Surefire Signs Your Spouse Wants a Divorce

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Split Decision

The statistics on U.S. marriage are less than romantic: Of the more than 80% of adults who marry, roughly half divorce. There's no one-size-fits all explanation for why, but over the years, psychologists and divorce mediators have tracked some of the most common indicators suggesting a marriage may soon end. From stonewalling to subtly preparing for life as a single person, here are some common signs your partner may want a divorce.

Related: 15 Ways You Will Lose Money by Getting a Divorce

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Refusing to Attend Counseling

Seeking counseling isn't a sure sign of divorce — studies show that emotionally focused therapy improves relationship satisfaction with a success rate of 70%. It's when one spouse wants counseling and the other refuses that divorce is likely. "One of the things that's almost a guarantee [of divorce] is when a man refuses his wife's requests to go to counseling," said Sam Margulies, who's spent more than three decades working as a divorce mediator. (Women tend to be who initiate conversations about counseling, which may be unsurprising, considering women also initiate 69% of all divorces, according to the American Sociological Association.)

Related: What to Do When a Family Member Becomes a Stranger

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Stonewalling is one of the "The Four Horsemen" predictors of divorce, a widely cited framework derived from a long-term study on divorce by clinical psychologist John Gottman. Stonewalling occurs when one partner tries to resolve an issue, but the other mumbles, refuses to engage, or completely ignores them. It usually signals that communication has deteriorated to worrisome levels. "There are certain things that almost guarantee a divorce is coming," Margulies said. Stonewalling "certainly is an indicator, but not a guarantee."

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When one or both spouses are routinely defensive when facing criticism, it prevents the couple from resolving conflicts in a healthy and productive way. Defensiveness, another of Gottman's four main divorce predictors, typically represents an inability to accept responsibility or understand the other spouse's perspective, and it often manifests as righteous indignation or a sense of victimhood. Defensiveness in marriage may signal divorce especially when spouses express it when discussing significant issues such as money. After all, research suggests that financial disagreements are strong predictors of divorce.

Related: 12 Overlooked Financial Reasons Why Marriages Fail

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Saying the Word 'Divorce'

It's unsurprising that saying the word "divorce" may mean one is coming. But considering that spouses can spend months or years silently contemplating a separation, broaching the subject in this clear, concrete manner often signals a point of no return. "In my experience, once one of the spouses says the word 'divorce,' it's a pretty clear indicator things are over," Margulies said. "People tend to avoid the word until they're really desperate."

Related: 19 Strategies from Experts on How to Make Divorce Work

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Contempt was the top predictor of divorce In Gottman's 14-year study. Contemptuous behavior can take many forms, but often involves sarcasm, eye-rolling, sharp criticism, expressions of disgust, and universal statements such as, "you'll never learn" or "everyone knows you're lazy." The Gottman Institute notes that spouses who lose respect for each other often become contemptuous over time, which prevents them from seeing the positive aspects in each other.

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Criticism, another of Gottman's four divorce predictors, can spell doom for marriages if it gets out of control. Of course, healthy criticism is essential to any relationship. But when one or both spouses use criticism to attack the person instead of address an issue or behavior, it can breed resentment and contempt. In general, research suggests people receive criticism better when the criticizer uses "I" language and tries to clearly convey their perspective and an understanding of the other person's.

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Sexless Marriage

When married sex becomes virtually non-existent, Margulies said, it's often a sign that the relationship has become one of endurance, meaning the spouses are staying together because change is hard and it's easier not to rock the boat. A lack of sex may also signal that emotional intimacy has been lost. Still, each couple has unique sexual needs, and while sexual satisfaction may have an effect on marital satisfaction, it's unclear exactly how the two interact. A 2015 study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that couples who have sex about once a week tend to be happier than those who do less frequently.

Related: 18 Myths About Seniors and Sex

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Chronic Infidelity

Cheating is one of the most widely cited contributors to divorce. Forty percent of people who've been married and cheated on their spouse are now divorced or separated, the review site Bedbible reports. Still, it's possible for a marriage to recover after one or both spouses have had an affair, especially when couples pursue therapy. Chronic infidelity is a more significant predictor of divorce, signaling that at least one partner is deeply unsatisfied with the marriage. "Most affairs I see are simply the product of loneliness," Margulies said. "It's possible to become very lonely within a marriage."

Related: 10 Hidden Costs of Cheating on Your Partner

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Preparing a Single Life

Whether consciously or subconsciously, a spouse who's contemplating a divorce may start making big changes in their lifestyle to prepare for dating as a single person. "It is typical for the initiating spouse to begin preparing herself or himself by getting in shape, losing weight, attending to hair and wardrobe, and other things to enhance appearance," Margulies wrote on his blog. A spouse might also make career changes or pursue higher education to make themselves more economically viable when they're single.

Related: Surprising Facts About Love in America

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Fading Communication

Margulies offered a simple way to identify couples who may be heading for divorce. "Go into any restaurant, and look for the couple who aren't speaking, but are sort of looking past each other," he said. "You've seen them. It speaks for itself. ... That's a marriage of endurance." Some spouses may be content with silence or sparse communication, of course, but it's worth noting that scenes such as this could also indicate that the spouses have grown apart — which research shows is a leading reason for divorce.

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