For couples who have been together for 20 years or more, it may seem like they have a solid relationship—well, at least from the outside. But people grow, change and face new challenges every single day, and eventually, even the longest-lasting relationships can fall apart. Below, people who have been married and people who have witnessed couples divorce after more than 20 years of marriage share what went wrong.
Don't forget to check the comment section below the article for more interesting stories!
#1 Mental Illness
Twenty-eight years and I lost him to mental illness. I tried for years to get him help but he refused. He is a genuinely good person and was once an amazing husband and father. I have been divorced over two years and still haven't dated anyone because no one will ever compare to the man he was: smart, romantic, thoughtful, socially conscious, hard worker, etc.
That man doesn't exist anymore. I am the one who sought the divorce but expected him to want to work it out. When he said "I think that's for the best" I was heartbroken. He lives upstairs from me, because where would he go? I can't just toss him to the streets, but it does make it harder. I feel more like a widow.
#2 He Was Elsewhere
My husband began surreptitiously going to strip clubs. He stole about $200 a week from various accounts and a business I owned to fund these activities. He lost his job because he went there so often at lunch and would just stay. We had young kids and so I stayed after he got some therapy. He was never honest with the therapist. About a year ago I learned he was doing it again. Plus texting strippers. My youngest kid graduates high school this year.
I’ve done what’s best for everyone else for 20 years now. This September was 21 years. I don’t anticipate having a 22nd anniversary. It’s really scary to think of being alone. I don’t hate him. I feel sorry for him. I know he will feel very sad and lonely when I’m gone. But being near him feels like having my soul ripped from my body every day.
#3 For the Kids
I didn’t get divorced but started the process after about 25 years. I stuck it out for a few more years for the kids and ended up falling in love with her after the kids moved out. Relationships follow cycles, so glad I stuck it out.
#4 Confidence Issues
My parents split up after nearly 30 years. My dad was a mean guy my entire life, so when they finally divorced when I was 18, there was no surprise. He’d been cheating for years and I think he was the one who finally asked for it. I think my mom stayed because she couldn’t afford to start over. She spent her life putting my dad through school and wasn’t educated herself. She had no family or anyone who could help her either. There was definitely some confidence issues on her part too.
#5 Just Grew Apart
Some couples just grow apart. After 20 years you are two entirely different people. It’s hard work to stay together.
#6 High School Sweethearts
Well, funny story. My parents were high school sweethearts and married for 22 years. Then they got divorced when I was six. My dad remarried and had another kid, and got divorced again. My mom never did. Fast forward about 30 years. I got married. My parents were in the same room for the first time in 30 years and were flirting like teenagers. I have a video of it. It really is pretty amusing to watch. Until I remember it's my parents.
They have been "dating" since I got married. That was more than 5 years ago. They are virtually living together, and both of them think it's funny to allude to their sex life around me so that I'll be embarrassed. Which still works, despite my age. As to your question, my mom says that my dad has mellowed and turned into "not a bad guy." My dad says my mom is exactly the same, except her waist. I think they both never found anyone they liked as much as each other. Or hated as much as each other. And if that isn't marriage, I don't know what the heck is.
#7 Tired of His Behavior
My dad had multiple affairs and my mom got tired of it. There was also alcoholism and both parents were workaholics. My dad remarried a lovely woman, and so did my mom. Oh, that may have been an issue too.
Therapy changed my mind. After more than a decade of being miserable, I finally got help. When I was able to really talk about my marriage was when I realized that I needed to get out. At the end of the day, I stayed in a terrible marriage because the thought of ‘being alone’ scared me. Through therapy I was clued in to how many wonderfully supportive friends and family members I had if I just reached out to them. I wasn’t going to be in a relationship anymore but I wasn’t alone either.
#9 For the Kids
My parents divorced after 13 years of marriage. They divorced due to my mom’s affair but still continued living together “for the kids.” We were young when they divorced but they never moved apart and we all grew up in one household. After they divorced they lived more like roommates than anything and got along better than they ever did as a married couple. They still shared all expenses relating to us and since my Dad made more he would spot her often. I can’t remember them having a single argument after the divorce happened.
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#10 Not the Same People
We were together for 20 years, married for 15. We started as high school sweethearts, but we eventually realized that we weren't the same people we were when we fell in love. We also realized that that wasn't going to change. We decided that the best way for everyone to be happy for the rest of our lives was to end it on peaceful terms before we were both 70 and resentful of each other for trapping each other in an unhappy marriage for 40 plus years.
I see a fair amount of these divorces get filed by older folks because one of them has dementia or the like and needs to be moved into a care facility. The couple will file for divorce in order to protect the family assets from getting completely eaten up and Medicaid takes over the brunt of it.
It is pretty sad that our health care state is such that it is necessary to take such a step to make sure someone gets the care that they need without destroying the other spouse's ability to care for themselves.
#12 For the Kids, Again
Not me, but my grandmother once told me that she was considering divorcing her husband of over 50 years. The reason she gave me was, “We stayed together for the kids. Now the kids are all grown up and have lives of their own. And now I can’t ignore the small things about him that annoy me.” She didn’t go through with it but she seemed sincere when she said it. It broke my heart, especially since I only ever saw the best side of him.
#13 A Stable Home
My grandparents initiated divorce proceedings a month after my dad (the youngest of his siblings) graduated college. They had stayed together to provide a stable home for their children, and once they'd all left the nest, my grandparents were ready to move on.
#14 Anger Management
My dad filed for divorce after 25 years of marriage. My mom was shellshocked. My dad was absolutely miserable but the signs of a failed marriage were always present. My dad is very emotional and is quick to anger. He never really handled failure very effectively and would be mad instead of constructive. My mom very family-oriented and was adamant that we never move farther than 40 miles from Chicago. Heck, when I was going away to college, she bawled to my dad to force me to go to a school closer to home.
In a way, I think my dad resented my mom for never letting him travel or get away from Chicago. It also doesn’t help that I’m fairly certain my mom become (undiagnosed) depressed once her mom died. All she would do was do her bare minimum at her job (a schoolbus driver), come home and sleep, finish her route for the day, cook a hamburger helper meal for the family, and then play angry birds on her iPad.
It’s really weird seeing your parents divorce in your 20s. You’re adult enough to speak candidly and neither of them likes what you have to say about them during or after the fact. The silver lining out of it is my sisters and I know how not to behave in a relationship.
#15 Not Faithful
She cheated on me. Not much coming back from that.
#16 They Came Out
I worked at a law firm that only practiced family law (divorces, child custody, wills & estates, etc). At one time we had like eight clients getting divorced after 20 plus years of marriage and they were all high ranking military men whose wives came out of the closet after all their kids had grown up and moved out of the house and the guys were getting ready to retire.
I thought it was so weird, but I guess for whatever reason the women thought that their duties to their husbands and families were coming to an end and they wanted to live for themselves. I guess I know why they couldn't come out 30 years ago, it was a different time but I was curious why they were all attracted to military guys? I assume maybe cause it meant their husbands would be away for years at a time during their service?
#17 Interests Diverged
We were together for 20 years but only married for 13 of them. Our interests just diverged over the years. I got more into music and art, wanted to go to festivals and such, and she wanted to sleep with her boss. I'm very grateful that our attempts to have kids failed. It's much, much easier to make a clean break that way.
#18 Father's Temper
Not myself, but my parents. They were married for 22 years when they separated, 24 years by the time the divorce was final. From the perspective of a child in the situation, there was no way that they were happy people together. There was hardly ever a quiet moment in the house because of my father’s temper, but my mother knew how to serve it back too.
However, the final straw was more of a chain of events. My father had a very rigid view of the family. Man works, woman stays home, cares for the home and children. When I was in high school my father got injured at work and needed surgery. He worked a physically demanding job, and would be out for six months. My mother, knowing that we were already falling behind on vehicle and house payments decided to find part-time employment. She worked while the kids were in school. It was still important to her to see her kids get on the bus and be there when they got home.
My father immediately believed that she was cheating on him. He installed a tracker and tape recorder in her car. He showed up at her workplace and caused a scene multiple times. He questioned her coworkers. He spent most of time at the house drinking. This was not an equal partnership, and it really never was. You should have seen how hurt he acted when my mom finally asked for a divorce.
But he rebounded real quick. All he had to do was tell some woman on Plenty of Fish his sob story, and he moved right into her house. He spent a couple of years treating her and her children horribly before she kicked him out. Only took him a couple of weeks in a hotel to find another woman to let him move in.
#19 Couldn't Stop Drinking
My mom left my dad on their 30th wedding anniversary. He had been in and out of rehab three times at that point and could not commit to quitting drinking. She couldn’t stay and watch him drink himself to death anymore.
#20 Not Happy
My husband's parents did this. He said he knew his parents weren't happy for a long time. Said they went to family therapy together but ultimately once my husband went to the Army (he was the younger of two) they divorced and both later married other people. These two could not get along for anything, they HATED each other. At our wedding, we had to take separate family pictures with the dad and new wife and then with the mom and my sister in law. It was insane...
Cut to about two years after our wedding and I get a phone call from father in law's wife of 10 years, she is in hysterics. She had caught him in bed with my mother in law. My husband would not believe it until he talked to his father. That was over 10 years ago. My in-laws both divorced their partners and have been together ever since. My mother in law has all their old family pictures on display everywhere and acts like they never divorced and have been together for over four decades.
#21 Mid-Life Crisis
My mom filed for divorce after 27 years with my dad. Us kids were out of the house and I think she had a mid-life crisis thinking that if she decided to do nothing, then that's how she'd die; in that house, doing nothing but things that make the days go by faster. I do believe an old high school flame helped her make the decision as well.
#22 Not Rich Enough
There's a guy in my town that everyone knows about because he owns this huge mansion in a middle-class neighborhood. Apparently he was married to a woman for a long time but she left him calling him a "loser" because his business hadn't taken off yet. After she left him his business finally took off (he sells medical equipment to hospitals) and he became rich in a few years. The reason he built the mansion in that neighborhood was because that is where she lives so she has to drive by the mansion on her way to work everyday.
#23 Terrifying Husband
My mom finally divorced her first husband when my grandmother and grandfather not-too-gently pointed out that I was terrified of him, didn't want to go home, and wouldn't make eye contact with men at all.
#24 Didn't Like Each Other
My parents got divorced after 22 years of marriage. They were never in love and didn’t even like each other. They had me and then my sister a few years later and wanted to stay together for the kids. Twelve years after I was born they had my brother and that kept the cycle going. I wish I could say they are happy now, but they still like to cause trouble for each other. We’re due with our first child soon and they’re going to have to figure out how to be grandparents together. Thankfully, I’m 1500 miles from them so it won’t be a headache often.
#25 Living Separate Lives
My parents intended to separate after 20 or so years once my sister and I left the home. My mom got sick and my dad cares for her. They live almost completely separate lives in the same house.
#26 Mental Illness
My parents divorced after 25 years when my mom had what we thought at the time was a midlife crisis. She told my dad by draining $3k from the joint checking account to fund her divorce lawyer. Six years later they were officially divorced since she blew through that money on different lawyers that kept firing her as a client.
We later ruled out mid-life crisis when her behavior started to become more odd, erratic, and paranoid. She was in her early 50s when this behavior started. Now we (myself and my sister in law with psychology experience) think she has late-onset bipolar and I say "think" since we can't get her officially diagnosed since she believes nothing is wrong with her. She lives in NY and it is super hard to commit someone there unless they are a danger to themselves or other people.
She's not dangerous, just can't hold down a job and lives in her car due to her own insubordinate sporadic paranoid behavior but blames everyone else. No, she's not a narcissist, just mentally ill since she was never like this when we were growing up. She was very selfless and caring when she was younger.
#27 Having Twins
Having twins is what really divided me and my husband. We would sleep in shifts so each of us could have uninterrupted sleep (eventually leading us to have separate bedrooms). I'd grocery shop while he watched the babies. Everything we did was separate. To be with the twins meant you were exhausted. We wanted to relieve each other as often as possible.
#28 Got Married Too Early
My parents got divorced because of my dad. We grew up in a military family; dad was always deployed. My mom is a walking medical disaster. RA at 23, endometriosis at 24, got a hysterectomy and everything. They married early and had kids really early because of the endometriosis. My mom tried to cater to my dad, make sure he could still live his life in his twenties because they had kids earlier than expected.
Well... Being deployed all the time meant my dad could just fuck around with ladies off in other places. My mom stayed home and took care of us. Dad gets a divorce when he gets back, gets remarried like three months later. That lasted like two years before she got her green card and ditched him. My mom still loves him despite him moving onto his third marriage, having another kid, and never actually paying his portion of child support. So pretty much they got divorced so my dad could have a younger, more subservient wife.
#29 Made a Big Mistake
I was married to a wonderful woman for 27 years. One daughter, a perfect little family. Then I had an affair, and it broke her heart. We are still good friends, and I see her at least once a week, but I wish I could go back and undo the terrible damage I did. Now I'm 60, I live alone, and all I have left are memories and regrets.
#30 Inheritance Money
Not me, but a lady I worked with. She and her husband had been married for almost 30 years. They had two kids, both in their mid-late teens, and a full life together. She was the stay-at-home mom, he made the big bucks, etc. Anyway, once the kids both started to grow up and stopped wanting to go to the cottage, they realized that when left alone together they didn't have much in common.
Then the kids started leaving for school, and I guess things got worse. I think everything would have been fine if not for the father's dad getting sick. Turns out the old man had near $4 million to his name and was giving it all to the father. So, dad consults a lawyer who says that since it's an inheritance, if he's divorced before he gets it he can keep all of it... and as such, he divorces her within days. She stopped working for us shortly after, but I know it was pretty hard on her. She got her fair share of the currently owned assets, but couldn't touch the $4 mil.
#31 Off the Rails
Forty-seven years of marriage and my wife went off the rails, screaming at me and finally getting me imprisoned in the intake room of the mental health ward in the hospital. I came back home after 48 hours to no car, no dog, and a note saying, "Can't take any more." So, at 71, I am alone. Her family does not believe me, and I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas by myself for the first time since we married in 1972. My only hope is that there are more women than men of my age. Apparently, a lot of men die in their 60s.
#32 Liar Liar
Twenty-three years. I had lied to her several times over the years, and she always forgave me. The last time I lied to her about accruing a severe amount of debt due to a gambling addiction. I think she might have forgiven the lie, but she couldn’t forgive the addiction and the chance I’d start gambling again. I started attending Gambler’s Anonymous after I told her, but it was too little too late for her. On the plus side, I haven’t gambled in almost three years.
#33 Best Friend Blues
My parents were together for 24 years. My dad left my mom after his best friend (who was six years younger than him) died. My dad went into a depression about his own life and left my mom for some girl at his work because he felt he was missing out on life by being with my mom.
#34 Divorce of Convenience
I had to watch my parents go through the paperwork to get divorced after my dad had a massive stroke and was forced to retire. It was the only way for them to keep the money from his pension AND maintain his health insurance coverage. My parents got a divorce of convenience so pops could make the mortgage payments and get his insulin. Thankfully my parents insurance agent is a close friend, and found every possible form and loophole so they could stay in the house together. It took almost two years to get everything settled.
I'll never forget my dad's statement after it was all done. "The Church still says we're married, and that's what matters to us. At least now, your mother can still get her hearing aids and pay the mortgage if something happens to me." I was so disgusted with it all. I never forgave my dad's union for it, and we now make sure someone from our family shows up to their annual open meeting when they discuss the health insurance plan to shame them in explicit detail with how the board fucks over the roughnecks.
#35 Wanted a Normal Life
My parents have been married 29 years but have been separated since last year and it's likely heading to divorce if they can afford it. I've been thinking a lot on this, why give up now, but I think over the years I'm piecing it together. They married in their mid-30s, both after failed marriages with no children, I think they both wanted a normal family life or a legacy to leave.
They adopted me, an only child, and honestly, I think I had a pretty good childhood but they never really got along. My dad mostly would hide somewhere around the property lol. But as soon as I was out of the house it turned to slow, devastating turmoil. I don't know if married life, or the one they had at least was ever going to be their thing, but props to them for trying while they had me. I think they've made this realization now.
#36 A Monster
He killed the dog. She was getting older and if left alone for more than 7 hours, she would pee in the basement on the cement. I would check daily and mop if needed, but we were in the process of buying a new house, and he decided she wasn't coming with us. Rather than discussing with me, he took the easy route and made her disappear while I was at work. Having to console my young sons that evening, and seeing their trauma was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. My heart closed to him instantly.
#37 Didn't Want to Work Through It
She cheated for years, plain and simple. Ended our 22-year marriage. To be honest, I don't even want to work through it. Now that we've separated for a while, I realize how toxic she'd become. I'm a much better man without her.
#38 Fear of Being Left Alone
Not 20 years of marriage, only 16, but 21 years together with my ex. We both had a non-loving home situation. So maybe this drove us together. We bought our first house when we were three years together, and since then, there was always the fear of being left alone, leave the other one, and myself in debts.
We bought a second home (sold the first one), had kids (lovely twin daughters), bought a third home (sold the second one). But my wife still wasn't happy with life. And this all pushed down on me. There was no affection between us. Also I was very insecure about myself, I thought women didn't really like me. But then my eyes opened, I started doing yoga, went to a therapist, and after a year or two I felt secure enough to make this really heavy decision.
The toughest part was for my daughters (9 years then). I really quickly met someone new, and after her someone else. So my complexes about my looks are completely gone. I started a new life, my kids are ok with it now. It was the hardest, but best decision in my life.
#39 The Last Time
Tired of him cheating on me, the last time was the last time.
My parents started considering divorce right around that time, but ended up deciding against it. My dad was military and had PTSD from Afghanistan, but it didn’t cause problems at home because he was stationed at a base across the state from us, so he was only home on the weekends. When he got restationed and we moved, we all lived in the same house again. His PTSD and my moms anxiety did not play off of each other well, so they considered divorce, but decided to work through it.
#41 Divorce Chicken
A friend of mine was married for nearly thirty years and had two kids. As she put it they’d been “playing divorce chicken for a decade” there weren’t any concrete reasons to get divorced they didn’t fight they actually got along very well. They just weren’t in love anymore.
There was always a good pragmatic reason for them to stick together: they co-parented effectively, they actually liked each other, they kept saying their marriage was probably better than a lot of people’s. A few years ago they just decided it was time, they went out for drinks and started hashing out how to divide their assets, they agreed on a fifty-fifty split. They got a lawyer to make everything legit and a few months later they got divorced. My friend’s ex-husband rented a house a few blocks away so the kids could easily walk between mom’s and dad’s house.
About six months after the divorce was finalized my friend’s ex-husband set her up with a new boyfriend. They go on double dates, they go to parent-teacher conferences together.
#42 Overbearing Husband
My grandparents got divorced after 27 years of marriage. They were forced to get married after my grandmother got pregnant in college. Six children later and an overbearing husband were too much for her to deal with and she started going out on him and seeing guys at bars. They got divorced after the sixth kid graduated high school. My grandfather met a nice lady at church the next year and got re-married. My grandmother married a guy she met at the bar.
#43 Grew Apart
I will be one of the few that speaks from experience. I have been married 20 years, and we are on the edge. The answer is that life changes you. When you start out the relationship is it's own thing, it is cultivated and grows. Then over the years add some children and full-time jobs, and there is less time to cultivate (or none). You end up becoming life partners to run the household and wonder why you are even together.
Since there are no good times, all that is left are arguments and bad times. This is all normal, and on top of that you are both going through the personal struggles of living. To be honest, staying married is tougher than most people think in an age without Divorce Social Stigma. The kids do keep you together, hoping somehow you can rekindle something that once existed. And this is in a situation with two good people trying to do the right thing, and not a toxic situation with abuse.
#44 Doesn't Want to Share Inheritance
My wife's sister's husband is leaving her after nearly 20 years together. He finally got power of attorney to his father's estate and we assume he doesn't want to share once the guy dies. And he's super old so...
#45 Personality Disorder
A few months short of 20 years, we separated. It was never a healthy marriage to begin with. Found myself always trying to keep the peace. He was gone a lot so that helped. The arguments had become bad, but when one of the kids really started struggling, I knew I had to make a choice. I chose my child and the arguments really started to fly. Then I found out about the multiple affairs. So while I was busting my butt trying to keep things going he was pretending to be a family man to the outside world and doing whatever behind the scenes. I can spot personality disorders a mile away now.