5 signs that experts say indicate a divorce or breakup is on the way.

Nothing is ever guaranteed in life – apart from death and taxes – but when it comes to relationship warning signs, some flash brighter than others.

We’ve asked two relationship experts about the most common indications a marriage or relationship could be on the verge of ending, and whether you can overcome them.

1. You’re having ‘iceberg arguments’.

signs of divorce
Image: iStock.

You know those arguments you have that are focused on a specific issue — say, where to send the kids to school — but are actually about something else entirely?

Relationship expert and sexologist Dr Nikki Goldstein calls these ‘iceberg arguments’, because the topic of the disagreement is only the tip of something much deeper. “Maybe something’s happened - one person starts to resent the other or have anger towards them, but they don’t address it. They try to deal with it, but that resentment comes out in a secondary argument and they find themselves losing it over this stupid insignificant thing,” she explains.

If these arguments are occurring frequently, it can be a sign there are serious issues to unearth and work through together - or you run the risk of not being able to find resolutions at all.

“People get to this point in their relationship where they think, ‘I don’t want to have that conversation because it’s going to be awkward’ or ‘I can’t say that to my partner’ … that’s when the resentment builds up at the bottom of the iceberg,” Dr Goldstein.

signs of divorce

In order to overcome this hurdle, you’re going to have to face those uncomfortable topics. “If you want a long-term relationship you have to learn how to be open and honest in the most effective way, and address these issues that feel awkward,” Dr Goldstein says

“We’re so used to not wanting to feel that way, or wanting solve issues quickly, but in relationships you just have to ride through a period of discomfort. You’ll get through it, but you have to air out that dirty laundry.”

2. You don’t have a similar life vision

Everyone has an idea of how they want their life to be. However, Desiree Spierings - relationship therapist, sex therapist and director of Sexual Health Australia - says if you and your partner have mismatched visions and goals for your life that you’re not willing to compromise on, it can be “a recipe for disaster”.

“One partner might want to live in a different country, or to have kids, and the other doesn’t. You can’t have half a child! If neither person wants to budge, their love for each other might not be big enough… Having to change what you really want from life, that’s a big thing to give up to be with that person,” Spierings says.

While this issue might become a total deal breaker if you both want totally different things and there’s no chance of compromise, Spierings recommends couples try to understand the importance of these ‘life visions’ from each others’ perspective.

Then, try to identify areas where you might be able to be more flexible, and areas that are absolutely non-negotiable, and see if that helps you reach a resolution.

3. Modern infidelity

Cheating has always been a bit of a relationship red flag, but these days it’s doesn’t always fit that traditional ‘lipstick stain on the collar’ mould. Dr Goldstein says our affiliation with social media and online networking has given rise to “emotional affairs”, whereby one partner seeks a connection and intimacy elsewhere.

That might take the form of flirty conversations with a friend or co-worker on Facebook or WhatsApp; or one partner using dating apps like Tinder or Happn to find validation and an ego boost despite their relationship status.

“They’re looking elsewhere for affection and intimacy, not just physically but also emotionally. It’s a big warning sign when they’re not coming back to their partner for that,” Dr Goldstein says.

Click through the gallery below for some on-screen cheaters.


Simply asking your partner why they’re on Tinder could prompt an elusive response like, ‘It’s just a bit of fun, I just wanted to see what it’s all about’. Instead, Dr Goldstein recommends taking a step back and analysing what’s going on in the relationship - not to shift the blame from one partner to the other, but to determine whether there’s an underlying obstacle that could be worked on.

“Then the conversation, rather than just accusing, turns into, ‘I did find out you’re on Tinder, but I think it’s more to do with the fact we aren’t very affectionate together any more - can we talk about that?'” she says.

4. You have dramatic highs and lows

Passion is important in a relationship - but if you’re experiencing highs that are like mini-honeymoons and lows that are volatile and destructive with a lot of fighting, this could be a major warning sign. Spierings calls these “highly passionate” relationships, and says they can be sign of one partner lacking willingness or empathy to treat their partner how they want to be treated.

“The way to tell is to ask yourself: overall, even if you have difficulties as most couples do, is it adding pleasure to your life to be with each other? Is life is better with than without them?” she explains. “Overall your partner shouldn’t make your life harder - they should make it easier and more stable for you overall. You need to be that kind of team mate, not sitting in two different camps when it comes to trust or that kind of thing.”

Although Spierings is optimistic couples can work through this kind of volatility, she says it’s important to listen to your gut instinct - if deep down you know you’re not a good combination, or the relationship is verging on toxic or abusive, get out.

5. One partner has checked out of the relationship

Both Spierings and Dr Goldstein say if it’s clear one party has emotionally checked out of the relationship, and doesn’t appear willing to put in effort to change things, this is a significant warning sign.

“Maybe they’ve emotionally decided this relationship wasn’t right, they have kids or a living scenario they can’t get out of, or they believe divorce isn’t an option. They might appear to be happy, but they’re not putting in effort, and they’re not getting enjoyment or excitement out of the relationship,” Dr Goldstein says.

Spierings adds that if this disassociated attitude is present in a counselling situation, there’s not much that can be done to help. “It takes two to tango – it’s sometimes very sad, because the other partner can become desperate to make it work and to fight for it, but the other has already made up their mind. I can work with two feet in, and one foot in and one foot out, but I can’t work with someone who has both their feet out,” she explains.

Dr Goldstein believes society’s ideal of a ‘successful’ relationship - for instance, staying together until old age - can make it hard for couples to come to an honest decision about what’s right for their relationship. In truth, separation could be the best decision for all involved, including children.

Have you ever encountered any of these issues in your relationship? Was it a deal-breaker?

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