7 reasons couples divorce plus tips on how you can save your marriage


It isn’t called your “big day” for nothing. Often months of planning goes into it. The invitations, the flowers, the dress, the venue, the photographer – 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 is that somewhere down the line, your fairytale might end in divorce. But it happens all the time. According to Statistics South Africa’s latest report on divorce in the country, 25 326 divorces were granted in South Africa in 2016.

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What went wrong in these marriages? Cape Town-based divorce and family law attorney Bertus Preller let us in on the main reasons couples seek out his services: infidelity, a lack of communication, religious differences, sexual incompatibility, clashing views on parenting, finances and abuse.


There’s no question that cheating is one of the main reasons for divorce and the reasons behind infidelity are numerous, Johannesburg clinical psychologist Riette du Preez says. Certain personality types are more prone to cheating, but it can also happen because one or both parties feel unsupported or disconnected.

Another reason for cheating is because couples grow apart due to a lack of common interests or hobbies. Whatever led to it, infidelity often ends a marriage because couples struggle to get past the broken trust.

What to do if it’s a red flag

¦ Both parties need to be involved in the reconciliation. “There must be a commitment from both sides to making the relationship work, and for the right reasons,” Du Preez says. “Both parties must be willing to accept that the relationship as it was is over and start afresh. Trust will need to be re-established and the person who cheated needs to accept this new kind of trust might mean more accountability and transparency on their part.”

¦ Find common interests so you can have fun together as a couple – this will help to improve communication. “If a couple can’t find a shared interest, they might need to work harder at being involved in each other’s interests, regardless of whether they actively participate,” Du Preez says.


Money is among the biggest reasons couples split. They might have different ideas about what to spend money on, how to share their finances, how to save or how much to save, Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Sandra Brownrigg says. As a result, finances can become a huge source of conflict.

What to do if it’s a red flag

¦ Talk about it. It is about effective communication, Brownrigg says. Often couples look at the situation with a “right-versus-wrong” frame of mind, she adds. “This isn’t done maliciously, but as individuals we get defensive. What you need to do is 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 on money, it’ll become easier to find the middle ground and figure out how to compromise.


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

What to do if it’s a red flag

¦ 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. You need to reach a compromise you are both happy with.

¦ Make 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 styles can shut down a couple’s ability to connect with each other, Du Preez says. “For example, when someone is too critical or lacks empathy in the way they respond to their partner, this often leads to one party feeling ‘unheard’ and, as a result, they stop communicating their needs or emotions to their partner. It can become a vicious cycle.”

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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 are in each other’s company,” Du Preez adds.

What to do if it’s a red flag

¦ Prioritise quality time alone as a couple, Du Preez advises. “It’s important that this time is part of your daily routine, is easy and costeffective to do, and that it 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 might become too expensive to keep up.”

¦ Focus on listening. “Make an effort to really hear what your partner is feeling when they communicate,” Du Preez says. “We often listen to the words only, but it’s much more effective to respond to the feeling a person is conveying.”

PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES Our views on this matter are influenced by our own personalities, backgrounds and upbringings, Sepato says. And if you don’t have healthy conflict resolution strategies, things can get heated. It might start with a slight irritation about your partner’s method of disciplining the kids but if you don’t talk about it, your annoyance could lead to criticising, blaming, putting down or mocking.

What to do if it’s a red flag

¦ No matter how frustrated you are, don’t criticise each other in front of the children, Sepato says. You should also not make the children your confidants or burden them with adult problems. ¦ Step back from the emotions this stirs in you so you can discuss the issues in a respectful and cooperative way. You need to do this if you want to communicate effectively and come up with constructive ways to resolve conflict.


As couples enter new phases of life, parenthood for example, their religious and cultural views might become more of an issue.

What to do if it’s a red flag

¦ Fairness is key. “When one partner’s religion or culture takes a more prominent place in the relationship, it’s important to question whether this is happening at the expense of the others,” Du Preez says. This can lead to resentment and even a breakdown in the relationship.

¦ Be prepared to compromise. You could split where you spend various religious holidays as a family from one year to the next, for example.


Whether it’s verbal, emotional, physical, or psychological, abuse is a relationship- breaker like no other. It’s usually rooted in deep-seated psychological issues that require professional help to resolve.

What to do if it’s a red flag

Sepato recommends a formula she developed called 4A: awareness + acknowledgement + acceptance = action. “You need to recognise that it’s happening,” she says. “Being honest with yourself is the first step to regaining your life. “Then you need to seek professional help, either individually or together, to begin the process of healing.”

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