Why divorce? Here are the top seven reasons – plus practical steps to rescue your relationship.

It isn’t called your ‘big day’ for nothing. Months of planning go into it. The invitations, the venue, the flowers, the dress, the photographer, the catering, the music – you want everything to be just right for this special day when you vow to share your life with the one you love. The last thing on your mind when you’re standing at the altar with the love of your life is that somewhere down the line your fairytale might end in divorce. But it happens all the time. Every year thousands upon thousands of couples decide their marriage just isn’t worth fighting for anymore.

According to Statistics South Africa’s latest report on divorce, 25 284 divorces were granted in 2018. Most of these (44,3%) were marriages that had lasted less than 10 years. More than half (56,6%) were marriages where the children were younger than 18. Another interesting statistic is that more women (52,3%) initiated divorce than men.

So what went wrong? The Stats SA report looks at divorce trends rather than the reasons behind it, so we asked Cape Town-based divorce and family law attorney, Bertus Preller, why estranged couples seek out his services.

The most common causes of marriage breakdown, says Bertus, are infidelity, a lack of communication, religious differences, clashing views on parental responsibility, finances, sexual incompatibility and abuse (physical, emotional and/or psychological). These are the motivating factors, but inability or unwillingness to work through these issues is what causes couples to split, says Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Sandra Brownrigg. Looking at the top reasons for divorce, here’s what to do if any are red flags in your marriage.

Cheating is one of the main reasons for divorce, and the reasons behind infidelity are numerous, Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Riette du Preez says. While certain personality types are more prone to cheating, it can also happen because one or both parties feels unsupported or disconnected.

Another reason is because couples grow apart due to a lack of common interests or hobbies. Whatever led to it, couples struggle to get past the broken trust. But cheating doesn’t have to spell the end – it’s possible to survive, with a lot of work.

If you want to reconcile, get professional help, advises Riette. A therapist can help you discuss the issues and navigate a way forward. Both parties need to be willing to accept that problems in the relationship contributed to the affair. ‘They also need to be willing to work on and change the way they engage with each other to prevent a similar outcome in the future.’

Both parties need to be involved, not just the one who cheated. ‘There must be a commitment from both sides to making the relationship work, and for the right reasons,’ says Riette. ‘Both parties must be willing to start afresh and accept that the relationship as it was is over. Trust will need to be re-established and the person who cheated needs to accept that this may mean more accountability and transparency on their part.’

Find common interests so you can have fun together. ‘If a couple can’t find a shared interest, they may need to work harder at being involved in each other’s interests.’

Couples may have different ideas about what to spend money on, how to share finances, how to save or how much to save, says Sandra. As a result, finances can become a huge source of conflict. Even couples who’ve been married for a long time can find their relationship in trouble because of disagreements about spending, saving and other financial decisions.

Talk about it. It all comes down to effective communication, says Sandra. Often couples look at the situation with a ‘right versus wrong’ frame of mind, she adds. ‘This isn’t done maliciously, but we get defensive. You need to acknowledge the issue and work on gaining a better understanding of your partner’s perspective.’ Find solutions together. Once you understand your partner’s perspective, it will become easier to figure out a compromise.

Sex connects partners not only physically but emotionally, Pretoria-based clinical psychologist Dr Mpho Sepato says. At the beginning of most relationships, the sexual energy is high, but as time passes – and kids come along – that energy is likely to go up and down and may even fizzle out. One partner may have a higher libido than the other, or have preferences that their partner isn’t willing to entertain. Less sex over time can eventually evolve into a completely sexless relationship.

Communication is key. It can be difficult to talk about unmet sexual needs and sexual frustration, but couples can resolve this issue by discussing the matter openly, honestly and respectfully. ‘Be willing to make the effort to understand each other’s “love language”,’ says Mpho.

Identify the problem – whether it’s that you need more foreplay, want to share your fantasies, or need your partner to be more romantic outside the bedroom. Once you know what the problem is, find a middle ground that you are both happy with.

Schedule time for intimacy. It’s easy to let things slide, especially when you have work and kids keeping you busy, so the best way to make sure sex happens is to make a regular date.

Poor communication can shut down a couple’s ability to connect with each other, says Riette. ‘For example when someone is overly critical or lacks empathy in the way they respond to their partner, this can lead to one party feeling “unheard” and as a result stop communicating their needs or emotions. It can become a vicious cycle.’

This problem is often exacerbated by couples not spending enough quality time with each other. ‘The excessive use of social media, cellphones and TV doesn’t help either as it can prevent a couple from connecting with each other even when they’re in each other’s company,’ adds Riette.

Once poor communication is established in a relationship, breaking it requires hard work and the help of someone objective, such as a therapist. ‘Prioritise quality time alone as a couple,’ advises Riette. This means no cellphones, social media or TV so you can focus on each other.

‘It’s important that this becomes part of your daily routine, is easy and cost-effective to do and fits in with busy schedules,’ she says. ‘For example, sharing dinner together – in contrast to a “date night” which can easily be cancelled, happens only once in a while or may become too expensive to keep up.

’Focus on listening. ‘Make an effort to really hear what your partner is feeling when they communicate,’ says Riette. ‘We often only listen to the words, but it’s much more effective to respond to the feeling.’

Different ideas about how to parent children are influenced by our personalities, background and upbringing, says Mpho. If you don’t have healthy conflict resolution strategies, things can get heated. It might start with slight irritation about your partner’s method of disciplining the kids (or lack thereof) but if you don’t talk about it, your annoyance could develop into serious frustration which is then vented by criticising, blaming, putting down or mocking.

No matter how frustrated you are, don’t criticise each other in front of the children, says Mpho. You should also not make the children your confidants or burden them with adult problems. Step back from the emotions so you can discuss the issues in a respectful and cooperative way.

Once the ‘honeymoon phase’ wears off, and as couples enter new phases of life, such as parenthood, religious and cultural differences can become more prominent, says Riette.

‘Remain focused on the positive aspects that can come from being different, such as diversity, which can be energising,’ says Riette. Be fair. ‘When one partner’s religion or culture takes prominence, it’s important to question whether it’s at the expense of the other.’ This can lead to resentment. Be prepared to compromise – for example, you could split where you spend various religious holidays as a family from one year to the next.

Whether it’s psychological, verbal, emotional or physical, abuse is usually rooted in deep-seated psychological issues that require professional help to resolve.

Mpho recommends the 4A formula that she created: awareness + acknowledgement + acceptance = action. ‘You need to recognise that it’s happening,’ she says. ‘Being honest with yourself is the first step. Then you need to seek professional help, either individually or together, to begin the process of healing.’

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DIVORCE: THE WARNING SIGNS DIVORCE: THE WARNING SIGNS Reviewed by Michelle Pienaar on January 22, 2021 Rating: 5
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