The Number One Cause Of Divorce In The U.S. - Legal Dissolution Statistics

Updated May 2, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Although the divorce rate in the United States is declining, many couples still decide to split for a variety of reasons. Every relationship is different, and what feels like too much to handle for one couple may be just a bump in the road for another. The type of problems couples face may not matter quite as much as how they work through them together. A couple’s communication skills, trust levels, and ability to listen can all play a role in deciding whether a couple calls it quits or decides to stick together to make the marriage work. If you’re wondering what the number one cause of divorce is in the United States, keep reading to find out. You may be able to apply this information to your own life and use it to your advantage to build a healthy, long-lasting relationship.

Getty/AnnaStills
Need a place to talk about divorce - or something else

What is the leading cause for divorce in the United States?

Couples cite several different reasons as their cause of divorce. A lack of commitment is the number one reason for divorce, followed by extramarital affairs, too much conflict, and getting married too young. Here are the top ten reasons for divorce in the U.S. as of 2014, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information:

  1. Lack Of Commitment - 75.0%
  2. Extramarital Affairs - 59.6%
  3. Too Much Conflict - 57.7 %
  4. Getting Married Too Young - 45.1%
  5. Financial Problems - 36.7%
  6. Substance Use - 34.6%
  7. Domestic Violence - 23.5%
  8. Health Problems - 18.2%
  9. Lack Of Support From Family - 17.3%
  10. Religious Differences - 13.3%

Legal dissolution statistics in the U.S.

According to national statistics, U.S. divorce rates have climbed steadily over the last 150 years, although certain factors have disrupted that steady climb. Due to the Great Depression in the 1930s, many couples chose to stay together because they couldn't afford the cost and substantial life changes that would occur after a divorce. It wasn't until the unemployment rate decreased that the upward divorce trend continued. 

After World War II, there was a distinctive spike in the rate of divorce; in 1944, the divorce rate was 29%. In 1945, it rose to 35%, and in 1946 it increased another 8 percentage points to 43%. A few factors played into this increase, including the stress of deployment, which strained some marriages to their breaking point. Wives left husbands for new partners while their spouse was fighting overseas, and husbands left wives for the English or German mates they met while on deployment. Additionally, women who worked during the war to support the war effort found freedom in working and didn't want to give that up.

The next big jump in the rate of divorce was in the 1970s. In 1970, the divorce rate was 35%, while only nine years later, it jumped to 53%. Changes to divorce laws, including having the option of no-fault divorce and the ability to cite irreconcilable differences as the reason for the divorce, made obtaining a divorce much easier, thereby contributing to the increase.

The U.S. divorce rate slowly began falling in the early 1990s and has since continued an overall downward trend. In fact, Americans today in their late 20s have a less than 50% chance of getting divorced, and their chances of staying married have increased. The falling divorce rate may have a lot to do with millennials' attitudes toward marriage. Unlike baby boomers who marry young regardless of their circumstances, millennials choose to marry once they have completed their education, established their careers, and have sound finances.

Getty

What is commitment?

Commitment is defined as an intention to maintain a relationship over time. The initial commitment is when a couple decides to get married, and they offer each other their initial promise to the relationship through their vows. Next, they keep this commitment by staying true to the words promised on the wedding day. Over time, a couple that is dedicated to one another upholds their vows despite the ups and downs. This keeps them faithful to their marriage and strengthens it, too. 

When a couple starts experiencing financial problems, jealousy, adjustments because of having children, or intimacy problems, their commitment to each other may be affected. If they have assumptions about marriage, such as believing that it should be easy, this could also cause them to neglect to uphold their vows when times get tough. Shifts in the level of commitment within a marriage can have disheartening outcomes, including divorce. Even the healthiest, happiest marriages take effort, and it can be important for anyone married or considering getting married to be aware of this. 

How does a lack of commitment affect a marriage?

Since lack of commitment is the number one reason for divorce, it can clearly be a crucial aspect of any relationship. One way in which a lack of commitment may develop is when couples begin to take one another (or the marriage) for granted. The idea that one’s spouse is the most special person in the world may no longer be nurtured. When one or both spouses are no longer receiving the care, attention, and love they once did, it could make it more difficult to maintain one’s commitment to the marriage. When someone starts feeling neglected, unhappy, or uncared for, they may start to question the marriage altogether. These feelings can have a negative impact on the relationship. Without working on it and fixing the issues at hand, couples may find themselves headed toward divorce. 

A lack of commitment in marriage may also lead to infidelity, which is the second most common cause of divorce in the U.S. A person who doesn't feel responsible for committing to their vows could be susceptible to different types of temptations, including cheating on their spouse. Although there isn’t an excuse for infidelity, it can be a common problem that people who are married face.  

If your marriage is already at a fracturing point and you aren't committed to saving your marriage, you may not make the necessary time and effort to draw you and your spouse closer. In addition, you might not be as willing to seek help to fix any problems your marriage may be experiencing. Without commitment, you may disregard your spouse's needs, your responsibilities, and the quantity and quality of time required to repair and restore the relationship. On the other hand, spouses who maintain a commitment to each other ensure they work through whatever comes their way together.  

Ways to strengthen commitment

If you’re looking for ways to make your marriage stronger, consider the tips listed below. They may help strengthen the commitment you and your spouse have to make the relationship work. 

  1. Work as a team: Instead of viewing each other as enemies, imagine that you’re a team trying to accomplish the same goals. Work together to fix issues in your marriage instead of trying to tackle them individually. 

  2. Communicate: Healthy communication involves being open and honest even when it may be uncomfortable. Talking to your spouse about the problems in your marriage can help the two of you come up with solutions together. It can also build a foundation of trust in your marriage. 

  3. Hold each other accountable: If you have set goals for your marriage with your spouse, it can be important to hold each other accountable to them. Without being critical, try to remind your spouse when they aren’t upholding their end of the agreement and allow them to do the same. Be sure to notice and encourage them when they do get things right. 

These tips on strengthening commitment may help you to improve your relationship with your spouse and preserve your marriage. However, not all marriages can be saved and sometimes divorce may be desired or inevitable. In these cases, you might consider reaching out to a divorce lawyer or divorce financial advisor to get the best outcome from the divorce. You can also seek the support of a therapist or other mental health professional to help you through the emotional difficulties of divorce.

Getty/Halfpoint Images
Need a place to talk about divorce - or something else

Online counseling with Regain

If you're struggling with a lack of commitment in your marriage or another marital problem, seeking help from a mental health professional could be beneficial for the long-term health of your marriage. Divorced couples may also benefit from therapy to help resolve conflicts such as those involving coparenting. Regain is an online counseling platform that provides services to individuals and couples. A therapist can guide you and your spouse toward more effective communication, greater intimacy, or other goals that you have in mind. Online counseling allows you to speak with a therapist 24/7, seven days a week. With chat, phone, and video options, you can connect with a therapist in a way that is most convenient for you and your partner. 

The effectiveness of online counseling 

Since divorce is correlated with negative mental health outcomes, online counseling could be helpful for those who have separated from their spouse. In a year-long study, researchers found that an online counseling intervention reduced participants’ symptoms of anxiety, depression, and somatization. The results of these three outcomes were found to be large in effect size. In a 1-year follow-up, researchers also discovered that the symptom levels of all 3 outcomes were close to population norms for those in the intervention group. These findings indicate that online counseling could be efficacious in “reducing adverse mental health-related effects of divorce and thereby offer long-term human and public health benefits.”

Takeaway

The reasons for divorce can vary widely. Still, being aware of some of the common causes of separation may be helpful for those trying to preserve their union. Conflict in marriage is normal, but it can be important to know how to resolve it. If you’re struggling with marital problems and don’t know how to get past them as a couple, online counseling could be helpful. You can connect with a marriage counselor through Regain and learn how to build a stronger, healthier foundation for your relationship. 

For Additional Help & Support With Your ConcernsThis website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.