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What Causes Divorce? Top 10 Reasons Why Couples Split

Katherine Cullen - Writer for Top10
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Couple on a couch considering a divorce after an argument.
Marriage has its share of sunny days and stormy weather. But what happens when you reach an impasse and are unable to navigate through the challenges?

In my experience as a therapist, I've had a front-row seat to all the intricacies of marriage. And I've seen that even though some couples give it their all by going to therapy sessions and trying different techniques, many marriages still end in divorce.

Each couple I've counseled brought in a world of love, hopes, and dreams, yet many found themselves navigating the rough waters of separation. So, I've identified 10 recurring reasons that often tip the scales and how to overcome them.

» Watch out for these relationship red flags before it's too late.

1. Contempt

In "What Predicts Divorce?", Dr. John Mordechai Gottman, an expert in marital stability, identifies contempt as one of the largest predictors of divorce.

Contempt refers to a disrespectful and degrading form of communication, often stemming from long-simmering resentment and negative thoughts about one's partner. It breaks down the trust and bond that holds couples together, but you can turn it around.

In my experience, two things make a real difference. First up, focus on the good stuff. Regularly spotting and calling out the positive in your partner can counteract the negativity contempt brings. Next, work on how you talk to each other. Air your grievances and concerns in a respectful and constructive way.

2. Poor Communication

Poor communication erodes the mutual trust, respect, and admiration that enables couples to feel happy, healthy, and safe enough to be vulnerable with one another. It can lead to resentment, feeling unheard, intense dissatisfaction, and even physical implications.

Fortunately, you can set things right with a few simple tweaks. The first is active listening. This involves really tuning in when your partner is talking. Next, take a time-out when emotions run high. A step back can prevent you from saying something you may regret later.

You could also try other self-directed efforts or even couples therapy to communicate more openly and respectfully.

3. Infidelity

Cheating within the marriage, especially when repeated, can lead to an irreparable breach of trust. The cheated-on partner may feel unable to heal from the wound of betrayal, and the cheating partner may feel so ashamed of their actions that they can't return to the relationship.

Infidelity should be seen as a wake-up call for both partners that something needs healing or addressing. In these cases, you should openly discuss the situation to find a way to forgive one another and commit to a new vision of your relationship.

4. Financial Stress

Financial stress often leads to heightened conflicts and disagreements, particularly when couples are at odds over allocating their limited income and resources.

It can also reduce a couple's overall quality of life and sap them of the motivation and energy to engage in relationship-building activities—including physical and emotional intimacy. This can heighten the tense atmosphere of a marriage and may give rise to spouses displacing their stress over money onto one another.

I find it helps to create a shared financial plan. Sit down together, lay all the cards on the table, and map out a budget that works for both of you. It's not just about the dollars and cents but building a team mentality.

5. Lack of Intimacy and Emotional Connection

Without physical intimacy and emotional connection, marital satisfaction takes a huge hit, and this can pave the road to divorce for many couples if left unaddressed. So, how do you bridge the gap?

First, schedule it. It sounds unromantic, but setting aside regular time for each other can reignite that spark. Make it a ritual, whether it's sex or a weekly date night. Second, explore each other's love languages. Discovering how your partner feels loved and showing love in that way can rekindle both emotional and physical closeness.

» Learn how divorce counseling can help your children.

6. Conflicting Priorities and Goals

I've worked with plenty of couples where it felt like each partner was going in the opposite direction. Different priorities and life goals can stir up conflict, leading to disagreements and arguments. This, in turn, can cause a deeper feeling of separation and an inability to relate to one another.

While they may evolve—especially with age and life transitions—it's important to maintain an open line of communication about your priorities and goals. Find a way to remain committed to pursuing what matters most to you in a mutually supportive way.

7. Lack of Commitment

When one or both spouses start to pull away, it can erode the foundation of a marriage and manifest in various ways, such as increased conflict and zero effort to resolve issues. This can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction, ultimately jeopardizing the longevity and happiness of a relationship.

To overcome this lack of commitment, focus on teaming up. I've seen a regular "us time" do wonders. Whether it's a coffee date or a walk, those moments of connection can turn things around.

8. Religious Differences

Religious differences can lead to moral conflicts within a marriage, especially when raising children. One spouse may hold strong beliefs and want to bring up the children in that faith, while the other spouse may have a more secular perspective and prefer to expose the children to a broader range of ideas and perspectives.

This can create tension and disagreements as both spouses may feel strongly about their values and want to pass them on to their children. This can be tricky to navigate, but it may help to look for a middle ground. Finding shared values that exist between both belief systems can act as a bridge and reduce the divide.

9. Frequent Conflict and Arguing

Frequent and recurring conflicts within a relationship can place tremendous strain on a marriage. A pattern of contention can gradually erode the foundation of trust and respect on which healthy marriages thrive.

Again, communication is key here. Try to take those heated moments and turn down the temperature, focusing on understanding rather than winning the argument. Take a time out if you need to, and revisit the conversation once you're ready.

10. Domestic Violence

The trauma inflicted by abuse, whether it's manifested physically or through emotional manipulation, not only violates the sanctity of the marriage but also poses a clear and compelling reason for divorce. In such circumstances, ending the marriage may be the most sensible and, in many cases, the only viable option.

It's essential to recognize the gravity of these situations and prioritize your well-being and safety. If you're a victim of domestic abuse, reach out to a loved one or contact an organization like the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The Path to a Healthier, Enduring Relationship

Through my experience, I've learned that it's not about avoiding bumps in the road but learning how to navigate them. And while no marriage is immune to challenges, open communication, mutual respect, and a commitment to working through issues will get you started on the right foot.

Couples therapy and counseling can also help facilitate this process by providing a safe and neutral space for you to express your concerns and work towards a healthier relationship.

» Looking for professional help? Reach out to a therapist on Thriveworks or Talkspace.

Katherine Cullen - Writer for Top10
Katherine Cullen is a psychotherapist in New York City and co-author of The Truth About Exercise Addiction: Understanding the Dark Side of Thinspiration. Her work has been published by numerous outlets, including Psychology Today, Cosmopolitan, and Self.

The author of this article has been paid by Natural Intelligence to write this article. Neither the author nor Natural Intelligence provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or your local emergency number immediately.