Before lawyering up, there’s one big question you have to ask yourself: “What is your goal—is divorce your only or best option to achieve it?” says therapist Dr Maru Torres-Gregory, a teaching and supervising faculty member for the Marriage & Family Therapy Program at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.
There’s a difference between wanting your marriage to end and wanting a different type of relationship that you just can’t picture now, explains Torres-Gregory. “What advice would you give your best friend if they were in this situation? That can often help you step back and see things as a more neutral third party,” she says. Individual or couples counselling can also help you answer these questions, like whether you, deep-down, want to save your marriage.
It would be reassuring if there was one telltale sign that you should get a divorce, but it may be a multitude of factors driving you apart, which makes things way less simple. And the reality is that having one issue doesn’t mean your relationship is beyond repair—nor will divorce necessarily get rid of all your problems. (The one exception: If there is abuse in the relationship, then, yes, you should get a divorce. That is not easy, and you’ll need to seek outside resources and support from those you love and trust to ensure your post-exit safety.)
Beyond that, there are red flags that cause counsellors to perk up their ears that you may be headed for divorce. Here are 12 that you should watch for—and handle accordingly:
1. You’re not eating dinner together.
What seems like a minor issue might actually be an indication of something more major. “When I talk to a couple who’s ready for divorce, I ask them if they eat dinner together,” says Dr Bonnie Eaker Weil, a couples therapist in New York City and author of Make Up, Don’t Break Up: Finding and Keeping Love for Singles and Couples. The common refrain is that one partner works late and the other doesn’t want to wait to eat. But it’s a signal that you two are totally disjointed. “Without eating together, there’s no family tie. This is the connection time,” she says.
2. They are suffering from addiction and refuse to get help.
Whether that’s drugs, alcohol, gambling, it’s an understatement to say that addiction affects you, too. Same goes if they’re suffering from a severe mental health issue. In all these circumstances, if they don’t want or refuse to get help and are endangering you or others in some way, you may want to rethink the marriage, says Eaker Weil.
3. You’re only together because of your kids.
It’s common to think that staying together is better for children. But if that's the only thing keeping your marriage alive, it's "a sign that there’s no connection between you and your partner, or you two have invested so much energy into the children that you’re not investing any into the relationship,” says Torres-Gregory.
One day, though, your kids will leave home...and then what? (And yes, if you have little ones, that seems really far away right now.) “I’ve worked with [adults] whose parents divorced and they say they wished they did it sooner because they could see how unhealthy, disrespectful, and combative the relationship was,” she says. Divorce isn’t necessarily the solution, but the kids should not be the only tie.
4. You’re not having fun.
“Couples who play together, stay together,” says Eaker Weil. Watch out if there’s “no more fun, laughter, camaraderie, and bonding,” she says. While it's possible to rekindle that part of your relationship, the absence of fun often indicates a level of resentment, which can be hard for some couples to get past.
5. You live totally separate lives.
“Happy couples feel connected to each other even when they’re not physically together,” says Torres-Gregory. If you’ve been making decisions without your partner even entering into your awareness, you straight-up don't care about how they'd react, or you aren’t interested in your partner’s life, well, those are all bad signs. It's not just the leading separate lives part that's the issue—it's the fact you (or them, or both of you) couldn't care less about doing so.
6. You’re not having sex.
If there are no health issues preventing sex but there’s no sexual relationship—as in, you or your partner have no interest, desire, or attraction—that’s a sign you two aren’t connected, says Torres-Gregory. While it's common for marriages to go through dry spells (a.k.a. dead bedrooms), if your partner never initiates, and neither do you, it won't be easy to bounce back.
Good sex is the glue that holds together a relationship—and patches it up, adds Eaker Weil. Otherwise, you're sorta just roommates, no?
7. You'd be fine if they wanted to see other people.
If you’re in a monogamous relationship, let your mind go there: What if your partner had sex with someone else? If your answer is you don’t really care and the image itself doesn’t bother you, that may be a sign you’re headed for divorce, says Torres-Gregory. (This does not apply to couples who have decided to open their marriages in some way, FYI.)
8. There’s no respect.
Does your partner make decisions or engage in actions that they know would hurt you? That’s a sign that the marriage is in real trouble, says Torres-Gregory. For instance, you told your partner you don’t want them to do something and you’ve been clear, but they go do it anyway. Or they make life-altering decisions without even consulting you—especially when they know you wouldn't have signed off. Not cool...not at all.
9. They mock you to others—or to your face.
“The way someone talks about their partner when they’re not together can be a sign of disdain,” says Torres-Gregory. Same goes if they share these things with you to your face, via name-calling or making fun of you during arguments. These attitudes and behaviours can be a sign that there are irreparable cracks in your marriage.
10. You don’t want to come home.
If you're seeing a lot of these signs, I don't blame you. But if you find yourself wanting to stay at the office late or sleep at your friend's place just to limit how much time you're around your spouse, that's not a sign to ignore.
Similarly, if the sound of your partner's key opening the door fills you with anxiety or dread, your marriage isn’t working right now, says Eaker Weil.
11. You can’t see them with empathy.
Eaker Weil calls this “looking at your partner like they’re a wounded child.” Every marriage has disagreements, but when you can’t look at your partner and their needs with empathy or tenderheartedness, that means you may indeed be better off apart.
“In marriages ready to break up, couples are holding on to so much negativity and so many grudges,” she says.
12. The thought of ending the relationship is a relief.
Enough said. Again, says Torres-Gregory, it’s worth it to explore if you really do want out of the marriage or actually want it to change. Either way, take all the time you need to self-reflect. In the end, only you know what's right for you.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.