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Divorce: 8 signs your marriage is about to crash

Divorce decree, gavel and folder shot on warm wooden surface

Divorce comes out of nowhere for some people. For others it builds up over a long period of time.

But there are ways you could know when issues with your spouse might lead to separation.

Clinical psychologist Dr Melissa Keogh in an article for Kidspot indicates the eight signs your marriage is on the rocks and might be headed for divorce.



After 40 years of research on couples, world renowned psychologist Dr John Gottman found that the number one factor most likely to predict divorce is the presence of contempt within a relationship.

Contempt is the opposite of respect and refers to an overall attitude of superiority. It includes behaviours that are belittling such as eye rolling, finger pointing, sneering, and put downs (i.e., “you are pathetic”).

As a therapist, if I come across this pattern in the clinic I am quick to point out the danger of this pattern.


A non-existent sex life

Sex is a vital part of a long-term, fulfilling and happy marriage. While some couples choose to stay together in the absence of a sexual relationship, sometimes for years or decades at a time, long periods of abstinence and highly mismatched libidos can cause serious issues in a marriage.

Seeing a sex therapist may be helpful to preserve the union.


The presence of physical, verbal, sexual and/or emotional abuse

Often marriages end as a result of abuse and/or violence. If the behaviour is repeated and the abusive individual does not seek help separation and divorce may indeed be the best action to take. Leaving an abusive partner, however, can be notoriously difficult and much assistance and planning is often needed.


A lack of positive effect when reminiscing about the past

Dr Gottman’s research on couples has also found that an absence of fondness when recalling memories of when a couple first met is also predictive of divorce.

The omnipresence of negative behaviours such as defensiveness, criticism and stonewalling (shutting down and closing off from the discussion with your mate) is also highly indicative of an upcoming dissolution, although it’s not just the manner in which couples argue that’s important.

According to Dr Gottman, the way couples make up after a fight and whether or not they are able to reconcile successfully with a “repair attempt” (i.e, I’m sorry, can we try that again?) also influences marital stability over time.


Substance abuse and gambling addiction

Long-term, ongoing drug and alcohol abuse and/or gambling addiction can place significant stress on a marriage. The level of dishonesty and deceit commonly associated with such issues can also see trust significantly eroded over time.

It is therefore not uncommon for marriages to come to an end under such circumstances, especially if treatment is not sought.

Where gambling in particular is concerned, substantial financial stress can also ensue and studies show that arguments about money in a relationship (particularly early on) are highly predictive of divorce. In fact, fights about finances are more problematic and intense than fights about any other topic, such as the kids.


Ongoing infidelity

While couples can, and do, survive an affair (usually with the help of a professional), sustaining a marriage in the face of chronic unfaithfulness is very difficult to do.

It can leave the victim feeling exhausted, vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and questioning their self worth. Many individuals involved with a serial cheater, especially one who is unable to be fully honest and transparent and cut contact with the partner/s outside the union can eventually find themselves at the end of their tether and seeking to separate.


One (or both) parties have an untreated personality disorder

Personality disorders are complex and severe by nature and typically place enormous stress on relationships, especially when left untreated.

Narcissistic personality disorder for instance is characterised by a focus and preoccupation on the self in combination with an absence of empathy and insight. This can leave partners feeling used and abused and wanting out.


Other factors

There are many also other reasons that couples give during counselling for deciding to end the marriage and seek divorce.

Most commonly clients report that they are no longer “in love” with their partner, they feel that they are “incompatible” or that they just want to be single.

Another common scenario includes those who married young (in some cases to get away from their family situation) and want to leave the relationship to pursue other options as have they have grown. Some people realise their sexuality is not heterosexual after all.

Deciding whether or not divorce is the answer for you is highly individual. It’s also a process that can take considerable time and seeking professional help can be beneficial.

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