As anyone who’s ever been married knows, relationships take a lot of hard work. Despite everyone’s best efforts and intentions going in, even the strongest relationships can veer into dangerous territory over time. In fact, 40 percent of first marriages end in a divorce lawyer’s office within 15 years—and that rate only rises for subsequent marriages.
To understand this better, Forbes Advisor commissioned a recent survey of 1,000 divorced participants to find out what causes the most marital strife. Read on to learn the top 10 reasons couples get divorced, and to hear expert analysis of each from mental health professionals.
1. Opposing values or morals
No marriage is without conflict, but if you and your partner have a strong sense of shared values or morals, these can help serve as the bedrock for healthy conflict resolution. By being on the same page about the things that matter to you most, you can build on that common ground and create a steadier foundation for your marriage.
Meredith Silversmith, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the co-founder and director of Nassau Wellness Marriage and Family Therapy, says that couples may find themselves in a “deal-breaker scenario” when they fail to see eye-to-eye on one or many significant issues. By striving to find compromise—even about the things you care most deeply about—you may be able to help avert a marital crisis.
9. Getting married too young
Ten percent of couples surveyed said they felt that getting married too young contributed to their divorce.
“Getting married too young can result in a divorce if the couple doesn’t have enough time to get to know one another before jumping into marriage or realizing that their ideas of life and partnership are incompatible,” explains Gary Tucker, a licensed psychotherapist with D’Amore Mental Health.
Sometimes, people who marry young are still getting to know themselves. “Marrying at a young age may mean the individuals have not fully matured or discovered their identity, leading to changes that cause incompatibility over time,” says Steve Carleton, LCSW, CACIII, a clinical social worker and the executive clinical director at Gallus Detox.
However, far fewer couples are marrying young these days, compared with generations past. In 2021, the national median age of first marriage was 29.2 years old, representing a 32 percent increase in age since 1973, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
8. Parenting differences
Most parents care deeply about their children, which is why differences in parenting styles can cause such a difficult rift to repair. Twenty percent of couples surveyed said that friction over parenting styles paved the way for their divorce.
“Differing parenting styles can cause tension and disagreements,” says Bayu Prihandito, a life coach and the founder of Life Architekture. He suggests looking for parenting classes that can help you find common ground between your parenting approaches, and practicing open dialogue to help align both your parenting philosophies.
7. Lack of commitment
Being uncommitted to your relationship or ambivalent about its future can cause a range of problems for married couples. In fact, twenty-three percent of the couples surveyed said that a lack of commitment was a core cause of their divorce.
“Lack of commitment can manifest as emotional distance or avoiding responsibilities,” explains Lindsey Ferris, MS, LMFTA, a therapist and group practice owner of Talk Heal Thrive. “Couples need to reaffirm their commitment to the relationship and set mutual goals. Open communication about fears and concerns can help partners address any doubts or uncertainties.”
6. Financial stress
Finances can weigh heavily on a couple—especially when there are major differences in spending habits and financial goals, says Ferris. Twenty-four percent of couples said their money woes factored into their decision to divorce.
“Couples should create a budget, set financial goals together, and communicate openly about money matters. Seeking financial counseling or advice from a professional can also provide clarity and direction,” Ferris notes.
5. Too much conflict
Thirty-one percent of the divorced couples reported via the survey that their relationship was rife with conflict. While disagreements are normal and healthy in a marriage, an atmosphere of constant arguing and antagonism is sure to damage the fibers of your union.
“Too much conflict can wear down even the most resilient individuals, infusing the relationship with negativity,” says Carleton.
4. Lack of intimacy
Physical closeness and emotional intimacy help set romantic relationships apart from the others in your life. Thirty-one percent of couples surveyed said that a lack of intimacy caused their marriage to crumble.
“Lack of intimacy can lead to the deterioration of a relationship and ultimately to divorce,” says Connor Moss, LMFT, a therapist with Pacific Psychotherapy. “Intimacy encompasses not just sexual closeness but also emotional connection, trust, mutual respect, and deep understanding.”
Moss says that when an intimate connection is absent, both partners can begin to feel isolated and distant from one another. Ultimately, one or both partners tend to feel like distant friends instead of lovers.
“To address this issue, effective communication is essential. Communicating clearly and effectively about your needs, desires, emotions, and inner thoughts builds a bridge of connection and intimacy between partners,” he says.
3. Lack of compatibility
Divorces caused by a lack of compatibility are often considered “no-fault divorces”—a label that applied to 31 percent of the divorced couples surveyed. According to Silversmith, this most often occurs when basic values, life goals, or non-negotiable needs are not aligned in the relationship.
“At a certain point, these become a roadblock, and if the partners aren’t able to compromise, it becomes a deal-breaker that can lead to divorce. For example, you can’t compromise and have half a child,” she notes.
Faithfulness is a core tenet of most marriages, which is why infidelity is such a common reason for divorce. Thirty-four percent of the survey respondents said that an affair played a role in their divorce.
“Infidelity compromises the foundation of the marriage. It can shatter the emotional connection between partners and damage trust,” says Najamah Davis, MSW, LCSW, a New Jersey-based therapist and counselor. “The wounded spouse may struggle with feelings of betrayal, resentment, and insecurity, making it challenging to repair the relationship.”
However, Davis suggests that for some couples, there may be a path toward healing and forgiveness. “It does not mean forgetting the infidelity occurred, but rather freeing yourself from the burden of anger and resentment that can negatively impact your overall well-being,” she explains. “Another way to work through this issue is to ask for help from a therapist: Investing in therapy can provide a safe space for emotional healing and support with managing complex feelings and emotions.”
1. Lack of family support
Finally, the most common reason people end their unions may come as a surprise, since it lacks much of the drama associated with other causes for divorce. Forty-three percent of couples reported that a lack of family support contributed to their decision to call it quits.
“When a couple doesn’t receive the necessary support from their families, it creates a sense of isolation,” explains Laura Wasser, a family law expert and chief of divorce evolution at Divorce.com. “This lack of a support system strains the relationship, making it difficult for the couple to weather challenges together.”
By building up your ties to family and your other support networks, you may be able to strengthen your bond with your partner as well. In cases of outright disapproval of your marriage, speaking with a therapist may help you begin to repair some of the damage done.