By Susy Alexandre
If you’ve found yourself wondering about an annulment or separation for a while now, it might be hard to remember a time when your marriage felt like a safe place. That once-upon-a-time full of love and commitment now seems more like a distant dream than anything else. You’re at the end of your rope and holding onto your marriage for reasons that are becoming harder and harder to justify each day — but when is enough truly enough? What signs should you be looking for before you close the door on your marriage for good and file for divorce? We took this one to the experts, who revealed 20 signs that your marriage may be past the point of no return.
Lack of intimacy
Can’t remember the last time you had sex? If this is the case, or if “you have been sleeping in your daughter’s bed for two years,” these are solid indications that intimacy has gone out the window in your relationship, notes Vikki Stark, family therapist and author of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal.
Why this could spell divorce: As registered psychologist Nicole McCance puts it: “Life gets busy, but if you find you don’t even notice you aren’t being intimate with your partner, that’s a problem.” A lack of intimacy, both in a physical and emotional sense, can signal a growing indifference or absence of desire in your relationship, both of which can wreak havoc on your marriage.
Communication has broken down
According to psychotherapist Vikki Stark, a communication breakdown might mean “the relationship is locked in a pattern of back and forth blaming.” Registered clinical counsellor and couples and family therapist Alyson Jones adds that “communication and problem solving is one of the most important skills in a relationship.”
Why this could spell divorce: The key to any healthy relationship is communication. Without it, Alyson Jones explains: “You will not be able to resolve the issues … No communication means no growth or change — and divorce may be the only way to make change happen in your life.”
Loss of self-identity
“If you are struggling with your own identity in some manner and feel you cannot be true to who you are in the relationship, then the most caring thing you can do might be to let the relationship go,” says Alyson Jones.
Why this could spell divorce: Knowing who you are and maintaining a sense of self is vital when trying to successfully function as one half of a couple. If you cannot bring a “whole you” to the table, there’s little hope of succeeding in a partnership. As far as divorce, says Jones, “in making this tough decision you may actually open up the world for both yourself and your partner.” The silver lining? “Sometimes these changes need to occur so you can explore who you are and who you are meant to be.”
You feel dread around your partner
Dread, notes psychotherapist Vikki Stark, might be when you find “you breathe a sigh of relief when you know your partner is going away for a few days and are filled with dread when he or she is coming home.” If your partner’s company — or the anticipation of their arrival — is enough to leave you feeling anxious and unsettled, this is clear sign something is very, very wrong in the marriage.
Why this could spell divorce: Whether you’re unhappy with your partner or, as psychologist Nicole McCance notes, if you are simply “happier alone” — feelings of dread should never be ignored. Putting these telltale emotions on the back-burner will only cause them to build up and explode in ways that can only be damaging to your marriage. Choose to face these emotions head-on, whatever the end result.
The relationship has become toxic
As couples and family therapist Alyson Jones notes, “all relationships have energy in them.” While every relationship will harbour its own unique dynamic, one constant amongst all healthy and happy relationships is the balanced exchange of positive energy between partners. On the other side of things, a toxic relationship will only produce increasingly negative energy, which can be harmful in a multitude of ways. ”If your relationship is toxic you need to contemplate the changes that need to occur, and what you need to do for your health and wellness.”
Why this could spell divorce: As Jones explains, “if the energy that is created between the two of you is only negative and toxic, it will be toxic to those around you as well.”
There is abuse (of any kind)
Point blank, abuse of any kind in a relationship — be it emotional or physical — should never be tolerated. “Safety comes first!” urges therapist Alyson Jones, adding that “abuse and violence is never OK, and seldom gets better without intervention and drastic change … in these circumstances getting assistance on how to leave the relationship is essential.”
Why this could spell divorce: In this scenario, it’s important to be honest with yourself. As psychologist Nicole McCance puts it: “You may be in denial or have hope they will change.” More likely, “if you don’t see it as a problem, it’s unlikely they will.”
If you can relate to the Four Horsemen
Family therapist and author Vikki Stark recalls the research of Dr. John Gottman, who she notes, “outlined what he called The Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse that sound like the death knell of a marriage: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.” If you find yourself scoring four out of four on this one: take the hint.
Why this could spell divorce: When destructive behaviour embeds itself into your relationship, it can often result in a cycle of negativity between yourself and your partner, doing irreparable damage and leaving you both with mounting resentment.
The trust is gone
Whatever the trigger, be it unresolved feelings from past issues with infidelity or a lack of general transparency between yourself and your partner, trust is key in any healthy marriage. Without it, there’s little hope for a lasting marriage. Says psychologist Nicole McCance, it may feel like “you are constantly second-guessing your partner and don’t like them most of the time.”
Why this could spell divorce: When trust within a marriage is fractured or failing, for any reason, it must be acknowledged and understood on both ends.
Round and round you go…
Does it feel as though you’re living on a hamster wheel in your marriage? “If you find yourself running in circles and going nowhere,” notes family therapist Alyson Jones, “that is just where you are going — nowhere!”
Why this could spell divorce: “Some relationships form a cycle and the cycle just cannot be broken. If you have tried to communicate … and still find yourself spinning in the same old circle, you may need to get off the hamster wheel.” She continues to insist that “you cannot change that other person, but you can change your circumstances.”
From lovers to friends
Have you gone from passionate partners to roommates with matching rings? According to psychologist Nicole McCance, it may feel as though “there is no passion or spark. You have no desire to kiss or be close with your partner.”
Why this could spell divorce: While this scenario, like most on our list, has the potential for resolution if the work is put in, it sometimes happens that this loss of intimacy signals a relationship has come to its end. While a solid foundation of friendship is vital to any relationship, your role as intimate partners (in both an emotional and physical sense) should always be at the forefront. If you truly feel as though the spark is gone, it’s time to evaluate if your marriage may be past the point of repair.
You feel constricted in your relationship
One major red flag of a marriage on the rocks is, as psychotherapist Vikki Stark puts it, “if you feel constricted within the relationship.” Those feelings of being limited in your independence and essentially, your right to operate with your own free will, is indicative of a relationship out of whack.
Why this could spell divorce: “A healthy relationship does not isolate or control what you do … If your partner is controlling you and your other relationships, this is not love or support, this is insecurity and control. This is not a healthy foundation for anything in your life,” says clinical counsellor and family therapist Alyson Jones.
You’re only staying for the kids
If the only reason you have to stay in an otherwise unhealthy relationship is for the sake of the children involved, you may actually be doing more harm than good. “Children do not benefit from carrying the burden of their parents relationship,” says therapist Alyson Jones, calling it “one of the worst things you can do … [putting the kids] right in the middle of the marital issues.”
Why this could spell divorce: If you think your children are oblivious to everything going on around them, think again. Says author and psychotherapist Vikki Stark, “your children are aware of the tension and it is having an impact on them.” While you may think your sacrifices are in the name of your children’s happiness, you’re only tying them into an unhealthy atmosphere.
You’ve become a sponge
If you find you’re carrying more stress than usual, it could be that you’re taking on more than your own share. Says therapist Alyson Jones, “You may care deeply for your partner and want to assist them in resolving their issues, but we have to set our own limits and practice self-care.”
Why this could spell divorce: If you continue to allow your partner’s issues to drain you of your energy, you may just end up losing sight of yourself in the process. “There are times when you have to let go if your own quality of life has become lost in the issues of the other person. You can only change yourself — you cannot ever change another person.”
Someone else is on your mind
If “you find yourself fantasizing about being with someone else,” says psychologist Nicole McCance, or “you feel you would be a better match with another person” you may need to evaluate where those emotions are coming from.
Why this could spell divorce: While it’s not uncommon to daydream about life from another perspective — it is unhealthy to feel more invested in your fantasy life than your real one. If you find you need the highlight reel of your daydreams in order to numb feelings of unhappiness with your chosen partner, it may be a sign that you’ve begun to check out of the relationship.
Your relationship has become too much work
Marriage isn’t easy and while it definitely takes some work, family therapist Alyson Jones argues that “if a relationship has only become labour and has no joy or companionship, then you may want to consider what life would be like on your own.”
Why this could spell divorce: When the work far outweighs the reward, you may find yourself feeling lost in feelings of disappointment and exhaustion in your relationship. If divorce proves to be the right path for you and your partner, steer clear of bad relationship advice and, as Jones suggests, leave it to the experts. “Good professionals can guide you in how to best make these changes.”
You’ve already given up
Simply put; if you feel you’ve already “given up” on your marriage, and have exhausted all your efforts to make things work, divorce may be the only option left in order to give you and your partner a fresh start. While therapist Alyson Jones says that it’s “important to try everything you can to make it work” she notes, “if you have both put the effort in and you have come to the realization that this is no longer working for the both of you, it is important to then make the necessary changes.”
Why this could spell divorce: “We really do only have one life to live,” says Jones, “and once we have given something our best we may need to accept the futilities and change direction.”
You no longer “choose” your partner — and vice versa
“In some manner we have to continue to choose each other to stay in a long term relationship,” says therapist Alyson Jones. “If you no longer choose your partner in an authentic manner, they deserve more.”
Why this could spell divorce: Through all the ups and downs of a marriage, one thing that should remain intact is your commitment to your partner. In the worst of times, the knowledge that you would choose this person all over again will often be the thing that gets you through those rough patches.
You’re holding onto feelings of resentment
Whether for reasons of past infidelity or abuse of trust in some way, feelings of resentment can hang over your marriage like a dark cloud, casting a shadow over your relationship.
Why this could spell divorce: According to psychologist Nicole McCance, if you find “you are resentful about the past and can’t let it go, you may find yourself consistently bringing up past events; unable to “enjoy your current life with your partner.”
Fear of change
If a fear of change is the only thing keeping you in your marriage — this just isn’t a good enough reason to stay.
Why this could spell divorce: “We all fear change and new beginnings,” says therapist Alyson Jones, but “we need to evaluate our fears, acknowledge them and face them. It does not serve us well to hide behind a relationship.” As it comes to starting fresh, Jones says, “As we work through out fears we develop courage …we never knew we had. This can actually lead us to the fulfilled and fascinating life we crave.”
Your needs are not being met
A healthy and happy marriage is all about balance. And though this balancing act may tilt and topple from time to time, you should feel that, on the whole, your basic needs in the relationship are being met to some degree.
Why this could spell divorce: “You may feel alone and tired of always having to ask for your needs to be met,” notes psychologist Nicole McCance — and this behaviour may leave you feeling neglected and taken advantage of in your marriage — particularly if you are putting in the work to meet your partner’s needs.