Breaking the Backbone

Why did it end?

While Not Just What You Said listed ten of the most common reasons marriages break up (first and second and so on), it is not easy to list them in a Top Ten. The biggest part of the reason is judgment. When asked why the marriage broke up, participants were not likely to be wholly forthcoming, for fear they would be judged on their answers.

Your answers may vary.

While researching this topic, one thing became brutally obvious: Married people, divorced people and single people all three think marriage ends for a different reason.

Married people guessed the things which would make them leave Mate in a millisecond. Divorced people cited faults in their own relationships and those of friends. Single people cited things married people thought were no big deal. Except for three: Abuse, abandonment and infidelity. All three groups picked at least two of the three. Only divorced people picked all three.

1. 2. 3.


Most everyone will bobblehead when you mention abuse as a reason for divorce. Hold your horses. When abuse is an issue (It is never the only issue.), fewer Mates divorce than stay together. Abuse is far more than just fisticuffs.

Words hurt forever.

Sticks & Stones

Verbal abuse is a form of emotional abuse. When Mate hears the same degrading remarks over and over, eventually Mate will believe them and act to make them true or leave. Mate will do the former faster (for longer) and with more conviction than the latter.

Do not be mislead by the picture. Verbal abusers come in both sexes. The abuse is about all subjects, but especially:

  • Physical appearance
  • Intelligence
  • Sexual habits and/or performance
  • Employment
  • Money
  • Family
  • Children
  • Friends
  • Events
  • Ambition
  • Truth
  • And many more

Equal Opportunity Bully

Verbal abuse is mostly committed to show superiority and to denigrate Mate. Destroying Mate’s self-esteem shifts the balance of power in the marriage. The more intense or pervasive the abuse becomes, the more self-doubt Mate has. The more doubt Mate has, the more Mate relies on Abuser, ceding control.

With the concession of control goes the will to end the marriage. Abusive marriages do not dissolve of their own accord. They require a dose of self-esteem from an outside source or another reason to leave.

For the purposes of this discussion, verbal abuse will be the only one featured. Although other significant forms of abuse are present in marriages (with or without divorce), they will not be discussed in this post. A series featuring abuse is currently in the works for M3, which includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse. 


Disappear Into Suburbia

Cut and dry, right? Wrong. Not all abandonment leaves Mate standing in the driveway watching the family car disappear into suburbia.

Abandonment is another multifaceted reason for divorce. Mate may wake up in bed with the abductee or simply realize the Leaver is sitting across the table, but is truly a million miles away.

Healthy marriages require both Mates to contribute. When Leaver is not pulling sufficient weight, Mate gets tired. The numbers are not consistent as to which Mate finally calls the marriage quits. Sometimes, Leaver exits stage left in search of greener pastures. Other times, Mate decides living alone is best done without a married roommate.

The Merriam-Webster logo.

You did what? With whom?

Time to consult Merriam Webster:


1.     : lack of belief in a religion

2  : unfaithfulness to a moral obligation :disloyalty
     b : marital unfaithfulness or an instance of it”

Despite the popular myth, infidelity is not merely sex with a partner other than Mate. Definition one falls under a different post, but definition two is the one which applies to marriage and divorce today.

To determine disloyalty, we have to look back at the wedding vows. The couple must know the limits and requirements of the marriage. They must both agree to a standard set of moral tenets (a) and agree not to violate them (b).

Cheating is more than adultery.

Cheating has many connotations and definitions. The second definition of the intransitive verb is to be sexually unfaithfully. This is much broader than adultery which specifies the act of voluntary sexual intercourse.

Each couple will have a different interpretation of what the vows mean to them because each person views cheating differently. Some examples the survey group gave of cheating were:

  1. Sex with a friend, colleague, stranger, ex
  2. Non-intercourse sexual contact with someone other than Mate
  3. Rape (perpetrator or victim)
  4. Drinking/Eating with a friend/colleague/ex
  5. Confiding in someone else about sensitive, marital subjects or spouse
  6. Confiding in someone else about sensitive, personal subjects
  7. Physical contact, any type
  8. Physical contact, affectionate (hug, kiss)
  9. Spending the night away from marital home (with/without sex)
  10. Flirting (verbal or body language)

Since many couples view emotional contact with others of the same or opposite sex infidelity, merely subscribing all marital infidelity to adultery is a mistake. Couples pointed out they were certain they could more easily overcome extramarital sex than emotional infidelity. The number of spouses who admit one spouse had had extramarital sex, but did not divorce, bares this out.

Statistics are no longer reflective of the true number of marriages which end due to adultery, as most states no longer require grounds for divorce (no fault states). The numbers which do exist vary significantly by region, age and group. Theories on the discrepancies include honesty of survey pool, fear of judgment, personal tenet system and prevalence of other factors contributing to divorce.

As stated above about abuse, rarely do marriages end because of one issue. Nearly all divorcees admit at least two reasons for dissolution. Many admit more than three.


Why are these the three most readily identified causes for divorce? What are the precursors to all three; in other words, what do they have in common? 

(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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  1. I clicked on “abandonment” before I even read your last (second to last) post… I’m amazed at the quantity and quality of your writing, Red! This particular post struck a chord with me because 2 of the 3 things discussed–abandonment and infidelity–were the reasons why my marriage ended. I never had a choice. I’m not sure that Leaver thinks about his actions, if anything. I’m sure denial is a huge part of why people can continue making choices that hurt other people, and seemingly not care about it.
    Laura recently posted..Toads to PerditionMy Profile

    • Red

       /  April 23, 2012

      Thank you, Laura. This was a particularly active series. The research from it did not only come from dusty studies, but from over 50 couples I interviewed in all stages of marital function/dysfunction. I did corner the Leavers to see what they thought of the consequences to Mate of their actions. Most subscribed to the Johnny Depp quote: If you love two people, go with the second one. If you loved the first one, you would not have fallen in love with the second one.

      In our society of making oneself feel good, regardless of the implications to other parties, we are raising a generation who believes everything should feel good and make them happy. It is less a state of denial as it is ego. It is more important *I* be happy than worry about all of those the choice will make unhappy. A good follow up to this point is my series on apology and forgiveness. You will understand more of what I mean when you read those.

      I hope you continue to find many subjects of interest here, Laura. So very good to see you today.

      • Yes, I agree, personal ego satisfaction and ‘happiness at any cost’ (or good old fashioned narcissism) seems to be the driving force behind hurtful behaviors like those I experienced. But I think the denial kicks in later. It’s the thing that prevents Leaver, or anyone who has consciously and intentionally hurt other people, to continue dancing through life without ever hitting rock bottom, facing their own shadow, and truly taking responsibility for their choices. I understand the “now I love person #2” part, but at the point, there are still choices.

        • Red

           /  April 25, 2012

          Unfortunately, the world is full of enablers who make certain they do not need to take responsibility. It is a lesson to us as parents to raise children who will be emotionally responsible adults.


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