Divorce Risk Factors: Relationship Red Flags

by | Jul 25, 2023 | Divorce

No divorce occurs overnight but what are the warning signs of divorce? Even if a crisis event seems responsible for triggering the divorce, for instance, one spouse’s infidelity, it is unlikely that the event occurred entirely in a vacuum. These relationship destroyers usually start small and grow almost imperceptibly until they reach that critical mass that jeopardizes the marriage. 

In this article, we will investigate some of the leading “divorce predictors,” otherwise known as common causes of divorce. We put these warning signs, or risk factors for divorce, into two main groups: 


  • Acute” – sudden, life-changing events.
    • Infidelity 
    • Midlife crisis 
    • “Empty-nesters” 
    • Financial stress 
    • Abuse 
  • Chronic” – ongoing areas of relational strain.
    • Communications
    • Time management
    • Finances
    • Controlling behavior


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Acute Warning Signs of Divorce

Infidelity and divorce

Infidelity is not the #1 cause of divorce, although many studies indicate that it is responsible for upward to 40% of divorces nationwide.

When one spouse engages in sexual activity outside of their marriage, they break a covenantal bond of loyalty that they gave their word to uphold when they said their marriage vows. Even if the adulterous affair itself came about suddenly – being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people – infidelity usually begins with a more subtle erosion of the protective wall that an emotionally, physically and sexually healthy marriage can provide. Several red flags of this sort of erosion that can lead to infidelity would include:


  • A shift in priorities – one or both of the spouses begin to devote more time and attention to their outside world rather than to each other;


  • Changes in financial behavior – cheating spouses often have expenses associated with their actions, and they may set up separate bank or credit card accounts, or may simply not be transparent about where their money is going;


  • Financial over-dependence – Interestingly, statistics show that if one of the spouses is completely dependent on the other spouse for their livelihood, they may begin to feel entrapped. Their quest for a sense of freedom may then influence them toward an illicit relationship with someone else; and/or


  • Lack of marital intimacy – a reduction or elimination of romantic connection and sexual intimacy in a marriage will almost certainly be compensated for in another way.


Attending to these warning signs as they first appear may not completely prevent an adulterous relationship from occurring, much like an early discovery of cancerous cells in the body may not prevent a tumor. It will, however, increase the potential of avoiding that sort of devastation that so frequently leads to complete marital collapse.


Midlife crisis and divorce


There is a growing phenomenon of “gray divorces,” or couples calling it quits who are in their senior years and may have been together for decades. Divorce is no longer the domain of the young and inexperienced.

Sometimes, these “gray divorces” are triggered by one of the spouses entering a “midlife crisis.” That name is appropriate for what it describes: the spouse feels their own aging and may, as a result, begin to question the meaning of their life.

They may feel a certain void within and try to fill it by making big changes, like leaving their jobs for brand new careers or purchasing a big-ticket item, like a sports car or motorcycle, that makes them feel connected to their youth again. Some may have an affair. Some may not act so drastically but will rather become dark and brooding in their personality and withdraw emotionally from those around them.


“Empty-nesters” and divorce


Other “gray divorces” may occur after the last child leaves the home due to “empty nest syndrome.” 

Much of a parent’s life orbits around their children: educating them, spending evenings and weekends taking them to their extracurricular activities, choosing vacation destinations that appeal to their youthful desires, etc. Some parents who may be aware of relationship struggles in their marriage may nevertheless decide to stay together “for the children’s sake.”

Then, in an almost pre-planned way, they divorce each other once the children are no longer around. For others, this “post-empty nest divorce” may not have been foreseen: the child leaves, and suddenly the spouses find themselves alone with a virtual stranger.


Financial stress and divorce  


A financial crisis can be caused by many things, like the loss of a job or a major health problem generating unplanned-for expenses. Whatever the cause, such crises threaten the ability to maintain an accustomed standard of living or, worse, outright financial ruin. The stresses that these situations bring to a marriage are obvious.

A financial windfall, for example a significant inheritance received suddenly, may seem positive from the outside but may actually increase the couple’s financial pressures if it is not handled wisely. Disagreements of how the money should be used may build tension between them. Furthermore, it is a recognized phenomenon that sudden windfalls are often lost just as quickly as they were received, which can feed disappointment and distrust.


Abuse and divorce


Abuse can take on many forms under Family Code Section 6320:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Spiritual abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Neglect

Some of these forms of abuse are more obvious than others. Regardless, no person has the right to abuse another for any reason, nor does anyone have an obligation to endure abusive speech or behavior from another person. 

Certainly, abuse in a marriage is a clear warning sign that should not go unheeded. If you are the victim of any of these forms of abuse, please call your local authorities and/or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1- 800-799-7233) without delay.

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Chronic Warning Signs Of Divorce


Acute warning signs of divorce send shockwaves through a marriage; chronic warning signs simply suck the life out of it. Acute warning signs are obvious and may be a wake-up call to stimulate change; chronic warning signs are more subtle, perhaps imperceptible at first, and the couple may sleep right through their growth until it is too late. In that sense, chronic warning signs may be more deadly.

Here are 4 examples of chronic warning signs of divorce:


1. Communications

Communication is the key to success in any relationship, especially a marriage. That key can be lost in several ways. Some spouses with more introspective personalities do not know how to communicate their deepest thoughts and feelings. Some spouses have the opposite problem: they don’t know how to keep quiet, and end up saying things they regret later.  

Some couples think that conflict resolution is achieved through avoidance. They bury their feelings in the hopes they will go away. Usually, the opposite happens: those feelings just fester and form barriers between one another. Successful communication in a marriage requires the willingness to dialogue with honesty and transparency, but also with civility.

Learning to voice disagreements in a way that respects the views of one another – learning to agree to disagree if necessary – is a skill that can overcome many marital difficulties. Conversely, toxic communication habits like constant condemnation, voicing irrational suspicions, complaining or nagging, only alienate the spouses from each other.


2. Time management

How each spouse spends their time, and with whom they spend it, sends major signals to their partners about who, or what, they truly think is important. If one spouse begins to spend more time at work, or with family and friends, or pursuing a hobby, the other spouse will likely think that they are no longer of value to them. 


3. Finances

There is a clearly established link between financial pressures and divorce, accounting for nearly as many divorces as sexual infidelity. Financial pressures are stressful, especially when there is a heavy debt burden. Those pressures are exacerbated when one spouse mismanages the family’s finances.

If this mismanagement is purposeful and manipulative, designed to coerce particular actions by the other spouse or limit their independence, that is literally “financial abuse.” Likewise, if the mismanagement is hidden and lied about, giving the other spouse a false picture of security, that is often termed “financial infidelity.” 


4. Controlling behavior

We typically associate controlling behavior with the use of shame or other forms of ugly manipulation to force one person’s way on another person. Not all controlling behavior looks that bad on the outside, though. Recently, clinicians have been using the term “love bombing” to describe someone who uses flattery, gives excessive gifts, and makes grand promises of the bright future to come in order to achieve their way with that person.  

Whatever form this behavior may take, its purpose is to dominate the other person instead of recognizing and defending the equality and worth of the other.


Warning Signs Of Divorce…Is There A Path Forward?


Each marriage is different, and each spouse must assess their situation honestly. Generally speaking, most marriages at some point encounter episodes when they may manifest one or more warning signs. In such cases, we would not necessarily call them “red flags.” “Yellow flags” would be a more appropriate term.

Yellow flags should be noticed and attended to, but they are not (yet) at a level of being an immediate and genuine threat of divorce. Left alone and unattended to, however, yellow flags can easily become red flags, and divorce may soon follow. 

If you encounter these warning signs of a divorce in your marriage, we encourage you to contact our family law firm of Hoover Krepelka. We will help you understand the implications of your options and ensure that you have all the legal protections you need should a divorce ensue. 

While this website provides general information, it does not constitute legal advice. The best way to get guidance on your specific legal issue is to contact a lawyer. To schedule a meeting with an attorney, please call or complete the intake form below.

*The above is not meant to be legal advice, and every case is different. Feel free to reach out to us at Hoover Krepelka, LLP, if you have any questions. Information contained in this content and website should not be relied on as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice on your specific situation. 

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