Research Reveals Top Reasons Americans Get Divorced

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December 1, 2023
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Even with the best online divorce services, divorce can be a difficult process. That’s why it’s important to understand the signs of divorce and some common causes of divorce.

Understanding why marriages fail can help you to make your own union stronger if you are married, it can guide you in making choices about entering into a marriage and it can help you support the married couples in your life.

Forbes Advisor commissioned a survey of 1,000 Americans who are divorced or who are in the process of divorcing to discover why marriages fail. Based on this data, here are some of the most likely reasons marriages come to an end.

The State of Divorce in 2023

A total of 689,308 divorces occurred in 2021 and approximately half of all first marriages end in divorce with subsequent marriages failing at higher rates.

When a couple divorces, they must state grounds for divorce in court — this is the reason for ending the marriage and dictates the type of divorce being filed.

Most people choose a no fault, divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. And, irreconcilable differences are indeed a common divorce cause, with 31% of couples who ended their marriages reporting that incompatibility was the reason.

However, while simply not getting along is a common reason for divorce, infidelity remains a bigger issue. In total, 34% of marriages among survey respondents ended due to an affair. Adultery is one of the grounds for a fault divorce in court. However, even when an extramarital affair occurs, sometimes the couple pursues a no-fault divorce instead of a fault divorce because it’s simpler.

Other common causes of divorce include:

  • lack of family support
  • lack of intimacy
  • too much conflict and
  • financial stress

But, while these issues cause marriages to end, couples who divorce don’t always recognize these problems as signs a marriage is in trouble. Just 21% of survey respondents said disapproval of a spouse by family or friends was a sign a marriage was at risk, despite the fact lack of family support was a leading factor in 43% of divorces.

The Most Common Reasons for Divorcing

The most common reason for divorce was surprising: a lack of family support. However, there were many other reasons for unions to end, with causes of divorcing varying based on how long the couple was together.

Those who divorced quickly were more likely to end their marriages because they discovered they couldn't get along. In fact, 59% of people who dissolved their unions within the first year of marriage cited a lack of compatibility.

A lack of family support became a bigger issue as time went on. It was the leading reason for divorce among those who ended their marriages within years two through eight.

Finally, long-term couples were generally prompted to divorce by very serious issues, with infidelity and a lack of intimacy causing most divorces once a couple had been married for nine or more years.

Warning Signs a Marriage Is at Risk

Understanding the causes of divorce can show why a marriage ended. But those who are currently married may be interested in the signs of divorce so they can identify when their own marriage may be in trouble.

A lack of interest in each other, poor conflict resolution and avoiding each other were the most commonly-cited signs of an imminent divorce. More than four in 10 survey respondents listed each of these behaviors as worrisome signs a marriage was doomed.

On the other hand, financial stress, marrying too soon after meeting and marrying too young are the least commonly reported signs of a marriage at risk. This is contrary to popular beliefs that money is a leading cause of divorce and contrary to the popular perception that love at first sight or young love doesn’t lead to lasting relationships.

Most Common Types of Conflict Divorced Couples Experienced

Divorces often follow months or even years of conflict. And there are many reasons for disagreement among the respondents whose marriages ended.

Couples listed career choices as the most common type of conflict they experienced with their spouses, with 46% listing this issue as a cause of marital woes.

Parenting differences, conflicts over division of household labor and relationships with family were also top causes of marital conflict.

Each was cited by more than four in 10 survey respondents as a common reason for fights with their ex.

Survey methodology:

This online survey of 1,000 Americans who have been divorced or are currently getting a divorce was commissioned by Forbes Advisor and conducted by market research company OnePoll, in accordance with the Market Research Society’s code of conduct. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 points with 95% confidence. This survey was overseen by the OnePoll research team, which is a member of the MRS and has corporate membership with the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).

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