Suspicious of getting trapped in a marriage that might erode, my friend and I used to joke that we could get our peers to leave a perfectly good relationship. In remaining single, we weren’t necessarily afraid of the infamous “Top Five Reasons” for divorce. It was more of a disinclination to trade freedom for emotional comfort, if that comfort came with a loss of agency and intrusion of the state by way of the church.
We were also in our free-range 20s, perhaps a little cocky about what we felt entitled to vs. what we could reasonably predict would be best for us down the road.
Thankfully, we never did convince anyone to leave a happy marriage but we did talk a friend through her separation, fearing the change of divorce, and eventually into a happy departure from a husband she felt devalued her.
Now, at 50, we’ve won some wisdom, self-knowledge and more importantly, some much-needed humility. With all that and the perspective of age, we wouldn’t recommend being that cavalier about leaving a good partnership with a good man – all joking aside. They’re precious, these unions, even with the inevitable dusting of routine, occasional boredom, little resentments, stress, change, family demands, compromises and the sheer effort that intimate partnerships require of us even when they are excellent.
If we can remain honest about addressing our own issues and not project our unhappiness about ourselves onto our mates, and remain hand-in-hand with a someone who loves, supports and understands us, a lot of us would recommend it. Someone who we fell in love with so much it was worth the gamble of believing we could still be happy with them decades later is someone worthy of cherishing even in the midst of day-to-day exhaustion and conflict. If you can breathe life into your own individuality and be yourself in your marriage and your mate can do that as well, keep each other.
In this instant gratification, single-use, image-driven epoch, withstanding years and decades together and reveling in how time marks our lovers’ faces, bodies and souls may be a critical balancing point in returning a measure of wholeness to the planet.
How Culture Affects Marriage
Women are worth being valued both in an older physicality and beyond the physical; men are worth being valued beyond the bread-winning. If you made that promise, said “I do,” and you can be in the marriage organically, authentically and still see a glimmer living flame in each other’s hearts, protect and keep that union and that person with everything you’ve got.
Marriage is not disposable. It’s not a meme. It’s not about the dress or the wedding pictures or what we can post on Facebook. A healthy marriage is a gift that is worth the tending; it can yield years of joy with committed teamwork. It’s the art of creating an emotional ecosystem; it takes time for all the elements to evolve together.
This being a divorce site, there is a lot of attention given to getting out of marriages but it’s always worth reminding ourselves of why staying in them is glorious magic if we can make it.
That said, we all know that not all marriages or partnerships are excellent or even good, fine or functional. Some husbands, wives and relationship dynamics reveal their toxicity after the exchange of rings and promises. Sometimes even when they are good, it’s still necessary to leave. And when it comes to the undeniable top reasons for divorce, it can feel acutely imperative to do so. Take your time. (Consider reading, “#36 Things to Do If You are Thinking About Divorce.”)
When we’ve reached that point, it’s critical to give ourselves the gifts of acceptance, gentleness and patience. It is normal to grieve, not only what was but what was once possible. It’s normal to be afraid, to talk ourselves out of it many times, to be angry, elated, rebellious and frequently, a thousand other emotions a minute. Each of us has our own process through this but that doesn’t mean we’re alone. We not only give each other permission to move through it in our own way, but offer each other a context for what can be a strange yet empowering journey.
Infidelity, money problems, communication break-down, lack of intimacy and addiction: these are the Big 5 top reasons for divorce, which are indicative of issues not always but often beyond repair.
Perhaps the most visceral and painful of the top reasons for divorce, infidelity is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of what would cause us to say unequivocally, “Absolutely not.” There’s a lot of it, too. Among Baby Boomers in the 57-75 age range, 25 percent of men and 10 percent of women have cheated. Just two generations later, among Millennials aged 25-40, females outnumber their male counterparts for infidelity with 11 percent of women cheating versus 10 percent of males.
And cheating packs a huge emotional punch. Money issues and communication break-downs are probably far more common, but sex with someone other than your wife or husband is a headliner because it hits our mates at such a vulnerable, primal level. Cheating takes all kinds of different forms, from a surprise encounter to long-term affairs (consider reading, “The Cheating Wife Phenomenon.”) but any of it cracks the foundation of trust between two partners and is difficult to forgive. It takes a lot of work and sincere re-commitment to do that, whether we stay with a cheating partner or not. Understandably, many choose not to. Even with that, it is not just possible to come back from it with the union intact, but with the right kind of professional help, the re-commitment in infidelity’s aftermath can make for an even stronger bond.
Lack of Intimacy:
Another face of a marriage’s sexual dynamic and one of the primary causes of infidelity, lack of intimacy is the emotional desert of the Top 5 reasons for divorce.
It’s starvation mode, denied fulfillment, a girdle and chastity belt on sexual expression and joy. There are so many different reasons for a lack of desire, from unexpressed trauma or hormonal imbalance, to changing attraction, insecurity, simple preference or physiological discomfort. Communication breakdowns between partners may create a lack of emotional intimacy that form the root of the physical intimacy issues.
It’s our right to say no, always, and yet, it is also everyone’s right to their sexuality, provided it is based on informed consent and a lack of harm to others. If denial of a partner is something that can’t be resolved, does it seem fair to expect that our partner live without fulfillment of this primal human experience for the duration of a marriage?
It may be that lack of intimacy and/or cheating provide an opportunity to get creative with the relationship dynamic. Sexual expression is a foundational part of being alive. If two people love each other and want to remain in an otherwise successful and happy marriage, perhaps bringing in outside, professional help to come up with an alternative to divorce is the answer.
Money issues are both the drudge and the task master of the Big 5 top reasons for divorce. They require all of the communication skills of sex or parenting and yet have few of the glimmering, laughing highlights. They’re draining, complicated and possibly generate more nagging, nitpicking resentment than any other issue. They are as fraught with the power dynamic as sex and communication and are tied most directly to simple survival.
So, if spouses can’t find common ground in their spending priorities, they create a great deal of conflict. And unless both spouses are earning a living and there’s an even spread of financial responsibility and say-so, there is a lot of room for a power deficit for the spouse who doesn’t have the clout of the dollar behind them.
When women are considering a divorce, it’s comforting to know that they shouldn’t expect themselves to understand all of the financial nuances. (Check out “Smart Moves for Women: A Financial Consultation for a Divorce.”) There are a lot of them and it often takes a specialist like a CDFA (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst) to pinpoint all the loopholes and leveraging points. Additionally, divorce coaches and other professionals spend a great deal of time and expertise directing women toward financial self-education and strategy.
If you are looking for clear steps to take and thoughtful advice on the divorce process if you are woman, read our “55 Must Do’s on Your Modern Divorce Checklist.”
Woven throughout the other top reasons for divorce is communication. It’s the common thread running through all human relationships and interactions. Without it, nothing else happens and nothing else is fixed.
The Gottman Institute calls criticism, contempt, stonewalling and defensiveness “the four horsemen of the apocalypse” for a marriage. When it comes to communication, there’s actually a whole herd of horses that can step on this subtle, essential and often complicated part of human interaction.
Know that you are in very good company if communication is a challenge for you and your spouse. Most people, most couples, have trouble with it in one way or another. And sometimes it is not possible to communicate effectively with someone, particularly if they refuse to take responsibility for themselves. Each of us impacts everyone else around us and no one is right all the time.
We shouldn’t continually stifle our own authentic selves to satisfy someone else’s needs or make them comfortable, but we do need to take an honest look at ourselves and change if necessary. Get a good therapist; having an objective third party play referee and help us identify patterns and underlying unconscious beliefs that impact how we speak to each other (or don’t) can be invaluable.
Learn more. Read “27 Cautionary Signs You May Be in a Toxic Marriage.”
As the most tragic of the Big 5 top reasons for divorce, addiction eventually poisons our relationship with ourselves and causes us to choose a substance, a thing, an attitude, a simple activity over our own self-worth or our loved ones. It begins with a single choice and turns it into a habit and eventually a compulsion so that despite its initial insignificance, it spreads like kudzu over the structure of marriage. A drink, a hand of cards, an unnecessary purchase, an addiction to the computer (or what you find on it), a religion or even a belief in one’s own rightness over another, it is something that may seem small at first, that begins as an isolated event, but eventually morphs from snowball to avalanche.
Addiction drains motivation, joy, vitality and monetary resources. It’s an agent of lies and mistrust. Like all the other major issues, it often requires outside help. All of us have an attachment or dependence on something, whether or not we realize it. Some addictions are more corrosive than others. It’s always possible to stop it; sometimes will power is enough, but more often than not, like the other big root causes of divorce, it takes outside intervention.
A marriage is worth fighting for but so are we. Sometimes it is not possible to stay with someone in order to love them or to love ourselves.
Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist and feature writer living on the West Coast. Connect with Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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