Lisa (not her real name) tells me, “My parents wondered why we aren’t going out together like we used to. They used to babysit for us every week, but it has been months now. I know something is wrong, but I can’t figure it out. We just aren’t happy; we aren’t having fun anymore. What is going on?” Her gut is telling her that their marriage is on the rocks.
Are you picking up signals of marital distress? The realization may come to you gradually, or friends and family may bring up their concerns. My clients frequently bring this issue to meetings with me.
Are you trying to avoid thinking about this, hoping that the marriage will get better with time? This is almost always a mistake. If you suspect your spouse wants a divorce, it is probably because you are seeing signs that you shouldn’t ignore.
Here are eight signs that your spouse is quite unhappy and considering divorce:
1. Your spouse is avoiding you, avoiding time together, or avoiding conversation.
Jeff told me, “It seems like all she wants to do is be with her friends. I don’t even know what she’s doing or when she’ll be home! Sometimes I eat dinner alone because she hasn’t even checked in!” Margo says, “When I try to tell Marc about my day, he isn’t even listening. He looks totally bored!”
These are signs of emotional (and physical) detachment.
- Your spouse isn’t interested in where you are or what you’re doing.
- You feel an emotional disconnect. When you try to connect, your spouse literally or symbolically turns away.
Perhaps you’ve been arguing a lot, which is a kind of negative connection, but you may be glad to have some distance now. Taking a “time out” from fighting is a good thing, but if it continues, it is a sign of serious problems in your relationship.
2. You live like roommates and your partner rejects sexual overtures.
Kim told me sadly, “We are like ships passing in the night.” And Jack said, “We used to make love often, but now we can go for months without physical contact.”
In relationships like this, there is no more romance. If you talk at all, it is about logistics like who can pick up groceries. You may talk about the children, a safe topic because you both love your kids. Your spouse may not cuddle, hug, or say “I love you” anymore. You may have told yourself that this is normal over time. “We still love each other, but we aren’t “in love” anymore,” you tell yourself.
3. Your spouse is unwilling to work on the relationship to resolve conflicts or improve communication. There are excuses, “I’m too busy,” or “It’s all in your head.”
Becca said, “I bought the book on how to fix our marriage, but he never even opened it.”
You have expressed your worries that he or she is drifting away. You have offered to do whatever it takes to fix your marriage: counseling, date nights, even reading self-help books together. But your partner isn’t interested in taking steps to improve things. Or perhaps she or he will agree to some token steps, unenthusiastically.
4. Your spouse doesn’t seem to care about your feelings.
Jeff said, “When I told Maggie that my boss gave me a bad review, she just said I should ‘get over it.’”
There is a lot of arguing: criticism, blame, stonewalling, and contempt. John Gottman calls these the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Or worse, communication has completely shut down.
5. He or she is always “busy” and preoccupied with late nights at “work,” texting, disappearing for walks, or phone calls with “a friend.”
You may suspect or know about an affair. Jason, for example, noticed that Angie was distracted and that she seemed to have a lot of secret phone calls and texts. “She changed her password on her computer so that raised my suspicions. I knew she’d had an affair last year, but she’d promised it was over. Now I am not so sure it is.”
Marie said, “He never used to have so many dinner meetings at work! But when he got home after 11:00 one night, I knew something was going on.”
6. Your spouse suddenly begins to care more about their looks.
Abby said her husband was talking about hair replacement and going on a diet. He was spending hours working out at the gym. “At first, I supported his efforts to improve his looks, but then I started to wonder why, all of sudden, this is so important to him?”
Neil told me that he’d been asking his wife to lose weight for years, and now wondered “Why is she so committed to this crash diet when she doesn’t seem interested in me at all?”
7. Your spouse is secretive about money, his social media, email, and phone.
If your spouse has not been involved in your family finances, s/he might suddenly get very interested.
James told me “My wife quickly shuts down the phone or computer when I come into the room. It seems like she’s hiding something!”
Fran said, “I don’t know where Jim is investing now, and I never see the bank statements anymore.”
8. You notice that the computer search history has terms like “divorce,” “divorce lawyers,” or “separation.”
“The alarm bells went off when I saw this,” Pat says. “It was a wake-up call. But I guess I must have suspected something was going on when I decided to look at the search history.”
“I got curious when Richard was on his computer in the middle of the night. So, when he wasn’t around, I looked at his search history,” Chris tells me. “I was devastated. I knew things weren’t great, but I never thought he’d even think about divorce.”
First, acknowledge these warning signs. They cannot be swept under the rug. The problems never go away on their own and left unaddressed they will become more toxic. If you want to strengthen your relationship, you will need to tackle these issues directly. You will need to find the courage to face the worries.
Stay calm and focused, even if the marriage may already be past the point of rescue. Ask your partner if he/she is willing to work on the relationship, repair it, or go to marriage counseling. If your partner refuses, then divorce is almost inevitable.
Get the emotional support you need, from a therapist, family, or friends.
Consider a transitional nesting arrangement to give you, your spouse, and your children some time to restructure your relationship, time to heal from the pain you may be feeling, time to learn co-parenting skills and work out the best co-parenting plan you can for your unique family.
Then, work with your spouse to choose a respectful, honest, and amicable legal process. This will cost you less financially and emotionally than an adversarial process. Consider interviewing Collaborative Divorce professionals in your area. A Collaborative Divorce will also help you recover and learn to be good co-parents if you have children.
A version of this article was originally published on psychologytoday.com, August 3, 2021.