Nobody likes to hear the word “divorce”. Understandably, it’s quite a scary word for married people or couples about to get married. But knowing the reasons why people get divorced might just save your marriage, even before times of crisis hit.
These are very stressful times we’re living in, and there are some indications divorce rates will grow in the near future, especially when the pandemic officially ends.
For example, divorce appointments have soared in several Chinese provinces once lockdown measures were lifted in China, at the beginning of March. There still aren’t any official divorce statistics, because they’re normally published annually, so I can’t give you any of them yet. But because China was first hit by the coronavirus, and saw its earliest effects of everything, there have been numerous sources on rising divorce rates in the country.
Unfortunately, it might not be that different for the rest of the world as well. Be that as it may, I’m not trying to scare you off with some dismal statistics which aren’t even complete yet. On the contrary, it’s better to prevent the issue, rather than deal with its consequences. I mean, I think we’ve learned that so far from the coronavirus crisis, if not else, right?
Times of crisis can also bring people closer
Lockdown can actually save a marriage, believe it or not. It’s a time when people usually turn inwards and towards those who are closest to them. And isn’t that your spouse, after all?
Many couples in lockdown have found that they can work as a team and that they can rely on each other in cases of emergency. And this is no small matter.
Take a look at real-life examples in this Independent article.
Laura, one of the spouses from the couples featured in the article, says the following:
“The stuff we used to fight about seemed so small-fry as we saw the huge impacts of the virus as it spread across the world.” […] “And, once lockdown started and we couldn’t see anyone except each other, we both began to realize how much we needed each other.”
Lots of other partners returned home from frequent business trips and got to spend more time with their families, setting into a routine necessary to save their marriage. They understood that companionship, closeness, intimacy, trust, and reliance are important when things around us seem so uncertain and there’s so much pain everywhere.
And I always try to look on the bright side. So when I talk about the reasons why people divorce, I also want to talk about how to not get to that point, how to prevent that from happening.
So, alongside the main 11 reasons for divorce listed here, I also give some practical advice on how to avoid them and point you to articles that deal with marriage issues of all sorts in more depth.
Why Do People Divorce?
There isn’t one simple answer to the question of why people get divorced. People get divorced for any number of reasons, beginning with infidelity, emotional unavailability, long-distance relationship, lack of satisfactory sex life, financial issues, to incompatibility of personalities and habits… And loads of other reasons.
Now, while many people might think that infidelity is the number one reason for divorce, that’s not really the case (although it does come second best). The first one turns out to be a lack of commitment, coming in with a whopping 75%.
Infidelity takes second place with 59.6% and then having too many conflicts and arguments come third, with 57.7%. This is a very well done study by the department of psychology at the University of Denver. That’s why I am going to take the most common and frequent 11 reasons why people get divorced from there and elaborate them here.
So let’s take a closer look at the most common reasons why people get divorced.
1. Lack of Commitment
You saw the numbers – the percentages don’t lie. Yes, 75% of married people from the study reported that their main reason for divorce was a lack of commitment to the relationship, either from one or both parties.
Do you see your wife more like your friend rather than your partner and lover? Does she see you that way? If so, it’s a big red flag in your marriage that needs to be addressed ASAP. As soon as you notice you’re losing interest in keeping your relationship or your partner as your partner, then it’s time to react.
Sometimes this happens gradually, and sometimes it happens almost all of a sudden. Losing interest in your relationship can be a result of long-term issues that have either been left unaddressed or haven’t been properly addressed. With time they’ve contributed to the erosion of your marriage until there wasn’t any point in saving it. A very common reason for a sudden loss of interest is infidelity or another abrupt, negative event.
Take a look at this excerpt from a participant of the study commenting on her marriage and why it ended:
“It became insurmountable. It got to a point where it seemed like he was no longer really willing to work [on the relationship]. All of the stresses together and then what seemed to me to be an unwillingness to work through it any longer was the last straw for me.”
If one of you is unwilling to sort new or old issues in your marriage, it’s very likely that the other person will simply lose more and more energy trying on their own and will eventually quit. Don’t wait for it to get to this point if you want to save your marriage – react in time!
How to deal with the issue of lack of commitment?
Lack of commitment is pretty often the result of problems in communication as well. When two people struggle to find a common language or common ground to deal with their marital issues, they withdraw. And if one of the partners is more engaged than the other, they become frustrated and lose motivation as time goes by. So they quit and withdraw as well.
How can you tackle this?
Recognize the signs in time. Remember the first time you noticed you were speaking different languages? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Why do I think this is happening? Am I not being supportive, or empathetic enough? Am I not being as attentive or responsive as I should be? Start from yourself first.
- Ask yourself about the priorities of your issues. Maybe one of you favors one issue, and the other favors another that they seem it’s more pertinent. Try to bring this on the table and discuss which of your issues deserves more priority in being resolved.
- Go over the reasons why you want to stay with your wife in the first place. You can also consider the reasons why you got married. In any event, think about what’s keeping you together. Is it only the financial situation? Is it the kids? Is it a joint social circle? Or is there something more still, something that has remained from the good old days and that can be resurrected again… Love, maybe?
Don’t be afraid to re-assess the role you play in your marriage
Yeah, and ask your wife to do the same. Also, try to do the following things:
- Set goals that you want to achieve in terms of your involvement (commitment) in your marriage, but also about any potential loss of intimacy or lack of communication.
- Be open to your wife and work on your marriage together. Get her involved. Communicate everything to her clearly and without any judgment, or blame. Tell her that you really want to work on your marriage.
- And another important thing is not to feel resentful if you need to sacrifice something for your marriage. If you’re ready to do that and save your marriage, then make sure you don’t hold a grudge against your partner months or years later should something go wrong again. Own up to it because it should be something that you want to do, rather than something you’re made to do against your will.
Sometimes you can’t really work out all your problems by yourself. Sometimes the load is just too big to bear and life may not have been as easy on you. But there’s still lots to be done. You can try and visit a therapist, for example. Couples therapist, a marriage therapist, or even sex therapists, if the issues are more specifically connected to sex.
You can even try listening to some couples therapy podcasts and compare marriage experiences around the world. Or, you can also try these couples therapy techniques and exercises you can try in your own home.
Infidelity comes second place with 59.6% of people reporting it as one of the most common reasons for divorce.
The interesting thing about infidelity in this study is that it’s cited as the “critical turning point” in an already “deteriorating relationship”.
Take a look at participants’ comments on their relationship and how infidelity affected the dissolution of their marriage:
“It was the final straw when he actually admitted to cheating on me. I kind of had a feeling about it, but, you know, I guess we all deny [because] we never think that the person you are married to or care about would do that to us.”
Or another one, where it caused a whirlwind of a cheating cycle loop for both parties in the relationship:
“He cheated on me […] Then I met somebody else and did the same thing. […] And when he found out about it we both essentially agreed that it wasn’t worth trying to make it work anymore because it just hurt too bad.”
Now, of course, you probably already know infidelity doesn’t come on its own. It has a whole plethora of reasons why it happens, from emotional neglect, loss of intimacy, to sexual incompatibility and frustration, or simply an identity crisis.
Why does infidelity happen in the first place?
Infidelity is a complex phenomenon and it doesn’t come out of thin air. What’s more, it also doesn’t necessarily signify that marriage is inherently unhappy. People can cheat even if they’re happy in their marriage, even if they love their partners and find them super attractive, even if they have great sex lives.
In these cases, it usually has to do with the aforementioned identity crisis, trying to prove something to oneself rather than satisfying some unfulfilled specific needs. Maybe you never had the chance to be promiscuous or you were struggling with low-self esteem your whole life and now you finally realize that people are into you, even though you also have a loving partner.
And, in other cases, it has to do with, again, unresolved relationship issues – like living with an emotionally distant partner, for example, or an abusive partner that’s constantly gaslighting you and criticising you and making you feel unworthy of attention and love. In these events, even the smallest sign of romantic attention from the outside can be a welcomed relief.
But infidelity doesn’t necessarily have to facilitate a divorce or a breakup
This is just a small number of reasons why people cheat. If you want to find more reasons about why people cheat, make sure to read my article on whether a relationship can get back to normal after cheating.
If you want to read more about cheating in marriage in general, check out my article on surviving infidelity. My basis for writing this article was Esther Perel’s talk and book by the same name,The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity. If you’ve read some of my other articles, you’ll see how eternally fascinated I am with Perel’s way of thinking about marriage and long-term relationships. So, very much under Perel’s influence, in it I talk about how infidelity has to be rethought by couples and, if it ever happens, it shouldn’t necessarily need to be considered as a central tragic event of that relationship and be the (sole) main reason for its downfall.
What can you do if infidelity threatens your marriage?
I’ve written another article on this topic, called Can a Relationship Go Back to Normal After Cheating? where I elaborate on the ways in which your marriage can actually survive an episode of cheating/infidelity from either you or your partner.
So, if you want to read about it in full, make sure to check out my article. Here I’ll just mention a couple of important points from it.
If you’re going through an episode of infidelity in your marriage or you’re suspecting one, then it’s crucial to act with a calm head and not to make any rash decisions.
Avoid putting the blame on one person and instead take a more open-minded approach, by listening to what your partner has to say and the reasons for their betrayal. Ask them what the affair meant to them, how they felt while doing it and they learned from the whole experience.
The road to recovery won’t be easy – it usually never is – but is indeed possible. Like Perel says, you can say goodbye to your first marriage and say hello to the second one – but no worries, it’s going to be with the same person still.
What she means is that it might just give you a chance to start fresh again and to look at infidelity as a chance to work on the weakened bonds of trust and intimacy from the beginning.
Also, asking for help is never a bad thing or a sign of weakness, so don’t hesitate to schedule a session with a couple’s therapist if you think you’ll both handle it better that way.
3. Too Many Arguments and Conflict
Too much conflict and arguing were stated as the third most common reasons behind people’s divorces. All in all, 57.7% of couples divorce because their conflicts and arguments become too overwhelming and ultimately unresolvable.
The participants in the study reported how their issues in communication just became more and more frequent as time went on, and they also rose in intensity. All of this resulted in feelings of detachment from one another, lack of support or understanding. By the time their marriages ended, the participants reported a “significant lack of effective communication.”
“I got frustrated of arguing too much,” says one person. Another talks how the arguments got only worse over time:
“We’d have an argument over something really simple and it would turn into just huge, huge fights […] and so our arguments never got better they only ever got worse.”
It’s not abnormal for couples to fight
Don’t get me wrong. Fights don’t necessarily foretell the doom of a marriage. It’s just that it depends on what kind of fights you have.
Fights can be good because they point to what’s currently wrong in the relationship. Where there’s conflict, there’s also usually an opportunity for growth. But when conflict becomes too ubiquitous and too frequent, then it’s definitely time to sound the alarm bells.
If arguing overtakes almost all parts of your relationship, then there’s likely something really wrong with the way you communicate and pay attention to each other’s words and needs. And this can definitely lead to detachment and a feeling like your spouse is nothing more than somebody that goes on your nerves all the time and that doesn’t agree with anything you say. And vice versa.
This can range from constantly lashing out to your partner because of work-issues, financial issues, or other family-related issues, to bringing up past fights in the new ones; or it can be too much bad name-calling and aggression.
All of this can contribute to your partner feeling like they’re talking to a stranger rather than a loved one who can and should understand them, at least on some level.
What can you do if you happen to fight all the time?
In my article on How to Stop Fighting With Your Wife, I talk about the things you need to pay attention to in order to fight less. I also talk about how you can fight more effectively when you simply can’t avoid fighting in the first place. So if you notice you’re having lots and lots of fights with your partner, and you definitely don’t want to bring each other to the brink of divorce, then, by all means, dig into the article!
In this section, I’m just going to mention a few things from there.
When you’re fighting with your partner, you have to mind the beginnings of the fight. This means asking yourself the question of whether the issue will be important in a day or a week/months time, and whether it’s worth blowing it out of proportion.
Minding your tone of voice is another thing you gotta do, and the emotions you reflect into the way you fight. Try to avoid aggression and try to focus on the rational part of the fight, meaning what you think can and can’t be done about the issue in question.
This also means you should stick to the point when arguing and not try to bring old issues from the past on the table. If there are any unresolved issues, they can be dealt with, just not all at once.
And, I’d definitely suggest threatening to end your relationship every time you have a fight. This is a very unhealthy approach. Instead, try asking yourself why this is happening, why you or she react this way in the first place? Taking a step back from your reactions done in affect can be a good way to defuse tension and give yourselves a bit of time to calm down.
Also, don’t hold back an apology if you secretly admit to yourself that you were wrong. Or, if it’s a minor issue and you both simply need to get on with it. Trust me, it’s not worth the tension.
4. Getting Married Too Young
Yep, turns out that getting married in your teen years and your early twenties can be a major reason for divorce, with about 45.1% of couples interviewed in the study reporting it as the main one.
The average age of the participants citing this as their reason for divorce was 23.3 years old, that is when they first got married.
Of course, things have changed over time. Take the 1950’s, for example, when men’s average age of getting married was 22 or 23 years old, and a woman’s was 20. Fast forward 60 years later and you’re looking at 28 and 29 years old for men, and 26 and 27 for women. As you can see, the differences aren’t small. In the baby boomers era, both of them were in their early 20’s and nowadays we’re talking about late 20s, which means people have become warier of marrying young.
The problem with marrying young is that you’re still very much inexperienced when it comes to life in general, and love and romantic relationships aren’t an exception here either. The same goes for sex – lots of people take on celibacy before marriage and then get surprised once they find out they’re sexually incompatible with their spouses.
It’s about maturity and being able to objectively make big decisions in life
When talking about getting married too young, people in the study talked about how they wished they knew their partners longer so they could have a better overall picture of their personality and the way they behave in the relationship. In short, they regret knowing their partners for such a small amount of time since this prevented them from making a rational decision as to who (and whether) they should marry.
“The main reason [we divorced] was because of our age. I think that being 19 at the time we got married, it just didn’t take. I think that we didn’t take anything as seriously as we should have.”
“I wish that we wouldn’t have […] gotten married so young. I wish we would have waited a little bit longer before we actually got married.”
5. Financial Problems
Money trouble doesn’t spare couples either, and that’s nothing new. 36.7% of people reported financial problems as one of the major contributing factors for divorce.
Some of the participants also reported that while financial issues weren’t the main reason for the dissolution of their marriage, they did considerably contribute to tension and stress in the relationship. Also, some people noted how money trouble leads to other problems in the relationship such as health concerns and even substance abuse (which is in itself reason no. 6 for divorce).
“I had a severe illness for almost a year and I was the only employed person [before that] so obviously money ran very short.”
“The stress of trying to figure out the finances became a wedge that was really insurmountable.”
If you and your partner have very different views on how money should be spent, as well as ways of saving money (or opting to not save at all) , then it’s definitely going to be trouble. If one of you has a tendency to splurge often, and the other is more frugal, you might as well be sure that tension will arise at some point and it will have to do with where your money goes, and where it should or shouldn’t go as well.
Another problem is when one of you earns significantly more than the other and doesn’t contribute as much as they could in the household.
So, what if your money trouble is threatening to ruin your marriage?
Well, when it comes to money and marriage, one thing is certain – if you’re not compatible with your financial habits, then at least try to compliment each other with your different approaches.
How can this be, you might ask? It’s not that hard actually – if, for example, you’re the one that’s more of a spender, try to be in charge of expenses that are more short-term and urgent in nature. Also, stuff that is more expensive, but really need to be bought.
And if your wife is the one that’s more prone towards saving money, then she can be in charge of your long-term financial plans, such as retirement savings or money for college tuition for your kids.
Another thing you can do is talk to a financial advisor or a couple’s therapist that has experience with couples struggling with financial issues and developing a joint financial plan. Both of them can help you out to devise a plan when you run out of energy to do it by yourself.
Use budgeting software, set aside time at least every month to talk about money and how you spend it, align your spending habits with your goals, are some of the things you can do with your partner, and try to meet each other half-way.
Consult with a financial advisor
Talking to your financial advisor about the financial structure in your marriage and life in general is informally called “financial therapy.” Yeah, there is such a thing, so why not utilize it to save your marriage as well?
The article I’ve linked above, from Business Insider, features an American, Utah-based financial planner/advisor (Dave Lowell) and his experience with couples struggling with financial issues.
At one point in the article, he gives an example of a couple that constantly feels guilty that they’re spending too much money on themselves.
“As we talked through why they felt that way, they realized it was because they felt they ‘should be saving money’ instead of spending it, which had been drilled into their heads at a young age,” he says.
What Lowell did was analyze and simplify the financial situation they were in. He came to the conclusion that they could in fact allow themselves to splurge a bit more since their savings allowed them to, and they showed to be pretty responsible with their money.
Financial therapy helps you deal with the emotions and beliefs behind your spending habits and make you more aware of them and in control. You’ll understand why you’re doing the things you’re doing. Nobody is devoid of emotions when it comes to spending money, so there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
6. Substance Abuse
Substance abuse is a problem for couples worldwide. Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, or pills, 34.6% of participants listed it as a contributing reason for getting a divorce.
The problem with substance abuse is that one of the spouses usually doesn’t want to admit they are addicted. That’s when it starts taking over their lives and their marriage. When this goes on for years, and sometimes even decades, well you’ve got a perfect recipe for disaster. You not only manage to ruin your marriage, but your own life and health as well along the way.
Partners of people struggling with substance abuse report that their spouses diminished the gravity of their problem – the more time it went on, the less severe they thought of it. Also, any attempts toward addressing the problem were met with opposition or false promises, or downright refusal to ask for help. So after years and years of trying, the relationship ended.
“I said ‘absolutely no more bars’ and as soon as I found out he was back in them, I asked for [a divorce].”
“He never admitted that he even drank. It wasn’t me against him. It was me against him and the disease.”
When does substance abuse start to harm your relationship?
People struggle with substance abuse for any number of reasons: in attempts to reduce stress and tension from work, or home and family-related issues.
Oftentimes there isn’t only one tell-tale sign that substance abuse is seriously harming your relationship, but at least several. So next I’m going to list the most common signs when a marriage is struggling because of a spouse suffering from substance abuse.
- Frequent fights and arguments relating to alcohol and drug use or things related to them. This can also include financial problems, binge nights and staying too late, being unavailable and out of the house for days, eschewing household and family responsibilities, etc.
- Covering for your partner – this can mean coming up with excuses to their boss and coworkers, or to other family members in your circle (including your kids as well).
- One of the spouses admitted that they drink or use drugs/pills as a means to reduce tension over fights related to substance abuse.
- When drugs and alcohol are the only thing or among the few things that you can bond over with your spouse.
- Domestic violence – drug and alcohol abuse can make partners aggressive and can turn fights and arguments into potentially violent events. If this has happened even only once, ask for help immediately.
- If one (or both) of the partners needs to be drunk or under the influence in order to show affection or readiness to talk about relationship issues.
- When the drug or alcohol problem causes the family or the spouses to isolate from other friends and relatives in order to hide the substance abuse problems.
What can you do about it?
If you recognize one or some of the descriptions here it means it’s time to ask for help. Often, substance abusers can’t really cope with their problem on their own and they need a professional to step in and draw them out of their vortex of self-destruction.
Of course, this cannot happen overnight and there’s not a magic wand that’s going to solve their addiction just like that. They need to take it very seriously and work very hard in parallel with their advisor, counselor or therapist.
Here you can find more about AA meetings and the steps they take for helping people addicted to alcohol. Take a look at their 12-step recovery program from alcoholism.
Or, if you or your partner is struggling with narcotics, you can visit the site of NA – Narcotics Anonymous and take a look at their 12-step recovery program from drugs other than alcohol.
And here you can find more info about addiction to pills and opiates, as well as rehabilitation and treatment centers you can contact and visit.
NOTE: Even if your partner is in denial or actively opposing any efforts to help them, don’t give up. Stage and intervention, contact the associations and support groups I’ve posted above and ask for their advice and help as well. They’re dealing with situations like these all the time and they can give you information and ideas on how to approach your partner and motivate them to seek help.
7. Domestic Violence
I shiver at the thought of domestic violence and honestly, I’m in awe as to why it’s not a reason number one on this list and in this study. The truth is, 23.5% of participants noted that domestic violence was one of the major reasons and contributing factors for divorce.
Domestic violence can include both physical and emotional abuse. And, there was a common pattern that violent partners often exhibited – the abuse they developed was gradual, with periods of high intensity of violence, followed by remorse and temporary reconciliation, and after that an even higher degree of violence and/or emotional abuse.
“[There was] continuous sexual abuse and emotional trauma which only got worse over time.”
“There were times that I felt very physically threatened. There was a time that there was a bit of shoving. I got an elbow to my nose and I got a nose bleed. Then there was another time that he literally just slid me along the floor. […]We’d work on it. It would happen again.”
NOTE: Domestic abuse IS NOT something you have to bear with until it becomes bearable. Even if you notice the slightest signs that could lead to potential violence and/or emotional abuse, react quickly and in time, before it gets too severe.
What are the signs that tell you you’re being physically, emotionally and/or sexually abused by your partner?
Both men and women can be victims of domestic violence, although women are disproportionately more affected by it worldwide.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner,” while “1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner.” There wasn’t any available data for male victims.
Now, what you need to remember is that domestic violence doesn’t necessarily take the same form in every relationship. It’s also not as easy to tell from the beginning of your relationship that you’re going to end up in one.
That’s because abusive partners can suppress their behavior in the early stages of your relationship. Their controlling and possessive behaviors often develop alongside the relationship and they emerge and become more prominent as time goes by.
Now, while there are many forms abusive relationships can take, there are some common patterns that appear in a lot of them out there. See the following ones and try to recognize if your partner is trying to be controlling or excerpt power through them:
- Your partner often tells you you’re incompetent, or can’t do anything right.
- They’re often jealous of whoever spends time with you other than them. This can be family members, friends, but also coworkers.
- They discourage you from seeing other people since they would take away time and attention you could otherwise give to them.
- Your partner often verbally insults you, shames you, or demeans you in private or in front of other people.
- They’re often very controlling of the finances of your household. This means that they also refuse to give you money for any personal and/or necessary expenses or take the money away.
- Their ways of acting and behaving towards you often scare you.
- Your partner is very controlling in terms of who you see and what you do with your time, which can sometimes turn into stalking as well.
- They often don’t let you make any decisions on your own.
- Your partner threatens to take away your children and puts you down by telling you you’re a bad parent.
- They don’t allow you to attend school or go to work.
- Your partner threatens to kill or hurt any pets that you might have or threatens to destroy your property.
- They may also intimidate you with any weapons you might have around the house (like automatic weapons, but also kitchen items such as knives and other objects). According to the NCADV statistics, “[T]he presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.”
- They force you or pressure you to have sex when you’re not comfortable with it, or when you don’t want to.
- Your partner pressures you to use narcotics and/or alcohol.
What you can do about it?
These are just some of the numerous ways abusive partners can exhibit abusive behaviors. For more specific abuses, such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and coercion, reproductive coercion, financial abuse, and digital abuse make sure to visit the website of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
If you experience even one of the behaviors noted here, it means it’s a red flag for your relationship and it has to be addressed as soon as possible. Each type of abuse is very serious and no one should have to just bear with it. Even if you only have concerns about some situations and events in your relationship, don’t be afraid to contact the domestic abuse hotline. There you can talk to advisors, counselors, and advocates, and get the help you may need.
There are call services available 24/7, and the number is: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Also, you can talk to an advocate one on one, every day, from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST.
Don’t stay in an abusive relationship just because they tell you they’ll change or you think you love them. Get help immediately if you’re even a little bit suspicious you’re in one!
8. Health Problems
Health issues are a significant or co-contributing reason for 18.2% of couples who divorce.
The interesting and quite disturbing thing about this divorce reason is that, in general, men are more likely to leave their wives if they get sick than vice versa.
Yes, unfortunately, there is a serious gender disparity between ill spouses and the way it affects their relationship. Another study has also dealt with this problem, looking at cancer patients. Its results concluded that women cancer patients were more likely to experience divorce after diagnosis.
A third study on the subject, conducted by Danish scientists, looked at cancer survivors. This study claims that “cancer survivors were not at greater risk for divorce than the general population.”
Be that as it may, illness can be a reason for divorce for a lot of couples out there, as we saw from the percentage noted above.
However, this might be a result of more traditional worldviews, where women are thought to be the main emotional and palliative caregivers in a family. Younger couples and couples that are less reliant on dated relationship models and roles tend to diverge from these statistics and trends.
New marriages can also be pretty vulnerable to the onset of illness
But, there’s another twist to the whole thing. On the other hand, couples who’ve been together for a longer amount of time are more likely to stick together through thick and thin. And marriages fresh out of the oven tend to be more vulnerable to afflictions such as illness in this case.
This is because partners don’t know each other as much as older couples do, and they also think the bad times are never going to end. They also get to see their partners in a completely new light – helpless, with a changed physical appearance, and they think they see a foreigner who was once their beloved. And some of them deal with the fear of losing their partner in a way that they get detached.
However, things aren’t so bleak for a lot of other couples out there. Illness can also bring partners together and strengthen their union in ways they never thought possible. Some people get to see their partners in a completely new light – as caring, nurturing, devoted people on whom they can rely on the most troubling of times. And if this isn’t the perfect recipe for renewed closeness and intimacy, then I don’t know what is!
A report from Oprah magazine on the effect of cancer on marriages gives an account of a 47-year old Jennifer White from Fort Mill, South Carolina whose main caregiver and rock was her husband Dave during her breast cancer treatment: “I’m now more secure in our marriage,” she says, “I trust him more than ever before because we’ve been through the worst together….” “And he’s still here.”
What can you do if you or your partner is/has been ill and it has put a strain on your marriage?
Illness is one of the toughest situations a marriage can face. While illness is rarely the sole reason for the dissolution of a marriage, it can definitely become the main reason for a small part of couples out there.
But leaving your partner during a time of severe physical and mental turmoil can have an even worse effect on their overall health. The feeling of betrayal as well as feeling unloved. Besides, not all people have family or friends to turn to so they can be properly nurtured.
So I definitely suggest you seriously consider taking another route if the illness has put a strain on your marriage, rather than just simply deciding to give up on your partner and divorce.
There is a special term for partners and family members of patients who’ve been through serious illnesses – they’re called “cosurvivors.” And there’s a reason why these partners get a title of their own – because it’s a mighty tough job being a nurturer to your partner when they’re at their physical and often mental lowest when you’re sometimes not sure that they’re even going to survive.
So when you feel like you’re spiraling down towards a very dark place, here are some of the things you can do and keep going strong:
- Find a person you can trust and confide in. Our social ties are one of the biggest assets of being human and they can definitely help and get us through the tough times. It can be a friend, family member, or someone from a support group that you can regularly call when you really need to talk to someone that can understand what you’re going through. Don’t hesitate to share your fears and worries with them.
- Work on maintaining a sense of normalcy. What this means is that you should continue going about your daily lives as much as possible, while also paying attention to each other’s emotional and physical needs. For example, keep the date nights, or even try having ones if you haven’t so far! Have sex whenever you can and feel like it, and also don’t forget to talk. Just the basic stuff happy and content couples do when they try to keep their marriage healthy.
- Think of the problems in small bits. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the onset of illness and what that entails in terms of (new) obligations and rearrangements in terms of daily schedules. So don’t constantly ask yourself questions such as “How am I even going to take care of my spouse?” Instead, think of what particularly needs to be done – for example, if you can’t drive her somewhere because you have an obligation you must do, ask yourself “Who can I ask to drive her to chemo/to the checkup/to the doctor?” This way you’re making the new emergent situations easier to bear and easier to find solutions for them.
- Laugh as often as you can. Laughter is one of the best “medicines” for stress relief. So insert humor in the relationship and your new daily routines with your spouse. Make them laugh, find reasons to be happy and grateful for – I’m sure there are always some to find!
9. Lack of Support From Family
Families meddling in couples’ affairs is nothing new. It’s been there for ages – from rearranged marriages to forced divorces, families have always been the looming third person in marriages around the globe, all throughout history.
So it’s no wonder that 17.3% of couples will divorce because of a lack of support from their families.
A 26-year longitudinal study reported in the Huffington Post gives interesting results: according to it, if a husband has a “close relationship with his wife’s family” the risk of divorce is decreased by 20%.
However, if we put the wife in the same position, the risk of divorce gets increased! Why is this so? Well, according to the study, it may have to do with the “different ways husbands and wives approach their relationships with their in-laws.”
Again, this may have to do with more traditional conceptions of gender roles. The study found that women tend to take the relationship with their in-laws and their actions more personally, while the men do exactly the opposite.
In line with that, husbands that devote time and energy to catering for the relationship with their in-laws are seen by their wives as spouses that are as ready and devoted to them too.
What can you do about it?
Well, it boils down to setting boundaries, basically. The parents of the husband should be more mindful of their behaviour and what their daughter-in-law might consider as interfering with intimate husband-wife affairs. The wife should also be able to set some boundaries with her in-laws, not to take evyr opinion or comment so personally, and to discuss it with her husband.
10. Religious Differences
Religious differences in marriage take up 13.3% of divorces. According to the Pew Research center, 69% of married couples share the same religion – that’s 7 out of 10 people.
Also, it seems that nowadays, fewer people think this is as important as it was for people decades ago. If there were 81% of spouses belonging to the same religion before the 1960s, after the 2000’s the number is quite lower, although it’s still not under 50% as we can see.
Also commonly called “interfaith marriages”, they can indeed be challenging for couples, but not necessarily a cause of divorce either. This, of course, depends a lot on the wider families as well, how diligent they are in their practices, and their openness towards people from other religious communities.
It also depends on how willing the spouses are to bring in the perfect blend of security and religion into their daily lives and how they raise their children. It means respecting each other’s holidays, participating in the celebrations, and also, if they have any children, letting them to ultimately decide where they want to belong and whether they want at all. Alternatively, they can both attempt to decide on one type of religious upbringing as well.
11. Little or No Premarital Education
The last on my list is premarital education also commonly called PREP (not to be confused with the HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis PrEP). This accounts for 13.3% of divorces, the same as religious differences.
Yes, there is such a thing as premarital education. This is a type of counseling that focuses on couples that are about to marry, but who still haven’t done so. Its focus is to work on issues that may arise in the individual couples’ marriages and to generally prevent potential marital distress. It tries to prepare couples for the dynamics and challenges of marriage. This type of counseling teaches couples to communicate better as husband and wife and to develop additional relationship skills they might need in their marriage before any bigger problems arise and develop.
Opinions have been mixed as to the effectiveness of premarital education. According to a study done by researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Denver, Colorado, there were “some modest overall effects were found pre to post intervention, but there were no overall marital quality outcome effects two years post intervention.”
Some of the things married people from the main study I’m using here had to say about premarital counseling are also expressing mixed emotions:
“Premarital counseling teaches you how you get along, and that you should communicate, but it doesn’t really talk about the phases of a marriage over time.”
“I think that the techniques […] were helpful. I just think it mattered if you were going to apply the principles or not. And I don’t think a lot of them were applied.”
“It helped with discussion and listening tools. I think, it’s just the follow through, you know. We didn’t remember those things when it came down to it.”
As you can see, the main problem was that conflict and communication exercises didn’t really match up to the requirements and situations of real-life events.
This is because couples lack real-life experience and patience to deal with the challenges of marriage. And that’s a damn hard thing to teach, you sort of learn and practice it throughout the years and alongside your spouse.
The interesting thing with a post-2000 divorce rate is that it’s actually declining. But, this has more to do with the fact that millennials are less likely to marry and they’re being pickier in terms of who they get to marry. Hence, they’re likely to stay married more than earlier generations simply because they’re more aware of the choice they’ve made.
And even though, as Insider reports, “older generations continue to get divorced”, it doesn’t mean that people can’t get from the brink of it and save their marriage. If there’s even a little bit of that initial freshness from the first time you met if there is love and even a small desire to work on your issues, it can be done.
The key is not to be afraid to ask for help when it gets too tough to do it by yourself. Nowadays there are plenty of therapists specializing in any number of couples issues. Locating the right therapist can make a world of difference for your marriage.
The American Association for Family and Marriage Therapy offers a free therapist locator. Here you can find a marriage and family therapist in your area.