Is it too late to save your marriage? 6 signs that you’re headed for a divorce (and how to stop it) (Read time: 6 min.)

couple 8When someone asks you about your marriage, what’s your response?





In a time when the divorce rate for all marriages is over 50%, the pressure to make a woman breadwinner marriage work is higher than ever… and the statistics for marital success tell a sad, unfortunate story:

In one study in the Journal of Family Studies, women breadwinners who earned at least 60% of the family’s income were 38% more likely in any given year to get divorced.

The numbers are bleak but they aren’t a death sentence to happy women breadwinner marriages.  One of the questions I get asked a lot by clients who find themselves in unhappy marriages is this:

Is it too late to save my marriage?

Here’s the answer:

Not if you catch the 6 signs of marital decay in time and nip it in the bud.

In a book called The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman identified 6 signs he saw in couples who inevitably ended up in divorce.

NOTE: Dr. Gottman has studied couples for decades and his methods are empirically sound and therapeutically effective.  Here are Dr. Gottman’s 6 signs and what you need to do if you find any of them showing up in your marriage:

Sign #1: Harsh Setup

If you start most of your marital conversations with criticism, sarcasm, or contempt, you’re headed for trouble.  The first three minutes of your marital discussion speaks volumes about your likelihood of divorce.

What to do if you use harsh setup:

  1. Think before you speak
  2. Arm yourself with compassion, not judgment (Remember: people rarely learn their lessons from those who judge them)
  3. Start with positive, not the negative

Sign #2: The 4 Horsemen

Dr. Gottman talks in the book about 4 kinds of negativity that invade a relationship and destroy the marriage:

  1. Criticism
  2. Contempt
  3. Defensiveness
  4. Stonewalling

What to do if you have any of the 4 horsemen in your marriage:

  1. Criticism- Make a distinction between a complaint and a criticism.  Talk about specific actions you didn’t like (complaint), not personality flaws or character defects you think will never get “fixed” in your spouse (criticism).
  2. Contempt- Show your partner respect, appreciation and love.  Do it with gestures, body language, eye contact and tone of voice.  Cut out the eye rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor.  Words and glares are powerful and what you send out will come back to you.
  3. Defensiveness- Stop the blame/shame/guilt game.  Stop attacking your partner because you feel backed into an emotional corner.  Speak your truth.  Ask to have your needs met but do not debate the point.  Either way, your partner will respond in the way he/she chooses.  No amount of defensiveness will positively impact that.
  4. Stonewalling- Tuning out your partner alienates him/her.  You send the message that you don’t care.  You’re physically in the marriage but the rest of you has left the building.  Make a conscious decision to be present in the marriage, to listen, to communicate, even if it’s painful to do so.

Sign #3: Flooding

When exposed to a lot of negativity from a spouse, we have the tendency to get overwhelmed to the point that your heart starts racing, you can’t think and the only thing you want to do is get the heck out of the room.  After a while, you start to expect the negativity.  The expectation of it before any interaction occurs begins to cause physical and emotional distress.  Eventually, the flooded partner chooses to withdraw rather than feel emotion.

What to do when you’re flooded:

  • Breathe
  • Self soothe
  • Get physically in your body
  • Take a time out from discussion and center yourself

Sign #4: Body Language

The physical distress caused by being flooded (increased heart rate, sweating, etc.) clouds judgment and prevents constructive problem solving.

What to do when you’re under physical distress:

  • Use self soothing techniques and self talk to bring down heart rate, reduce sweating, and regain a sense of calm
  • Open your body through things like yoga, a peaceful walk, and tai chi
  • Unclench fists, make your body go limp, or use other body release techniques
  • deep breathing

Sign #5: Failed Repair Attempts

Repair attempts occur when one or both partners extend the proverbial olive branch and find a way to meet in the middle.  When all of your olive branches are broken in two by your partner or not even noticed, divorce is on its way.

What to do when repair attempts fail:

Reconnect in the relationship by spending dedicated, focused time rediscovering your spouse, finding out what really matters to him/her and rewriting your marital script.

Sign #6: Bad Memories

If one or both of you look at the past of your relationship with negativity, criticism, or a lack of recall (i.e. you can’t even remember the details of your honeymoon), you’re headed down the wrong road.  You’re viewing the past in a negative way and that spells for problems in your future.

What to do when you see the past with negativity:

Reframe the past of your marriage into the positive and have hopeful expectations for the future

At the end of the day, each of the 6 signs are wake up calls that your relationship NEEDS  a lifeline.  Get the message and seek out a therapist, coach or counselor to help you turn things around before it’s too late.  Also check out my book, CHOOSE YOU, NOT DIVORCE, available on Amazon –>HERE<– or check out my author profile on Amazon at

Choose You Not Divorce

I have a question for you:

Which of the 6 signs have you seen in your woman breadwinner marriage?  What steps will you begin to take today to work through it?


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