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Top Five Signs You May Be Heading for Divorce

by Joshua Coleman, Ph.D.

Weddings and Valentine's Day are two occasions that make people take stock of their marriages or relationships. Studies show that people typically wait six years too long to get into couple's therapy.

I am an eternal optimist, but waiting to get help is a dangerous undertaking. It allows too much time to build up a huge warehouse of feeling hurt, resentment or alienation; experiences that can weaken the long-term bond of a relationship.

Here are the top five signs you may be heading for divorce, together with steps to take to stop the rot and reverse course.

#1 You often fantasize about divorce

Fantasizing about divorce may provide a needed feeling of freedom. During a crisis or during a particularly bad time in a marriage, reminding yourself that you can always leave can be a reassuring thought.

On the other hand, ongoing fantasies about divorce may indicate that you're stuck in a dynamic from which you don't know how to escape, and need more help to solve.

#2 The frequency of your negative experiences far outweighs the number of your positive experiences with each other

Marital researcher John Gottman found that in successful marriages, there are 5 positive exchanges for every negative. If the negative consistently outweigh the positive- your marriage may be in trouble.

#3 You never confide in each other

Confiding in your spouse and having your spouse confide in you is an important way to relieve stress, strengthen your bond, and maintain a healthy "us against the world" mentality. A lack of confiding may be a warning sign that there's an insufficient amount of trust in the marriage.

#4 One or both of you engages in ongoing contempt, criticism, defensiveness, or stonewalling

Research shows that couples who frequently use these defenses are more at risk for divorce than couples who rarely use them. While conflict is unavoidable, couples need to learn healthy ways ot expressing their complaints.

#5 You engage in the "puruser-distancer" dynamic

In this dynamic, one person in the marriage constantly pursues the other for more closesness, confiding, or time together while the other constantly avoids interaction.

Over time, the pursuer gets more desperate, hurt, and angry and the distancer gets more sullen, shut down, and rejecting.

What can you do?

  • Take responsibility for your part of the dynamic. This means learning how to communicate, be assertive, act generously, and own your character flaws.

  • If you often have a conversation in your head about divorce, you should let your partner in on it while there's still time to save your marriage. One large study found that 25% of men were completely surprised when their wives served them with divorce papers. And 75% of the time women initiate divorce.

  • Seek professional help. Just because it feels hopeless doesn't always mean that it is.

  • Make efforts to confide in your partner. Even if you're frustrated with the state of your marriage, confiding is a demonstration of need and trust; this behavior may help to get your relationship on a better footing.

  • If you engage in the pursuer-distance dynamic, try switching your role. If you've been a pursuer, back off for the next 2 months and see if your partner comes to you. If you're a distancer, try approaching your partner much more consistently.

© Copyright 2000-2006 Joshua Coleman

Dr. Joshua Coleman is an internationally known expert in parenting, couples, families, and relationships. He has appeared on ABC 20/20, Good Morning America, The Today Show (Australia), the BBC, and numerous news programs. His advice has been featured in numerous publications around the world. He is the author of the forthcoming When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Donít Get Along (HarperCollins, July 2007) as well as The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St Martinís Press); Imperfect Harmony: How to Stay Married for the Sake of Your Children and Still Be Happy (St Martinís Press); and The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St Martinís Press). Dr. Coleman's service include individual and coupleís therapy, teleseminars and workshops, and infertility counseling with third party reproductive evaluations. Visit his website for more information.

Some Related Articles:

Five Steps to a Fair Fight
The Chore Wars: Eight Steps to a Happier Household
Cell Mates or Soul Mates: Five Steps to Get the Love Back
When a Family Man Thinks Twice
Power Struggles Are For the Birds!
Too Easy to Leave
Getting Your Man to Talk


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