For all the statistical data that makes it seem textbook and predictable, divorce really is an organic reflection of many factors. Everything that influences social norms, economy, and current events, for example, ultimately influences marriage and divorce. That means both the rate and top reasons for divorce have contextual relevance.
Add in individual factors like age, gender, education, and socioeconomic status, and both marriage and divorce become dream topics for statisticians and psychologists alike.
Even social stigma sticks its nose into a very personal matter and influences things like the decision and timing of divorce. It can even influence the top reasons for divorce and how parting spouses heal and move on into other relationships.
How Age Affects Reasons for Divorce
It’s worth noting that millennials are both trend-breakers and trend-makers when it comes to marriage and divorce. Thanks in large part to this age group, both marriage and divorce rates are on the decline.
Millennials are waiting a lot longer to get married, and they’re staying married longer.
Move up the age ladder to couples over 50, and the rate of divorce is twice that of couples in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. And many of their top reasons for divorce are unique to the circumstances of this life-transitioning age group.
Just when you think a couple is in the home stretch of their lifetime vows, factors like an empty nest, retirement, and emerging health issues take their toll.
If you’re so absorbed in the needs and wants of children and bosses that your marriage takes a back seat, retirement can be a daunting new reality.
(For more info about divorce for this special age group, read about gray divorce here.)
Spoiler alert: Every successive marriage after the first has a significantly higher risk of divorce.
What Vague Reasons for Divorce Might Actually Mean
When reading about the top reasons for divorce, a few things are worth keeping in mind.
Commonly listed reasons for divorce have a certain amount of interpretation embedded in them.
“Irreconcilable differences,” “lack of commitment,” “one partner not carrying his/her weight”—these are all pretty blanketing reasons (especially the first two).
Also, not every survey uses the same terminology.
Finally, especially in a no-fault or uncontested divorce, some couples may amicably sweep their issues under a closing statement of “irreconcilable differences.” “Drifting apart,” “incompatibility,” “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”—there are various ways to not zero in on a specific fault.
The top reasons for divorce probably won’t surprise you. Here are 6 of the biggies:
- financial problems
- chronic arguing/fighting
- lack of intimacy
- physical and/or emotional abuse
- addiction or substance abuse
The top reasons for divorce become more interesting and relevant when considered in the context of gender, for example.
When you consider that women initiate divorce 69% of the time compared to men, surely you’ll be curious as to why. (You may actually not be surprised at all.)
Remember what we said about divorce being contextually relevant? Well, this is a perfect example of why.
Gender Roles in Marriage and Divorce
There was a time when women weren’t even “women” when they married. They were “girls” or, at best, just-out-of-high school teens. They went from their families of origin to creating families of their own.
And they donned their aprons, stayed home with the children, and had dinner on the table when their husbands came home.
Not all, of course. But women-in-the-workforce wasn’t always the norm.
Women-in-higher-education wasn’t always the norm, either.
But what happens when women get educated and earn their own money? They start expecting more for their lives and knowing they can have it, with or without a husband.
So, when it comes to initiating the divorce, women are often far down the road with their discontent compared to men. Their idea of “intolerable” often registers to their husbands as “What do you mean, you’re not happy?”
Women expect emotional connection, not just financial provision for a home and family. They have individual ambitions in addition to their family ambitions.
So it makes sense that women’s top reasons for divorce include:
- lack of love, affection, and emotional availability
- immaturity/marrying too young
- different sexual needs
- control issues
- lack of communication
- emotional and/or physical abuse
- substance abuse
Men’s needs and top reasons for divorce aren’t completely different, but their priority and “weight” are unique.
- not feeling appreciated or respected
- financial disagreements and differences in spending
- different sexual needs
- no shared interests
- feeling inadequate
Some issues have obvious overlap.
Infidelity, for example, is a tough issue for couples to overcome. (And yet, more than half survive it.)
But, in the same way that a heart attack is usually the culmination of several risk factors, infidelity rarely happens in a vacuum. There are other issues — many listed above—that motivate (but never justify) the straying. Check out our surprising article on the Cheating Wife Phenomenon.
Notice that feeling appreciated and respected is a top priority for men, while love and emotional connection are priorities for women.
For an interesting perspective on a very generalized theory about love, respect, and genders, read here.
Inequality in Marriage
Men also rank financial and spending differences as a major reason for divorce, especially if they are the primary breadwinners.
Today’s woman is far less willing to accept inequality between partners. On the contrary, she has very evolved ideas and high expectations of equality.
Unfortunately, men, in general, haven’t caught up to what that looks like, especially in terms of their responsibilities at home. Women are still assuming the majority of childrearing and housekeeping responsibilities, and they are quick to recognize the disparity.
Finally, differences in sexual needs are a top reason for divorce for both men and women. If couples don’t constantly work to communicate their needs and create a mutually satisfying approach to sex, the result can be erosive. Physical intimacy, after all, is what distinguishes marriage from a platonic relationship.
The top reasons for divorce in the USA reflect a host of variables. Some are unique to the individuals and couples themselves. And some are influenced by societal trends and shifting priorities and accepted ways of life.
What matters, in the long run, is that, if divorce is the only viable and just solution to your differences, you embark on the journey with eyes wide open.
SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to rebuilding their lives on their own, healthiest terms.
If you are thinking about … dealing with … or recreating after divorce, you have specific needs you must attend to in order to advance your recovery. We invite you to learn more about supporting yourself and schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS for Women. Whether or not you work further with us, we’ll help you understand your next, black-and-white steps for walking into your brave unknown—with compassion and integrity.