How to Know When It’s Time to Divorce

If you’re reading this page, it’s likely that your marriage is experiencing some turbulence. After years of marriage, it’s not uncommon for couples to hit a rough patch. So how do you really know if it’s time to start thinking about divorce?

Marriage is a serious commitment, and not all couples take as much time and thought as they should before tying the knot. You’re not only making an emotional and possibly spiritual promise, but you’ve also entered into a legal contract.

In the months leading up to the wedding, very few couples think about legal considerations. For instance, less than 10% of couples draw up a prenuptial agreement prior to marriage.

The decision to divorce should be taken with as much weight as the decision to marry. There are some instances where fixing your marital problems is simply not possible.

In other cases, you might be able to salvage the marriage and create an even stronger bond through hard work in rebuilding your relationship.

green sign with marriage arrow pointing to the left and divorce arrow pointing right

When Is It Time to Divorce?

The answer to that question has some variables. Every relationship is different. Each person in a relationship has their own set of priorities, wants, and needs.

There may also be family structure considerations to your decision, such as the well-being of children and extended family members.

If you’re considering a divorce, you’re not alone. According to the APA, 50% of married couples divorce. The divorce rates for second marriages can be even higher.

There are a lot of reasons that people divorce, but they all come down to some variation of a basic truth — you can’t build the future you want with your current spouse.

Here’s the thing — a good, healthy marriage contributes to a longer and happier life. There are social pressures for single people because society still views “happily married” as a sign of success. The older singleton is roundly generalized as lonely or sad.

Of course, all generalizations are worthless. And this is a kind of a catch 22 because the keyword is “happy.” A happy marriage contributes to good health and well-being. An unhappy marriage can have the opposite impact.

The truth is that each individual needs to choose the relationships that work best for their own life. Staying married to the wrong person won’t make you happier. In fact, staying in a bad marriage can lead to serious trouble in every area of your life.

However, divorcing your spouse can be an emotionally draining and difficult process. It’s important that you’re certain that you want to live without the other person before you decide that divorce is the right solution for your marital stress.

Is There Ever Really a Correct Time to Divorce?

It’s never a convenient process. Building a life together means combining financial assets, sharing names, and building a family. On an emotional and social level, divorce can change everything.

You’ll find that one spouse might need to find a different social circle to make things more comfortable. Shared activities might not be manageable after ending the marriage. These are all things to consider.

The timing is never right. If you have children, there will always be a holiday or birthday or an upcoming event.

The right time is when you’ve firmly decided that the marriage cannot be saved and you would be happier no longer married to your spouse. Once you’ve reached that decision, there are a few ways that you can move forward.

You might decide that you’d rather get legally separated than to divorce. This will legally separate your assets and allow you to set child support and custody.

Many couples find that a legal separation allows them to keep insurance and might even be a step they take as they assess whether their marriage might be savable.

Another option some couples try to get legally separated while living in the family home. This can be an ideal arrangement when children are involved because it allows both parents to maintain a daily relationship with the children as they build a new normal. 

For some couples, this arrangement may go on for some time to allow them to maintain their children’s lifestyles rather than incurring the costs for two separate homes.

However, if you do decide that the dissolution of your marriage is in everyone’s best interest, it’s best to handle your divorce amicably. This is possible in more cases than you might think.

If both parties are being reasonable, and there aren’t complicated assets, an amicable divorce saves everyone time and money. It also helps if you need to maintain a relationship with your ex because there’s no animosity raised from the divorce process.

Double Checking — Have You Exhausted All Your Options?

If you’ve decided that divorcing is the right course of action, stop and examine whether you’ve tried every possible remedy.

One of the reasons we believe that divorce is so common is that the stigma is no longer attached. People aren’t ostracized because they’ve gotten divorced.

In the past, couples were often trapped in bad marriages. This was especially true for women because their rights were limited and women were unable to earn an income as an equal.

Added to this unfair dynamic, getting divorced made them socially unacceptable for “polite” society. It was a scary proposition, and many women stayed in terrible, even abusive, marriages.

Today, divorce is very common, and not at all looked down upon. But that can sometimes mean that couples decide on divorcing without making sure they’ve done everything possible to save the marriage.

man looking at checklist

Checklist Before Finalizing Your Divorce Decision

Before you come to a final decision regarding your divorce, make sure you’ve explored any and all options available for your marriage. Here are some things you might consider:

Marriage counseling can be an excellent step to assess the health of your marriage. A qualified therapist can give you good, actionable tips to help improve your relationship.

Even if divorce is the final step, marriage counseling can help you better understand your partner and open dialog while you proceed in any direction.

Working Directly On the Problem Area: Many divorces start with one significant problem. Often this can stem from financial issues, but it also might be a lack of intimacy or a breach of trust.

For some couples, there are many problem areas. If you can pinpoint the most contentious issue, you can start to work on ways to improve that one thing.

Religious Counseling: If your family is religious, seeking spiritual advice from a member of your clergy or someone you respect in your church can help you and your spouse better evaluate your situation.

Improving Romance: Many couples “fall out of love” simply because they don’t devote time to each other anymore.

Before heading straight to divorce, you might try scheduling date nights and time to spend together as a couple, rather than only time in the same house or as parents.

Getaway on a second honeymoon or go to places you once enjoyed when your relationship was new.

A Trial Separation: For some couples, time apart can give you room to reassess what you want individually. This might be a simple week away or a few months living separately.

However, it is important to understand that trial separations do not offer the legal protections of a legal separation or divorce. At the end of the separation period, you may have a better idea of what you each want moving forward. You may even find that you missed your spouse.

Signs You Might Be At the Point of No Return

There are typically red flags, or warning signs you should pay attention to in the case of marital issues. No one likes to be caught off guard. In cases of divorce, one partner usually initiates.

The other spouse may not have noticed the warning signs. This can be a devastating turn of events for the spouse who didn’t see the red flags.

There are two people involved. You won’t always know what your spouse is thinking or feeling, and spouses will often hide issues from each other to avoid conflict. The person who is asked for the divorce can often be heartbroken, which can make divorce even more volatile.

If you’re the party who is unhappy, you might be looking for reasons to stay. It’s difficult to make a decision to divorce because it might mean hurting your spouse, and it will mean a complete change in lifestyle.

Reasons for divorce are as unique as the individuals involved. But there are some general warning signs to let you know that it might be time to consider divorce. These signs can also give you some warning that your spouse is unhappy and maybe thinking of ending the marriage.

20 Signs to Look For That Tell You Your Marriage May be Over

1.Lack of Intimacy

Lack of intimacy is a huge red flag for a number of issues. When people emotionally check out of a relationship, one side effect can be that they no longer desire the other person.

This can also be a big warning sign that your spouse is cheating. If you’ve tried initiating sex and your spouse is not interested, it might be because they’re invested in a relationship elsewhere. 

couple laying in bed facing opposite directions

It can also simply be that your relationship is not working, which makes them less interested in the physical aspect of the relationship. This sign isn’t necessarily conclusive that you need to get divorced. It might just be a big warning that your marriage needs work.

2. Lack of Honesty 

In a perfect world, no one would ever lie. But the truth is that we all lie. We lie to save feelings, and we tell small, white lies to avoid conflicts. If your spouse lies all the time, over large things or even a lot of small things, it can be a huge warning sign.

Lack of honesty with your spouse also means that there’s a lack of trust. It may be that they’re hiding something major, like an affair or drug problem.

3. Financial Issues 

Financial issues are cited as the main reason for divorce in 21% of divorce cases. Money is a major stressor in everyone’s life, and it’s no different for those trying to build a marriage. 

Financial issues might include one spouse overspending or dealing with an addiction issue. Sometimes both parties don’t share the same priorities when it comes to finances. One might be more prone to save for a rainy day while the other spends freely.

You can work through this issue with honesty and compromise, but if financial issues keep coming back, it might be a red flag that the relationship isn’t fixable.

4. Different Views on Having Children 

Whether you have children should be something you agree about prior to the marriage. However, some people simply aren’t honest. Other times, one party might change their mind after the fact.

If one spouse wants to have children and the other spouse never wants to have children, it’s a good reason to divorce. Neither party should have to compromise on this if they don’t want to. 

It’s a lifetime commitment to raising a child. To go along with this, finding that your spouse used manipulation in this area is a huge red flag to get out of the relationship.

We’ve seen couples where the husband got a vasectomy without the wife’s knowledge or where one party or the other damaged birth control methods without their spouse’s consent. You should never force someone into this type of decision against their will.

5. Fundamental Differences Over Parenting Issues 

Parenting issues can cause a lot of strife in a relationship. You’ll still need to address these issues, whether you stay married or not. But often, the differences in priorities and opinions can lead couples to realize that they don’t see eye to eye on fundamental values.

6. Disagreement Over Responsibility for Extended Family 

Many couples today find themselves in a situation where they need to take care of aging parents while raising their own children. This has caused an unusual amount of stress to marriages.

Some couples can’t agree on the amount of time and level of support they need to provide for a parent or in-law.

7. Constant Criticism / Contempt 

A spouse who never seems pleased with the way you do things or who heaps constant criticism on you can be difficult to live with. If your spouse rolls their eyes at you and seems to have actual contempt for the things you do and say, it may be time to leave.

Criticism is only good if it’s constructive and asked for. If this type of behavior is constant without the positive attributes of a loving relationship, it will diminish your quality of life.

8. Lack of Respect 

If your partner shows a lack of respect for you or your thoughts, that’s a pretty big red flag. Like contempt, these traits can be characteristic of emotional or verbal abuse.

9. Different Visions for the Future 

Sometimes people simply grow apart. You may have started your marriage wanting the same thing. Over time, you may have developed new dreams that your spouse doesn’t share. When you think about your ideal future, is your spouse there?

If not, you might consider whether you want to compromise on the type of life you want to live.

woman thinking of her future family and house

10. Lack of Emotional or Physical Support

If your spouse doesn’t offer you the type of support you need, it’s a big warning sign that the marriage is over. This might include simply being there to hear about your day and offer advice. It might include being interested in what you do professionally or your hobbies.

This also includes physical support if you get sick or need some form of physical help, temporarily or permanently. 

This type of support is the whole reason why people want to be in committed relationships. Without it, there may not be much point to continuing a marriage.

11. Emotional Cheating

If you or your spouse is carrying on a flirtation with another person or even a mental affair, that’s a good sign that the marriage is in trouble. Emotional cheating is often just as detrimental as the physical act.

People can enter into emotional cheating when their marriage is no longer giving them the validation or interest that they need. With people connecting on social media, through texts, and in various ways through technology, emotional cheating has become far more common.

12. Physical Cheating

Extramarital affairs have always been a big reason for divorce. Many couples can work through this with a marriage counselor or therapist.

In a lot of cases, the physical act of cheating might be the last step toward divorce. This depends on the type of a person it is. Some people are chronic cheaters. It has less to do with their relationship than it has to do with their self-esteem.

For people who are not routine cheaters, the act of finding someone else could mean that they’ve emotionally left the marriage.

13. Controlling or Emotional Abuse 

Emotional abuse is prevalent, and many people don’t even truly realize that they’re suffering from abuse. Many abusers don’t recognize that they are abusive simply because they haven’t gotten physically violent.

The truth is that controlling behavior and emotional abuse are just as damaging as physical abuse. They are also warning signs that the abuse can escalate. 

man telling woman to do something and the woman holds hand up to ignore him

Many abusers start by controlling the person and who they can talk to. They might also emotionally abuse them to damage their self-esteem and maintain control. Any of these issues is a firm reason to get out of the marriage immediately.

Often these issues are not fixable. A narcissist, for example, would be the type of person to level this kind of abuse. The abuser would need professional help or serious therapy before they might even think to change if they even wanted to do that.

14. Physical Abuse 

Physical abuse is a deal-breaker. If your spouse has physically assaulted you or your children, it’s important to get help immediately.

This type of unhealthy relationship can damage your children and lead to severe danger for everyone involved. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for more information.

15. You’ve Tried Remedies and Are Still Unhappy

If you’ve tried marriage counseling and other ways to improve the marriage but are unhappy, it may be time to file for divorce.

16. Addiction 

If your spouse suffers from an addiction, such as alcohol, drug abuse, or gambling, it may not be something you can overcome. The addict needs to take control of their own recovery. Sometimes the spouse cannot help. In fact, in some cases, the spouse enables the addict to continue.

17. You Argue Often 

It’s natural to have some arguments with your spouse. If you find that you’re arguing all the time or have more disagreements than conversations, it’s a sign that your marriage is unhappy.

18. You Stop Arguing 

You’d think lack of arguing would be a great sign. It might be. But, if you’re a couple that usually argues at least a bit, not arguing at all might mean that one or both are no longer invested in the relationship.

19. You No Longer Find Your Spouse Attractive 

This sounds like vanity, but the truth is that you’ll be less inclined to find your spouse attractive if you’re no longer in love with them. If you dislike them so much that you don’t want to be physically intimate, the relationship is likely over.

20. You No Longer Like Spending Time with Your Spouse 

If you’d rather watch paint dry than spend time with your wife or husband, it’s a bad sign. In a healthy marriage, you should enjoy each other’s company.

Making the final decision to end an unhealthy marriage is difficult and unique to each couple. The bottom line is that you deserve to be happy, and so does your spouse. Only you can truly decide whether your best life will be lived together or apart.

To be clear, we are not therapists and we have no training in marriage counseling. The above signs are only common topics our office has seen in couples who ultimately decide to divorce.

We cannot tell you if your marriage is over and if you need to obtain a divorce as that is a deeply personal decision. But, if you do decide that divorce is right for you or you would like more information about what divorce would look like for you-we are here to help. 

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