patches—don’t bail at the first sign that things aren’t perfect. Lean on loved ones, but know that well-meaning family and friends may sometimes offer unhelpful advice. If you’re feeling lost and confused, speak with a therapist.
When you’ve made the difficult decision to end your marriage, the caring and experienced family law attorneys at SFLG can talk to you about the dissolution process and guide you through the following steps toward reaching the best possible outcome.
By Debra Schoenberg