10 Signs a Couple Is Headed for Divorce, According to a Marriage Counselor

No two marriages end the same way. But several of these issues could serve as warning signs.

signs of divorce

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 onto a stronger, happier 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 your 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 many such dissolutions 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. But don’t take our word for it: Listen to Raffi Bilek, a marriage counselor, and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, who regularly councils couples on issues that lead to divorce. Here, Bilek lays out 10 common signs of divorce couples should look out for.

They Feel Defensive Around One Another

Do you find that you’re constantly walking around your house with your dukes up? It may be a sign divorce is near. 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.”

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 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.”

One Partner Refuses to Talk

Outright silence is always a bad sign. It could lead to divorce in the near future, 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 [a] 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.”

They Always Criticize Each Other

Sure, a little constructive criticism can be helpful in almost 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 one of the major signs of divorce.”

One 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, 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.”

They Are Choosing Online Relationships Over Their Spouse

When individuals prioritize online relationships over the one with their spouse, they tend to justify it by saying it’s not technically cheating. 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.”

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, is this on-ramp to infidelity? “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 very slippery slope.”

One — or Both — Is Not Interested in Sex Anymore

Look, stuff happens. Our bodies get older, we start to lose energy, and the excitement of a new relationship starts to wear off. Even your sex drive gets 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.”

One Person 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 Partner Refuses to Attend Counseling

According to research by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, a whopping 97% of couples surveyed said that outside help got their marriages back on track. So, marriage counseling and couples therapy work. 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.”