Prelude to Divorce? Formalizing a Legal Separation
Basic Divorce Decisions
Making Changes to Your Divorce Agreement

Is Divorce Ahead? Recognizing the Signs of Trouble

Marriages rarely die overnight. Almost always, the destruction of a marriage happens little by little, over time. Ideally, if trouble arises in your marriage, you and your spouse should be able to respond to problems before they cause serious damage to your relationship. You can then either work things out and remain married, or make a mutual decision to separate or get divorced. However, if your marriage is in serious trouble, any discussion, cooperation, or compromise may be impossible, and you may have no option but to end it yourself, possibly against your spouse's wishes.

When you are having marriage problems, whether they are big or small, the sooner you face facts and decide what to do about them the better. Burying your head in the sand when it comes to marital woes won't make your problems go away. In fact, they'll probably just get worse. Furthermore, if divorce is in the cards, the sooner you acknowledge it, the more emotionally and financially prepared you'll be for what is to come.

You may find yourself replaying old arguments, resurrecting old hurts, crying a lot, or becoming consumed with anger when your marriage is in trouble. Those responses can quickly turn small problems into big ones and cause you to lose all perspective when it comes to your spouse and your marriage. Furthermore, when you let your emotions get out of control, it becomes difficult if not impossible for you to identify and realistically assess all the options you have for dealing with your troubles.

To help bring some objectivity and common sense to your situation so that you can gain a true appreciation of just how bad (or not so bad) things really are, consider some of the more common signs of a marriage in crisis, such as infidelity and contempt.

Do you have cause for concern?

When your marriage is going through tough times, you may find yourself wondering if it's an instance of the "for better or for worse" your marriage vows alluded to, or if your relationship is truly on the rocks.

Although no test exists that can tell you if your problems are typical reactions to the stress and strain most marriages experience at one time or another, or if they point to more-serious issues, troubled marriages do tend to exhibit many of the same characteristics.

How many of the following statements apply to your marriage?

  • In your mind, your spouse just can't do anything right anymore.
  • You fight constantly.
  • You've lost the ability or the willingness to resolve your marital problems.
  • Resentment and contempt have replaced patience and love.
  • You've turned from lovers into roommates.
  • One or both of you is having an affair.
  • You go out of your way to avoid being together and, when you are together, you have nothing to talk about.
  • Your children are reacting to the stress in your marriage by fighting more, having difficulty in school, getting into trouble with the police, abusing drugs or alcohol, or becoming sexually promiscuous.
  • You have begun having thoughts about divorce.

Don't panic if you find that your marriage exhibits some of these characteristics — you are not necessarily headed for divorce court. However, you do have cause for concern and it's time for you and your spouse, first separately and then together, to assess your options and decide what to do next.

Marital problems can trigger depression, feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness, anger, and sleep problems, any of which can impede clear thinking and sound decision-making. A mental health professional can help you deal with these disturbances so that you can move forward.

Finding a qualified marriage counselor

When your marriage is in serious trouble, your emotions can run so high that a calm, rational discussion to identify the roots of your marital problems and what to do about them can be next to impossible. Instead, you either withdraw from each other to nurse your wounds in silence, or argue constantly.

Timing is everything when your marriage is falling apart. Do not wait until your marriage is damaged beyond repair to get professional help.

Working with the right marriage counselor can help save your marriage or, at the very least, save you and your spouse months or even years of anguish trying to decide what to do about the problems in your relationship.

Consider the following practical tips for locating a qualified marriage counselor:

  • Seek out a marriage counselor or therapist who is a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). To become a member, counselors and therapists must complete a rigorous training program. You can also call the Association directly for the names and phone numbers of the AAMFT members in your area (703-838-9808) or check out the Yellow Pages of your local phone book under Marriage Counselors or Therapists for AAMFT members.
  • Get a referral from a friend or family member you trust.
  • Schedule a get-acquainted meeting with several marriage counselors.
  • Find out how long each counselor has been practicing marriage or family therapy, what courses he or she has taken in that field, and what professional licenses or certifications he or she has.
  • Be sure that the person you decide to work with is someone both you and your spouse feel comfortable with. You may have to share intimate and emotionally painful information about yourselves with the counselor that you choose.
  • To make sure that your counseling is covered by your medical insurance, ask your insurer for a list of the counselors who are preferred service providers.
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