A few months ago, we learned that fewer college-educated couples who marry later in life are getting divorced. Hooray, we thought, finally some good news about marriage. But the fact remains: Nearly half of all unions in the United States continue to end in divorce. Despite the many unique life experiences and personalities that various couples bring to the table, relationship experts are able to narrow down seven reasons most couples decide to call it quits. Rather than reading these with sad eyes, couples can learn from others’ mistakes and put in the work now — in order to avoid a sad split later on.
1. They harbor resentment
We all make mistakes in our lives and in relationships. Most of them (and some might argue all of them) are forgivable as long as the person at fault is willing to accept blame and repair it. But that doesn’t mean his/her partner is always able to move past a problem — and the resentment that lingers is what can ultimately destroy a marriage. “If you’re feeling resentful of anything — that’s a definite warning,” said Dr. Tina Tessina (Dr. Romance), a licensed psychotherapist who has been practicing for 30 years and is the author of 13 books about relationships. “Resentment is like rust that can eat away at the foundations of the relationship. You need to talk about it, get it resolved. Arguments that won’t go away and keep repeating are also signs of trouble.”
2. They forget they are a team
When you get married, you make an agreement to fly your plane with the best co-pilot around. But during tough times, some of us feel like we’ve been stranded on an island. Even worse: Our Lord of the Rings instincts kick in and we treat our spouse like a mortal enemy instead of a valuable member of our team. “The most dominant element that leads to divorce is that the couple doesn’t work as a team, a partnership,” Tessina said. “Just loving each other isn’t going to automatically make the marriage work. Living life together is complex, with work, home, financial and family responsibilities to juggle. If you don’t find a way to work smoothly together, it becomes insupportable.”
3. They argue about money but fail to solve financial problems
Some couples would have near perfect relationships — if they could only figure out how to talk about their finances, a conversation that continues to make many people nervous. “To talk about money, use your business skills,” Tessina said. “It’s just math — take the emotion out of it, and talk as you would in a business meeting.”
4. They are dissatisfied with their own lives
No one can give you a fulfilling life unless you have the ability to find your own happiness — absent of someone else. “Don’t expect your partner to make you happy — that’s your job,” Tessina said. “You can help each other, but you can’t do it for each other; so figure out what you need, then talk to your partner about how to get it.”
5. They turn away from each other when things get bad
Remember when you first started dating and you considered each other partners in crime? Heaven help the person who criticized your significant other — he or she was going to hear from you. Instead of protecting our partners, some of us resort to turning on them when the going gets rough. “I see a cycle with couples who end in divorce. They get caught up in ways of relating to each other that are common, and accepted in our society,” said dating, sex and relationship expert Wendy Newman, author of 121 First Dates. “When things don’t go perfectly, or someone takes a misstep, there’s blaming, shaming, and being in trouble. For example, ‘I’m in the dog house’ is a common phrase in our culture.”
Newman says that when we turn on each other instead of toward each other, there’s a breakdown in both communication and trust — from there, it’s a downward spiral. “When trust is broken, each partner knows it’s unsafe to share things — important things that can’t be talked about in the relationship,” she said. “When this happens, intimacy is lost. When intimacy is lost safety and adoration evaporate, and it’s a downward spiral; one where one person is trying to not get into trouble, while the other ends up taking over and doing everything. The imbalance grows to the breaking point.”
6. Women feel unappreciated and unimportant
Dating and relationship coach Christine Baumgartner, founder of The Perfect Catch, says feeling unappreciated and unimportant is the one leading cause of divorce — but that’s it’s important to note that women and men have very different reasons for feeling this way. “Women feel unappreciated and unimportant because they feel taken for granted and overwhelmed,” Baumgartner said. “They give and give and give to everyone else in their life and this leaves them very sad and depleted. They feel they have to do everything themselves because no one will do it if they don’t.”
She continues, “I have found the most common reason this happens is they can’t or won’t ask for help. They expect everyone around them to read their minds and just know what they need and want them to do for them. They get to the place where they ‘had it’ and finally get a divorce. What is interesting is many of these women, once they’re divorced, finally start doing nice things for themselves and delegating responsibilities and then they say, ‘Why would I want to get married again just to give up myself and take care of another person?’ And they don’t understand that these choices are theirs to make.”
7. Men feel unappreciated and unaccepted
Men want to provide safety and security for their family and believe by working hard and earning money they will be appreciated and loved, Baumgartner said. But the challenges start when they’re working late or traveling a lot and their spouse starts to feel neglected. “The man thinks he’s doing enough and the women doesn’t tell him she needs more and instead starts telling him all the things he’s not doing well,” she said.
“And he finally gets to the same ‘I’ve had it point.’ And what often happens for men when they’re divorced is that they find a woman who either thinks a lot of what they’re already doing is great or knows how to tell him ‘nicely’ what she needs and wants and he feels successful providing for her and she says thank you.” Baumgartner says this often happens with a younger woman.