Why Marriages End

12/14/2010 10:16 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

You hear a lot about the reasons marriages end. Usually, fingers point to affairs or money. But marriages don't end because of events. In twenty years of practice, we have found that divorce occurs when two people, for whatever reason, have looked for satisfaction outside of the marriage. We call this turning.

Let's face it. If your marriage was as strong as it should have been, there would not have been room for anything to come between you and your spouse, not an affair, or becoming a work-a-holic, or paying attention only to your kids and not your spouse, or any of the other things people point at when marriages break down.

Marriages fall apart through erosion. It's not just one event. The breakdown starts slowly and proceeds with one tiny misstep after another, until the sum of these become so large that the relationship collapses.

Turning happened before either of you saw the signs or understood their gravity.

While you're in it, it's difficult or even impossible to see, at least not until much later. As outsiders, we can identify the turns--when he turned into a workaholic and she turned to redecorating the house, or when he spent all of his time coaching baseball and she spent hers lobbying for a promotion. When spouses turn outside the marriage for satisfaction, it's not always to dramatic things like affairs or alcohol. Often it's something innocuous or even something positive, like working hard or focusing on the kids. But it's turning all the same.

The first stage of the breakdown occurs when one or both spouses realize that they are not getting a need met by the marriage. This is how the erosion of a marriage starts.

When you got married, your relationship probably met the needs that were important to you, but as time went on, you let things slip. You stopped dressing up and you went out less and less. Maybe you quit talking. Let's face it, that's the way most relationships work. Then you reached a tipping point but probably didn't realize it, at least not at the time. And if your spouse initiated the divorce, you really didn't realize it. Or if you did suspect, maybe it was too hard to face.

Some of the hallmarks? Take a look at Dr. John Gottman's 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse video or read the text. Complex problem but easy to understand and identify with. Fascinating.

Turning is insidious and incremental, like erosion. If you'd seen it coming, either of you might have been able to stop it. Maybe you saw a glimmer, but you didn't know what it was or how damaging it could be. Turning happens, both spouses have a role in it, and it's nobody's fault.