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22 Habits That Are Divorce-Worthy

Avoid these patterns to keep your partnership strong.

We'd like to think technology has made us significantly more sophisticated than our ancestors and more adept at dealing intelligently with all aspects of life, but one statistic argues against that: For decades, the American divorce rate has stayed stubbornly stuck—even in 2023, about half of U.S. marriages are destined to fail. Technology or no, it seems we often can't help defaulting to some human tendencies that can drive a wedge between ourselves and the people we love. These are major habits that often lead to divorce, according to experts—and what you can do instead to keep your partnership strong.



After studying 40,000 couples, psychologist Dr. John Gottman identified the "four horsemen"—the four habits that are most likely to predict a failed relationship. Number one: Criticism. "Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint," he says. "The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack. It is an attack on your partner at the core of their character. In effect, you are dismantling their whole being when you criticize."



Number two, says Gottman, is expressing contempt for your partner. "Contempt goes far beyond criticism. While criticism attacks your partner's character, contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over them," he says. Expressing contempt causes spouses to become warring opponents instead of a functional unit. 


Woman pushing man aside during argument on the couch

"When we feel unjustly accused, we fish for excuses and play the innocent victim so that our partner will back off," says Gottman. "Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don't take their concerns seriously and that we won't take responsibility for our mistakes. Defensiveness will only escalate the conflict if the critical spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner, and it won't allow for healthy conflict management."



Stonewalling is usually a response to contempt. According to Gottman, it occurs "when the listener withdraws from the interaction, shuts down, and simply stops responding to their partner. Rather than confronting the issues with their partner, people who stonewall can make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive or distracting behaviors." If you find yourself stonewalling, ask your partner for a 20-minute break, then return to the conversation. 

Not Spending Enough Quality Time Together


"One common reason why marriages end is a lack of quality time spent together," says Connor Moss, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Pacific Psychotherapy. "Many people assume that their relationship will always be there and remain strong. However, the reality is that if you don't actively nurture your relationship by spending quality time together, it can gradually erode."  His advice: Don't wait until you feel distant from your partner to start investing time in the relationship. "Even if you sometimes prefer time alone, scheduling and intentionally spending quality time with your partner on a regular basis is essential for maintaining a sense of connection and intimacy," he says. 

Joking At Your Partner's Expense


"While some people love to use humor to connect and assume their partner is comfortable being the subject of a joke, the reality can be quite different," says Moss. "Even if your partner laughs and plays along, demeaning jokes can substantially impact the sense of appreciation and affection between partners." His advice: "To foster a stronger emotional connection, be mindful of your language. Emphasize words that express love, care, and affection; this conscious change can do wonders for the overall health and happiness of your relationship."

Divergent Hobbies


"While individual time and separate hobbies are important and healthy in any relationship, overinvesting in activities that don't involve your partner can lead to emotional drift," says Moss. "If you find yourself dedicating too much time to personal interests to the exclusion of shared activities, your partner may begin to feel left behind. To maintain a balanced relationship, strive to balance your personal hobbies with activities that both of you enjoy."

Not Communicating


"One of the most common relationship-enders is not communicating," says Billy Roberts, LISW-S, a therapist in Columbus, Ohio. " For example, shutting down, not knowing what is going on in your partner's life, and avoiding challenging conversations. Sometimes a marriage has always struggled with this issue, and other times it evolves over time as couples grow apart.  His advice? "It may sound simple, but this can be avoided by continuing to talk with one another, some couples find it helpful to set aside time each day to deliberately discuss one another's day."

Poor Self-Care

Sad woman

"When you enter a marriage, you commit to caring about your partner, your relationship, and also yourself. Not practicing self-care and well-being prevents you from being able to be a good partner," says Stephanie Wijkstrom, LPC, NCC, a licensed counselor and founder of Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh.

Neglecting Your Own Emotions

Serious sad woman thinking over a problem, man sitting aside, end of long-term relations, an alcoholic, drug addicted partner, poor conflict management skill, ongoing disagreements with adult son

"When you don't do the work to develop your own emotional hygiene, you can't be present for anyone else's and will end up creating more conflict in your relationship," says Wijkstrom.

Lack of Physical Contact


"Physical affection like hugging, holding hands, or a simple touch on the arm can foster a sense of intimacy and connection," says Kalley Hartman, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Ocean Recovery in Newport Beach, California. "When this non-sexual physical contact decreases, couples may feel more distant from each other. Regularly show affection towards your partner through non-sexual physical contact. This can help maintain a sense of closeness and intimacy."

Taking the Relationship for Granted


"Over time, couples may stop putting effort into the relationship, assuming that their partner will always be there. This can lead to feelings of being undervalued or unappreciated," says Hartman. "Regularly express gratitude and appreciation for your partner. Small gestures of kindness can go a long way in maintaining a healthy relationship."

Using Technology as a Distraction


"Overuse of smartphones, computers, and other technology can create a barrier between partners, leading to feelings of neglect and disconnection," says Hartman. "Set technology boundaries. Designate tech-free times or zones in your home to ensure quality, undistracted time with your partner."

Not Appreciating Differences

Young couple is sitting on a sofa in their apartment looking up and holding their hands to plug their ears

It's problematic when you try to change your partner's differences to align with your own, instead of acknowledging and accepting those differences, says Kimberlin Shepard, LMSW, an individual and couples therapist in New York City. "Opposites may attract, but unfortunately, we eventually come to find we want someone to agree with us and someone who wants to do the same things as us." The solution: Learn to compromise.

Expecting Perfection


Anyone who expects perfection from a spouse is setting themselves up for divorce. "You must cherish someone and accept them, not idealize them," says Shepard. "Do not put your partner on a pedestal. We are all human and have imperfections."

Being Unable to Ask for Help

Angry couple.

"So often, couples come to me saying their significant other doesn't help out enough, and when brought up in sessions, the other partner usually says, 'You never asked'," says Shepard. "We can't expect our partners to be mind-readers. We need to learn to ask for what we need and to do it in a respectful way."

Lack of Intimacy


"Intimacy is the currency of relationships. Intimacy isn't solely about physical closeness; it's also about emotional connection," says Dr. Max Riv, a clinical psychologist and founder of Love Discovery Institute. He recommends prioritizing intimacy by scheduling regular date nights or intimate moments to reconnect emotionally and physically.

Disrespecting Boundaries


What does your union mean? Don't assume you and your spouse are always on the same page. "Setting and respecting boundaries is crucial for maintaining trust and mutual respect," says Riv. "Have a frank discussion about what you both expect from the relationship and respect those boundaries diligently."

Inability to Solve Conflicts

Couple lying in bed drifting apart
Lucky Business / Shutterstock

"If you refuse to acknowledge your partner's concerns or settle ongoing disputes in the marriage, these issues are bound to cause more significant problems," says clinical sexologist Rachel Sommer, Ph.D. "I recommend always creating time to deal with underlying conflicts in the relationship. Most importantly, be empathetic and acknowledge your lover's feelings."



"Infidelity is one of the most common and devastating causes of divorce. It can shatter the trust and loyalty that are the foundation of a marriage," says psychiatrist Dr. Ketan Parmar. "It can trigger feelings of betrayal, anger, guilt, shame, and insecurity in both partners. To avoid this, couples should work on maintaining their emotional and physical connection, addressing any issues or conflicts in their relationship, and setting clear boundaries with potential temptations."

Stressing About Finances


"Money is often a source of conflict and stress in marriages," says Parmar. "Couples may have different spending habits, saving goals, or financial values. Couples should communicate openly and honestly about their financial situation, create a realistic budget and stick to it, seek professional help if needed, and support each other through difficult times."

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Just Being Incompatible


"Sometimes couples may realize that they have grown apart over time or that they have fundamental differences in their personalities, values, beliefs, or goals," says Parmar. "Couples should try to understand and respect each other's differences, find ways to compromise and accommodate each other's needs, and nurture their friendship and shared activities."

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