You've heard it plenty: relationships are complicated. Even for those couples you see on social media portraying perfect lives, marriages are not always what they seem. Even the most stable of couples will go through some lows, leaving them to ask themselves and each other, "Should we get a divorce?" Are you wondering the same? If you're looking into signs your marriage might be over, you're not alone. According to the CDC, the national average divorce and annulment rate in 2021 was roughly 2.5 people per 1,000. While that divorce rate is down significantly from 2001 (which saw 4 people divorced per 1,000), there's no denying, some marriages aren't forever.
Are you starting to assess your marriage and its longevity? It's a huge decision that shouldn't be made impulsively. "I have never met anyone who approaches the subject lightly," explains Jen Libby, MSW, LCSW, a psychotherapist who helps families through divorce. "I have also not met many individuals — even in seemingly healthy relationships — that haven't contemplated divorce at some point in their marriage." That said, Libby notes that there are some pretty obvious signs that you should consider divorce.
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and relationship expert based in Sonoma County, California, says the key signs are: chronic conflict, stagnation (when you're no longer growing as a couple), emotional disconnection, and abuse (emotional, physical, spiritual, cultural, financial, or physical). "When a relationship becomes mired in constant conflict, the impact can be devastating on physical and mental health levels," she adds. "Many partners — particularly after child-rearing years come to a close — realize that they are no longer growing and changing as a couple. When one or both partners feel stuck in a stagnated marriage — and there is no genuine desire for creating positive change — it’s important to consider that divorce may be the only healthy path forward."
Lack of Sexual Intimacy
According to matrimonial and family law attorney Elizabeth Rozin-Golinder, a lack of intimacy is one of the most obvious signs that a divorce is imminent.
Sure, every couple goes through dry spells, but sometimes it's more than that. A sign your marriage is failing is when "there is a definite lack of interest in sex and they don't communicate about it and don't do anything about it, or they are in very different places on it," says matrimonial lawyer Dawn Cardi. "Basically, the trigger is that sex is not working and hasn't worked in a while."
Libby cautions that physical, sexual, or psychological abuse in any form is an obvious sign you should consider divorce.
The reality is that, more likely than not, if there has been one incident of domestic violence, there will be more. According to L.A.-based couples' therapist Dr. Gary Brown, if you are in doubt about this, ask yourself the following question: If you had a daughter who was the victim of domestic violence, would you encourage her to stay married? "Hopefully, your response would be a resounding, 'no,'" Dr. Brown says.
Certified marriage and family therapist, Talia Litman, notes that "when your health and safety are compromised by staying in the marriage" there should be no question about whether you should leave.
If you are the victim of domestic violence and need support, you can call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 for help 24/7.
Lack of Effort
Marriages are often faced with a variety of challenges, and according to Alisa Bowman, author of Project: Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters, both spouses have to commit to solving the issue, not just one. "One partner can't do all the trying on his or her own," says Bowman. "You can't go anywhere like that."
Maria Sullivan, relationship expert and vice president of Dating.com, agrees, adding: "It’s normal and common to feel something is missing when your partner is failing to hold up their end of the bargain." From big issues to daily conversations, dialogues require two people, and they can't happen if your partner isn't willing to participate.
Feeling Disconnected From One Another
Dr. Manly has found that many people married to an emotionally disconnected partner suffer from feelings of isolation and hopelessness. That's no way to live your life.
"For those in emotionally disconnected marriages, partners often feel lonelier when the partner is present than when the partner is absent," Dr. Manly explains. "Although some partners choose to live in marriages where emotional disconnection is the norm because it 'works' for them, those who suffer from the negative effects of chronic emotional disconnection are wise to part ways."
Joni Ogle, licensed clinical social worker, certified sex addiction therapist, and CEO of The Heights Treatment, agrees. "Even if you and your partner are physically close, if you still feel lonely or disconnected from them, then it may be time to move on," Ogle says. "Loneliness can lead to depression and unhappiness in any relationship. If you feel like your partner doesn’t truly understand you or if they don’t make an effort to nurture the relationship, then it may be time to talk and see what will happen to your marriage."
Lack of Support or Not Listening to Needs
"Actively hearing what your spouse is saying is vital to the survival of a marriage," says Sydney Ceruto, Ph.D., psychologist and life coach. "When neither spouse is taking the time to really hear what the other is expressing, you are demonstrating that your partner's thoughts and feelings do not matter to you." She says that this frequently leads to one or both spouses finding someone else to confide in, which can lead to infidelity.
In healthy marriages, both partners work as a team on everything from parenting, to running the household, to supporting each other's personal ambitions. Elayne Savage, Ph.D., author of Breathing Room: Creating Space to Be a Couple, points out: "If you've both started moving in completely separate orbits, or if you're not working together on day-to-day issues, it's a sign of serious trouble. Lack of personal, intimate exchange in a marriage is a very bad sign, especially if you are talking to others."
According to Laurie Puhn, a family and divorce attorney-mediator in New York City and author of Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In, one spouse may start to grasp onto the idea that if things were different from how they were in the past, then they wouldn't have the problems they're experiencing in the present — and this can lead to disappointment.
Ceruto agrees, adding, "the ability or inability to adapt to change in married life greatly depends on having realistic expectations about one's spouse. If disillusionment sets in when preconceived expectations are not met, it generates enormous dissatisfaction and makes compromise impossible, which leads to an irreparable breakdown of the marriage."
A major part of marriage involves trying to fulfill your partner's needs while also making sure your own needs are met. It's a lifelong dance, a give-and-take, and it requires constant communication. But if your partner continually refuses to listen to what you need (time, affection, sex, help with children), or refuses to share their own needs, you're not in a good place, says Dr. Bryce Kaye, Ph.D., author of The Marriage First Aid Kit.
Likewise, when you start to feel like there's zero overlap (or effort to try to find overlap) in your interests, you may have a problem. "Couples should be able to share experiences they're excited about, even if someone is not personally interested in the activity," Savage explains. If your partner is simply not interested in finding middle ground with you, this could be a sign of their unhappiness in the marriage.
Not Being on the Same Page About the Future
Sometimes when two people get together, someone has a future plan in mind that they fail to relay to their partner before tying the knot. According to Litman, you should probably be wary "when your life agendas and timelines don't and never will align" in a marriage.
"If you no longer share the same values or goals in life, this is a sign that your relationship may be on the rocks," Ogle points out. "This can be especially true when one partner wants to pursue a certain career or lifestyle while the other doesn’t."
There are many areas of compromise in a long-term relationship, but if one of you is absolutely sure you want a child and the other categorically refuses, you're likely in trouble. "If someone's close to either side of the will-we-or-won't-we-have-children fence, you can work through it. But if not, and having a child is a life goal of yours, you may be looking at the end of your marriage," Bowman says.
Dr. Brown agrees, adding, "If you want children and your partner clearly does not, that may be a deal breaker. You need to ask yourself if you are willing to give up on something as basic as wanting (or not wanting) a family. If your partner strongly desires a family, and you do not, then you may need to consider whether or not your marriage can be viable in the long run."
Lack of Respect
One of the most important aspects of a healthy marriage is mutual respect. When that's gone and one partner consistently feels dismissed and rejected, you're not in a healthy relationship. "Marriages that reach this place are toxic — you're no longer civil, and all discourse is either attacking or defending," says Savage.
That disrespect may even turn into feelings of contempt. Ceruto says contempt is toxic to a marriage, because it conveys disgust and superiority on such a deep level. "Contempt is fueled by simmering negative thoughts about one's spouse and it arises in the form of an attack on someone's sense of self," she explains. And contempt can lead to resentment, which Savage says often takes up space in the relationship to the point where there's no room for connection or intimacy.
The good news is that a divorce could make you and your counterpart better towards each other. "Allow for the possibility that you both may turn out to be kinder, happier people as a result of the divorce," says Libby.
Cheating or Lack of Trust
For many couples, cheating is a non-negotiable. If trust is paramount for you to continue on in your relationship, this will come as no surprise.
"An affair can be a warning sign that a relationship is in trouble," says Megan Haase, a licensed mental health counselor based in Washington who has received training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy (Level 3), and is a Gottman Leader for couples workshops. "When one partner has an affair it breaks the trust and commitment in the relationship and can cause intense emotional pain, anger, and feelings of betrayal."
While some couples can work through infidelity and rebuild their relationship, it can be a lengthy process where both partners need to be committed to repairing the damage. Even if it's just one time, if you will never look at your spouse the same way again or you'll live the rest of your lives not getting over the betrayal, it may mean that you need to move on for everyone's sake.
Ysolt Usigan is a lifestyle writer and editor with 15+ years of experience working in digital media. She has created share-worthy content for publishers Shape, What To Expect, Cafe Mom, TODAY, CBS News, HuffPo, The Bump, Health, Ask Men, and Best Gifts. A working mom of two, her editorial expertise in parenting, shopping, and home are rooted in her everyday life.
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