I divorced my husband four years ago. I decided one day that I’ve had enough of the ceaseless arguments, the hostility, and the never-ending cycle of hearing empty promises and hoping for things to get better only to experience the same thing over and over again. But how do you know your marriage is over?
I worked as a divorce coach, so I had a lot of hesitation about choosing what was best for me and my kids, partly because I felt guilty, and also because I was afraid of society’s judgment, which portrays divorce as a sign of failure.
It took me a great deal of self-reflection to learn that, unlike what romantic novels and their film adaptations may portray, relationships are complicated, and there might be a time when the benefits of staying together are far less than the risks associated with it.
Most of you might say that I was definitely expecting it to happen. That I did not literally wake up one morning and decided that today I am going to leave my husband.
You are absolutely right. In fact, research shows that women typically plan their way out of the relationship up to two years before doing it, leaving their spouses dumbfounded. It is usually a combination of realizing that their relationship has long ended, sensing that they are ready to let go and move forward, and/or perhaps recognizing that their marriage does not give them joy anymore.
But how can you tell whether it is best to start moving on or if you should keep working on improving your relationship? How do you know your marriage is over?
This is a great question that needs to be asked. Determining what kind of relationship you and your partner intend to have is also an essential question that needs to be answered.
For example, people who engage in open relationships will likely have a different perspective about relationships compared to monogamous individuals. Sometimes, the quality of the relationship is not the reason why you should end it. It can merely be because your partner wants to explore a new degree of independence, and thus requires a different kind of relationship.
How Do You Know Your Marriage Is Over? Factors to Consider
Regardless of the type of relationship you have, there are some strong indicators that your relationship is not healthy anymore and that it might be best for you to move on. The following are the factors that you need to consider:
1. Inability To Move Past Disloyalty, Mistrust, or Relationship Trauma
Every relationship encounters difficulties and challenges, but some couples experience them more often than others.
Persistent lies, mistrust, betrayals, and other traumatic situations, for example, can wreak havoc on a relationship. Couples can overcome these issues with appropriate counseling; however, it might be hard for them to resolve these issues on their own.
But let’s be honest, it can be very difficult to heal from these situations if they keep on happening or if your partner doesn’t seem to care about your emotions at all. Some wounds to a relationship are simply too deep to heal. Only you and your spouse can decide if this applies to you, but it’s definitely something to consider.
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2. Incompatible Personality, Beliefs, and Principles
Couples can and must negotiate and compromise on many areas of the relationship. Having differences isn’t necessarily bad, however, some dispositions, values, and opinions can remain unagreeable which may cause constant conflicts.
For instance, imagine a relationship where one person is an introvert and the other is an extrovert who invites people to their house every day. A person who hates loud noises is living with someone who constantly plays rock music at the maximum volume of the speaker. Do you think these differences will not be a problem in the long run?
I am not implying that these things can’t be negotiated because they can be, however, there’s more to it than that. It’s about looking for indicators that the relationship was founded on fundamental disparities right from the start.
3. Inability to Communicate, Compromise, and Negotiate
As explained in one of the articles about communication in relationships, once communication fails in a relationship, the relationship fails as well.
My personal and professional experiences have taught me that when one or both spouses start being disrespectful towards the other, talks in a rude and loud tone, or purposely intimidate the other by the use of body language, it’s an indication that the marriage has reached a stage where moving on is the only option unless you want to get some serious marriage counseling.
Partners who lack negotiation and compromise on vital aspects of their relationship are in the same boat. This part is particularly telling. No matter how compatible you may be with your partner, there will always be a time when you will disagree on certain things, so all relationships need some form of compromise. You do not need to compromise every single aspect of your life, but you need to be ready to adjust and meet halfway. This will reveal a lot about how committed you are in the relationship.
4. Domestic Violence and Abuse
Intimate partner violence and aggression is definitely a serious problem and an indication that it might be time to leave your partner. Some spouses have the willingness to change but are unable to do so. On the other hand, some are capable but do not have the willingness to do it.
I believe that a relationship can be improved if the violent or aggressive spouse recognizes the problem and has both the capability and willingness to change by seeking help. The absence of either of the two factors will make this problem impossible to resolve.
Intimate partner violence has alarming statistics. According to these statistics, women are five times more likely to be abused by a male partner. But of course, that does not mean men can’t be abused as well.
Aggressive partners can hurt people of both genders, and in either case, anyone suffering from this circumstance must take it as a sign to leave the relationship or seek professional help if they really want to salvage their marriage.
5. Using the Four Horsemen of Relationships
Working as a divorce coach, I frequently refer to the Gottman Institute’s great resources. They have an article that talks about the four horsemen and their remedies that you can check out.
The four horsemen in relationships are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. If a partner starts using this more than how much they use love, respect, and empathy, then the relationship surely has a serious problem. Couple counseling may, of course, help couples learn how to manage and address these issues, but then again therapy is only effective if the couple has the willingness and capability to repair the damage that they have caused.
However, some of these habits are so deeply rooted that make them very difficult to change. When these behaviors occur on a regular basis, it may be a sign that it is time to move on to a healthier relationship and leave the past behind.
6. Unequal Roles in Decision Making, Work, and Chores
When trying to answer the question, “how do you know your marriage is over?, this is very important. Regardless of how you contribute to the relationship; whether you stay at home to take care of the kids and do housework, work to pay bills and provide for the family, or make all of the decisions on your own, all these things can affect how you feel about your relationship.
For instance, as a married mother of four children, I began to wonder why, on top of parenting, I was also working three jobs while arranging and organizing all matters concerning our family. I found myself doing almost all things on my own, such as selecting schools for my children, keeping track of our finances, and purchasing cars. I was also even alone in the process of selecting my daughter’s casket and burial location. I eventually got tired of these and began to question if that situation was normal.
Obviously, the answer is no. It is not usual to be in a relationship where you don’t feel comfortable discussing, negotiating, or sharing roles, tasks, and obligations with your partner. If you find yourself in this situation, I strongly suggest you talk about it with your partner.
7. Unsatisfying or Inexistent Sex Life
I have heard this problem quite a lot as an accredited sexologist. Couples who have not engaged in sex for years are confused why they do not feel the connection with their partner anymore. Intriguingly, most men feel emotionally closer to their partners after having sex with them, whereas most women require an emotional connection in order to feel the sex.
So, when I counsel couples who haven’t had a satisfying sex life in years, efforts should be made to figure out why. Is it because of health problems? Performance issues? Problems with emotional bonds? Or is it a matter of time, parenting, or other practical considerations? I need to know the root of the problem to properly address it.
Sex is an important aspect of an intimate relationship so if a couple is detached, not physically attracted to their partner, feels sexual discomfort, or is simply unwilling to have sex together, it’s reasonable to assume that their relationship, at best, is more of a friendship or platonic rather than an intimate one.
Although a professional sexologist can help, when paired with other relationship problems, lack of sexual intimacy between couples could indicate that your marriage might be over.
8. Having No Common Goals
Sharing common goals is essential for a healthy relationship. This does not however mean that they must share all their goals with each other. Common goals give the relationship a direction. Without it, a couple is like sailing without a compass.
Some examples of these goals may include starting a family, purchasing a home, or taking a vacation in a certain place. It does matter what goal it is as long as it provides the couple a shared vision of what they want their lives to be in the future.
Take a look at the path your relationship has taken. Do you know where it’s going? If not, think about what you want to do about it. You should communicate this with your partner so you can agree on the direction of your relationship.
9. Trying to Avoid Going Home
You may find yourself constantly staying late at work, spending time with your friends, helping with your neighbors, or simply being absorbed in your computer or other gadgets to escape the tension that greets you as soon as you step in the door of your house.
The moment you find yourself hating coming home, feeling anxious and uneasy as you slowly approach your house, or feeling relieved that you got through the day without fights, is a clear indicator that your relationship is going downhill.
10. Readiness To Move On With Someone New
This might not be applicable to non-monogamous partners, but if you are a monogamous person and find yourself or your partner interested in someone new, thinking of moving on with someone else, or expressing your thoughts and emotions, as well as facts you used to share with your partner, it is surely a sign that you are outgrowing your relationship.
Having clear and definite boundaries in your relationship will obviously help, but picturing your future with someone else is simply one of many strong signals that your relationship may be done and it is time to move forward.
As a divorce coach, I know that most spouses can work and resolve these issues if they decide that they still want to be together. However, I have learned in my increasing knowledge that it is also fine if someone decides they don’t want to work at it any longer, as long as they’re aware of the consequences of their choices and are capable of making an informed decision.
A healthy separation is so much better than a toxic and draining relationship. You need to understand that divorce that does not necessarily mean failure, but rather the maturity to recognize that our needs have changed and that we are tough enough to look beyond the present and choose what is best for our future.