Are You Invisibly Divorced? 7 Ways To Know

You can hold out as long as you’d like but, when you decide to divorce, it’s inevitable you’ll have to let others in on your plans. The logistics of divorce — divvying up assets, selling the family home, moving into separate residences — are pretty tough to keep under wraps.

But what happens when you’re in a failing marriage and you don’t make moves typically associated with divorce? Or when you decide (or think) staying is a helluva lot easier than slicing up the pie and moving on?

Roughly half of marriages end in divorce, but we know that doesn’t mean the other 50 percent are blissful. So, if we assume about 25 percent of marriages are good or good enough, that leaves the remaining 25 percent in unhappy or dysfunctional unions — and not doing anything about it. These folks are the invisibly divorced.

Even good marriages ride the tides of bliss and crap. And that’s why analyzing the state of your marriage can be downright confusing. But when you’re unhappy in your marriage, you know it. I was in an unhappy marriage — and I knew it — but, perhaps like you, I allowed daily life to distract me from making a hugely disruptive decision for a lot of years.

But, eventually, your gut will win out. And that’s its job. Your gut is your life’s barometer. Whether it’s warning you away from that dark alley or encouraging you to end a toxic friendship, it’s always on the lookout for things in your life that just don’t feel right.

And, sometimes, that thing is your marriage. While you resist the idea of an actual divorce, you and your spouse may collude to have an invisible one. But how do you know when you’ve made the shift from functional marriage to invisible divorce?

1) There’s no intimacy. And I don’t mean wild passion. I’m simply referring to the closeness those in good marriages enjoy. Warm conversation, loving glances, shared laughs, and physical touch are all examples of marital intimacy. If those things — and, yes, sex — are conspicuously missing from your marriage, you may have joined the ranks of the invisibly divorced.

2) You’re not friends. Your spouse doesn’t need to be your best friend, but you should be able to count him/her among your closest confidantes. He/she shouldn’t be the last person you turn to with life’s challenges and joys.

3) You don’t talk about it. Presumably, there was a time when the two of you put some energy into trying to improve your union. If you’ve stopped discussing the relationship altogether, you’ve basically agreed to stop working on it. Where you’re not invested, you’re indifferent. And indifference has no place in a healthy marriage.

4) You keep it on the down low. Things are so skewed at home, there’s really no way to explain the circumstances without revealing to others what you already know: The marriage is in trouble. You keep your invisible divorce to yourself because you’re reluctant to face friends and family who may challenge you to go rogue.

5) It’s what you’re not saying. “She’s a great mom,” or, “He’s good about helping around the house,” are fine ways to describe your spouse, but they’re not qualities that directly feed the heart and soul of the marriage. Defining the value your spouse brings to your union shouldn’t leave you at a loss for words.

6) You have secrets. And you suspect your spouse does, too. When did you start keeping things from each other? At some point, you made the conscious decision to keep him/her in the dark on certain issues. Where secrets exist, good marriages don’t.

7) No respect. Perhaps more important than love in marriage, is respect. It’s paramount that you’re able to muster admiration for your spouse and the way he/she moves through life. As well, marriage to someone you hold in low regard will ultimately diminish any respect you have for yourself.

Invisible divorce isn’t victimless. And, often, it’s not as hidden as you’d like to believe. By choosing invisible divorce, you’re choosing a life of loneliness, disillusionment, hopelessness, and, quite possibly, clinical depression. When you settle for invisible divorce, you’re settling for an inauthentic life. Why on earth would you — a person of worth, of greatness, of endless possibility — ever, ever make that choice?

4 replies
  1. Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski
    Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski says:

    I’m not married any longer having been widowed in 2001 but live with someone. It’s been platonic for over a decade but makes life easier financially. I guess the good thing is it’s less complicated and I never have to feel guilty.

    • Abby Rodman
      Abby Rodman says:

      Hi, Rebecca. Thanks for your note. I do appreciate that relationships are not — and never will be — “one size fits all.” If you’ve found a happy relationship, that’s wonderful! Only you can define what it is that you need to move forward, especially after the death of a spouse. I wish you only continued peace!

  2. Lee Gaitan
    Lee Gaitan says:

    Wow! This is such an excellent piece, with the issues so clearly delineated and articulated.When people say they are not happy in a marriage, it can be very hard to pinpoint or explain the particulars behind the feelings–especially when they are been putting up such a good front for everyone! This should be required reading for every engaged couple of any age.

    • Abby Rodman
      Abby Rodman says:

      Thanks so much, Lee! Appreciate your comments. I agree — it’s often not easy to figure out exactly where things are “off” — and putting up a good front can be exhausting!


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