What Causes Divorce?
When thinking about how marriages end, people often look towards distinct events like affairs or money-related problems. What we’ve found in our 20+ years of experience is that typically this is not the case. Divorces follow a more basic form of separation: when partners turn away from one another to seek gratification outside of the relationsip. In our experience, this “Turning” is the primary cause of divorce.
The partner who files for divorce may have a clear view of the reasons behind their decision. If you are the other half and disapprove of the split, the picture can be a bit more fuzzy. Often with reflection one can see a course of events leading up to it. What at first appears to be an abrupt decision starts to look more like a long-term deterioration. One tiny misstep or argument may have started a chain reaction that became too much for the relationship to bear.
Even though there may be a natural resistance to revisiting the past, it is important to make peace with what has happened. By analyzing the path that brought you here, you gain the peace of mind that is necessary in order to move on. The partner who intiated the divorce will get a better understanding for why they made the decision. The partner who didn’t will come to realize that what they may have initially thought was preventable was actually inevitable. Turning is powerful and can happen long before anyone realizes it.
Participants in a marriage often get a myopic point of view of what is really going on. They can convince themselves that nothing is wrong when in fact the wheels are already turning against the relationship. People outside of the marriage looking in are able to see the turns–he started staying late at work, while she endlessly cleaned the house, or he played golf all weekend with his buddies while she took day trips to visit her college roommates. The turns themselves don’t have to be for salacious reasons like extra-marital affairs and alcoholism. It’s often something you wouldn’t expect, even something positive, like vying for a promotion or taking care of the kids.
Turning is something that happens over a period of time, not something that comes from out of nowhere. You may have identified it early on, but didn’t know what it would lead to. When turning occurs in a marriage–as it often does–neither partner can be held accountable.
This is not to say that arguing and disagreements are something to be avoided in a healthy marriage. In fact, it can be just the opposite. Plenty of healthy couples fight. It can be a way of bringing out issues that otherwise stay under the surface and fester. Discord on its own is not a warning sign of a looming divorce. Fleshing out arguments and coming to compromises are important exercises in any marriage.
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It is a misconception that fighting is a real reason for a divorce. Fights happen when one partner can’t meet the needs of the other. In a fight, there can be a lot of blame and shame being thrown around. Here is an example: “You never want to have sex with me during the week,” he exclaims. “Well, you leave me alone with the kids all day and by night I am exhausted,” is her retort. The argument and the words used are just symbolic of larger issues.
Let’s break it down for a moment. His complaint that she doesn’t want to have sex really just means that he is not getting the emotional and physical attention he needs. Her counter is that she is chasing around the kids all day, but she really means that his career demands have made it impossible for her to pursue her interests. They are both screaming for attention, but since they don’t realize the impasse they have reached, instead of compromise, they only try to guilt and shame one another into seeing it their way. What if he had just said, “I wish I didn’t have to work so much, that way we could regain the spark that has been missing,” to which she would reply “The kids and I miss you during the day, how about taking a day off next week?” Now there is a helpful dialogue that can lead to compromise and both of their needs being met.
Effective communication is paramount in a healthy marriage. While it is easy to make mistakes the first time around, by analyzing where the turns happened in your marriage, you can put yourself in a position to move on and prevent them from happening in the future.