It’s been said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Considering this in the context of marriage, it’s smart to have an awareness of what causes the 41 percent of first marriages that end in divorce every year (or the 60 percent of second marriages or the 73 percent of third). Of course, no two marriages end the same way. But many share some similarities — breakdowns of communication, issues of accountability, endless criticizing — that cause a once-solid foundation to crack. Don’t take our word for it; take it from Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, a marriage counselor and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, who regularly sees couples in various stages of disarray. Here, Bilek laid out ten common signs that couples could be headed for divorce.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Divorce and Kids
They speak to each other with contempt.
Every couple fights. And everyone says things they don’t mean in the heat of the moment. But, when there’s legitimate 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.”
They always criticize each other.
Sure, a little constructive criticism can be helpful in just about any aspect of your life. But, it only works with 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 a well-worn path to divorce.”
They always feel defensive around each other.
Are you constantly walking around your house with your dukes up? According to 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 to your spouse makes them feel unheard and unconnected and sets up a cycle of escalation that can ultimately destroy the relationship.”
One partner refuses to talk.
Outright silence is always a bad sign, especially if one partner is genuinely trying to suss out a relationship’s issues. “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,” adds Bilek. “Stonewalling is bad omen. It means that someone has ceased putting effort into fixing things. And if that effort isn’t there, things will only get worse.”
One – or both – is not interested in sex anymore.
Look, stuff happens. Our bodies get older. We start to lose energy. The excitement of a new relationship starts to wear off. Your sex drives get misaligned. It happens. “There is no doubt that over time couples tend to have sex less frequently,” says Bilek. “But in a healthy relationship there is still some desire on the part of both spouses to engage in physical intimacy on a regular basis. 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.”
They find themselves thinking about other potential relationships.
This is where things get murky – when it’s just you and your thoughts. “It is normal to find other people attractive and to feel desire for people apart from your spouse,” Bilek admits. “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 very slippery slope.”
One has an addiction and isn’t seeking treatment
Addictions are relationship killers. In fact, nearly half of relationships end in divorce when at least one partner has an addiction. “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.”
One — or both — partner prefers online porn to their spouse
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, 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.”
They are engaging in online relationships over their spouse.
It’s not technically cheating. Is it? According to Bilek, “Even if your Internet use isn’t turning sexual, engaging in romantic or flirtatious relationships online can be disastrous for a relationship.” He adds: “Emotional affairs can be as destructive as sexual ones. If you are turning to the internet to meet an emotional need you’re not getting in your marriage, you may be headed for divorce faster than you think.”
One partner refuses to go to counseling.
According to research done by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, a whopping 97 percent of couples surveyed said that outside help got their marriages back on track. So, counseling works. But only if a couple actually goes. “Whatever the problem is, if you have been unable to solve it on your own, a professional couples counselor can help enormously,” Bilek says. “The act of simply going to counseling is an expression of your commitment to each other. And so, when one partner refuses to attend sessions, it’s a sign that they are unwilling to put the requisite effort into the marriage. And, even if the problem is small, you could be facing a serious deterioration of the relationship.”