| October 15, 2012

A survey of counseling professionals from YourTango.com—the digital leader in love and relationships—offers compelling insights into why marriages fail. The leading cause of divorce? Communication problems, followed by sexual infidelity and "not spending enough time together/not mutually prioritizing the marriage."

Unfortunately, 54 percent of experts polled agree with the assertion made by author Dana Adam Shapiro that only 17 percent of marriages are happy. However, YourTango Expert Meri Arnett-Kremian is skeptical, explaining "I'm suspicious of the bias of his interviewees since they were talking about the breakup of their marriages—which presumptively were unhappy or they'd still be together. How are we defining happy?"

Experts also had bad news for divorcées: Fifty-eight percent agree that a divorcee's chances of getting divorced are higher than someone who has never been married.

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Another indication a marriage will fail? Cold feet. Consistent with the results of a recent UCLA study, a whopping 80 percent say that a bride's pre-wedding doubts are a harbinger of divorce, about which YourTango Expert Dr. Susan Heitler explains, "Not all doubts prove predictive, but often something that looks problematic at the outset gets worse over time." Meanwhile, perhaps surprisingly, 86 percent of experts agree prenups have no predictable impact on a couple’s likelihood to divorce.

Less surprisingly, 74 percent of experts polled agree that the number one predictor of divorce is differing values around kids, money and/or sex. Also, when asked whether divorce is harder on men or women, 65 percent of experts agree that "divorce is equally hard on everyone." However, YourTango Expert Nina Atwood disagrees. She thinks divorce is more difficult for women because "Typically, women do not do as well financially post-divorce, so they have financial struggles on top of the emotional ones."

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A common dilemma for divorcing couples is whether to opt for litigation or mediation. According to the experts, the choice is clear. Seventy percent say opting for divorce mediation instead of divorce litigation ensures a smoother end to the marriage, and 65 percent agree that opting for divorce mediation instead of divorce litigation ensures a more equitable/fair result.

Frequently, divorcing parents wonder how long to wait before starting to date again. Fortunately for them, there is no right or wrong answer. Rather, a plurality of experts (37 percent) say that there's no time requirement; as soon as they'd like is just fine.

Another dilemma for divorcing parents is how much they should share with their kids about their divorce. About that, the majority of experts polled (51 percent) said "any details that the kids can developmentally understand and integrate" — no more and no less. Similarly, 70 percent of experts polled agree that divorcing parents should not ask their kids which parent they want to live with after the marriage ends because "the decision isn't the kids' to make and/or it's unfair to ask the kids to choose."

So, how can couples divorce-proof their marriages? Sixty-five percent of experts agree the most effective way is by improving communication, followed by decreasing negativity/criticism. Only about four percent cited more or better sex.

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Your best bet? Be proactive before walking down the aisle. Eighty percent of experts agree couples who attend premarital education or counseling are less likely to get divorced than couples that don't.

"Hopefully the men out there getting married will heed this message! Given a divorced woman and a divorced man, 75 percent of our experts agree a man will get remarried first," states YourTango CEO Andrea Miller. "This corroborates tons of research and anecdotal evidence that men are more emotionally dependent in a marriage and can benefit significantly by being proactive before saying 'I do.'" 

Additional expert insights:

  • According to the survey, 25-50 percent of divorces could have been avoided with couples' therapy. However, couples' therapy isn't a cure-all. Rather, 65 percent of experts say that 25-50 percent of couples who attend couples therapy during their marriage end up getting divorced anyway.
  • Seventy-six percent of experts polled say that of divorcing couples, most of the time one person—not both—wants the divorce.
  • Fifty-seven percent of experts say that less than 25 percent of divorces are amicable. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that according to 65 percent of experts polled, less than 25 percent of people whose marriages end regret the decision to divorce.
  • While 65 percent of experts polled agree that grown children of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced than grown children of married parents, grown kids of divorce aren't deterred; that is, according to 76 percent of experts polled, grown children of divorced parents just as likely to get married as grown children of married parents.
  • When asked whether they expect the divorce rate to go up or down over the next ten years, the experts are split: Thirty-seven percent believe it will go up, 26 percent say it will go down, and 37 percent think it will remain the same.

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