First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the crushing realization that, sheesh, happily ever after takes a lot of work. A few years into marriage, many couples find their relationship faltering, and the reasons people divorce becoming clearer. The truth is nearly 20 percent 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 demise — counselors, 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.
1. Believing That Marriage Is a Cure-All
Oftentimes people make the leap to marriage without giving a great deal of thought about the person they’ll be living with for the rest of their lives. “Deciding who to marry is the most important decision most people will make in their life,” says Paul Mitassov of Paul Mitassov Law. “Yet many people do less due diligence than a gas station hiring a part-time janitor. Willful blindness does not end well.”
Then there’s the very common idea that marriage will fix everything. “One of the biggest misconceptions I see is people believing that marriage is some sort of magic pill,” says Libby James, an attorney with Horack Talley in Charlotte. “That once they are married, the annoying things their partner does will magically go away. A great example is someone who is marrying a wild party animal. The tendency and compulsion to go out and get blasted doesn’t go away with the donning of a band of metal. It’s still there. If something annoys you before marriage, be not deceived — it will still be there after marriage.” To prevent their marriage from failing, couples have to work at it, like anything else.
2. Not Speaking Up
Marriage, and life, can be hard. And if one person or the other feels as though they’re taking on too much of the burden, that can lead to discord. This is doubled when that person feels the need to keep those burdens quiet. “More often than not, when the other party hears about how the burdened party feels, the response is ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ or ‘I would have helped had I known,’” says James. “So, speak up. If you feel like you are drowning, say something. Let your partner know.” Preventing divorce has a lot to do with dealing with the little things when they happen.
3. Troubles with In-Laws
Overbearing in-laws are something of a marital cliché, but if a partner isn’t prepared for the type of relationship their spouse wants to have with his or her parents, or the kind of relationship his or her parents want to have with them, they could be in for a rude awakening once the reality of marriage sets in, creating ripe cause for divorce.
“When you’re dating, you’re kind of treading lightly. You’re to some degree walking on eggshells, especially with family,” says Doreen Olson, a family law attorney and a partner at Meyer, Olson, Lowy & Meyers. “So you don’t really state your opinion or get involved in things like that. But when it’s happening to you every day in your new married life? I’ve seen that cause a lot of friction.”
4. Religious Differences
When couples are dating, religion isn’t always brought up or talked about. Holidays are often spent apart and family traditions don’t play as much of a role in the couple’s daily lives. However, once things become more serious, religion and tradition tend to become more important and, if both couples aren’t on the same page, trouble can arise. “I’ve seen a lot of younger couples where religion has become a significant issue in their marital relationship,” says Olson. Many top reasons for divorce boil down to lack of communication, and this is a particularly big one.
5. Not Staying Connected
Life can get in the way of marriage very easily, and everything from work to kids to outside commitments can lead to a very quick disconnect in married couples, especially in the early years when the frivolity of courtship gives way to the reality of day-to-day living. “The couple can morph from a marital relationship to ships passing in the night without warning, just in an effort to keep up with the family’s schedule,” says James. “It is this drifting apart that I see most often in couples.” Too often marriages fail not because of one explosive event, but a slow dissolution that happens when couples aren’t intentional about connecting with one another.
6. Undiscussed Debt
Finances, in general, can be a source of contention in marriage, whether it’s in the first five years or the next 20. However, student loans, something many young couples are saddled with, can prove to be a large burden in a marriage’s early stages.
“At the beginning of a romance, student loan debt obligations don’t come up,” says Devon Rood Slovensky, a divorce and family lawyer from Roanoke, VA. “However, once the honeymoon phase is over, the reality that loans have to be paid back, and that it can take time for an educational investment to pay off, comes to the forefront. When a couple starts talking about buying a house or having children, student loan debt can cause feelings of resentment and overwhelm.”
7. Differing Plans
Just like anything else in life, if you want to keep your marriage from failing, you’d better have a plan, and it had better be one that you both agree on. “Wildly different plans for the new family do not end well,” cautions Mitassov. He recommends that, before marrying, couples should come to an agreement on important things like how many children they will have, finances, religion, education and, of course, how much contact they’ll have with in-laws.