Why do most marriages fail?

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the crushing realisation that, sheesh, this whole ’til death do us part thing takes a lot of work. A few years into marriage, many couples find that the top reasons for divorce become a little clearer. The truth is nearly 20 per cent of married couples divorce within the first five years. The reasons for divorce are varied and complex, but according to those who have a front seat to many a marriage’s demises — counsellors, divorce lawyers, and therapists — trends do emerge. Reasons for divorce, though plentiful, tend to fall into a handful of categories. Here are seven big reasons marriages fail in the first five years.

No one ever imagines themselves divorced. It’s the kind of thing we always think will happen to other people, but never to ourselves.

When love is the most incredible feeling in the world, and so much effort goes into pursuing, building, and caring for the ultimate relationship with our soulmate, how then do so many couples still make the mistakes that lead to divorce? 

In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about divorce: the reasons people get divorced, why divorce can sometimes feel like it’s inevitable, and the signs to look out for to see whether or not your marriage can be saved.

The statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce has been highly debated and disputed over the last few years, yet that number just keeps swirling around. It often prolongs younger generations’ decision on when or whether to marry. Although the divorce rate varies depending on demographics, it can happen to any couple, and wanting to prevent a permanent parting of ways is a very real concern for most couples. While finances and communication have been cited as some of the most common causes of divorce, we asked the experts about the most overlooked reasons that marriages fail.

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Lack of intimacy and sex

In my practice, this issue has been the number one cause of divorce, or couples filing for divorce. I think if there were such a thing as a libido-boosting pill for women, most of us would take it. Men usually have a higher libido than women, and this can often cause issues in relationships. (Some women present with a higher libido than their male partner, but this is less common. However, the counselling and solutions would be similar.)

Often, the woman will come for therapy first. She will be convinced that there is something wrong with her and that she is not a ‘good wife’ or sexual partner for her husband. She will even have had her hormones checked to see if there is anything wrong. Usually, there is nothing out of balance.

As we continue through therapy, we will find that it is not her hormones that are the problem, but the relationship itself. Solving the issue usually requires the couple to come for counselling together. We then work through a programme specifically designed for couples with “desire discrepancy” – the term we use when one partner has a higher libido than the other.

An affair whether emotional or physical

Whether it is an emotional or physical affair, the effect is the same on a relationship.

Many people think that a physical affair is ‘worse’, but in fact, the resultant trauma is the same. A betrayal leads to the breakdown of all of the bonds that hold a relationship together: emotional, physical, spiritual.

The trust, respect, loyalty, and communication are so damaged that many couples decide to divorce because they can’t find a way to get past the betrayal. I often see situations where the unfaithful partner leaves their marriage because they truly believe that they will find more happiness and fulfilment with the other person.

However, when a couple who has experienced betrayal wants to try to overcome it, and are committed to working on their relationship, it is a very powerful and life-changing process. The key is for both partners to realise that the betrayal was a symptom of the other issues in their relationship; it was not the cause of the issues.

Rebuilding a relationship after an affair is not easy, but the new relationship often ends up being stronger, happier, more loving, and more fun than it ever was before. This is why I believe that an affair doesn’t necessarily have to be the end.

Lack of clear boundaries in the relationship

Another one of the things that seem to come between couples is the issue of boundaries and expectations. We all know what boundaries are, but we don’t often talk about them and verbalise them. Boundaries and expectations are also different for each person in a relationship. Boundaries are influenced by your own experiences, your background, your faith, and the examples that you’ve been shown in life.

For one person, having close friends of the opposite sex might not be an issue. For another person, it might be a complete no-no.

Because we don’t often verbalise our boundaries and expectations in relationships – we often just expect our partners to be on the same page as us – we end up being frustrated and resentful when these boundaries are crossed.

For example, if you don’t want your partner to chat with someone you don’t know on Facebook, then make that clear. Don’t get upset if they’re sending messages back and forth if you haven’t discussed the issue, and given your partner a chance to respond.

If you want to be in charge of your bank account and you don’t want to share an account with your partner, then make that clear right from the start.

If you want to raise your children in a certain faith, with certain religious boundaries and expectations, then discuss it with your partner before you have kids.

It’s difficult to come up with a complete list of boundaries and expectations at the beginning of a relationship, and they usually present themselves as time goes by. What we need to be better at is dealing with the ‘offence’ when our boundaries are crossed.

Try to deal with your anger and frustration before you approach your partner about the issue. Discuss it in a non-defensive manner, and try to give them context so that they can respond appropriately.

Saying “stop calling everyone darling” is not constructive. Rather say “I feel like it crosses boundaries when you call other men and women’ darling’ because you use it as a pet name for me. It takes away from the special bond we have, and it makes me feel jealous and a little bit betrayed.”

Your partner probably doesn’t even know that they’re hurting your feelings when they do or say certain things. Being clear about how it affects, you will make them more likely to understand your point of view.

Being able to communicate clearly can help prevent the breakdown of communication in your relationship, and can help prevent the breakdown of the relationship as a whole.

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Growing apart – no joint interests

This is particularly important in long term relationships. Couples who have been together for a long time often find themselves looking at each other down the line and thinking “what do we have in common anymore?!”

People change over time. It’s natural. Life circumstances, kids, work, finding different hobbies, can all expand our horizons, and add to our characters. The important thing in a long term relationship is to grow together and to make a conscious effort always to maintain an intimate connection with each other. I try to encourage my patients to start a new hobby together or work on a project together that will ensure that they get to spend interesting, quality time growing as a couple.

One of the major issues that I’ve seen in my practice is the increase in emotional and physical affairs amongst couples where one partner is extremely active while the other isn’t. Training for the Ironman, Argus, or running the comrades requires a lot of hard work and dedication. And while it is a very noble achievement, couples need to be aware of the impact that something like this could have on their relationship and guard against it.

For example, a man might be training for the Ironman. This requires him to be out of the home for many hours every day and over weekends. His wife might feel resentful as he pursues his ‘dream’ while she is stuck at home with the kids, trying to keep the house together, and battling stress at work. When he comes home, she will be irritable and frustrated while he will be on a ‘high’ from the exercise. While out running with his training buddies, he might talk about his wife’s irritable behaviour. One of the female training partners might say she’s having the same issue with her husband. This could lead to an emotional connection between them. Add the physical ‘high’ from the exercise, and the increasing lack of intimacy between the married partners, and it could all lead to an emotional or physical affair.

This is why couples need to be on the same page. Each person needs to be able to find their happiness and contentment out of a combination of their friends, family, hobbies, religion, and career. A portion of your happiness can be found in your partner, but make sure that you don’t rely on your partner to fulfil all of your emotional needs.

We will all go through times in our relationships when our partners aren’t able to contribute 100%. This can be due to huge career pressure, a physical issue, or a goal that they are pursuing. Couples need to be able to negotiate this time (I’ll enter 1 Ironman competition, and that will be it), and each needs to be able to find their happiness in the other things during this time, while still offering love and support to each other in whatever way they can.

If you rely completely on your partner for your fulfilment, you will find yourself looking for someone else when your needs aren’t being met. This is not a recipe for a successful, long-lasting relationship.

Getting in for the wrong reasons

Marrying for money — we’ve all heard that that is a ticket to a quick divorce, but what about when you marry because it’s what you think you should do?

I’ve met many divorced women who say the problems that made them leave were there right from the beginning but “everyone expected us to live happily ever after” or “we had already spent so much money on the wedding” or “we had just built our dream home.” So, remember, until you say “I do,” you always have the choice to say “I don’t!”

Lack of individual identity

A codependent relationship is not healthy. When you don’t have your interests or the opportunity to express yourself outside of coupledom, you become “couple dumb.”

If you are not comfortable doing things without your partner, or you don’t know what kind of music, movies, or food you used to like, you are likely in deep, and you probably feel like you are drowning and don’t know why.

Becoming lost in the roles

Just as many couples “forget” their single friends and single ways when they get married, when you add children into the mix, most parents soon neglect or completely forget that they are a couple.

As children grow and need less attention, many husbands and wives find that they have grown apart and they can’t remember why they ever got married in the first place because they no longer have anything in common.

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Not having a shared vision of success

“Everything changed when we got married!” He drives you crazy because you’re a saver and he’s a spender. Your idea of a weekend getaway is a cozy cottage in the woods; your partner wants to hit the town and catch a game. He thinks it’s your job to cook and clean, but you disagree.

Why didn’t he mention these things before? Maybe you should have asked. The chances are that he hasn’t changed — your expectations did. Is it possible to survive major differences in philosophy? It is possible, but many do not.

The intimacy disappears

Somewhere in a marriage, there is a subtle change in the intimacy department. One person has an off day, there is a misunderstanding or someone doesn’t feel well. Then there’s the idea that he isn’t as romantic or she isn’t as sexual.

Whoever is the one with the subtle change can trigger a downward spiral in the intimacy department. Men generally need sexual receptivity to feel romantic, and women generally need romance to be sexually receptive. As long as both people are getting what they need, they willingly provide what the other person wants. However, when there is a lessening on either’s part, that can trigger a pulling back in the other. If gone unnoticed and unchecked, before the couple realises, they are seriously intimately estranged and wonder what happened. This can lead to divorce as couples begin to feel unloved and unappreciated.

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Unmet expectations

Somewhere written into a human’s genetic code lie the instruction that when a person isn’t happy, he or she is supposed to force his/her significant to make the changes required to make the unhappy person happy again. This usually takes the form of complaining, blaming, criticising, nagging, threatening, punishing and/or bribing.

When one or both people in the marriage are attempting to coerce each other into doing things they don’t want to do for their partner’s happiness, it is a recipe for disaster. When you are unhappy in a relationship, it’s okay to ask for the change you want. But, if your partner doesn’t oblige you, then you become responsible for your happiness.


It’s not usually the lack of finances that causes the divorce, but the lack of compatibility in the financial arena.

Opposites can attract, but when two people are opposites in the financial department, divorce often ensues. Imagine the conflict if one is a saver and one is a spender. One is focused on the future while the other beliefs in living for today. One has no problem buying on credit, while the other beliefs in saving up for what one wants.

Over time, this conflict can reach such heights that divorce seems to be the only logical conclusion.

Being out of touch… literally

I’m talking about physical contact. Of course, sex is great, but you also need to supplement it with little hello and goodbye—kisses, impromptu hugs and simply holding hands. Couples who don’t maintain an intimate connection through both sexual and non-sexual actions are destined to become virtual strangers.

Different priorities and interests

Having shared interests and exploring them together is essential for a successful marriage. Of course, having “me time” is important as well, but unless you can find common passions and look for ways to experience them together, you’ll inevitably grow farther and farther apart.

Inability to resolve conflicts

Every couple has disagreements. The key is to develop ground rules so that each partner feels respected and heard. Sometimes it takes a third party “referee” to help define those rules and teach us to move through the charged emotions, so resentments don’t linger.

There’s a mix of people that never explored what they like or need, and there are others that go with what their family thinks is good for them. These people date who looks good on paper for the family and a societal image. Whether this is to fit in or stand out, depends on the individual and their life experiences. My advice to overcome this is to take your time getting to know and love yourself. Understand what you like and don’t like—document how situations make you feel, and if you are able to overcome them quickly or not. Talk your feelings out with your partner, friends or a therapist, so you don’t internalise emotions. Finally, accept that you will change over time. What you like at 25 may not be what you like at 30, and that’s okay.”

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