Divorce can happen to anyone, at any time in their marriage, and for any reason – so why do so many divorces seem to happen around the same points in time? In tracking chronological patterns of couples going through divorce, common themes arise at five particular time stamps. Let’s break down these milestones and the reasons behind them.
These are the couples who usually knew on their wedding day that they probably shouldn’t be getting married, and then spent the next few months agonizing over their decision. Their reality check can come as quickly as the first morning of the honeymoon, or generally any time within the first year of marriage. Perhaps they knew before the wedding day that this wouldn’t be the right move, but are often pressured by plans of a large, extravagant wedding or other material investment. Alternatively, one or both parties could be getting married as a sort of “last chance”, or to save face in some way, which has been common in high-class social circles for centuries – and which we still see quite a bit of in contemporary celebrity relationships.
Divorces that happen at the three-year mark often tend to be sort of extensions of the quick turnaround “oops” marriages. Again, one or both parties likely knew before or soon after their wedding that they had made the wrong choice, but perhaps decided to hang onto the marriage because of family commitments. These could range from parents investing in a down payment on a house, to the choice to have kids together, or anything in between.
This group of divorcees, over a decade into their marriages, have likely built up a reasonable level of stability in their partnership. This stability can start to crumble, however, once their children reach school age. The upheaval of parenting young children – school day schedules, extracurricular events, handling classroom drama and increased consequences of growing up – can put heavy pressure on a partnership, and there is no one right way to parent or co-parent. As a result, a good number of married couples will separate and/or divorce around this point in time; ask anyone born in the later third of the 20th century if any of their classmates’ parents divorced when they were between 10-15 years old, and the answer is likely “yes, and more than one”.
It is exceedingly important to note, when discussing marriages that break when their children are mid-adolescents, that the children involved in these situations should never be made to feel responsible for their parents’ relationship. In addition, many parents make the argument that they should “stay together for the kids”, when the truth is that staying together can sometimes be far more damaging for everyone involved – parents and children equally. Of course, that is easier said than done, but it is essential to keep in mind as parents navigating divorce that separation does affect the entire family.
The timeline of “staying together for the kids”, which we have already discussed briefly, is nowhere near a permanent solution. In many of these cases, the parents involved will end up moving forward with their separation once their children have become young adults themselves. This way, there is no custody battle to sort through in court, and division of property may become simpler as well (depending on the case itself, that is). Say you ran our last question experiment again, when that group of people reaches college age: how many, if any, of their classmates’ parents divorced after they moved out for school? The responses will likely echo those above: “yes, and more than one”.
When couples split many years into their marriage, it can be no small surprise – oftentimes it’s a question of “what changed?” Many of these cases are due to affairs, short- or long-term, coming to light. One spouse or the other may be going through a “midlife crisis” of sorts, coming to terms with their own mortality and the impermanence of life, and causing them to make rash—perhaps uncharacteristic—changes to their way of living. One or both parties may be nearing or entering retirement and find themselves suddenly spending all of their time together and learning more about each other as a result (which can sometimes mean learning things they don’t enjoy knowing).