In this study, the initiation and propagation of damaged zones in the adhesive layer and adherends of adhesively bonded single and double lap joints were investigated considering the geometrical non-linearity and the non-linear material behaviour of the adhesive and adherends. The modified von Mises criteria for adherends and Raghava and Cadell's failure criteria (J. Mater. Sci. 8, 225 (1973) ) including the effects of the hydrostatic stress states for the epoxy adhesive were used to determine the damaged adhesive and adherend zones which exceeded the specified ultimate strains. The stiffness of all finite elements corresponding to these zones was reduced so that they could not contribute to the overall stiffness of the adhesive joint. This approach simplifies to observe the initiation and propagation of the damaged zones in both the adhesive layer and adherends. A tensile load caused first the damaged adhesive zones to appear at the right free end of the adhesive-lower adherend interface and at the left free end of the adhesive-upper adherend interface, and then to propagate through the adhesive regions near the adhesive-adherend interfaces (interfacial failure). In the bending test, the damaged zone initiated at the left free end of the adhesive-upper adherend interface in tension, and similarly propagated through the adhesive regions close to the adhesive-adherend interface (interfacial failure). In the double-lap joint subjected to a tensile load, the damaged adhesive zones initiated first at the right free end of the adhesive-middle adherend interface and then propagated through the adhesive region near the adhesive-adherend interface. After the damaged zone reached a specific length it also grew through the adhesive thickness, and the adhesive joint failed. The SEM micrographs of fracture surfaces around the free edges of the overlap region indicated that the failure was interfacial. An additional damaged zone growth was observed in the side adhesive regions due to lateral straining, called the Poisson effect.