Most of the couples I’ve counseled reported that they knew it was time to divorce when they started to notice warning signs that appeared early on in their relationship. These warning signs contributed to the eventual breakup of their marriage. For instance, couples who split up often say that they felt criticized or put down by their partner and that they argued about the same things over and over (and over) again.
In many cases, couples become detached and eventually lose fondness, admiration, and love for one another over time. Sweeping issues under the rug only works for so long; when couples have deep-seated resentment, it can be a challenge to forgive and forget. When this starts to happen, it may be time to divorce.
For instance, Kate and Brian, a couple in their early thirties, have been married six years and signed on for counseling due to chronic dissatisfaction and poor communication. After meeting with this couple twice, it was apparent that they’d fallen into a pursuer-distancer pattern – one in which one partner is seeking more intimacy and the other is looking for distance. Researcher E. Mavis Hetherington, author of For Better Or For Worse, found in her study of over 1,400 divorced families that this pattern is one of the main causes for divorce. Over time, it erodes the love and trust between partners – so they lack the emotional and sexual intimacy that comes from being in harmony with each other.
Sitting pensively with Brian in my office, Kate reflects: “Brian says he wants to get close and he often seeks me out for sex, but he doesn’t follow through on household chores and he keeps secrets from me.” Brian describes Kate as bossy and distant – unwilling to show affection or sexual intimacy. He says: “Kate is good at giving orders and has a list of complaints about me. But no one knows how much it hurts when she pushes me away and won’t talk or make love – it just makes me feel so rejected.”
Trust and Vulnerability are Crucial to a Healthy Marriage
Truth be told, a healthy intimate relationship is built on trust and vulnerability, which involves sharing your innermost feelings, thoughts, and wishes. Being vulnerable means taking a risk to share our authentic self, rather than saying what we think your partner wants to hear. According to marriage experts, sharing your thoughts and feelings fosters intimacy and trust – the glue that can hold a marriage together during times of stress and turmoil.
Author and therapist Claire Hatch, LCSW, posits: “If you’re bottling up feelings of sadness or anger, you end up suppressing your feelings. You’ll find yourself feeling less joy and love, as well.” In other words, if you can’t talk about the hard things, you’ll also feel less warmth and affection, and, over time, less fondness and admiration for your partner.
8 ways you know it’s time to divorce:
- You feel criticized and put down by your partner frequently, and this leaves you feeling less than “good enough.” According to renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, criticism is one of the main reasons why marriages collapse.
- You find yourself being defensive and/or guarded with your partner. You have difficulty being vulnerable, and you’re often left regretting that you revealed your feelings and desires.
- Your children’s needs tend to come first. Therapist and author Andrew G. Marshall writes: “If you put your children first, day in and day out, you will exhaust your marriage.” He posits that many parents fall into the trap of putting their children first, and the outcome is resentful, alienated parents and demanding, insecure children.
- You don’t enjoy socializing with each other’s friends or families, so you begin spending more time away from one another. This may start out as an occasional weeknight away from your partner when they invite you to socialize with them and others. But if not nipped in the bud, it can spill over into weekends – ideally when couples have an opportunity to spend more time together.
- You often feel lonely when you’re with your partner. As a result, you experience less affection, closeness, or intimacy. You may find yourself confiding your marital problems to a close friend or co-worker – someone who has a sympathetic ear.
- You have vastly different needs for sexual intimacy and/or you rarely have sex. Relationship expert Cathy Meyer writes, “Whether it is him or you that has lost interest, a lack of regular intimacy in a marriage is a bad sign. Sex is the glue that binds, it is the way us adults play and enjoy each other.”
- You’ve fallen into a pursuer-distancer pattern. One of you is usually seeking more intimacy and the other is looking for distance. This is one of the main causes of divorce. Over time, it erodes the love and trust between you because you’ll lack the emotional and sexual intimacy that comes from being connected.
- Your disagreements seldom get resolved, so you tend to argue about the same things over and over again. You fall into the trap of blaming each other and fail to compromise or apologize. As a result, you experience less warmth and closeness.
The Secret to a Happy Marriage
In sum, all couples have problems, even those who appear to be sole mates, but the secret to a happy marriage is a willingness to be vulnerable. Author Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, writes: “A good marriage cannot be without one key element: vulnerability.” Keep in mind that it’s a good idea to consult a counselor if you think it is time to divorce to weigh your options and to see if the good outweighs the bad in your marriage. If your partner is willing to go for marriage counseling and you go early on in the relationship, some marriages can be saved.