12 Ways to Co-Parent in Harmony This Year, No Matter How Uncooperative Your Ex Is
Marriage can be challenging. Even for couples who seemingly have it all together, the lows can take a toll on any relationship and leave you questioning, is this all worth it? If you’re one of those people looking for red flags that your marriage may not last or signs your marriage will end in divorce, you’re not alone in looking for clarity.
According to the CDC, the national average divorce and annulment rate in 2021 was approximately 2.5 people per 1,000 — that’s roughly 689,308 people. And while that divorce rate is down from 2001, which saw four people divorced per 1,000, per the CDC, there’s no denying that some marriages aren’t made to last.
“There’s no definitive list of the catalysts for divorce, as every relationship is different,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, MA, LMFT, in-house relationship expert at Paired, a relationship app for couples. There are, however, some common themes she pointed out, including the “five-year fizzle” — a sharp spike in relationship friction around the five year mark, which was noted in recent research from Paired. Common triggers that may contribute to a “fizzle” around this time period include issues with communication and trust in the relationship, and conflicts around financial and parenting decisions, according to Seeger DeGeare.
Of course, the truth is that even the most self-aware couple may have trouble seeing their marital issues for what they are. “Signs and red flags around potential divorce are typically much easier to see when looking from the outside in,” therapist and behavioral analyst Laurie Singer, LMFT, BCBA, tells SheKnows. “When couples are ‘living’ the experience, they can’t always view behaviors and patterns objectively. But there are specific patterns or behaviors that typically lead a marriage to end in divorce.”
And while working through your marital issues is something that many couples do, sometimes there are red flags that cannot be worked through. These are some of the main signs that your marriage may end in divorce.
Any form of abuse, whether it’s emotional, physical, financial or sexual, is a severe red flag that should never be ignored. These behaviors are extremely harmful, damaging and have long lasting effects on both partners and the relationship dynamic, says Anastasia Locklin, MA, LMFT.
“The reality is that some relationships are beyond repair and the partner should leave for their safety,” Singer says. “Mental or physical abuse is never OK.” She notes that abusive behavior usually starts slowly and continues to build if it’s not confronted, and the partner on the receiving end often falsely believes it’s their fault. “They think that if they could just change and be the person their partner wants them to be, the marriage will work out.”
What to do: “Seeking professional help and needed support is crucial if you find yourself in an abusive relationship,” Locklin says. “If you specifically find yourself in a physical or sexually abusive relationship, reach out to a professional who specializes in domestic violence to create a safety plan and explore options for leaving the abusive situation.” You can also speak with someone trained to assist survivors of domestic violence by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233, texting START to 88788, or visiting their website for more resources.
Within healthy relationships, power, control, and decision-making are balanced between partners, therapist Lea Trageser, LMFT, of Helix Marriage and Family Therapy, tells SheKnows. Each partner feels heard, valued, and seen when they share opinions or make decisions. A power imbalance often leads to one partner controlling the other, which is a red flag for not only divorce, but also potentially domestic abuse. “It is not a healthy, safe, relationship,” Trageser explains.
What to do: “In relationships where power and control is unequal, couples therapy won’t be effective and is contraindicated,” Trageser says — meaning that experts don’t recommend seeking counseling in these cases. The best thing to do is to connect with safe loved ones in your life and seek individual therapy from a mental health professional who specializes in intimate partner violence or unhealthy relationships.
“Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of respect,” Trageser says. This means using respectful language, especially when you’re in conflict with your partner, as well as allowing space for your different opinions and needs in the relationship. “When there is a lack of basic respect in marriages, needs will be dismissed and there will be demeaning or devaluing language used,” Trageser explains. As this goes on, you and your partner will no longer have the space or freedom to be fully, authentically yourselves.
What to do: If you’re struggling with respecting your partner or vice versa, and one partner is finding themselves devalued and demeaned, it’s time to consider if change is really possible in the relationship, Trageser says. She notes that it often isn’t in these cases, because even if the disrespected partner brings up their needs and concerns, they’re likely to be invalidated. “Change can’t happen without recognition,” she explains. Trageser recommends connecting with safe loved ones and a relationship therapist.
Intimacy is essential in a relationship because it forms a basis for connection and communication. Physical intimacy only enhances a marriage, but when one or both partners are out of sync, the relationship can start to wear. Although there can be many legitimate reasons for lack of sex, if there are no external factors contributing to this and there is a mismatch in sex drive causing dissatisfaction for at least one person in the relationship, this can be a warning sign, says Seeger DeGeare.
What to do: She recommends bringing a schedule into the bedroom. “When it comes to relationships, it’s completely normal for sex to take a backseat at times,” Seeger DeGeare says. “If it’s time that’s stopping you, try setting up a schedule or booking a ‘sex appointment’ with your partner. It might not sound sexy, but I often find it’s just the thing couples need.” You might also consult with a sex therapist for help with communicating your needs and prioritizing your pleasure (and your partner’s!).
Communication problems are a common factor in divorce, Singer says. They tend to make any other struggle areas in a marriage feel even more insurmountable, because if you and your partner can’t communicate effectively, you can’t work together to find solutions. Communication issues are also often a joint problem. “Each individual plays a role in how they communicate, what they allow and what they give,” Singer notes.
What to do: Whether communication is at the heart of your problems or a symptom of something deeper (or both), learning to communicate more effectively with your partner can only help the relationship. Singer has a few tips, including taking each other’s perspective when issues arise, which “requires each [partner] looking at their own role in the relationship,” she explains. She also teaches “I” statements in her practice — like “When you talk to me like that, it hurts me because…” Framing statements this way “take[s] the blame off the other person yet lets them know the emotional impact of their actions or statements,” Singer says. Seeking couples’ therapy can also help you find better ways to communicate with each other.
Life can be hectic, there’s no denying that, but making time to spend with your spouse and even being spontaneous is really crucial for connection. If quality time together is no longer enjoyable and you’re not actively making time for it, the relationship may not survive.
What to do: Seeger DeGeare recommends exercising together, date nights a few times a month, or small gestures like putting your phone away at dinner. These small changes can go a long way in keeping a relationship strong and healthy. Simply spending quality time together doing things you both love makes your bond stronger.
You’ve heard it before, and it’s true: marriages (and long-term relationships in general) demand hard work from both partners. When one or more partners “have lost hope, are going through the motions, and generally have given up, that is a red flag that a marriage will end in divorce,” Trageser says. All partners need to be both willing and wanting to do the work to make the relationship thrive. If that isn’t the case, then “change won’t happen,” she explains, no matter how hard the other partner tries.
What to do: This red flag may be fixable depending on the willingness and desire of the partners, Trageser says. If the partner who’s given up is “willing to make a valiant effort,” whether through couples therapy or identifying areas for change as a couple, then it’s possible. For the partner that’s struggling, Trageser recommends reconnecting with their “why.” “Why did they choose and marry this person in the first place? What drew them to their partner originally? By reconnecting with the why, they may find renewed hope and want to put effort in and see if change is possible.”
If you tend to be happier when you’re not around your partner due to frequent and intense arguments, that may be a red flag for your marriage. Disagreements and a difference of opinion is a normal part of any relationship, but frequent intense arguments that escalate to personal attacks, contempt, lack of resolution, or an inability to compromise can indicate deeper rooted issues. If conflicts are not resolved in a healthy way, where each individual in the relationship feels heard, seen, valued, and respected, these frequent arguments can erode the foundation of the marriage, Locklin says.
What to do: She suggests enrolling in couples’ counseling and really taking the time to improve communication skills by utilizing the tools and skills that are discussed there. “Couples have to be committed and determined to work together in both expressing their thoughts, feelings, and practicing being an active listener to your partner,” she says. “Practice empathy, validation, and love during conversations to foster connection and a safe space to be heard and seen with one another.”
If you only see the bad in your partner, you may be starting to feel contempt for them. “The lens that you used to view them through to help give them the benefit of the doubt and see them holistically has gone away, and you only see the criticisms and resentment you have grown,” Trageser explains. This feeling is a sign of potential divorce because of what’s hiding behind it, she adds. “Contempt is typically in response to years of disappointments and not feeling heard. It can be incredibly difficult to change the way you see your partner after years of difficult feelings.”
What to do: Incredibly difficult doesn’t mean impossible, though. “In a healthy relationship, having open, safe conversations where feelings are expressed and received can start to chip away at resentment and contempt that has grown,” Trageser says. The partner feeling contempt can also challenge themselves to see the good in their partner again, as a way to get back to seeing them for their whole self. Trageser recommends using this phrasing to start: “I appreciate that you are (insert trait), and I saw it when you (insert what partner did).” This sentence can help, she says, by connecting positive experiences to a trait you see in your partner.
While it might seem like a small issue to disregard the significance of your partner’s childhood or cultural background, Seeger DeGeare says she’s observed this in therapy sessions, and that it may indicate a deeper issue within the relationship. “If one partner genuinely expresses that they do not understand why these things are relevant to their present lives, it can make the other partner feel unloved and dismissed,” she says.
What to do: Getting to know the things that shaped your partner and made them into the person they are today is crucial in leading a future life with them. Take the time to ask more questions, be patient, and work to understand why they are the way they are.
One of the most common reasons for divorce is infidelity or having an affair, and this is because it can severely damage the trust within a marriage. While not all relationships end in divorce after infidelity, it often causes significant emotional distress, disconnection, and challenges.
What to do: Repairing a marriage after extramarital affairs takes dedication and can be a difficult and lengthy process, Locklin says. This often looks like intense couples’ therapy and working together to slowly rebuild the trust that was once there, but also acknowledging that trust might be permanently compromised and working towards small, buildable goals if you want to save the marriage.
It can be a common misconception that arguing is a sign of an unhappy relationship, but actually, disagreements handled well can be beneficial if it’s an opportunity to get curious about your partner’s perspective. Seeger DeGeare says when couples in conflict experience a marked dip in arguments — and therefore communication — this can be a sign they’ve stopped fighting for the relationship.
What to do: “Be curious about each other,” Seeger DeGeare says. “Often we feel like we know our partners so well, but people are constantly evolving. Asking your partner questions about what they’re excited about and what they’re looking forward to fosters curiosity and not longing for something of the past.” Questions about future plans could cause friction if you don’t immediately agree on the plans, but working together to resolve a conflict is a sign of good communication, and a sign that the relationship still has some life in it.
Some red flags on this list, such as power imbalances and abusive behavior, are surefire signs to end the relationship. Others signs of divorce may be fixable — with some hard work and effort from both partners involved. “One thing I say to couples I work with is, ‘change happens when you do something differently,’” Trageser says. Couples often find themselves in a cycle of destructive conflict, she explains, and “in order to make a change in this pattern and stop it, you need to do something differently than you have been.” According to Trageser, that could mean:
“Every relationship takes some work,” Singer says. “It’s very rare for any couple to be happy with their partner 100 percent of the time. But it’s what a person does or doesn’t do with the feelings around things like a lack of intimacy or respect, that will determine how the relationship will continue or end.”
A version of this story was published in 2023.
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