5 Red Flags That Spell Divorce, Therapists Say

A breakup in your marriage can feel like the end of the world. One minute, you’re two lovebirds enjoying a cozy night on the couch; the next day, you feel like your partner is becoming distant and uninterested in fixing things. Luckily, not every awkward moment means you’re headed for a split. But there are a few serious issues that could be cause for concern. Here, therapists break down red flags that could mean divorce or separation. Now you’ll be able to spot the real warning signs among those you don’t have to worry about so much.

READ NEXT: Most couples stop being ‘in love’ after this long time, experts say.


The way you talk to friends, family, and even yourself can say a lot about your marriage. “For example, people who are happy in a relationship will use ‘united’ terms like we, our, us,” says Nancy FaganLMFT and marital mediator in Plano, Texas. “As a person begins to emotionally separate from the relationship, the pronouns shift to those of an individual – my, mine, me.”

If you notice this change, it could be one of the first signs that you no longer see your marriage as a partnership. However, you don’t need to panic just yet. “Instead, be aware,” Fagan says. “Now is the time to start reconnecting with your partner emotionally, physically, and spiritually.”

older man sitting forward on sofa while older black woman watches at home

It can be unsettling when your partner seems angry or unhappy. But according to therapists, one of the real red flags is when they’re indifferent. “An easy sign to miss that a marriage may be heading for divorce is this phenomenon called decoupling,” says Jeanae M. HopgoodLMFT, founder of JHJ Therapy. “Frequently, one member of the couple begins to drift apart, showing less emotional empathy or intimacy, a lack of interest in spending time together, or a lack of investment in the quality of the time spent.”

This behavior can sometimes inspire conflict. “However, one person usually sees the conflict as areas that need to be resolved, while the initiator of the decoupling has actually ended the relationship,” Hopgood explains. “The decoupling initiator’s desire to fix is ​​weak to non-existent.” When both parties are not interested in fixing the marriage together, the partnership begins to crumble.

READ NEXT: 69% of divorced women have this in common, study finds.

couple breakup
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According to a renowned psychologist and relationship expert John Gottman, the four horsemen that can predict the end of a relationship are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and obstruction. However, Ashley DamajBCBA, MSW, CN, CPT and founder of Mothership Wellness, says stone walls are one of the easiest to overlook. “Obstruction occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, shuts down, and simply stops responding to their partner,” explains The Gottman Institute. “Rather than confronting issues with their partner, blockers may engage in evasive maneuvers such as disconnecting, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive or distracting behaviors.”

Damaj notes that people avoid conflict and passive-aggressively show their disappointment and distance themselves from their partner. “Simply put, when a person hesitates, they’ve either lost hope or they’re trying to say something without having to say it,” she says. “They feel like they can’t be heard or listened to and they’ve lost the energy to try.”

estranged couple

Do you sometimes feel like you never see your spouse, even though they live with you? This could be a red flag. “When one or both partners are unhappy with their relationship, they start spending less time together,” Fagan explains. “They can create a relationship where two people live in the same house, but their day-to-day activities don’t overlap.” Unfortunately, the less interaction the couple has, the more they begin to drift apart.

To break up this streak, suggest that you and your partner do something together. “Whatever it is, the goal is to merge your time,” Fagan explains. “It creates an emotional connection, which is key to having a fulfilling relationship.”

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elderly couple arguing

Think about your relationship during its honeymoon phase: you and your partner probably greeted each other, kissed before bed, and patiently acknowledged each other’s concerns. In other words, you had more positive interactions than negative ones. If you see this change, it could be cause for concern.

“Typically, happy couples have about 20 positive interactions for every negative interaction,” explains Tatyana Dyachenkopsychologist and sexologist Peaches and Screams. “Couples that are struggling to bond have a five-to-one ratio, and couples that are about to divorce have an equal number of positive and negative interactions.” If you fall into one of these latter camps, it’s time to seek professional help, as soon as possible.

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