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How to Know When Your Marriage Might Be Over


This is the second article in our seven part Causes of Divorce series. Links to the following articles are at the bottom of the page.

For older generations, if one found oneself in an unhappy marriage, staying in it with gritted teeth was the default option. Nowadays, a divorce rate of approximately 45% might not sound that optimistic, but actually we’re probably the lucky ones. 

That’s because we know we have a choice in the matter. It takes a lot of energy and courage to leave a toxic relationship, and one study showed that one is 75% more likely to get divorced if someone close to them has already gone through it.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to figure out when to call it quits with your spouse and when to try and rescue a failing marriage. How do you know when your marriage is over, anyway? Well, this is ultimately your call to make, but we’ve compiled a list of 9 hints that your marital problems might constitute a relationship death sentence, as well as a couple strategies to employ if you decide not to give up on your troubled marriage just yet.

Sign #1: You Don’t Feel the Love for Each Other Anymore

This is the hardest hint to pin down and describe, because it’s just a feeling, and the way it manifests is as unique as you and your partner are. Even a healthy marriage has its ups and downs, but if your husband or wife feels less like your pillar and more like your roommate, you may be ready to seek out the emotional intimacy you deserve in a new relationship.

It can sometimes take a year or two to sort out whether this loss of palpable love is actually a sign of pervasive marriage problems as opposed to just ordinary fatigue. For instance, a longitudinal study by the Gottman Institute (headed by psychologist and relationship expert John Gottman) showed that a whopping 67% of couples experience a decline in relationship satisfaction in the 3 years following the arrival of their first child. 

Thus, if you and your partner have recently experienced a major life event, it might not be time to find a family law attorney just yet. Instead, wait until the chaos has settled a little, then try to strike up a meaningful conversation with your husband or wife. 

Tell your spouse how you’ve been feeling, and approach the topic with kindness and mutual respect. They might actually be relieved to hear about your doubts, because they might have been feeling the same way. Communication is key in rebuilding a healthy relationship. Which, incidentally, brings us to the next sign you might be ready for divorce.

Woman sitting alone contemplating divorce

Sign #2: You Hardly Communicate

Sometimes there’s more to communication than just talking. Sometimes the underlying tactics that you and your partner employ in conversation can make the difference between a breakthrough and a broken marriage.

The Gottman Institute has observed that there are 4 communication habits in particular which serve as reliable predictors that a married couple is headed for divorce, which they nicknamed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. These habits are not only antithetical to fostering a successful marriage. They may even rise to the level of emotional abuse.

Contempt is a particularly compelling relationship red flag, as it has been shown to affect the physical health of the targeted spouse along with their mental health. If your husband or wife has been rolling their eyes or mocking you with sarcasm, you know how awful it is to be treated with contempt. As it turns out, your body has been responding to that stress all along.

Perhaps that’s why contempt is actually the single greatest predictor of divorce -- thankfully, the instinct toward self-preservation can be pretty strong. If your partner treats you with contempt, your relationship is unlikely to improve without intervention. If you’re too hurt to summon the will to seek professional help, then it’s probably time to initiate divorce proceedings.

Sign #3: You’re Easily Irritated by Your Spouse, So Everything Turns into an Argument

This sign of impending divorce is related to ineffective or nonexistent communication. Perhaps your marital unhappiness has become so profound that the little things that didn’t used to bother you about your partner are now driving you crazy. How are you supposed to communicate openly enough to rescue a bad marriage when you’re so focused on holding your tongue about the disgusting way your spouse slurps their soup?

The only thing worse than your partner feeling like a roommate is your partner feeling like a bad roommate. After all, before you can focus on sexual and emotional intimacy, you have to get along well enough to live together in relative peace. You can’t love your spouse if you don’t even like them, right?

Maybe you can reroute your relationship in a healthier direction by renegotiating some aspects of your cohabitation and offering your spouse some constructive feedback, but this can be exhausting, and effort alone doesn’t guarantee you a happy marriage. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s time to find a marriage counselor or a divorce lawyer.

Couple sitting near a snow capped mountain range, discussing their marital problems

Sign #4: Problems with Your Sex Life

Another reason to rethink your relationship with your spouse is if the sexual intimacy is dissatisfying or nonexistent. It’s important to note that when we talk about relationship  issues surrounding sex, we’re not only referring to the possibility of an entirely sexless marriage. Perhaps you and your spouse have incompatible sexual interests or disparate levels of sexual desire. If it’s becoming more and more difficult to please both partners in this department, you may be at risk of divorce.

A 2014 study showed that sexual dissatisfaction accounts for 12% of the marital relationship problems that give rise to divorce. While issues in the bedroom aren’t necessarily determinative, they can definitely tip the scales. 

We all crave physical affection and intimacy, whether or not we equate those desires with sex. If sexual attention is an important ingredient in your recipe for love, and your partner just isn’t giving it to you, divorce might be the best way forward.

Sign #5: Infidelity

Maybe the sexual problem in your marriage is that your spouse is giving it to somebody else. Infidelity has long been considered a predictor of divorce, because rates are higher among couples who undergo divorce. However, it’s important to remember that correlation does not equal causation.

In a 2012 study coming out of Norway, more than 1,000 interviews were conducted, and the results indicated that cheating may represent a sign of an otherwise unsatisfying marriage rather than the root cause of the marriage ending. In other words, even if a couple did experience unfaithfulness, they were likely to cite a different reason -- namely fighting or a poor sex life -- for their marriage’s ultimate demise.

Still, if you or your partner has sought sex outside the marriage, it’s an excellent reason to look for underlying problems. You might just find a different item on this list, and it might be time to call it quits.

Sign #6: You Imagine Your Future Without Them

When you first got married, hopefully you felt inspired to look toward the future and plan a long, happy life with the person you had just committed yourself to. It’s natural to eventually stop planning and just start living, but if you’ve instead switched over to planning your escape, then divorce is probably in the cards for you.

Think ahead to where you see yourself in 5 years. If the thought of still being with your spouse scares you, then you’re better off taking action now. You deserve an inspiring partnership, and it’s better to be alone than to be with someone who’s dragging you down.

Sign #7: You’re Having an Emotional Affair

Now, it’s healthy to recognize that your spouse can’t and shouldn’t be everything to you. We genuinely hope that you have many satisfying relationships in your life and many reliable people you can lean on when the going gets tough. However, if you find yourself leaning on someone else more than you do your spouse, you may be experiencing an emotional affair.

It’s a fine line between friendship and something more, so examining the nature of your extra-marital relationship will be personal to you. When you get important news, who are you most eager to tell? Who do you think about when you first wake up? Only you can make this determination, but if you do decide that someone in your life is more than just a friend, you owe it to yourself and your spouse to be honest about your intentions.

Emotional infidelity operates similarly to physical cheating in that it may be a harbinger of divorce rather than it’s root cause. So, take this opportunity to examine your motivations, and it may just lead you to recognize what you truly want out of life and love.

Sign #8: You Don’t Respect Your Significant Other Anymore

Remember our little talk about contempt? Well, contempt is extremely hard to avoid if you no longer respect your spouse.

Maybe your feelings are justified. Maybe you married someone ambitious and optimistic, and you’ve ended up with a lazy grouch. Even if you know your partner relies on you more than you do on them, you’re not doing them any favors by staying in a marriage you resent. Instead, end the relationship with compassion. Perhaps it will be a motivating factor in them turning their life around and turning back into the terrific person you met all those years ago.

Sign #9: Lack of Trust

Marriage comes with all kinds of leaps of faith: you share finances, secrets, maybe even children. Trust is an essential factor anytime you make yourself vulnerable to another person, and vulnerability is inherent to a marriage.

Maybe you don't trust your partner because they were unfaithful to you in the past. Maybe you’re even a survivor of domestic violence. The past can be traumatic, even when it’s long behind us. Your partner may have changed, but your residual anger may prevent your opinion of them from catching up.

You may have heard that forgiveness is for you, not for the person who wronged you. It isn’t moral absolution; it’s your own decision to move forward. If you cannot forgive your spouse, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong or bad, but it does mean that the marriage is over. It simply isn’t fair to keep your partner tied down to someone who doesn’t trust them.

Either make a conscious decision to take one more leap of faith and trust your spouse again, or tell them it’s time for both of you to start anew with someone else.

Things You Can Try Before Completely Giving Up Hope

Maybe some of these hints that your marriage might be coming to an end do ring true, but you still believe it can be saved. It’s not too late until you decide it is. If you want to treat these alarm bells like a wakeup call instead of a death knell, here are some things you can do to try and rebuild.

Try to Communicate More Openly

Maybe you and your spouse have been guilty of the Gottman Institute’s Four Horsemen, but you didn’t even realize what you were doing was wrong. This new information presents an opportunity to correct course and see if things improve.

There are loads of resources available online regarding how to communicate effectively in high-conflict situations. You can start employing some of them on your own without even telling your spouse, and rewriting your own script might be enough to produce a change in them as well.

If that doesn’t work, try letting your spouse in on your tips and tricks, but make sure to tell them that you’re committed to employing these strategies yourself, too. This isn’t a unilateral criticism, it’s an act of respect and love.

Of course, having that conversation requires a baseline level of trust. If you don’t feel confident bringing it up yourself, it may be time to call in a professional.

Flower vase

Try Couples Counseling

If your own efforts at more effective communication fall flat, it’s a good thing that there are highly-trained experts out there who can help. 

Couples therapy can help teach you and your partner the communication skills you’ve been lacking on an even playing field, so your spouse does not perceive you to be talking down to them. It’s also a great opportunity for catharsis, because sometimes you need a safe environment in which to talk through the individual pain that may be a roadblock in your relationship.

Additionally, you may not realize that marriage counseling can also be an invaluable resource if you do decide to go through with a divorce. Uncoupling can be a stressful and confusing process, and a compassionate therapist will help guide you through it, minimizing your fear and anxiety.

Get a Divorce with It’s Over Easy

Whether your last ditch efforts failed or you simply decided not to make them, It’s Over Easy is definitely the least stressful way to get divorced. We can fill out the divorce forms for you, so that you have more time to do the things that make you feel happy and whole. Click here to get started.

In the next article of this series, we discuss when to walk away after infidelity. 

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