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Long-standing patterns of disrespect, communication breakdown, and lack of intimacy are signs your marriage is over and may be heading for a divorce.
The causes of divorce are often complex. While major challenges like infidelity can stop a marriage right in its tracks, some couples experience more subtle breakdowns over a longer period of time.
It’s natural to encounter hurdles when you’re in a partnership. Differences in perspective and expectations may require compromise.
When you disagree more than you agree, however, or when other minor concerns become enduring patterns of conflict, divorce may begin to be an option for one or both partners.
Every couple is different, and as long as there’s love and commitment, most relationship challenges can be overcome. But, if left unresolved, these are common signs of divorce in some marriages.
Intimacy in relationships involves more than just the physical act of sex. It’s an expression — physically and emotionally — of the sense of closeness and trust you and your partner share.
Reducing the frequency or quality of sex may certainly be a sign of relationship trouble. However, physical intimacy can also include holding hands, cuddling, affectionate touching, or your partner’s desire for physical comfort.
There are many types of intimacy, and depending on the couple, some may be considered more important than others. Still, changes in any intimacy type may signal trouble.
A lack of intimacy might indicate a desire to avoid or stop attachment or the presence of a third-party relationship.
Elise Leon, a certified mental health and wellness coach from Montgomery, New York, warns against the “roommate trap,” where contentment replaces deep bonding.
“You go about your day and go to work and come home and eat dinner and do your own thing,” she says. “Maybe you even sleep in separate bedrooms. Roommates can be the best of friends, but you two operate like roommates that tolerate each other.”
Lack of intimacy with no intention to rekindle is one of the main signs a marriage is over.
How to build intimacy
Building intimacy doesn’t require grand gestures. Often, the little things in a relationship count the most.
Research from 2013 indicates that small acts of kindness and compassion, like making your spouse an unasked-for cup of coffee, are associated with lasting love.
Another sign of divorce probability is when arguments stop, but relationship challenges remain unresolved. This can mean communication is breaking down or that one or both partners don’t feel there’s any value in voicing their needs and opinions.
In fact, no communication also speaks volumes.
“This can be a sign that one of you is shutting down and cutting the emotional ties in the relationship,” she warns. “[You] have given up and are putting [your] energy elsewhere. If you still have a lot of unsolved problems, this is a sign to pay attention to.”
How to keep communication open
Communication doesn’t mean continuing to argue. Open communication with the clear goal of resolving conflict is the key.
Leon recommends active communication every chance you get.
“Talk about everything, the ups, the downs, the good and the ugly. This person should be more than your best friend,” she advises.
If you cannot find common communication grounds, a couple’s expert may be able to guide you.
Timko adds that energy spent outside the relationship over the time you spend with a partner may signal the relationship is in trouble.
“Eventually, all couples expand their focus to include careers, family, and hobbies. This expansion is natural and healthy for the relationship,” she says. “However, it is critical that at the end of the day, each of you feels like your partner would choose you over others.”
How to start prioritizing
Prioritizing is about being intentional. You can start prioritizing your spouse by becoming a better listener and showing an interest in their activities while being mindful to include them in yours.
“A telling activity is to describe what your partner’s day is like,” suggests Timko. “If you don’t know, then your relationship is suffering from deep disconnection.”
There are many ways disrespect can manifest in a relationship. Contempt, or a malicious form of criticism, is an example and one of the notorious predictors of divorce outlined by Dr. John Gottman in his work.
Disrespect can appear in other ways, too. It can take the form of abusive behaviors like:
Disrespect can be a callous disregard for your wants and needs.
“If either spouse is engaged in name calling or character assassination or is disrespectful in any way, it lays the groundwork for eventual divorce,” says Lesli Doares, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Raleigh, North Carolina.
How to regain respect
Setting boundaries, communicating them, and sticking to them can help you regain respect in a relationship. You may consider if you’d like this relationship saved, though.
Identifying some of the relationship behaviors you won’t tolerate, and signs of abuse may help you make a decision.
When a relationship is new, boundaries are often established through trial and error, communication, and compromise.
Timko points out that persistently violating your established boundaries may be one of the warning signs of divorce.
“Every couple has rules about the ways that they solve problems. These include things like ‘we don’t yell at one another or no name calling,’” she explains. “If either of you starts crossing those lines and your conflict becomes more intense than in the past, this is a sign that you feel increasingly desperate to solve important problems.”
Other boundary-crossing situations may involve invading your partner’s privacy, like looking through private communications and internet browsing history.
How to respect boundaries again
Ignoring boundaries can be a sign of disrespect, disconnection, and lack of regard. Reaffirming your boundaries may not be enough in this situation.
If your behaviors come from a place of resentment, spitefulness, or mistrust, there may be underlying causes that need to be addressed. A mental health professional may help you both discuss the root cause of boundary violation and the best ways to reconnect in this aspect.
Can an unhappy marriage survive?
Yes, and many unhappy marriages never end in divorce. That doesn’t mean happiness returns, though.
“Survive? Yes. Thrive? No,” says Talia Bombola, a certified psychodynamic licensed marriage and family therapist from Newport Beach, California.
Bombola explains both partners must be committed to change if the relationship quality is to improve. Otherwise, unhappy couples who stay together out of fear of change or complacency may stay married but find happiness persistently dwindles.
The signs of divorce aren’t always obvious. Sometimes, the challenges that predict divorce are present early in a relationship and, over time, build up to become insurmountable.
If there’s still love, it may be possible to fix things before the marriage is over.
For many couples, professional relationship guidance is often necessary to help reforge communication lines and explore underlying intimacy concerns.