The 4 Most Common Reasons For Divorce, According To Research

Written by Georgina Berbari

Image by Foster & Asher / Stocksy

There's a lot of stigma surrounding divorce when, in reality, there's nothing at all shameful about people willing to advocate for themselves and prioritize their authentic happiness. According to a new study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, the most common reasons people get divorced largely center around a lack of emotional fulfillment. 

Researchers surveyed 2,371 straight, recently divorced people with an average age of 45. (In case you're curious, 44% had initiated the divorce themselves, 40% had their partners initiate it, and it was a mutual decision for 16% of them. Some 40% said their divorce had low to very low conflict, compared to the 29% who said there was a ton of it.) 

These were the four most common reasons for divorce:

  1. Lack of love or intimacy: This was the most cited reason for divorce, with 47% of respondents indicating that the core love was lacking from their marriage, leading them to separate. Some examples of open-ended responses from participants under this category were "I had no feelings for him" and "He did not love me anymore after we've been together for 20 years."
  2. Communication problems: Some 44% of study participants selected communication problems as one of their primary reasons for divorce, which makes sense as this is historically a research-based root of marriage termination. One respondent explained that her husband "didn't talk so much," which led to the development of distress in the relationship over time. 
  3. Lack of sympathy, respect, or trust: Lacking these basic relationship qualities was the third most popular reason for divorce, with participants explaining that an "inability to restore trust" or "irreparable breach of trust" drove them to end their marriage. Another respondent cited the "loss of respect" as a primary factor in their divorce, which is intriguing considering that some psychologists say that respect may be even more crucial than love in relationships.  
  4. Growing apart: In an ideal world, partners would harmoniously grow and transform alongside each other. But most of us know that this is far from reality. The fourth most common reason for divorce, according to the research, was growing apart. Open-ended responses for this category read, "We suddenly became too different in terms of values and attitudes" and "We wanted something different with our lives."

In the paper on their findings, the researchers speculated that "the four most frequently given motives by respondents in [the] study could be considered to reflect romantic, emotional, and interpersonal aspects of the former relationship." Accordingly, the authors theorized that perhaps behavioral motives such as addiction and violence had declined over time while emotional and psychological motives for divorce surged.

These findings may suggest that the meaning of marriage is changing: "People may place increased importance on love, intimacy, communication, sympathy, respect, trust, and feeling connected with their partner," they wrote. Perhaps people are becoming more willing to walk away from marriages that aren't totally fulfilling their emotional needs.  

Though divorce is never easy, for many it can ultimately prove to be a significantly spiritual learning process that deserves to be both accepted and supported rather than shamed.

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