9 Big Signs A Couple Is Headed For Divorce, According To A Marriage Counselor

No two marriages end the same way. But these common signs signal that it may be headed towards an ending.

Originally Published: 

They say those who can’t recall the past are doomed to repeat it. But the encouraging flip-side of that truism is that if we pay attention to our behavior patterns and make changes, we can get ourselves and our relationships on the strongest, happiest possible path. Especially in the context of marriage, how can we spare ourselves the agony of repeating the same mistakes again and again? Are the warning signs a marriage may be over just signposts along the road to an inevitable destination — divorce? Or can the warning signs of divorce motivate us to take a second look at our relationships and ourselves?

There isn’t a singular reason why couples split. Every relationship is different, and no two marriages end the same way. But there are many that share similarities like breaches of trust, endless criticizing, and breakdowns in communication. These issues can cause a once-solid foundation to crack. And those cracks may be signs that divorce is somewhere on the horizon.

As some toy soldiers famously said, knowing is half the battle. So we spoke with therapist Raffi Bilek, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center who often provides council to couples on issues that lead to divorce. Here, Bilek lays out the most common signs of divorce he thinks couples should look out for.

1. They Feel Defensive Around One Another

Do you find that you’re constantly walking around your house with your theoretical dukes up? Per Bilek, a natural state of defensiveness around your spouse is a bad sign. “Spouses who are constantly on guard for an attack from each other are in a bad place,” he says. “Naturally, the attacks are hard on the marriage, but the defensive responses can be equally harmful.” Responding with defensiveness, he adds, makes them feel unheard and unconnected and sets up a cycle of escalation that can ultimately destroy the relationship.

2. They Speak to Each Other With Contempt

Every couple fights. And all of us say things we don’t mean in the heat of the moment. But when there’s genuine bile behind the berating, it’s a problem. “Contempt is a genuine devaluing and disrespect for the other person,” says Bilek. “Respect is essential in a marriage, and it can still exist even in the face of disagreement or anger. But, when you see your spouse as someone unworthy of your respect, your marriage is likely to go downhill from there.”

3. Silence Is A Natural Defense

“If you try to engage your spouse on the issues that are bothering you, and all you get is silence, shutting down, or checking out, your relationship is not in a good place,” says Bilek. Also known as stonewalling, the practice of icing someone out is a bad omen. “It means that someone has ceased putting effort into fixing things,” Bilek adds. “And if that effort isn’t there, things will only get worse.”

4. They Always Criticize Each Other

Sure, a little constructive criticism can be helpful in almost any aspect of your life. But, it only works when there’s balance. “If you are criticizing each other more than you’re complimenting each other, you’re headed for trouble,” Bilek says. “In fact, research shows that you need five positive statements to counteract every negative one in order to keep a relationship on good terms. Constant criticism is one of the major signs of divorce.”

5. Porn Takes Precedence

Roughly half of marriages end in divorce when one partner has an “obsessive interest in porn.” Bilek explains: “Many people watch pornography casually or periodically. When it becomes a priority over a spouse, however, then it means that the sexual relationship, and therefore the marriage, is severely compromised. Most people aren’t happy playing second fiddle to the computer, and when it’s in this sensitive realm, it can explode a relationship pretty quickly.”

6. They Find Themselves Thinking of Other Potential Relationships

This is where things get murky. When it’s just you and your thoughts, do you fantasize about other relationships, and if so, how detailed do you get? Are you just fantasizing about them, or building a Sims-level version of your life together in your head? “It is normal to find other people attractive and to feel desire for people apart from your spouse,” Bilek says. “But when you start imagining yourself in a relationship with other people and considering intimate details of what that would be like, it’s a sign you are shaking off some of the bonds of your marriage and puts you on a slippery slope.”

7. One — Or Both — Is Not Interested in Sex Anymore

Sex fluctuates throughout our lives. But something sex therapists like to say is that while the quantity of sex in a relationship often decreases in long term relationships over time, the quality is better. If there’s no interest at all for sex by one or both in a relationship, it likely spells trouble. “In a healthy relationship, there is still some desire on the part of both spouses to engage in physical intimacy on a regular basis,” Bilek says. “If the emotional intimacy in your relationship is so low that the physical intimacy isn’t even of interest anymore, that’s a bad sign.”

8. One Person Has An Addiction And Isn’t Seeking Treatment

Substance abuse is often something Bilek see drive relationships apart. Even more so when there’s a refusal to admit a problem or accept treatment. “When getting your substance of choice is more important to you than your spouse, it is only a matter of time before the choices you make push you further and further away from them,” Bilek says. “A person consumed by getting their next drink or their next high will never have the necessary energy to devote to the relationship.”

9. One Partner Refuses To Attend Counseling

Marriage counseling can often be an excellent resource for couples — before they start having problems and when the problems are there. But if one person wants to attend therapy to iron out their issues couple actually goes. ““hen one partner refuses to attend sessions, it’s a sign that they are unwilling to put the requisite effort into the marriage,” says Bilek. “And, even if the problem is small, you could be facing a serious deterioration of the relationship.”

This article was originally published on