While there are times when both partners in a marriage are aware that a divorce is in the offing, other times one spouse might not be sure or even realize that the other is contemplating a departure.
It is important to know the clues and be on the lookout for signs that your husband or wife wants to leave you.
When one spouse files for divorce, the other can feel blindsided —until weeks and months later, they look back and see all the red flags they were missing, or ignoring, or repeatedly turned down for sex. For years.
In my case, my ex-threatened to leave for months. I was pregnant, and couldn't believe it — until he left his wedding ring on a shelf where he knew I'd see it. No subtlety there!
“There are often many indications of a pending divorce, but people don’t want to see them or acknowledge that their marriage may be in danger,”
Gretchen Cliburn, a financial planner and certified divorce financial analyst in Springfield, Mo., told The Wall Street Journal.
The Wall Street Journal quoted me on this topic recently. Here is my own list of what to look out for:
Telltale signs your husband or wife is planning to leave you and wants a divorce
1. They stop arguing with you.
If you've been bickering (or screaming) for years about certain issues, and they suddenly stop, they may very well have thrown in the towel.
2. He or she spends more time with their own friends or family members than before — and less with you.
You may have been your husband or wife's primary comfort and friend, but now you have been replaced with other people (or a lover, for that matter).
What to do now: See above. Shore up your support system.
3. Become evasive or stop caring about future plans, whether planning vacations, holidays, home repairs — all now irrelevant because they are out of there.
What to do now: Find a divorce lawyer. Many attorneys offer free phone consultations. Find someone who promotes collaborative divorce or mediation, when appropriate.
4. The sudden focus on their appearance.
This might include plastic surgery, major weight-loss, new wardrobe all may be signs of a new lease on life — without you.
What to do now: They are spending frivolously on their future. You need to secure yourself financially. Sock away all the cash you can in an online checking account and also an online savings account in your name only. Make sure you have life insurance policies for both of you, as well as estate plans.
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5. They act secretive about their phone messages, texts, mail, and emails.
There may be an affair at play, or they may be waiting for a call from their lawyer, accountant, real estate agent, or spending time researching alimony law.
What to do now: Did you know divorce and separation are some of the top times in life when your identity and credit will be stolen? Keep up with your credit by using CreditKarma.com or CreditSesame.com!
6. A sudden interest in the family finances, after leaving the money management to the other spouse.
From the Wall Street Journal:
“Michael Stutman, past president of the New York state chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, says one red flag could come from the spouse who shows new interest in credit-card offers. The spouse could be trying to build up credit in his or her name or be concerned about maintaining access to liquidity during the divorce, he says.”
What to do now: Research all your accounts, collect documents for bank, savings, investments, real estate, debt, loans. Open accounts in your own name to build and maintain credit.
7. Rejiggering of assets or credit
Say, taking out large sums from a home equity line, unusually high spending on a joint credit card (or worse, one in the other spouse's name), or withdrawal from investment accounts. The opening of new accounts or credit cards in their name only is another sign. Or, unusually large cash withdrawals from accounts is another red flag, as is if a spouse stops contributing to investment accounts (because those funds may be stashed in an exit strategy instead).
What to do now: Shit is now serious. Retain an attorney and move to freeze accounts. Half of this money is likely yours. Keep lots of records.
8. Intercept of financial or legal documents.
For example, if tax or investment documents were always mailed to both of you, and suddenly they stopped, your spouse may have signed up to receive them electronically — or snagged them from the USPS, or change account passwords without telling you.
What to do now: Educate yourself about investing and saving if you feel behind. Read: How to start investing for women
9. Lots of talk about how poorly their business is doing.
He or she might be planting notions that he has fewer assets and income than in actuality.
If you are under-employed, start searching for a new job or side gig. Read: Top companies for work-at-home jobs for single moms
10. You might find strange documents about apartment or relocation offers around your home.
What to do now: Read Should you keep your house in divorce?
11. Refusal of a stay-at-home parent to get a job, or a lesser-earning spouse to take a higher-paying position
They may be ensuring higher child support or spousal maintenance.
What to do now: Call that lawyer.
12. On the flip side, a spouse may turn down a promotion or overtime to lessen their financial responsibility post-breakup.
What to do now: [Video] How to negotiate a pay raise or promotion
13. Sudden interest in the kids
If they are thinking of leaving, and want to make sure they get lots of visitation time with the children, they show uncharacteristic interest in sports, religious, school and other activities, as well as ensure the kids spend lots of time with their side of the family.
What to do now: Read: 29 ways to co-parent like a pro
14. An aggressive insistence to relocate to be near their extended family.
What to do now: Attorney, now.
15. Sex stops, or sex starts to suck.
If you're still having sex, but the other partner stops caring about your pleasure, or intimate connection, they are checked out emotionally, and a divorce may be next. (Though I did report on weird cases where that chemistry outlives the marriage. Rare, weird but possible!)
What to do now: Pray. Focus on your own wellbeing.
What to do when you know he wants to leave
One of the most important tools you have at your disposal when going through a divorce is your support network. Perhaps this is a fantastic group of friends and family, a support group, therapist or another resource, you need people who get and love you — and are positive and productive. My closed Facebook group Millionaire Single Moms understands what you are going through and will be a great sounding board and source of advice. Divorce is consistently ranked as one of the most stressful life events, but remember that it is passing, and life will get better (and then likely get worse at some point, but that is for another blog post!).
You get a year. A free pass for 12 months to be a freaky weirdo. Drink too much after the kids go to bed. Smoke a few cigarettes at break time with your colleagues. Let the house go, let the dishes pile up in the sink. Hell, might as well preemptively cancel the gym memberships, because you’re not going. Be stinky and oily, and let your pubes hang out of your swimsuit on a public beach in the Midwest. Sleep with a bunch of completely inappropriate people and wear things that no one at your age with your body should ever even think about wearing in public. Stay up all night stalking your college boyfriend on Facebook.
You’re good. No judgment here!
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How about you? What signs did you show that you were ready to leave you? What did your ex do to signal he was ready for divorce? Share in the comments …
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.