16 Common causes of divorce and 5 reasons to file for divorce

Category: Better Endings | Author and Publisher: Elly Prior | First published: 06-12-2010 | Modified: 13-04-2018

There are many - perceived - reasons for divorce.  Here I've listed the most common reasons that contribute to marital breakdown - why people get divorced. The list is based on my 24 years of experience as a couple counsellor. You can find further information on common causes of marital strife on my page: Common Relationship Problems.

I've found that usually there's a combination of factors that lead to a divorce. Your situation, however, will be different from everybody else's.

As a couple, you don'’t live in a vacuum. You're part of - and contribute to - everything and everyone around you. Changes in society, gender roles, community integration, values, beliefs and the law all have an impact.

It may be you've landed here because you're considering divorcing your spouse, but are still doubtful that you're doing the right thing. In that case you'll my Comprehensive Relationship Test a really useful aid to making that gut-wrenching decision.

The only reason for a divorce - UK law

In the UK, the court will want to know that your marriage has 'irretrievably broken down'. This you need to prove with one or more of the following 'facts':

  1. adultery (see: Dealing with Infidelity) and intolerability
  2. unreasonable behaviour
  3. desertion for at least two years
  4. separation for at least two years - with your partner's agreement
  5. you and your wife or husband have lived apart for at least five years

Stay here with me to find out what I think might have contributed to any of these facts, or could be the cause of your divorce.

What are the ‘reasons’ for divorce? Why are people getting divorced?

I know that you may be desperate to find out what ‘caused’ the breakdown of your relationship or marriage. What are the factors that led you or your spouse to no longer wanting to be married? You or your spouse may have been questioning your compatibility for some time, perhaps even years.

However, right now I'd rather you don't fret about the cause too much. You really need all your energy to deal with the changes ahead...

  • how and where you live
  • your finances
  • how you engage with your children
  • how you cope with your friends and family

All these factors contribute to, or detract from, your mental and emotional well-being - and that of your spouse and your children.

'Knowing' what caused your divorce doesn't necessarily lead to a better recovery - I know this from my professional experience as a couple counsellor. I believe you first need to get through the emotional roller-coaster of the early stages. Only after that should you reflect more deeply about what caused your marriage or relationship to break down (if you want to, of course).

If you're still trying to save your marriage, I'd of course suggest couple or relationship counselling. However, I do understand that comes with a cost, and of course your partner might not want to go. So if counselling isn't for you, get my Communication Kit for Happy Couples now - if there is still time to turn things around.

Nevertheless, I do appreciate that you may really want to know what went wrong now. Especially if you're struggling to make sense of it all.

Therefore, I've listed what - in my view - are some of the factors that contribute to a marriage failing and ultimately ending up in divorce.

I want to upfront with you - I earn a commission from BetterHelp. You pay the same fee, regardless.

Potential reasons your marriage ends in divorce

The following are only contributing factors to the breakdown of a relationship or marriage.

They may simply be symptoms of underlying problems. The symptoms of these 'reasons for divorce' are likely to be linked too.

I've listed these causes of divorce in no particular order...

16 Common reasons for divorce

  1. Infidelity, including internet relationships
  2. Significant differences in values and beliefs
  3. Life stages -– you may have ‘outgrown’ each other
  4. Traumatic and/or life-changing events - these often are particularly tragic causes for divorce
  5. Responses to prolonged periods of stress, such as work-related stress, long-term illness, mental health issues, financial problems and so on
  6. Important emotional needs not being met
  7. Boredom with your relationship or feeling bored with life
  8. Treating each other with contempt - no surprise there (one of Prof John Gottman's four horsemen of the apocalypse)
  9. Stonewalling - not talking, avoiding disagreements (the second of John gottman's horsemen)
  10. Defensiveness - blaming, not taking responsibility for your role in the difficulties (the third of the horsemen)
  11. Domestic violence
  12. Addictions - see Stages of Alcoholism
  13. Knowing you shouldn't have got married in the first place - you knew you weren't compatible
  14. Lack of responsibility and unrealistic expectations - one of the "can't be bothered" causes of divorce
  15. Perceived lack of concern, care and consideration - one of the big causes of divorce as presented in my counselling experience
  16. Loneliness - you have grown apart completely (the fourth of the horsemen of the apocalypse)

My guess is that several of these will be familiar to you. But your reasons to divorce are likely to include factors that are very personal to you too.

Distress is multiplied many times by certain unhelpful actions and behaviours.

I'm so glad that you're taking the time to find out about the emotional ramifications of divorce. It hopefully means that you're unlikely to engage in any of these negative actions and behaviours.

The following behaviours are contributing factors to the above causes of divorce. Not only do they create more distress for people around you, but they also make things more difficult for both you and your partner too:

8 common factors that increase hurt and anger

  1. Blaming your partner, your lawyer, you in-laws, the other man or woman, etc.
  2. Treating your partner with contempt
  3. Revenge –- wanting to hurt your soon-to-be ‘ex’
  4. Setting your children up against your partner
  5. Delaying tactics
  6. Arriving unannounced on the doorstep
  7. Visiting, texting, telephoning, emailing, when you know you shouldn'’t
  8. Talking badly of your partner to friends, family and work colleagues (don't forget that at some point the two of you may decide to give your marriage another chance!)

How to limit your distress during all stages of divorce

It's tempting to blame your partner, yourself, someone else or ‘the situation’. However, blaming just increases your sense of helplessness. It also creates more conflict, and can potentially damage your children. Ultimately it'll  just fatten your solicitor’'s wallet! (See: How to Choose a Lawyer.)

To help divert your thoughts from blame, I really recommend hypnosis. One particular hypnosis download - Soothing the Bitterness of Divorce - will help you get through without thinking that you're 'going mad'.

You can also connect with a professional, licensed therapist. It's now very easy to set up an online session, regardless of the device you're using. For further information, see my page on online relationship breakup advice and counselling.

Once you begin to calm down

I know this is unlikely to happen early on, but over time try to take responsibility for the role you played in your marriage - without judgment. Even if only for the fact that you chose and married your partner!

Dare to own up, graciously if you can, to your ‘contribution’ - at least to yourself if not to your partner. That'll help you to feel a little more in control and move on a little quicker.


Common reasons for and causes of divorce probably don't matter to you personally. It's your personal situation that really does matter.  

It's important that you and your family get through this difficult time relatively unscathed, if only to speed up your recovery. That will help you all to move onwards and upwards, to happier times.

Answer the following questions:

  • What is the reason you want to get through with the least amount of damage to everybody involved?  
  • What will cause you to keep strong when the going gets tough?
  • How can you come through all this with your head held high?  

These are the most important questions when you are going through the process of separation and divorce.

Fretting about the reasons for your divorce aren't going to help you right now - that is for later, when the dust has settled. 

You will get through this! :-)

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Elly Prior

Hello you! :-)

It's me - Elly Prior, I'm the Founder and Author of this site. I'm a 'real' person! I'm hoping to make a positive difference, small or large, to every person who visits my site.

Do feel free to ask for help. I would be delighted to write a few lines to help you.

Alternatively, scroll back up to discover how you can connect with another professional counsellor. Or, for further information, see see my article on online, professional, mental health and relationship advice.

Image courtesy of: Michal Zacharzewski