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17 Subtle Signs of Divorce Most People Don't See Coming

It's not just screaming matches that mean a marriage is in trouble.

When you think of the major signs of marriage trouble, your mind probably jumps to the image of enormous blowout fights or shocking cheating scandals. And while those things have certainly spelled the end for more than a few formerly happy unions, they're not the only indicators that there's trouble ahead. On the contrary, most marriages go sour due to a culmination of factors. Whether you've got a gut feeling that something is off or just want to ensure you avoid anything that could derail your romance, these are the signs of divorce a shocking number of people miss.

Your high-conflict relationship has turned into a no-conflict relationship.

unhappy white woman facing away from middle eastern man on his phone outside in the cold

If you used to fight a lot and have suddenly stopped, it might seem like a relief. But in many cases, that's actually a sign your marriage could be failing, says Allison Zamani, AMFT, APCC. It takes an effort to argue, and if you both already see the writing on the wall for your relationship—whether it's conscious or subconscious—you might think it's no longer worth it.

"It can sometimes feel like if you're not fighting then everything is working," says Zamani. "But often, when a relationship changes from being high-conflict to no conflict, it's an indication that one of the partners has stopped feeling that the relationship is worth investing in."

Your "jokes" and criticisms cut to the core.

white woman looking offended by white boyfriend talking and smiling at her while sitting outside

A little teasing can be fun in a marriage, but if your jokes about how your partner always leaves their dishes in the sink turn into jokes about how they're truly a lazy person, you might have trouble on your hands. "It could be easy to normalize verbal assaults as nagging," says Allison D. Osburn-Corcoran, LMFT. In the wrong kind of criticism, "the partner's character, and not just their actions, are scrutinized." 

If you're finding yourself laughing at your spouse's expense (or feeling laughed at), you might be losing respect for each other. And these "jokes" are nothing to take lightly, either—they could lead to growing resentment in your relationship, and ultimately be a sign of divorce.

And your bickering has reached a fever pitch.

young black man pointing his finger at black woman putting her hands out while they argue on the couch

Constant irritability with your partner is usually a sign of something deeper. It's probably not really about the socks on the floor, the burned dinner, or the forgotten milk on the counter. If you're having fights over seemingly insignificant matters, the core of your communication is most likely the problem.

And as with your jokes and criticisms, if your bickering leads to character assaults, then your marriage is most definitely not OK. "If you're saying things you wish you could take back, it's not normal," couple and family therapist Tracy K. Ross, LCSW, told Bustle.

When you picture the future, it's hard to see them in it.

middle eastern woman looking pensive while holding a journal

How clearly can you imagine a future where you have an absolutely awesome relationship with your spouse? Couples therapist Ti Caine says this is the most crucial question he asks every couple before he begins working with them. If you've stopped imagining yourself with your partner by your side five or ten years down the road, it could be a subtle sign you don't really want them there.

And you no longer star in each other's fantasies.

young latino man smiling with his eyes closed while lying on his pillow in bed

Along the same lines, when you daydream about traveling to Bali or indulge in a sexual fantasy, is your spouse with you? If not, you might be subconsciously trying to "escape" into an imaginary world without them. While everyone fantasizes on their own to some extent, your partner should factor into at least some of your imaginary scenarios.

You're having sex way less frequently.

young gay couple in bed with one crossing his arms and the other facing away and looking at his phone

Take note if things are slowing down in the bedroom, says Christine Scott-Hudson, LMFT. "Having sex less often can be a sign of relationship trouble," she says. "People get tired, busy, and overwhelmed, and they start to take each other for granted. Ignoring your partner in the bedroom usually correlates to ignoring your partner outside of the bedroom, as well."

In hard times, intimacy is often the glue that holds married couples together. Ask yourself if your sex life is failing, or if you don't feel connected when you do have sex. If you're sleeping as far apart as possible or making excuses to avoid sex, it might be time to take a long, hard look at your marriage.

You have serious disagreements about money.

white woman with her hand on her forehead and white man putting his arms out while they hold papers and look at a laptop

It might seem normal to argue over a pricey TV here or an expensive suit there. But fighting about money is nothing to take lightly—and it's a major sign of marriage trouble a lot of couples miss. A 2017 survey from MagnifyMoney even found that financial issues were responsible for the divorces of 21 percent of respondents. Besides the toll your constant bickering will take on you and your spouse's bond, arguing about finances is also a sign you never had shared priorities or goals for the future in the first place. 

You feel like you're losing your best friend.

older black man sitting forward on the couch while older black woman looks at home

Even if there are no glaring signs there's a problem with your relationship, listen to your gut. If you have an underlying sense of loneliness or emptiness (even when your spouse is literally right there), it could mean that the friendship foundation of your marriage is deteriorating.

"It's often an underlying feeling of loneliness when the friendship side of the relationship is not what it should be," says clinical psychologist Luke Carrangis, the founder of Mindview Psychology. "People are often not fully aware of the importance of this friendship as the basis of their relationship."

Your spouse isn't the first person you call when something bad happens.

white woman crying on the phone

Flat tire? Medical problem? An issue with the kids? For most people, their spouse is the person they immediately turn to. While deep, connected relationships outside of your marriage are crucial, your spouse should generally be your go-to person for emotional support and help in an emergency. If you don't feel like you can rely on them in a crisis, your marriage could be falling apart. 

And the same is true when something good happens. If the first person you want to call after a big promotion or a special moment with your toddler isn't your spouse, you might want to consider why. In general, your spouse should be there to support you in bad times and celebrate with you in good ones. So if you don't feel like celebrating with them, it might be time to investigate what's gone wrong—before it leads to major marriage trouble and even divorce.

You don't really care about your spouse's day.

white man yawning while excited white woman talks to him on couch

Feeling less interested in casual chats with your spouse is a major sign there's trouble ahead. "When a couple has been together for a long time, they can either grow closer or drift further apart," says Carrangis. "I refer to this as the 'relational friendship' and it includes staying up to date with each other as you both grow and expand as people."

Once you stop listening—really listening—when your partner talks, your marriage is much likelier to break down. And if you're silently rolling your eyes every time they start telling a story—well, that's not something you should ignore. 

There are awkward silences.

young black couple sitting next to each other at a coffee shop and not speaking or making eye contact

Silence is golden—unless it's awkward! While conversational plateaus can kick in as early as two years into a relationship, those plateaus should never result in the types of awkward silences you experience when trying to make small talk with an annoying coworker. If you feel like you've run out of things to say, it could mean that you no longer see your spouse as a friend and have started to feel disconnected.

You never have deep conversations anymore.

white woman looking off in the distance while white man talks to her at outdoor cafe

The common thread here is that marriage problems often begin with a breakdown in communication. One or both partners might not feel heard when they speak, or might feel misunderstood by the other. Having empty "small talk" without digging into deeper issues or sharing how you really feel is an indicator that your relationship might be beginning to fall apart.

You spend so much time together that you could be considered codependent.

sad young black woman and young white woman sitting on the dock at a lake and not looking at each other

It might seem a counterintuitive to think that too much time together is a problem. But in most healthy relationships, time apart is normal. Even if you genuinely love being around your partner, you usually need some space to be on your own or to spend time with other important people in your life. If you're both going overboard, becoming codependent, and spending virtually all of your time together, you might be trying to convince yourself that the spark hasn't died. 

Or you'd almost always prefer to spend time alone than time with your spouse.

older white woman reading a book under a blanket by the fire

Of course, everyone needs some time to recharge. But if you or your spouse is "recharging" way more than usual these days, it could be a sign there's trouble in paradise. "If they chose to be alone mostly when given a choice, then there is a threat present for the relationship," clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow, PhD, told Bustle.

For example, when your spouse comes home, do they head straight to the bedroom to read by themselves or head to the couch to read with you? If you don't have much interest in spending quality time together, you might not be making each other a priority anymore.

You're more glued to your phone than usual.

asian woman looking annoyed while asian man ignores her to look at phone

If Twitter is suddenly way more engrossing than whatever story your spouse is trying to tell, there's probably trouble brewing. A 2014 Pew Research Center report found that while 72 percent of adult internet users reported that the internet has had "no real impact at all" on their marriage, of those that did see an impact, 20 percent said it was mostly negative, and a quarter of respondents said their partners were distracted by their phone when they were together. 

It's also common for couples to use their phones as a way of avoiding the problems in their marriage. "When people come in and say they've grown apart, this is one way it happens," clinical psychologist and relationship coach Susan Heitler, PhD, told The New York Times. "They're tuned into their devices rather than each other."

You turn to your vices as a source of comfort.

white man putting his arm around other white man while they drink beers

You shouldn't need a few glasses of wine or a cigarette to tolerate time with your spouse. And if you have been falling into those habits—especially if you never did before—know that it's an unhealthy form of escape. If you don't want to spend time together sober, you might have lost the connection that initially attracted you to one another.

You have little to no interest in working on your marriage.

older white couple at couples therapy

Here's the good news: Marital problems, from poor communication and lack of intimacy to loneliness and jealousy, can be mended! An open dialogue (and possibly some help from a couples therapist) can go a long way toward healing your relationship. But if the thought of that doesn't interest you, your marriage is in serious trouble—and you might be on the road to divorce.

Laura Dorwart
Laura Dorwart, MFA, PhD, is a health and lifestyle writer. Read more
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