Do Brain and Mental Health Issues Cause Divorce?


It stands to reason that couples who continually fight run a higher risk of divorce. Less obvious is the role that brain and mental health, or the lack of it, can play in fomenting such discord. Research in BMC Public Health shows that when one or both partners in a marriage have some form of mental health issue, it significantly raises the risk of divorce.

6 Brain and Mental Health Problems That Can Ruin a Marriage

Research shows that when one or both partners in a marriage have some form of mental health issue, it significantly raises the risk of divorce. Click To Tweet

1. ADD/ADHD can spark conflict.

Statistics suggest that couples affected by ADD/ADHD are about twice as likely to get divorced than couples who don’t have the condition. There are many reasons why. The brain SPECT imaging work at Amen Clinics shows that people with ADD/ADHD tend to have low activity in the prefrontal cortex and low levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

To feel more alert, some people with untreated ADD/ADHD seek out conflict by arguing with their spouses. The excitement from fighting produces a sense of calm and focus. One Amen Clinics patient complained about his wife who has ADD/ADHD, saying, “If we are having a nice day, she’ll start to pick at me or bring something up from the past to be upset about. I don’t think we have had a whole month in our 25-year marriage without a fight.”

In addition to creating problems, people with ADD/ADHD tend to struggle with following through on everyday tasks and promises, are disorganized, and have trouble remembering dates and details. These can also contribute to relationship problems and lead to divorce.

Solution: Learn as much as you can about the condition to understand why your spouse (or you) acts the way they do. Try natural solutions for ADD/ADHD or engage in couples therapy, which can be helpful in finding ways to live with someone who has this brain-based disorder.

2. OCD causes friction for couples.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurrent, intrusive thoughts and compulsions, or repetitive actions such as hand washing, counting, checking, and touching. These worries and compulsions can get in the way of a happy relationship.

One Amen Clinics patient named Gail was married to her childhood sweetheart, and while their marriage looked happy from the exterior, her OCD was causing problems at home. She obsessively cleaned the house for several hours a day and would lash out at her husband if anything was out of order. Gail also compulsively washed her hands and forced her spouse to wash his hands at least 10 times per day. Eventually, she stopped having sex with her husband because she thought it was too messy.

When her husband threatened to leave her, Gail decided to get a brain scan at Amen Clinics. Her SPECT scan showed overactivity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus. Too much activity in this region is associated with rigid thinking, difficulty shifting attention, and is a common pattern in people with OCD.

Solution: Recognize you can get your life back. People with OCD can find the right treatment to break out of the destructive thoughts and behavioral patterns caused by the disorder.

3. Depression can dampen marital joy.

Depression can cause spouses to focus on the negative aspects of their relationship, criticize their partners incessantly, and lose their enthusiasm for life. Couples who come to Amen Clinics often complain that their spouse is irritable, unsociable, withdrawn, uninterested in making love, or just no fun to be around. Whatever the cause of the depression—be it an illness like Covid, a head injury, or prolonged grief—left untreated, depression can put your marriage at risk.

Globally, approximately 5% of people are affected by depression according to the World Health Organization. That’s nearly 300 million people who, when going through a depressive episode, face challenges in all their relationships, from those in the workplace to those at home. Many depressed people blame their unhappiness on their spouse, which fuels discord.

Solution: If you’re feeling unhappy in your marriage, make sure you both get screened for depression. If one or both of you are depressed, recognize that there are many ways to overcome depressive symptoms. While finding the right ones for you, be alert to the Automatic Negative Thoughts or ANTs that take over your inner dialogue against your will. Talk back to these ANTs to achieve a brighter outlook.

4. Anxiety can add stress to marriages.

When it comes to marital distress and divorce, people with generalized anxiety disorder are at significantly increased risk, according to a study in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders. That’s because anxiety can make you feel tense, nervous, stressed, and panicky, which can lead to feeling distanced from your significant other. In addition, anxious people are often conflict-avoidant, which means small problems can fester into big issues.

Having one or more significant relationship problems is twice as common in those with anxiety compared with those who don’t have the condition, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. In addition, the rate of avoiding intimacy is three times higher in people with anxiety. This puts added strain on a marriage.

Solution: Look for natural solutions for anxiety and take advantage of psychotherapy to learn how to communicate more effectively about important issues.

5. Trauma can ruin relationships.

Experiencing physical, verbal, or emotional trauma as a child or adult increases the likelihood of marital distress. People with trauma in their past often have trouble with trust, which can erode the bonds between partners. Triggers that remind you (or your spouse) of past trauma can cause strong reactions, such as temper outbursts, crying jags, or withdrawal. A spouse may mistakenly take these mood changes personally and think they are the target of their mate’s displeasure.

Solution: Healing from past trauma is critical to repairing relationship strife. Treatments such as EMDR (eye movement and desensitization reprocessing) have shown benefits for overcoming emotional trauma.

6. Mild head trauma can increase divorce risk.

If you fall while ice skating, sustain a head injury—even a mild one—in a car wreck, or slip in the bathtub, the resulting traumatic brain injury can sideline not only your physical and mental fitness but your partnership.

Depression, anxiety, psychosis, and even suicide are potential symptoms of those who have suffered concussions or TBIs. So are moodiness, angry outbursts, confusion, and memory problems. All of these can sour a once-strong union. One study found that of 131 individuals with these injuries, nearly 50% went through a divorce or separation within 5-8 years of the injury.

A real challenge with the cognitive and mental health issues that arise from concussions is the fact that many symptoms don’t appear until years after the accident, making it less likely that people will make the connection between their problems and a past head injury. This means couples don’t realize that their troubles may be due to biological damage to the brain rather than character flaws or a change of heart.

Solution: Brain imaging, such as with SPECT can help detect past brain trauma to help unravel this mystery and point to strategies, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), to help heal the brain.

Although brain and mental health issues increase the risk of divorce, it is possible to save a marriage by getting effective treatment. By combining natural solutions, medications (if needed), and couples therapy, you give your marriage a fighting chance to survive.

Marital conflict due to ADD/ADHD, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. You totally left out the personality disorders… my exe is Borderline Personality Disorder… it was hell…

    Comment by Cliff Kammerdiener — June 9, 2023 @ 8:11 AM

  2. This well of information is so good. Unfortunately, there are at least 2 primary issues discussed here that have massively contributed to the breakdown of my 10 year marriage. I so wish I would have known this imperative information years ago; perhaps our marriage would have had a better chance of good health and we would be reinforcing it instead of dismantling it. However, the information provided will help me navigate any future intimate relationships. Thank you!

    Comment by Delilah Loesch — June 9, 2023 @ 1:20 PM

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