This is the sixth article in our seven part Causes of Divorce series. Links to the other articles are at the bottom of the page.
Some might equate the end of a marriage with tumultuous arguments, clandestine infidelities, or unforgivable betrayal. However, the signs of divorce can often be subtle, everyday occurrences that go unnoticed by one or both marital partners.
We surveyed family law attorneys, legal experts, counselors and therapists to get their opinions on what they consider to be the signs of divorce. Common factors include communication problems, lack of intimacy and lack of respect.
What are the most common signs of a divorce?
Sign #1: They Stop Communicating
Communication is a key ingredient to a healthy relationship. Even when it leads to a disagreement -- it is important for spouses to understand how the other is feeling on a daily basis. Some might think that avoidance of conversation to prevent arguments is preferable to fighting with a spouse.
However, when communication breaks down completely, this is a sign that neither party is willing to invest the effort to learn about what their spouse is feeling. This is an indication that both parties feel the relationship is no longer worth it.
Divorce experts shared with us how communication problems in a marriage are a sign of divorce.
“The top signs that a couple will follow through with a divorce is lack of communication. Couples that cannot communicate openly and honestly are likely to be unsuccessful at mediation.”
David Reischer, Esq. | Divorce Attorney & CEO of LegalAdvice.com
“A breakdown in communication between the spouses and disagreements about fundamental, core values are the biggest relationship issues I see before a spouse files for divorce.”
Melina L. Muñoz Turco, Esq. | JusticeApp® Co-Founder https://turcolegal.com
Sign #2: Lack of Respect, Resentment, or Contempt
Mutual respect is a foundational element of a healthy marriage. Insensitivity, ridicule or absence of empathy from a spouse can lead to anger, resentment and even fear. Divorce experts provided us with quotes on how lack of respect is a key indicator of divorce.
“The one sign that always concerns me is contempt. When a spouse is feeling and expressing contempt for their partner, unless it was just in the heat of the moment, it is very hard to come back from that.”
Gretta Duleba, LMFTA | Viridian Counseling, PLLC
“Lack of respect is the biggest sign of a troubled marriage leading to divorce. It's very common to hear partners who are heading toward divorce say, ‘I'm tired of this, of always fighting with you.’ They are usually more impatient than in the past and anger more easily.”
Rosalind Sedacca, CDC | The Voice of Child-Centered Divorce
Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach
“When a couple comes in, I can tell they want a divorce if they are condescending and dismissive of each other's thoughts and feelings. Additionally, couples who want to divorce cannot be talked out of it.”
Chloe Ballatore | Chloe’s Consciousness Training
“If you're feeling resentful of anything: that's a definite warning. Resentment is like rust that can eat away at the foundations of the relationship. You need to talk about it, get it resolved.”
Tina B. Tessina, PhD | (aka Dr. Romance)
Psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance's Guide to Finding Love Today
“As a therapist I often see these signs: criticism, stonewalling, contempt and defensiveness in high conflict couples who are heading for a divorce.”
Indigo Stray Conger | LMFT CST Choosing Therapy
“People divorce for a number of different reasons, but the common denominator is that the person who wants a divorce characterizes the other as a human being, to the core, in negative and critical ways.”
Rajeh A. Saadeh | The Law Office of Rajeh A. Saadeh
“Disdain sets in - Once one partner begins to feel disdain for the other the relationship is in real trouble.
I'm right and they're wrong. Many couples in bad relationships begin competing with each other in unhealthy ways. Instead of working together toward a better future, it's a competition to prove that the other is wrong or that they're better than their partner.”
Kayla Broek | Dating and Relationship Expert for BeyondAges.com
“The most common behavior is a loss of trust and the most common words you hear are, for example, ‘I don't trust him,’ or, ‘She's lied to me so much I don't know when she's telling the truth.’ ”
Sonia Frontera | Divorce attorney, empowerment trainer and author
Sign #3: Lack of Physical Intimacy
Intimacy is one of the essential aspects of a successful marriage, and is often taken for granted. A reduction in affection can be a result of busy work schedules, children, or some other stressful event.
Temporary stretches of abstinence between partners are not necessarily a sign of a problem, however if these periods last for months and years, the marriage may have reached the end of its life. Our experts provide insights on how a lack of physical intimacy is a primary sign of divorce.
“No sex or intimacy [is a sign of divorce]. When the relationship is stale and there is little-to-no intimacy, hugs, kissing, or cuddling anymore, it shows that there is a lack of love interest. Often this starts with things slowing down in the bedroom.”
“When everything is starting to get blurry and hard, or if you cannot find the affection that once filled you and your partner, these might be some indications that your relationship is heading to a divorce.”
Sonya Schwartz | Managing Editor at Her Norm
“Lack of intimacy/no sex, date nights are non-existent, and communication consists of nothing but negativity and shutting down. The common thread in all of these is the lack of effort. No work is being put in. They’ve just simply stopped trying.”
Destin Pfaff and Rachel Federoff | Founders and Relationship Experts of Love And Matchmaking
Other Signs of Divorce
Our divorce experts provided some other signs of divorce, including change in long term expectations, infidelity, incompatible lifestyle changes and emotional detachment.
“The ‘aha moment’ for many of my marital mediation clients who opt for the divorce route is finally realizing that they cannot change their partner’s behavior.”
Dori Shwirtz | Divorce Mediator and Coach
“Financial infidelity is one of the top signs that I see when a couple is about to divorce. If one spouse is living a lifestyle that doesn’t match earnings or doesn’t want to share bank statements or have budget meetings with their spouse. If credit card bills stop being delivered and online passwords no longer work, it’s a major red flag.”
Brie Reyes, CDFA®, CFP®, ChFEBC
“A big sign is an increase in fantasy or escape behaviors: buying a new car, watching more porn, drinking more, or making new friends. All of these behaviors could indicate moving towards creating a new life without their partner in it.”
Nicole Arzt | Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, who serves on the advisory board for Family Enthusiast
“Most partners initiating divorce will use words like, “hopeless”, “despair”, “detached”, “What's the point?”, “I'm ready to move on”, etc.”
Dr. Wyatt Fisher | Licensed Psychologist specializing in marriage counseling
“1. They look like strangers to each other. The spark is not there anymore. It’s like they are no longer happy with each other.
2. Everything is hard for them. When they try to talk about something they end up fighting.
3. There are no small fights anymore. When they don’t argue anymore, this might mean that they’re already being distant with each other and avoiding even a small confrontation.”
Samantha Moss | editor and content ambassador at Romantific.com
“Some of the signs as per my experience are: assuming the role of an absentee partner; refusing to partake in shared responsibilities; and choosing not to validate your significant other’s feelings.”
Leslie Montanile | Family Law Attorney
“When one spouse starts to detach, they can become less verbal and only provide bare minimum information when communicating about their day.
They begin to separate themselves financially from their spouse by using a separate checking account or no longer depositing their income into the joint account.
The most common areas of conflict for spouses prior to initiating a divorce include financial disputes, parenting disagreements of minor children, and communication issues.”
Tiffany M. Hughes, Esq. | Hughes Law
"Sleeping in separate bedrooms. So-called 'business dinners' and 'business travel' become more frequent, as do late nights out. Passwords on phones, computers and accounts are changed and not shared with the other spouse are some of the top signs.
If you suddenly find yourself alone most nights, your spouse is changing normalized routines including involvement with the children, financial information is literally disappearing from the household, passwords are changed, hardly speaking, you should consider seeing an attorney."
Lisa Zeiderman | Family Law Attorney and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
According to experts in the field, a universal predictor of divorce is emotional and physical detachment. The separation that happens emotionally, mentally and physically is often a precursor for the dissolution of the marriage. Detachment can lead to infidelity, dishonesty or divergent life goals.
If your partner feels like a stranger, your interactions are often combative, your lifestyle goals have moved apart, or there has been a betrayal in the relationship that cannot be surpassed, it may be time to consider divorce.
However, if you think there is still a connection with your spouse, it is imperative to take direct action to rebuild the bonds that originally brought you together. Forgoing pride, anger and resentment in order to make yourself emotionally available could be the life saver for your relationship.
In the last article of this series, we discuss the reasons that some couples find for divorce after 20 years of marriage.
Go to this page about online divorce to learn more.
Read the Entire Causes of Divorce Series
- Causes of divorce
- How to know when your marriage might be over
- When to walk away after infidelity
- Emotional affairs and texting
- When to walk away from a sexless marriage
- Divorce after 20 years