Deciding whether you're in a failing marriage that's beyond repair is obviously not a choice that comes easily—especially when you've put in the work to try and salvage what feels like a loveless partnership. You might've chosen to overlook those first signs that divorce is the best move for one (or both) of you, and you've been coping with an unhappy relationship for some time. Or, perhaps you hope that the union's still got some fight left and you're not ready to leave. It's not a decision to take lightly. But now, whether it's a matter of one too many arguments, trust-sapping infidelity, or something else entirely, you're clearly contemplating a permanent split.
"Many relationships can be revived," says Robyn D'Angelo, marriage and family therapist and owner of the Happy Couple Experts of Orange County. "But if there's been too much neglect, damage, or depletion of all the 'nutrients' necessary to cultivate a healthy relationship, it may have reached its final expiration date."
Here are the most common signs that you should consider divorce, and that you may be ready to move on to the next chapter of your life.
You never argue.
Believe it or not, you're supposed to argue. Silence and avoidance can be detrimental to a relationship. "When you just can't be bothered anymore, it means something is missing," says relationship expert Dr. Juliana Morris.
While not all fights are productive, it's healthy to be able to resolve arguments in a way that benefits the marriage, she says: "You fight for each other. You fight for the relationship. The biggest problem is when there's no fight left."
Winning is everything.
While never fighting (i.e. complete detachment) may be one sign of impending divorce, the way you argue when you do have a disagreement is another indication. "Ideally, you want a conflict to be resolved in a way that preserves the relationship," says Morris. "If fighting is more about pointing fingers, placing blame and the need to 'win,' the focus becomes power and not connection." And that, she says, is a red flag.
You want to provoke your spouse.
When you find that you're constantly testing how far you can push your marriage before it completely shatters, you're playing divorce roulette. Sunny Joy McMillan, author of Unhitched says that once you start trying to push your spouse's threshold, it's possible that you subconsciously want to end things but are afraid to make the move.
For example, if you leave your computer open to an inappropriate (read: flirtatious) email exchange, you may secretly be hoping your spouse finds it so they'll initiate a conversation about why you've been unhappy.
They send your heart racing.
We're not talking the pitter patter of love. We're referring to full on, heart rate rising stress. If you have a negative physical reaction when your spouse walks into the room, it's important to pay attention to what your body is telling you, says McMillan.
Along those same lines, if your heart grows heavy and your stomach balls up into a knot every time you think about staying in your marriage, your body is letting you know it might be time to go. "Our brains can lie to us," says McMillan. "Our body on the other hand, is the incorruptible truth-teller."
You hide your real self.
If you feel like you'll be rejected if your spouse sees "all" of who you are, it's impossible to be in a fulfilling relationship, says Lauren Lake, a relationship expert and paternity court judge.
"When you constantly have to filter yourself, or keep your beliefs away from your spouse, it shows a lack of respect in your opinion. And that's tough to fix."
You're overcompensating on Facebook.
Social media usually manufactures an extremely edited version of our lives. It's also a space in which it's easy to craft an illusion, hiding the reality of an unhappy marriage. According to Morris, when you or your partner suddenly start to overshare on social media, it's usually an attempt to cover up the truth. Constantly feeling the need to show the world how great your relationship is—when, in reality, you know it's not—may be a sign that things are falling apart.
When the thought of leaving scares the hell out of you, and yet...
"It can be exciting to think about the life you could be living if you weren't with this person any longer—the freedom, the adventures, the passion," says D'Angelo. But those fantasies are centered around what happens when you've already left the marriage. "Take notice of what it feels like to imagine actually leaving, not just living this new life of yours sans partner," she continues. "If the thought of leaving scares you, yet you'd still rather leave than stay, it's a pretty strong indicator that it's time to go."
Kids (or work, or friends) come first.
All of these outside influences can positively impact a marriage. And, of course there will become times when other factors (an ailing mom, having to focus on your child) will require your full attention. But, when any one thing takes over, leaving little room for a partner to dedicate time and attention to the relationship, it can take its toll, says Keith and Dana Cutler, married attorneys who preside as judges on their show, Couples Court with the Cutlers.
The Cutlers have noticed that "when those influences are all they talk about and all they think about, it can drive a wedge between spouses. The chasm can become so wide that the prospect of divorce begins to stare them right in the face."
It's "I" and "me" and never "we."
Marriage takes teamwork, and that means coming together for a common goal. "When the team mentality stops, it may be a sign your marriage is over," says Morris who encourages couples to think of their relationship in terms of "we" instead of "I."
Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and the author of Tell Me What You Want, agrees. He says that the language we use when talking about our relationships can predict a break up. "The pronouns you choose (I, me, mine, our, us, we) are a sign of how close you feel to your partner." So, look out for what expressions you find yourself (or your spouse) using.
You push back when others say, "stay."
"We rarely broadcast our relationship struggles to those around us, so it's to be expected to get pushback from others who can't seem to understand why you'd want to make this choice," says D'Angelo.
A friend or family member's objections may just be the gut-check you need. "Leaving a marriage of any length will eventually provide the opportunity to examine your decisions, and your heart," she adds, "and you can only truly do this if you know you've made the decision that makes the most sense for you, not anyone else."
They stop being your go-to person.
Who do you call when you're having a bad day? Who's the first person you text when you hear good news? There's an amazing rainbow outside your window...who—besides Instagram—do want to send the photo to?
"Your partner should be the first person you go to, in crisis or in celebration," says Morris. "When either one of you no longer wants to share important moments, you stop feeling connected." That disconnect can cause major loneliness in a relationship, which can often lead to divorce.
Forgiveness doesn't seem like an option.
Infidelity in a marriage is definitely a road block, but not always a deal breaker. "It's possible to move on and have a healthy relationship," says Lake. However, "If both spouses choose to stay married, it's imperative to fully forgive and make peace with your partner." If you're dredging up past issues every time there's an argument, or are holding onto resentment, then it's most likely the marriage won't survive.
You already have an exit strategy.
Are you moving money into different accounts? Looking for a new job so you have even more financial independence? "Once you start planning like that, it's a sign that you believe your marriage isn't working," says Morris.
While she acknowledges that taking steps to ensure you're not reliant on anyone and that you have your own savings can certainly be a good thing, it also means that you may have one foot out the door without realizing it. And when you're not willing to be "all in," your marriage could be on the outs.
It's hard. All the time.
While every relationship has its rocky periods once in awhile, "conflict and feelings of disconnection shouldn't be chronic," D'Angelo says. "If it's hard far more often than it is inspiring or pleasurable, it may be time to move on."
Your therapist gets real with you.
As a therapist, D'Angelo has never outright told a client they should divorce. "Not because I haven't thought it, but because it doesn't matter what I think," she says. "It matters what each person is saying, feeling, expressing, and experiencing."
So, if your mental health professional does pipe up, they're truly concerned. "If your therapist speaks frankly about the long term effects of continuing to endure the behavior that you've been tolerating, they care about you in ways that perhaps you're unable to do for yourself in the midst of a deeply painful experience," D'Angelo continues.
You're constantly wondering if you should leave.
If you find that you're frequently confused about whether you should, or should not, get a divorce, McMillan has some admittedly harsh (or, possibly freeing) advice:
"There's one thing about confusion," she says. "It's usually a lie. We block our own answers when we tell ourselves we don't know." According to McMillan, "You are not confused about what to do, but you are afraid of the action you know you should probably take." In other words, if you are constantly wondering, then you likely already know your answer.
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