Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Anna Faris and Chris Pratt, Fergie and Josh Duhamel — lately it seems like so many of our favorite couples are breaking up. As we dry our tears, most of us are left wondering, why?
Though those couples may just be separated now, the journey to divorce is, unfortunately, common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by the first five years of marriage, 22 percent of couples experience some form of "marital disruption," which refers to separation, divorce or death. After 20 years of marriage, 53 percent of marriages have been disrupted.
According to Esther Perel, psychotherapist and bestselling author of "The State of Affairs," both happy and miserable couples experience the same problems. It is how each couple comes together and relates to each other that defines whether the relationship will thrive or end.
When couples turn toward each other with kindness, understanding and empathy, they can endure even the worst storms. However, when the couple comes with boxing gloves on, treating each other with contempt, defensiveness and suspicion, the marital prognosis under any circumstance won't be positive.
As the founder of the Smart Dating Academy, I work with all kinds of people to help them find the right kind of love. In my experience with thousands of people, here are the top reasons couples divorce (in no specific order, as this varies by state):
Cheating is one of the main drivers of divorce. And in today's connected world, it's not just physical affairs that happen, but also emotional affairs. There are also countless affairs I hear about that occur because of social media. It's easier than ever to privately reconnect with an old flame, in real life or on Facebook.
According to Perel, infidelity is of one of the biggest betrayals a marriage can face; for some couples the marriage will end because of a one-night stand, and for others, it can be multiple offenses. The destruction of trust in an already weak relationship can often be the death knell to the relationship.
2. Money problems
Money in and of itself doesn't cause divorce. Living in poverty is incredibly stressful, and financial stressors can lead to fighting — which can result in divorce. Differences in HOW we spend or save money can also be incredibly difficult to navigate in a marriage. One person wants to shop at TJ Maxx, the other, at Bergdorf Goodman.
Another money-related issue with the rise of successful women is that they are out-earning their spouses in increasing numbers. This "modernizing" can be tough for even the most enlightened couples — and can cause a relationship to derail as well.
Addictions are often cited as a reason for divorce. The addictions range from alcohol to sex to work to opioids. Addictions hijack a partner's brain, and can become one's top priority. They can wreak havoc on entire families in a truly terrible fashion. When the "victimized" spouse says "enough is enough" and gathers the courage to leave, the relationship is probably doomed to divorce.
Though if the couple is ready and willing to put the work in and rebuild trust — addiction is something that can strengthen their relationship.
4. Extraordinary situations
I have witnessed the best of marriages crumble due to cancer diagnoses and deaths of children. Extraordinary stressors can bring even the strongest people to their knees, and test the relationship. The pain of loss or sickness becomes too great to bear, and the relationship can vaporize.
Though, according to Perel, healthy couples can withstand (and even grow from) these traumas, when they can truly honor their partner's needs and method of grieving.
You say tomato, I say tomah-to... When we are not aligned on the big things in life like religion, core values, where we want to live, how we want to live — friction is bound to happen. He wants to move to Chicago for his big job, but you want to stay in NYC because your roots are there — and you never discussed this before marriage.
Or, you're Catholic and married someone Jewish, who was fine raising your future children under both religious roofs. Now, he has decided that he DOES want you to convert and raise the kids in his faith (but that's not OK with you). Incompatibility isn't easy to deal with — especially if one spouse has significantly changed over the course of time. You might need help navigating these discussions with a counselor or therapist. Or seek advice from a friend who has been in a similar situation. Like Perel stressed earlier, the key is to try to understand why you're spouse is suddenly feeling this way, and discuss the issue with kindness, not anger.
6. Irreconcilable differences
Simply put: "We just can't work it out. There's no hope." There are too many differences, or too many problems that can't be worked out. The marriage has broken down. There may be grave fights, stonewalling, hostility, anger, you name it.
If you feel like you may be on a slippery slope towards divorce, but feel that there is hope to keep it alive, seek out individual and couples' counseling. It could save your marriage, and maybe even bring it to a better-than-ever level.
Dating coach Bela Gandhi is the founder and president of Smart Dating Academy. Psychotherapist Esther Perel is the host of the popular Audible podcast "Where Should We Begin?" Learn more at EstherPerel.com or follow her on Instagram.