The Number One Reason For Divorce And How To Prevent It

By: Abigail Boyd

Updated July 30, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC

When you think of common reasons for divorce in America, what comes to mind? Infidelity? Money problems? Family conflicts? A loss of attraction from one or both partners?

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When it comes to the top reason for divorce, the answer may surprise you. While the dissolution of a marriage is usually a complicated situation, the top reason is related to most other problems that arise. If you're concerned about the state of your relationship, knowing the most common reasons for divorce can allow you to identify areas that you and your spouse may need to work on.

The Number One Reason For Divorce

According to recent research, ongoing communication difficulties are the number one reason couples divorce in the United States. According to one study, 67.5% of marriages that ended did so primarily due to communication problems. Communication is the foundation of a successful relationship. It allows for a strong bond that encourages the growth of your bond over time. If your communication is impaired, it can severely stunt that growth and cause unnecessary arguments, resentment, and hostility.

While the early days of a relationship can feel like magic, a mature relationship takes work once the butterflies disappear. This is especially true when you hit a rough patch. Instead of arguing and taking sides against each other, both of you need to view each other as partners instead of enemies.

Communication problems usually persist for a long time before the marriage ends. If you and your spouse are always arguing, even over small matters, or constantly disagreeing with one another, or have a tendency not to speak to each other at all out of fear of conflict, it's crucial to recognize the problem and proactively find better ways to communicate.

What Causes Communication Problems In A Relationship?

Research has supported the theory that each of us develops an attachment style shaped by our primary caregiver's raised us. The four types of attachment styles are secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. People with a secure style are more likely to communicate healthily with their spouses.

Those with an anxious-preoccupied style are hyperaware of signs of rejection and often need validation. An offhand comment may activate a person with anxious-preoccupied attachment to worry that the relationship is in jeopardy.

Those with dismissive-avoidant or fearful-avoidant attachment styles may be less comfortable talking about their feelings and may avoid conflict whenever possible. This often leads to the tendency to ignore their partner's complaints and bids for attention. This can become a vicious cycle that eventually tears the couple apart.

A lack of empathy causes many communication problems and not taking the time to listen to one another. This can be due to defensiveness or "mind-reading," where we interpret what another person is saying through the lens of our feelings and beliefs.


Communication Warning Signs

Usually, there are many warning signs before marriage falls apart. Reasons to get a divorce normally don't just pop up overnight. Unfortunately, you or your partner may not realize these ongoing problems unless you step back and evaluate your relationship and ways of communicating with each other. It can be uncomfortable to acknowledge marital difficulties, leading many couples to stay in denial. However, that only leads to deeper cracks in the marriage over time.

The first step is to be honest with each other and admit that there is a real problem. Read over this list of common communication problems and see if you recognize any at play in your relationship:

  • Blaming instead of working on a solution together.
  • Looking down on the other person.
  • Constantly criticizing the other person.
  • A lack of positive feedback, praise, or appreciation.
  • Refusing to discuss issues, "the silent treatment."
  • Mind-reading (assuming you know what your partner thinks without asking).

If you recognize these warning signs as being a part of your marriage, don't panic. Instead, start figuring out how to solve them. If you and your partner are dedicated to making the marriage work, it begins by improving your communication.

Preventing Communication Breakdown

Couples that regularly make time to talk to one another, not just about trivial matters but about their feelings, dreams, and hardships, are more likely to have a successful marriage. Those who let other matters get in the way will likely drift apart over time.

It's vital that you truly listen to your partner when they're speaking and focus on what they're saying, not on crafting your reply in your head. This may sound simple, but many people don't truly listen to one another. This can quickly lead to conflict when people feel misunderstood or unheard.

It's also crucial that there's a give-and-take in your communication. If one partner only talks about their struggles or achievements without expressing interest in what their partner is experiencing, that can make the other partner feel unimportant.

Establishing Effective Communication

While not every marriage can be saved, if both people truly love each other and are invested in making the relationship work, effective communication is key.

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What does it mean to communicate effectively? Effective communication involves:

  • You and your partner clearly stating your needs and concerns to one another without blame or excessive criticism.
  • You and your partner are making an effort to listen and understand one other's perspectives truly. Giving them your complete attention.
  • Using "I" statements instead of "you" statements. ("I feel upset when you come home from work late without letting me know ahead of time.")
  • Keeping the focus on the issue at hand without bringing up past mistakes or conflicts.
  • Giving more positive feedback on what you like about your partner and less negative statements.

Many people were never taught how to identify their needs, let alone how to communicate them. Fortunately, these are skills that can be learned no matter your age. A therapist can guide you through identifying, naming, and communicating your feelings and needs, as well as understanding your partner's.

Other Common Reasons For Divorce

In addition to communication problems, other serious issues can sabotage marriage and lead to divorce. These reasons to divorce frequently make "top 10 reasons for divorce" lists.

Infidelity is a top cause, playing a role in up to 30% of divorces. Cheating destroys the trust and security of a relationship. Once shattered, that trust is difficult to rebuild. The partner cheated on may struggle with self-esteem issues and a feeling of not being good enough. However, cheating is never the fault of the person who was cheated on+ and is usually reflective of deeper problems.

Financial struggles also top the list of reasons for divorce. Money squabbles, whether caused by a loss of employment, unchecked spending, or difficulty paying off debt, can lead to chronic stress between a couple. That is especially true if there is an imbalance of income between two partners.

A lack of intimacy can also contribute to an unhappy marriage and may lead to divorce if it continues for an extended period. A loss of interest in sex from either partner can put a wedge between them. The problem seems to be most prominent when one partner has sexual needs that are not getting met, despite them trying to communicate their spouse's needs.

Intimacy isn't just about sex but also about physical closeness, such as hugs and holding hands. Everyone needs a different level of intimacy, which can ebb and flow due to various factors. However, a couple needs to work to ensure they meet each other's needs for intimacy for the relationship to thrive.

The Role Of Couples Therapy

Even if they care a great deal about one another, some couples find it difficult to establish strong communication. You may naturally communicate in a different way than your partner. At times it can feel like you're speaking different languages. This can be frustrating and chip away at the relationship. There can also be underlying problems that complicate the relationship and add an extra layer of animosity.

Patterns of communication can be deeply rooted and take time, patience, and effort to shift. A therapist can play a nonjudgmental third party, allowing a more realistic and fair perspective on the situation. Divorce reasons usually start subtlety, and the sooner you and your spouse confront the problem together, the more likely you'll be able to preserve the marriage. A therapist can guide you through the sometimes rough areas of this journey.

Therapy can be very beneficial for couples looking to improve their communication and strengthen their relationship. Your therapist will teach you and your partner methods of better communicating and listening to one another. Since the therapist plays a neutral role, they can help diffuse underlying resentments and emotional tension that can stand in the way of true connection.

It can sometimes be hard to fit couples therapy into our busy schedules. offers online couples counseling from qualified, experienced therapists that can help get your marriage back on the right track. Click here to get started today.

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