7 Silent Killers That Can Lead To Divorce In Relationships

Little things can add up and lead to the decline of a relationship.

by Kristine Fellizar
BDG Media, Inc.

People get divorced for all kinds of different reasons. More often than not, it’s the little things that add up and lead to the decline of the relationship. According to experts, most couples that get divorced have a few silent relationship killers in common.

According to Dr. John Gottman, couples are pretty much doomed to fail if they have any of the following four traits: stonewalling, sarcasm, contempt, and criticism. He called these “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Out of the four, Gottman identified contempt as the number one predictor of divorce.

While licensed professional counselor E.J. Smith tells Bustle that the other three “horsemen” can also be problematic, contempt is by far the most damaging. “When people start to look at their spouse with contempt or resentment, it colors the lens through which we see, observe, and interpret our spouse,” Smith says. “Its presence undermines the desire to continue to work at our relationships. Even gestures and behaviors that could be seen as positive can be twisted in such a way that they’re seen as negative.”

Unlike major things like cheating, these types of relationship ruiners aren’t easy to spot. It’s important to be aware of them before it’s too late to do anything about it. So here are some silent relationship killers that almost always leads to divorce, according to experts.


Conflict Avoidance

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Most people try to avoid conflict because it’s uncomfortable. However, Connie Omari Ph.D., clinician, and owner of Tech Talk Therapy, tells Bustle, “Avoiding conflict is a silent relationship killer because it prevents the opportunity for addressing conflict to take place.” When you aren’t addressing conflicts, you’re allowing the negativity to fester. The important thing here is to learn how to deal with conflict in the right way. “Not learning these skills is a sure way kill your relationship silently,” she says.


Invalidating Emotions

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This is a tough one to avoid because it sometimes happens without you realizing it. For instance, if your partner says they’re cold but you aren’t, it’s easy to say, “It’s not that cold” without thinking anything of it. But little offhanded remarks like this can add up. As Omari says, you may not mean to be offensive, but if your partner sees it that way, it’s going to be a problem.

“When a person feels invalidated, they often feel disconnected and unheard,” she says. “These two characteristics combined will definitely work to deteriorate a relationship quickly.”


Unresolved Trauma

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Everyone enters into a relationship with baggage. But failing to deal with baggage or past trauma can hurt your relationship without you realizing it. “When a person suffers from trauma that remains unresolved, they’re often incapable of living their lives without responding to some form of triggers related to that trauma,” Omari says. For instance, if you’ve been cheated on in the past, your partner going away for a work trip might cause you to become worried, anxious, and insecure. So instead of letting your partner do their own thing, you’ll feel the need to check up on them and stay in constant contact. Dealing with past trauma isn’t always easy to do by yourself. Therapy can be helpful in this case.



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“Unhealed resentments in a relationship can be a death knoll for a breakup,” Christine Scott-Hudson, licensed psychotherapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. Resentment can show in many different forms. Your partner may keep bringing up the past, they may be passive aggressive, sarcastic, or snarky about certain topics. When there’s resentment in the relationship, it usually means there’s not enough open and honest communication. If you’re going to make your marriage last, communication is essential.


White Lies About Money

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As a divorce lawyer, Russell D. Knight tells Bustle that divorces are caused by financial issues more than anything else. “Many couples keep their finances separate,” he says. “Not surprisingly, this does not bring couples closer together.” If one person is a spender and the other is a saver, you’re going to have fights. When one person hides their finances and the other finds out, it’s going to lead to trust issues. If your marriage is going to work, being on the same page financially from day one will help you avoid seeking out a divorce attorney.



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Stonewalling is another one of Gottman’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” According to licensed professional counselor Dr. LaWanda N. Evans, stonewalling happens when a person withdraws or shuts down during a conversation or argument. “They emotionally or mentally close themselves off from their partner due to being physiologically flooded or agitated to the point where they can’t discuss an issue respectfully,” Evans says. You can’t solve problems when one person isn’t making an effort to do so.



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Ideally, you and your partner will continue to grow together as time goes on. But that isn’t always the case. Some people change and find out they’ve outgrown their partner or the relationship. Divorce attorney Melissa Fecak, Esq. tells Bustle that she sees this a lot with older couples who are retired. “When they were working, the differences that developed were harder to detect,” she says. “Now that the distractions from the relationship are no longer present, it becomes more apparent that they don’t have as much in common as they once thought or they changed their opinions on how they want to handle things moving forward.” Change is inevitable. If both partners aren’t changing and moving forward in the same direction, it’s not going to work.

It’s important to pay close attention to these relationship killers because they start off pretty subtly. Chances are, you won’t even realize these are doing any harm until you find yourself with nothing but negative feelings toward your partner. Being mindful of these subtle things can help you avoid divorce.