reasons people get divorced

What are the top reasons people get divorced?

My friend, Dave Ramsey, says that the number one reason for divorce in America has to do with money and financial problems. Hey, Dave, is a brilliant man, and I have the deepest respect for him, but as a social scientist, I have a different perspective than Dave does on that.

Oh, he is right in the sense that people argue more about money than any other issue and so Dave’s dead on. But in the social sciences, we see that as the symptom. What we do is we look for the emotions underneath. If somebody wants out of a relationship, if somebody doesn’t want to be married anymore, is it because really they’re arguing over money or is there something underneath that?

John Gottman is an amazing researcher when it comes to marriage issues, kind of the guru if you will. In one of his books, he summarizes a bunch of other research about why people divorced and came down to three main reasons. See if these make sense to you. And if indeed your marriage is in trouble, maybe you should think in terms of, “Maybe this is what’s going on with me,” or, “Maybe what’s going on with my spouse,” Or potentially what’s going on with both.


Here’s one of the reasons people get divorced. Number one, “You don’t love me.”

Now, understand when a person feels that he or she is not loved, it’s not measuring what you feel inside of you, it’s measuring what they feel from you. You say, “What do you mean?” Oh, I can say to my wife all day long, “I love you,” but if she’s not feeling that, if I’m somehow communicating something differently then she’s not going to believe it no matter how much I say or I do. Robert Sternberg came up with a way to measure love some time ago. He calls it the triangulation of love. And basically, he says, if you’re looking at love between, say a husband and a wife, they have three components that you’ll look at.

One is commitment. The decision to do what it takes to keep the relationship alive. The other is intimacy. That means openness, transparency, vulnerability, and the final one is passion, meaning your craving for oneness, wanting to share life with each other. Now, if you want your spouse to feel loved, then they need to feel from you, from your behavior, your words, everything about you, that you are indeed committed. And that you are willing to be open, transparent and vulnerable with him or her and in return allowing him, or her to be open and transparent with you. And that indeed you truly want to share life with each other. So if that’s not being communicated then your spouse is feeling, “You don’t love me.” Well, let’s go to the second reason.


The second reason is, “You don’t like me.”

Now, again, just as I said about love, it’s not necessarily what you feel, it’s what the other person feels is being communicated from you. Oh, and if you’re the one wanting out of the marriage, then you know what I’m talking about because you feel that your spouse doesn’t really like you. You say, “What does that mean?” It can be communicated in a number of ways like, “You don’t spend any time with me. Now, when you have time, you spend it with your friends, or you go off into your hobby, that might be golfing, it might be climbing mountains, it can be anything, or you spend more time with your work. You’ve become a workaholic.

Now, I understand that you need to make a living, and I understand you want to be successful at what you do, but you never want to spend time with me, or at least my perception is that you don’t care enough about me to spend time with me, and the way I interpret that is that you don’t like me, or you don’t talk to me.”

You see, sometimes we just need to sit down and take time to communicate with each other. An interesting thing occurred a few years ago  They took some guys who were married, and they said, “How much time in an average week do you think you talk to your wives about something that’s not a business matter? In other words, what that means is you’re not talking about how to pay the bills or what you need to do to repair the house or how you’re going to discipline a kid.” And so these guys were guessing two to three hours a week in conversations with my wife. They put these voice-activated recorders on them and then went on for a couple of weeks and then they started analyzing the conversations these guys were having with their wives. Almost all the conversation they were having had to do with business, like the money, the house, the kids, whatever.

And on the average, these guys were spending about 15 minutes per week just talking with the spouse. Now, understand from what I just said a minute ago when we talked about Sternberg’s triangulation of love. Intimacy has to do with openness, transparency, vulnerability. And then we talked about passion, which is a craving for oneness. “That you crave being with me and, therefore, not only do I feel unloved if you don’t spend any time talking with me, if you don’t spend time just with me, but I feel like you don’t like me either, because you probably are talking to the people that you care about. They’re the people that you really like being with. And so because you don’t listen when I want to talk, you don’t ask me questions to find out more about me, my day, how I think, what’s happening in my world. And when we do talk, if you do listen, you don’t share your heart in return. I’m thinking maybe you just don’t like me.”

Or it could be even, “You don’t do things with me. You’re gone. It might be that you’re gone with  work. It may be you’re going with your hobbies, you may be gone for any number of reasons like hanging out at the bar with your friends or whatever it might be. But what that’s saying is, you spend time with the people that you like. And that you’re not doing that with me. Oh, and that when you’re here, you’re not here, you’re watching the television, you’re reading a book, you’re looking at your iPhone, you’re on your computer, and so you don’t really do things with me. You don’t talk with me. You don’t spend time with me, and because that’s not happening, I feel that you don’t like me.”

Now, you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, Dr. Beam, you realize that this is much deeper than what you’re talking about so far.” And I do. By the way, I should have introduced myself earlier. I’m Dr. Joe Beam with Marriage Helper, and we talk about relationships a lot on these YouTube videos and if you’d like to read more or hear more or see more about what we talk about, then just subscribe below, and you’ll find all kinds of videos. But let me get to that third reason, which kind of ties these first two together.

Remember, what we’ve talked about so far is that the number one, two, and three reasons for divorce have to do with, “I don’t feel like you love me.” “I don’t feel like you like me.” “I don’t feel like you respect me.” Now, Gottman wrote about that in his book as he summarized a lot of research. But we work with a lot of marriages that are in trouble and when I ask this question, I explain those three things briefly and then I say, “How many of you feel like most marriage problems come to the point where people want out because they don’t feel loved? They don’t feel liked. They don’t feel respected?” Almost every single hand goes up when I ask that question to a group. Remember, I’m talking to people whose marriages are in crisis and so these are people who really do understand the situation.


And what’s the third one? I’ve already said it, “You don’t respect me,” which means that you criticize me.

Understand there’s a difference between a complaint and a criticism. A complaint is, “I don’t like something. Let me tell you what I’m not happy about.” Criticism is when you take that and phrase it in such a way or put a tone of voice with it in such a way, or a facial expression with it in such a way that basically what you say to the other person is not just, “I don’t like what you’re doing,” but, “There’s something wrong with you.” As a matter of fact, sometimes people actually use that phrase, “What is wrong with you?” And that communicates a great deal of a lack of respect. Or maybe you put the other person down, which means that you ridicule him or her. You make fun of them in front of other people even.

I remember working with one marriage a few years ago, and it was ending because of the fact that the further he went up the corporate ladder, the more that when his wife went with him to the corporate events, the worse she dressed. I don’t mean that she lacked fashion sense. I mean she was particularly and purposely dressing in such a way as to embarrass him in front of his peers. And when I was talking to her about it and I said, “Can’t you see what this is doing to him?” She said, “I’m keeping him humble. I want him to know he’s not Mr. Big Shot when it comes to me.” “And so you’re embarrassing him in front of your friends?” “Yes.” “Don’t you understand how that communicates a tremendous lack of respect for him?” Or even down to the point where you control. And that’s often the biggest thing that people do.

They try to control the other person. They try to control what they think. What I mean by that is anything the other person says, they start questioning, they start arguing. They even try to control what the other person feels, sometimes saying, “No, that’s not what you feel. You feel this instead.” Can you understand how that so wrong on so many different levels? Or, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” as if a person can just pick their emotions out of the air. The emotions are what’s happening inside of me. They try to control where the other person goes. They control by managing the money in such a way the other person doesn’t have access to it. They sometimes even demand, “You can’t do these things unless you ask me first. I will determine when you can go see people. I will determine who your friends are,” et cetera.

Now, I realize that’s much worse than most people ever go through, but when we work with marriages that are in crisis, the number one reason, when they come to us in crisis, as you might understand, is that there’s infidelity. But right under that, the very next problem that’s big on the list of people who come to us because their marriages are in trouble is that “I feel controlled and dominated. I’m not treated as an equal. I’m treated as a child.” So can I summarize all this and bring it home for you if I may? It all comes down to a basic principle that I’ve never seen fail yet. Maybe it’s not applicable in every situation, but I personally have not seen it fail and that’s this.


People don’t leave what they have unless they believe what they’re going to is better.

Now, I just mentioned that the number one problem we see when we work with couples in crisis has to do with one of them having an affair, sometimes both of them having an affair. And so if that’s what’s going on with you, if it’s the fact that your spouse wants away from you because they believe that being with this other person is better, well give us a call. We have a lot of resources that can help you potentially turn that around. Potentially save your marriage. Obviously, I can’t guarantee you that. If you call us and you can see that number on the screen here, you’ll talk to one of our client representatives. Now, they’re not counselors, they’re not therapists. It’s not a hotline. These are people who listen long enough to understand what your situation is, what the problem is that’s going on, and then they’ll guide you to the best resources for you.

Please call us at (866) 903-0990, because we can help you a lot with that. Or if it’s because of the fact that they believe being away from you is better because they don’t feel that you love them. They don’t feel that you like them. They don’t feel that you respect them. Then it may be that you need to do some deep soul searching. Is it because of the fact that you’re controlling the other person? Is it because of the fact that you’re dominating? Are you treating him or her with disrespect? Is it the fact that you’re spending all your time away from them or at least most of your time. That you’re not really having those conversations with each other?

Well, if your spouse thinks that being away from you is better because being with you is a negative and that they don’t feel loved, they don’t feel liked, they don’t feel respected, we can help you with that as well. And most often that last one, that respect thing, as I’ve already mentioned, shows up in this sense of people feeling controlled. Well, would you like to know whether or not you are controlling?

We can actually give you a little quiz if you will, that you can take. That’ll give you an idea as to whether you’re controlling or not. It’s a little ebook. Get it here.

Now, if you want to call that number on the screen, call toll free and you can talk to a real person, one of our client representatives at our a nonprofit organization and the old guy should have that resource and they’ll email you. You give them the email address of course, and they’ll email you two booklets. One of them has to do with how to stop being controlling. And if you’re the only other side of that, if you’re the person being controlled, they’ll also send you an ebook about that. A little PDF that you can download, you can open up and you can read that explains to you how you can stop being controlled. Just call us and talk to our client reps, tell them your situation and there’ll be glad to send that to you for free.

Now, if you’re saying, “Oh, no, no, no. I’m afraid if I call, these client representatives are going to try to sell me something.” Nope. 

If your marriage is in trouble and you understand that the top three reasons that people want a divorce, from a social science perspective, has to do with what they feel. “I don’t feel that you love me.” “I don’t feel that you like me.” “I don’t feel that you respect me.” Now, how does that tie back to what Dave Ramsey teaches? Exactly. Perfectly. Because when people are arguing over money, I’ll guarantee you at least one of them, if not both, feel disrespected. Now, if you solved that issue, the money issue, but you didn’t solve the love, like and respect issues, then you just wind up fighting over something else.

So with all kudos to my friend, Dave, because he’s awesome. I’m saying if you really want to make your marriage better, if you want to stop a divorce, whether it’s your spouse wanting to divorce you, or you contemplating divorcing your spouse. Concentrate on those three things, communicating love that the other person understands. Communicating like that he or she really feels. And definitely communicating respect. Hey, call us. We can help you, or go to that page and fill in your first name and email and we’ll send you those things because we truly care and we’d love for you to help save your marriage rather than divorce.


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