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Marriage Breakdown Signs

Whilst every marriage is different, marriage breakdown signs are often very similar. Being able to spot the common warning signs that could indicate that there are problems in a marriage greatly improves the chance of preventing further marriage breakdown and ultimately divorce.

TOP TIP 1: If you have concerns about your marriage, do not ignore them.


Ignoring your gut instincts, obvious red flags or hoping things will just get better is the biggest mistake most couples make. Problems in a marriage left unaddressed usually get worse and the longer they are left the harder it can become to come back from.

TOP TIP 2: Communication is key.


It is important to have an open, honest, and respectful talk with your spouse about the problems you feel you have in your marriage.


It can be a very difficult conversation to have and in some cases, relationship coaching is something some couples choose to help them navigate what is a very stressful and emotional time. You can read more about relationship coaching here.

marriage breakdown signs

What are the common marriage breakdown signs?

There are four common marriage breakdown signs and in many cases occur in the following order; conflict, contempt, defensive behaviour and then avoidance.


Conflicts that couples cannot resolve or compromise upon.


Couples increasingly display defensive behaviour.


Regarding a partner as being a 'bad' or 'stupid' person.


Spouses avoid one another to minimize their conflicts.

Common marriage breakdown sign 1 : Conflict

Conflict within a marriage from time to time is completely normal, some couples are able to resolve these conflicts successfully or some agree to disagree. 


The first common marriage breakdown sign is not the number of arguments that a couple has but the number of conflicts and complaints that are unresolvable or are left unresolved. Couples that are trapped in a conflict that they are unable to resolve or compromise upon to each spouses satisfaction are the couples that may be heading towards a bigger problem.

There are a number of reasons for conflict in a marriage and these range from minor through to major reasons. Something minor could be a spouse not cleaning up after themselves whereas a major conflict could be handling of finances or whether to have children.

Couples frequently assume that misunderstandings are the common cause of their conflicts and therefore often try to resolve their conflicts by repeating their rationale during disagreements. However, as conflicts are more often than not actually caused by differences in values this doesn't work and actually makes things worse.


Common marriage breakdown sign 2: Contempt

The second commmon marriage breakdown sign is where either spouse feels contempt for their partner i.e. they regard their partner as mean, vile or worthless. Simply put this is where each spouse's attitude towards their partner changes for the worse.

As an example, each spouse may normally have a positive consideration for their partner and be willing to write off any uncommon negative behaviour e.g. maybe they are stressed out or tired etc. However, if negative behaviour is seen, again and again, spouses get frustrated and may start to have a negative view of their partner.


Also, negative behaviour doesn't have to be something a spouse actually does. It could be something that he or she doesn't do, that their spouse expects them to do, such as remembering to putting the rubbish out.

A negative consideration for a spouse is a sign that contempt is setting in and once it does set in, the marriage is heading for trouble. The feeling of contempt is one of the biggest indicators that a relationship breakdown is occurring or has occurred.

Contempt isn't just expressed in very obvious ways and can be displayed in subtle ways through body language such as eye-rolling, no matter how contempt is displayed it needs to be addressed as soon as possible to have any chance of being reversed.


Common marriage breakdown sign 3: Defensive Behaviour

The third common marriage breakdown sign is where a partner displays increasingly defensive behavior. Most couples find ongoing conflict and contempt to be extremely stressful and when conflict is most heated they can become overwhelmed.


Over time, as conflict continues, partners feel stuck and that that they cannot resolve their differences, and that any attempt to resolve conflicts will result in further hurt or disappointment. This leads to defensive behaviour as a coping mechanism to deal with this feeling of being trapped in a corner.

Defensive Behaviour

Common marriage breakdown sign 4: Avoidance

The fourth and final common marriage breakdown sign is where there is increasing disengagement between spouses and a couple simply avoid each other. This happens because a couple feel they now want to avoid each other to minimise conflict.


Unfortunately, there is no way to resolve problems in a marriage if spouses are avoiding one another and if this continues without intervention the marriage will continue to break down.

At this point, it would be a good idea to seek out relationship coaching or relationship counselling to see if you can rebuild your marriage.


Other marriage breakdown signs

Although the common marriage breakdown signs are the key indicators that there may be a problem in most marriages, they arent the only signs that could signal problems. Other marriage breakdown signs include the following.


Not wanting to rip your partner’s clothes off every night is no reason to panic and everyone goes through periods of ups and downs in the bedroom.


However, if you’re both healthy enough to have sex, but go months or even years without it, a deeper issue, like a lack of emotional intimacy or romance may be something that needs addressing.


Ironically, not arguing could be a signal of a major problem. It might seem like a relief if your high-conflict relationship suddenly turns into a no-conflict relationship.


However, it could be a sign that one or both of you has given up and you are actually experiencing common marriage breakdown sign 4, avoidance.


It’s completely normal to want to keep some things to yourself.


However, deliberately keeping secrets e.g. had a drink with an ex, or buying something expensive you said you wouldn’t is a clear warning sign that your relationship may be in trouble. 


It’s perfectly normal to find someone other than your partner attractive.

What’s not ok is fantasising about being with someone you find attractive other than your partner, then you may be missing something in your relationship.

What can be done to stop marriage breakdown?


Communication is the most important step to take. Sit down with your partner and tell each other how you are feeling and why. Ideally, try and keep calm and really listen to each other, trying to understand your partners perspective.


Being intimate is the fastest way you bond with your spouse. The adrenaline, dopamine, and oxytocin that rush through your body after being intimate with your partner draws you closer together


Make time for each other. Life can be hectic with work, children and other stresses of modern life. Try and spend some time alone, which can also be a good time to communicate how you are feeling.


One essential tip to avoid marriage breakdown is to work on building trust. If you can't trust your partner, you can't rely on them emotionally or otherwise. Without trust, your marriage will be tough to maintain.

couple dealing with marriage breakdown
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