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20 Most Common Things That Ruin a Marriage

Researchers and psychologists have pinpointed these destructive scenarios

Like all relationships, marriages can be complicated. But about half of American unions still end in divorce, and there are some fairly basic reasons why. Over decades of study, researchers and psychologists have pinpointed these destructive scenarios. Here we delve into the 20 most common culprits that can undermine a marriage. From a lack of family support to the corrosive effects of poor communication, infidelity, financial woes, and more, we explore the intricate web of factors that can lead to the dissolution of even the most promising unions.

Lack of Family Support


In a recent Forbes Advisor poll of 1,000 couples who were divorced or about to be, a lack of family support was cited by 43%. Over 42% of respondents said their relationship would have benefited from couples counseling to sort out this and other priorities. 

Poor Communication

Woman pushing man aside during argument on the couch

Being unable to express your thoughts and feelings properly can lead to misunderstandings and resentment. One type of communication is more toxic than others. Read on to find out what it is. 

Expressing Contempt for Your Spouse

Young couple is sitting on a sofa in their apartment looking up and holding their hands to plug their ears

After studying 40,000 couples, psychologist Dr. John Gottman said expressing contempt for your partner is the top predictor of a failed relationship. "Contempt is more than criticism or saying something negative," says CNBC. "It's when one partner asserts that they are smarter, have better morals, or are simply a better human being than the other. The partner on the receiving end feels unworthy and unloved." Instead of being a unit, spouses become opponents. 

Infidelity or Extramarital Affairs


Stepping out on your spouse is a time-worn union-buster. In the Forbes Advisor survey, infidelity was the second-most common reason couples split up, affecting 34% of those surveyed. 

Financial Problems


Money-related conflicts—including overspending, excessive debt, or clashing over financial priorities—are often one of the top causes cited for divorce. According to a recent survey by Experian, 59% of divorced people said finances played a role in their marriage ending, and 20% said financial conflict was a "significant factor" in their divorce.


Frustrated couple.

Some people get married and discover they just don't click or can't get along. Fundamental differences in values, beliefs, or goals can cause frequent arguing. 

Lack of Intimacy


A lack of physical and emotional intimacy can lead to one or both partners feeling unloved and neglected. The Forbes survey found this was the third-most-common reason marriages ended—a full 31% said it was the primary reason. 

Lack of Commitment

Angry couple.

A 2014 study of divorced couples published in Couple and Family Psychology found this was the top reason for divorce, reported by 75% of individuals and by at least one person in 94.4% of couples. Some said the commitment gradually eroded until the relationship was unsalvageable, and other said their commitment dropped more drastically in response to negative events, such as infidelity. 

Parenting Differences


Differences in parenting styles can lead to major conflicts about discipline, education, and childcare. The Forbes survey found parenting differences were the eighth-most common reason marriages ended, cited by 20% of respondents.

Unrealistic Expectations


Unmet expectations about roles, responsibilities, or the nature of the relationship can lead to one or both partners becoming disappointed.

Too Much Conflict And Arguing


Frequent conflicts can be a sign of incompatibility, creating a hostile environment that can be destructive to a marriage. In the Couple and Family Psychology study, 58% of divorced couples said this is why their marriage broke up.

Poor Conflict Resolution


Poor conflict resolution was the second most common warning sign that a marriage was in trouble, the Forbes survey found. Gottman found the same in his studies: "Repair attempts are efforts the couple makes to deescalate the tension during a discussion. The failure of these attempts is an accurate marker for an unhappy future." 

Substance Abuse


Alcohol or drug abuse by one or both partners can seriously damage any relationship. "Addictions range from alcohol to sex to work to opioids," relationship coach Bela Gandhi told "Addictions can hijack the brain and can become a person's top priority" instead of their partner.

Emotional or Physical Abuse

photo of male fist, angry man and scared woman in the background, she close her face with hands.

Any form of abuse, whether emotional or physical, is destructive to a marriage. About 24% of participants in the Couple and Family Psychology study said their marriages broke up because of domestic violence. 

Emotional Neglect


"Emotional neglect is when someone's attachment and/or emotional needs are disregarded," said marriage and family therapist Sarah O'Leary. "Unsurprisingly, it pushes couples apart; you can't feel emotionally safe or secure in a relationship with emotional neglect." 

Marrying Too Young


In the Couple and Family Psychology study, getting married too young was reported as a major contributing factor to divorce by 45% of individuals and by at least one partner from 61% of couples. Those people said they wish they'd gotten to know their spouse better before they married them. 

Extraordinary Situations


Serious illnesses or trauma can tax a marriage. "I have witnessed the best of marriages crumble due to cancer diagnoses and deaths of children," said Bela Gandhi. "Extraordinary stressors can test even the strongest relationships, and if the stress or hardship becomes too much to bear, the marriage can dissolve." 

Lack of Support


Feeling unsupported or unappreciated by a spouse can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction.

Extended Family Issues


They've provided plenty of amusing sitcom storylines, but in the real world, tension and conflicts with in-laws or extended family members can drive a permanent wedge between a married couple.

Falling Out of Love

Sad woman

In a 2004 AARP survey of older divorced adults, the fourth most common reason for divorce was "falling out of love/no problems." (Abuse, differing lifestyles, and infidelity were the top three). Sometimes, a marriage just runs its course.

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