While the divorce rate in the United States has been dropping in recent years–studies show that the U.S. divorce rate went down by 18 percent between 2008 and 2016–over 800,000 marriages still end in divorce each year. The reasons why people get divorced are as varied and as individual as their reasons for getting married were, but there are some common themes underlying the divorces in this country. With that in mind, here are the top five reasons why Americans get divorced.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, numerous studies have found that infidelity is the number one reported cause of divorce. In some cases, it’s a single one-night stand that leads to the end of a marriage; in other cases, it’s a long-term affair–either physical or emotional–that results in divorce. In recent years, the rise of the Internet and social media has offered new avenues for affairs, as it’s easier than ever for married individuals to reconnect with old flames or start new ones on sites like Facebook.
It’s typically not a lack of money that causes marriage problems; it’s a lack of compatibility when it comes to financial planning and priorities. In other words, if one partner is a saver and the other is a spender, marital issues are likely to arise. Maybe one spouse believes in saving up over time to make big purchases, while the other has no issue putting that new television on a credit card. Over time, this issue can balloon. Indeed, the third most common reason why people seek marital counseling is that of finances. Ultimately, ongoing conflict over money often does lead to divorce.
Addiction is a very commonly cited reason for divorce, and it’s not just substance abuse that can undermine a marriage. Everything from abuse of drugs or alcohol to an addiction to sex or work can ultimately break apart a marriage. Often an addiction takes over the addicted spouse’s brain, stopping them from prioritizing their marriage and frequently leading to the other spouse’s breaking point. One survey of divorced Americans found that substance abuse was a fairly common “last straw” in the divorcing spouse’s decision to end the marriage.
Sometimes the reason a marriage falls apart has little to do with the relationship itself. Extraordinarily stressful situations can cause even rock-solid marriages to crumble. The death of a child or a cancer diagnosis, for example, test even the strongest marriages. Sometimes the loss and pain becomes too much for a couple to bear, leading to divorce.
You could also call it incompatibility, or getting married too young, or irreconcilable differences. Sometimes a marriage ends because the spouses are simply not on the same page on big issues such as children, religion or where to live. Major differences are sometimes there from the beginning, with both partners deciding (consciously or not) to overlook them; in other cases, people change and become incompatible over time. No matter how much you discuss, then argue, then fight about these differences, sometimes the space between two married partners is too great to go on. In one 2012 study, researchers found that when divorced participants were given the option of choosing multiple reasons for their divorce, over half said that they’d decided to divorce because they’d grown apart from their partner.