Every divorce, like every family, has a story. Many people assume that something major has to happen before people consider divorcing — infidelity, abuse, a major trauma or the like. Marriage counselors and divorce attorneys can tell you that’s not true. In many cases, the couple simply went through an ordinary change in their life that led them to new conclusions about the viability of the marriage.
Here are five common life stressors that can contribute to divorce, as identified by Elizabeth Ochoa, Ph.D., a marriage counselor and chief psychologist at a major hospital.
Illness, injury or disability. Health-related changes can transform your relationship. The sick or injured partner may no longer be able to live up to their part of the marital bargain, while the healthy partner is suddenly given a lot more responsibility. Divorce rates go up as much as 6% when one partner is in poor health.
Job changes. Naturally, a long period of unintentional unemployment would cause a lot of stress for both partners and, indeed, studies have found that both partners are more likely to leave during such a time. At the same time, a new job can change both spouses’ lives by changing the balance of responsibility, your schedules and your financial position. It can also give one partner leave to prioritize the new job over the marriage, which can create challenges.
Periods of separation. Living apart from your spouse can be lonely and isolating — or it can demonstrate how well you do in their absence. Some people are comfortable living apart, while others worry about abandonment and infidelity. Interestingly, a 2013 study by the RAND Corporation showed that the divorce rate among military spouses was directly related to the length of their deployments.
Having kids. Many people see having kids as the main point of a marriage. At the same time, it’s easy to see that doing so changes your life profoundly and in ways that some people don’t find satisfying. At least one study found that 67% of people experienced a drop in their relationship satisfaction sometime during the first three years of raising children.
Becoming empty-nesters. Baby Boomers are getting divorced at a far higher rate than other generations did in their 50s and 60s. Part of the reason is probably the “empty nest.” You may have spent 20 years or more focusing on your children and discover that now, once they’re gone, you have little remaining intimacy with your spouse. Or, the lack of the buffer created by the children’s presence can make relationship problems more obvious.