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Divorced with Kids is written anonymously by a 43-year-old woman who lives in a pretty, prosperous small town where most people stay married. She shares custody of her sons, 15 and 9, with their father, who lives a few blocks away. They divorced in the fall of 2009 after 18 years together. Read more of her writing at Irretrievably Broken.

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Signs your marriage may be headed for divorce

By DWK |

Slovenly housekeeping (note dead fly on floor) another harbinger of doom

I realize this is dangerous territory.  If the demise of my marriage taught me anything, it’s that there are no rules, and one couple’s Sign Of Doom can be another couple’s Wee Marital Spat.  But I have had so many people email me asking whether it’s possible to TELL if your marriage is in trouble, and wondering at what point, exactly, I knew we would get divorced.

I apologize in advance for my inability to answer the question decisively. There was no one point.  There was no way to tell.  Ending a relationship is as complicated (and impossible to quantify) as beginning one.  You can hardly wax eloquent on just what drew you to the person you ended up with, as a million hackneyed self-authored wedding vows attest.  (“Jennifer, you’re not just my lover, you’re my BEST FRIEND.”)  What attracts people to each other is always a mystery; what drives them apart is similarly ineffable.  I make no claims that my particular observations are universal or even symptomatic.  I’m just answering, as best I can, the dozens of readers who’ve wondered if there were specific tip-offs.

Looking back, of course there were.  They won’t be yours, necessarily, but the following bullet list describes, in brutal outline, and in emotion-avoiding hyperbolic stabs at humor, the demise of my particular once delightful marriage.

Scratch That Whole “Best Friend” Thing

Many successful relationships aren’t predicated on chumminess. But mine was.  My ex-husband and I were college pals before we started going out, before we lived together, got married, bought a house, got a puppy, had babies and so forth.  In my mind, we were co-conspirators; there was no one I would rather have spent time with.  Until the end, when I realized there were about five people I would rather spend time with.  Somehow, “You’re not just my lover, you’re my SIXTH BEST FRIEND!” is not a particularly convincing testament to undying affection.

There Are Outbursts

Say you’re a bit tipsy.  Say you’re at a restaurant.  Say you, or your spouse, suddenly blurts out “I feel we’ve had no connection for years!”  No matter how horrified he/she looks afterward, no matter how sincere or lengthy the apology, there’s something there.  Ignore it at your peril.

You Are No Longer…Romantic

I stole the above line from my favorite college boyfriend’s mother, who was not at all sure I was good news.  One morning at his parents’ house, after I had snuck into his room from mine at night and then snuck back at dawn, she cornered him and said, “I saw two headprints on your pillow this morning.  Were you…(long pause)…ROMANTIC last night?”

My favorite college boyfriend claims he dimpled cutely under pressure and said, “Awww, Mom.  You know I’m ALWAYS romantic.”  But his mom was a fairly formidable person, so somehow I doubt he was quite so composed.  I’m getting off topic.  My point is simply this:  if you are not having sex with your spouse, and neither of you has a sex drive, please disregard the above.  But if you want to have sex, and your spouse does not, or if your spouse wants to have sex, and you do not?  I hate to be so primal about things, but trouble is on the way.

Look, for most of us, sex is a crucial part of marriage.  Sexual rejection– a terrible, terrible thing–wreaks havoc on your psyche.  And being physically indifferent to (or repulsed by) your bedmate is no small thing, either.

This sounds extremely politically incorrect, and maybe it is. Let me see if I can find a different way to put it.  How about this: if your sex drive matches your mate’s, all’s well, fret not, carry on.  If not–well, someone will have to do some serious compensating, or else the relationship will eventually founder.

You Fantasize About An Affair

Not for you, though.  For your spouse.  It’s the chicken’s way out of marriage–I want to leave, but I’m loath to begin the process–wouldn’t it be great if HE left?  And what better, cleaner way than an affair?  I had elaborate scenarios worked out in my head.  How understanding I’d be!  How kind the terms of our split! How nobly I’d bear my tragic burden in public!  Meanwhile, I’d be off the hook scot-free.

It didn’t happen for me, but oh, how I wanted it to.  I also cursed myself for refusing to go on the academic job market way back when, thereby closing forever the door that might have led to a commuter marriage.  If I only had to see him two days a week I could cope, I’d lie awake thinking.  Or what if he just came home on the weekends, like all those Cheever stories?

There Is Dread

I couldn’t wait for him to leave in the morning.  And I began to feel sick when I knew he was due to come home. Bizarrely, he left later and later, and came home earlier and earlier–this after years of begging, on my part, that he try to limit his hours at the lab. Ultimately, the dread led me to hit the bottle earlier in the day, to take the edge off before his arrival.  Which led to another troublesome development….

There Is Too Much Drink

So I’d innoculate myself with a gin and tonic, and when my husband came home he’d immediately mix up a shaker of Suburbans.  Then another.  Then there would be wine with dinner.  When I look back at how much we drank, every single night, I’m amazed. The evenings passed in a merciful blur. And I can no longer drink gin without gagging. And I can no longer drink much of anything without unpleasant results.

You Are Watched…

Hiding your journal, your email, your cell phone, lying about your whereabouts (even if you are not having an affair, because your spouse is convinced that you are) is no fun, no fun at all.

…Or Watching

Snooping in your spouse’s journal, email, cell phone, tracking his or her whereabouts (even if he or she is not having an affair, because you are convinced that he or she is) is perhaps even less fun.

There Is Frequent Rolling of the Eyes

Years before our divorce, my ex-husband began to act as if everything I said was the stupidest thing ever said by any human being who ever lived, anywhere, on any topic whatsoever.  It became so obvious that other people commented: my mother, who’d been the primary target of his eye-rolling for years, was among them. Finally, I cut an article out of a dopey magazine and stuck it to the icebox. The article claimed that some large percentage of marriages broke up in some reasonably short period of time if spousal eye-rolling was common. By taping it up, I was trying to make a joke. (I am far too sophisticated to believe everything I read in magazines.)

Well within the time frame specified by the article–was it two years?  Three?–we split up.

One Of You Is Unhappy

If one of you is unhappy, you are both unhappy.  Take my godforsaken word for it.

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About DWK



Divorced with Kids is written anonymously by a 43-year-old woman who lives in a pretty, prosperous small town where most people stay married. She shares custody of her sons, 15 and 9, with their father, who lives a few blocks away. They divorced in the fall of 2009 after 18 years together. Read more of her writing at Irretrievably Broken. Read bio and latest posts → Read Divorced's latest posts →

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36 thoughts on “Signs your marriage may be headed for divorce

  1. Korinthia Klein says:

    This was like reading some weird reverse checklist. I feel better after going through your post, thinking about my own marriage and ticking off: Hey, no dread! No eye rolling! No snooping! At least as of today I think we’re on pretty solid ground.

    I’m glad you got out of a situation that made you unhappy. Life is too short to live that way.

  2. Aileen says:

    10 out of 10. Crap.

  3. DWK says:

    Oh god, Aileen. I just said they MIGHT be signs. So sorry to hear, hang in there, email me ( if you need to.

  4. DWK says:

    And Korinthia–I could have told you that in a second, based on your posts alone. You guys are an inspiration, in fact.

  5. Aileen says:

    Correction – 9 out 10 (I don’t snoop). Much better. WooHoo, a success story.

  6. DWK says:

    Yeah, I didn’t snoop either. Sigh.

  7. Kari says:

    This is very funny…..and then very sad. I imagine that your marriage lasted longer because the couple that drinks together, stays together, or something like that. It’s a lot harder when only one of you gets to get knockered every night. I love that you have a “favorite college boyfriend” or maybe you intended that this particular mother was your favorite out of all your college boyfriends’ mothers? I also love that you fantasized about how pious you would be after finding out about his infidelities, all the while being secretly pleased and rubbing your hands together in glee that your plan worked!! You are a funny lady. So, it’s wonderful that you are out of the relationship and it probably helped shape who you are.

  8. Jul says:

    This is good stuff, people. The last one especially… contempt is like arsenic in a relationship. A little from time to time may make be survivable, albeit harmful. But even small doses – if frequent enough – will kill things faster than you can say “DAMN, divorce lawyers are expensive!” Contempt, man… it’s even deadlier than resentment (which is more like asbestos, to continue an already-strained analogy).

  9. DWK says:

    Kari–Well, she was my favorite mother of any boyfriend I’ve ever had, but he was also my favorite college boyfriend, so both are correct. And Jul, yes. As my mother put it, “You can stay married to someone you don’t love. But you can’t stay married to someone you don’t respect.”

  10. Anon says:

    I love to read your posts because they are so well written. I hate to read your posts because sometimes they make me see what I do not want to see. Anon for this comment, because this feels too raw to leave my name.

  11. Anonymous 2 says:

    We meet alot of these criteria. I had to laugh at Kari’s comment. I stopped drinking at nights with my spouse, and then 4 weeks later he approached me with “we need marriage counseling.” Truth – At the time, I was drinking (more and more I might add) to numb whatever pain I was feeling and to somehow “be happy” with our marriage. I had to be drunk to have sex b/c the reality is I don’t want to have sex with him. I stopped drinking b/c I recognized what I was doing. Now he drinks alone and we are in counseling. I am out of love and don’t know what to do. Is there hope? I’m still cringing when the counselor suggests a “date night.” I don’t want to. Suppose these are further signs.

  12. Anon says:

    Jesus, I got a 12 out of 10.

    Well, except it’s too much computer time rather than drinking that is my mental and emotional escape, and I’m past eyerolling because it just takes so much energy to be mad. I’m living a separate life as much as I can, and I have to consciously make myself choose the word “we”…because I feel completely alone. I’ve gained a ton of weight (and have just a week ago begun to turn it around). I have someone unavailable that I talk to and think about all the time, and I read divorce blogs for understanding. I’ve tried to talk about it all to 5 divorced friends, but they all admit they have no advice and that either way is hard…though obviously they made a decision or they wouldn’t be my divorced friends. Most of the time I feel like I’m living a double life because I don’t just make this something I talk about. It’s always there, though…troubles are indeed very patient.

  13. em says:

    another insightful post! i can add a couple of more things, but those would be more specific to my case. it is not an everyday checklist for sure! thanks for tackling this difficult subject!

  14. mizasiwa says:

    Hey, i always find it hard to comment on your blog – i love your writing. This list is very very true. I’m glad that what I wanted when I saw the signs came true its just been two years of very hard work!! Except the sex thing but that’s a whole other topic!!

  15. Shandra says:

    This is a great list. I think I’m getting a pass, but at times my marriage has been in trouble and we’ve been wavering on some of these. Also I had another relationship end lately and I can totally relate to the contempt and the “if one of you isn’t happy.”

  16. Elliesee says:

    Thank you – I mostly knew about the unmatched sex drive and the eye rolling. My husband sees when I roll my eyes because we both know of this study and sometimes I have to roll my eyes (he likes to express provocative thoughts and I rarely do). He doesn’t do it to me though thankfully. We seem safe so far.

  17. Juli says:

    Yup, we match most of this list. Except I didn’t snoop in his phone. Although I did think of it.

  18. Catherine says:

    I think this is a pretty darn well written post, and I appreciate her honesty. And, happily, I don’t think I”m headed for divorce anytime soon, but I do worry about it from time to time. Ten years and two kids later, things aren’t the “same” as when we first got together, but I think we’re pretty solid, and I will keep these things in mind if, in the future, I feel we are falling apart a bit.

  19. Deborah says:

    I’m with Catherine – and thank you for this list. I definitely answered yes to a few of these, but not a majority, and I chalk that up to the passing of time. But like Korinthia, it does make me feel relieved!

  20. BigLittleWolf says:

    Wit AND wisdom. Indifference says a good deal (and addresses several of your points, not the least of which is the dismissive rolling-of-eyes).

  21. Mellie says:

    I rushed to this post to take the marital temperature. And…..we are mostly ok. Except I do get some eye-rolling…..hmmmmm. Maybe I should find that article and put it on the fridge…..

    1. DWK says:

      FREQUENT eye-rolling, I think the article said. So a little bit is a-ok. Don’t worry!

  22. cathy says:

    First, WTF ARE tonsils for? Second, what would you put in a 12-month action plan for leaving? I want to stay one more year, because after 10, if you get divorced and don’t remarry, you get more SS$ when the SOB dies.

  23. jen says:

    Very astute, this is. I was aware and guilty of much of these things. Still, it wasn’t me who ended things. IT was him with the announcement of an affair. Despite all that I fought tooth and nail to save the marriage, and I still hold on to this fantasy that it could have worked. Well, not sure about that, to be honest… Regardless, I like to think it was “his” fault. Would love to retweet or facebook like this, but ashamed to say I’m not sure I have the guts to do it. Maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow. Hope the tonsil recovery goes well!

  24. yasmina says:

    4 out 10 here and we don’t have time to work on these 4.

  25. Anonymoose says:

    Nine out of ten. I don’t snoop. Though I wish all the time that he’d have an affair. I just can’t be bothered to care enough about catching him.

    “Years before our divorce, my ex-husband began to act as if everything I said was the stupidest thing ever said by any human being who ever lived, anywhere, on any topic whatsoever.”

    Man I hate this one. In the beginning he would tell anyone who listened how smart I am. Ten years later I’m the biggest moron ever. Many, “What do you even like about me,” discussions both outside and inside counseling have been met with only…You’re a good mother.

    I stumbled upon your blog months ago and you’re an amazing writer. Thank you for everything you share. Wishing you a speedy recovery after being detonsiled.

  26. Valarie says:

    I loved this post. You are such a smart person and you write so well!
    My partner of 20 yrs ended our relationship by having an affair with a co-worker/mutual friend. It completely sucked, but a year has gone by and I am feeling so much better.
    Thank you for sharing!!!

  27. diana says:

    I think I only made a little over half of them. Lousy, I know, but I am strong in the affair department (never talk him OR HER bad in front of the children OR ANYONE ELSE), but I have no luck with that. And does it count that in his family alcoholism runs through generations? Even though I don’t believe in genetics regarding this subject (how could I, I have two boys). I am doing lousy in the dread dept., good in rolling eyes, so and so in watching/being watched, but. I do exceptionally well in best friend. And this is what is making my stomach churn, we used to be partners in crime. No more. And it hurts and stings and I miss my friend like hell, hell, hell.

    1. DWK says:

      Anonymoose–thank you very much, indeed. I love the old “can’t be bothered to catch him” feeling. The other one, the “you’re such a moron” one, isn’t so great. But by the end I’d lost all respect for him, too, so we were (miserably) even.

      Diana–you know what’s weird? I kind of miss my old friend, too. I mean, he’s still here, and I would never want to be with him again, and I never want to go back. And yet I miss the simplicity of marriage, I miss knowing what I wanted, I miss being so sure of myself and of the future, I miss stupid things I didn’t even know I had.
      And I miss being sure I loved my husband. It was an awfully lovely feeling while it lasted.

  28. Anonymouse says:

    2 out of 10 most of the time, with an occasional genuflection towards a third. There are indeed outbursts, and eyes, they roll. Sometimes our romantic inclinations are out of syn badly, too. Overall, I guess that’s not too bad. Definitely no drinking, no dread, no snooping and no wishing for affairs (well, that I know of, I suppose I should say). And on balance, although I have moments of great unhappiness, they are transitory and really I would say my emotional state in the marriage is stable, trending to satisfied, with flashes of really quite content.

    I do hate the eye-rolling, though. Quite a lot.

  29. butterfliesrfun says:


  30. ceridwen morris says:


  31. Lisa says:

    yeah thank you sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo very much! was thinking it was just me having all these feelings that shouldnt be within a marriage(or so i thought) i have already told a few close friends but no family members yet that i am thinking of divorcing my husband of soon to be 4 years! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!

  32. Roberta says:

    Heh, I read this several months ago, checked off several items, then moved on. My husband and I weren’t great, but we were ok, working on it. But one of my checks came next to fantasizing about his having an affair. So guilt-free!

    Fast forward, and turns out he has! At the very time I was kind of thinking it would make things easier! Um, yay. If only I could stop crying about it.

    In the “be careful what you wish for, however idly” department…

  33. MJ says:

    This is so true and to the point………….. It truly is what we think it is…………

    Thank you for this post…………

  34. MommaBearN says:

    I have checked off 9, I have already told him I want a divorce and he refuses to accept it. He’s never been the violent type, so it’s not that….. but I can’t even go #2 without him following me. My toddler’s clingyness has nothing on my husband.

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