The “Not So Little” Little Things that Lead to Divorce

Image of a ripped paper heart on a string

By Christy A. Zlatkus, Esquire and Elizabeth Degi DuBois, MA

In a recent article about divorce for Romper, Z Family Law founder Christy Zlatkus, Esquire shared her take on five factors that break up marriages. In the midst of our buzzing with excitement about being featured in one of our favorite media outlets (squeeeee!) we started brainstorming the “not so little” things that land people in our office filling out divorce complaints.

Spouses often write these off as “no big deal” behaviors, but in reality, the day-to-day habits that undergird marriages can lead to the same outcome as a more obvious breakup catalyst like infidelity. Here are the top-ten ‘not so little’ habits we’ve noticed that land people in our office, and eventually in front of a judge who declares the marriage kaput:

1. Not prioritizing time together: It’s a cliche breakup cause for a reason. Make time for your spouse, or someone else will.

2. Treating your spouse like a child: Yes, we all have moments where, for the love of all that is holy, we just can’t fathom why he left the dishes in the sink when we spent the morning cleaning the kitchen, but watch your tone when you’re expressing your frustration. Adults want— and deserve— to be treated as such. 

3. Not listening: Are you just hearing them, or really paying attention and engaging with your spouse when they talk to you? “Little” details about their day, their schedule, their goals, their wants— the little things make up the bulk of who we are. Pay attention, and make your spouse feel valued. If it’s important to them, it should be important to you!

4Talking to them with contempt: You didn’t fall in love with a moron, so don’t treat your spouse like one now that you’re hitched. Being belittled is a great reason to walk away from a marriage.

5. Assuming they’ve “got it covered”: If your wife constantly squeezes in time to pick up the dry cleaning, you can squeeze in time to ask if she needs you to take a turn every now and then. Assuming your spouse is on the ball can translate to them feeling taken for granted. Take time to notice, appreciate and offer to pitch in on the things your spouse usually takes care of. This shows up a lot in lopsided parenting; if one spouse is the heavy on kid’s logistics, it can be easy to slip into a pattern of that parent being the only one to show up to school plays, soccer games, and play dates. Not only do your kids notice (believe us, they do), but the default parent can feel both taken for granted, and unsure if the other parent is as invested in the kids as they are.

6. Hiding purchases: Hiding purchases from your spouse— even ‘no big deal’ mani/pedi dates with a girlfriend— means you don’t trust your spouse to know the details of your life. Even if you keep your money separately (which is a great idea for many couples!), keeping your spending on the DL can hurt your relationship. Are you afraid to share because you’re spending money your family doesn’t have? Or are you nervous they will disapprove of how you’re spending your time, not just your cash? This is a biggie not just because money is a proxy for what we value, but also because controlling spending can be a red flag for abuse. If you’re not free to discuss money and make joint decisions about spending, it’s time to think about counseling.

7. Not taking complaints seriously: If leaving your socks on the floor or forgetting to fill up the gas tank until you’re on E is driving your spouse absolutely bonkers, decide to make tidying or filling up a priority. If it’s important to them, it should be important to you! (Notice a pattern yet?)

8. Watching Their Waistline: Controlling what your spouse eats or making ‘little’ comments about fluctuations in their size are some of the most painful things our clients confide in us. Not only does it make your spouse suuuuuuuper self-conscious, but it can also be a slippery slope to abusive control. The next time you’re tempted to ask “you’re gonna eat that?”, bite your tongue.

9. Changing your mind all the time and expecting your spouse to keep up: Most people can’t read minds, and switching plans all the time can make even the most organized person a little batty. Communicate when you absolutely must change gears, and do your best to make collaborative plans then stick to them.

10. Dismissing each other’s interests: Sure, knitting club sounds like a snore fest, but rolling your eyes as he heads out the door to meet his Dudes Who Drop Stitches guys’ night out shows him you don’t value the things he cares about. Take interest in what your partner finds joy in, encourage them to make time for their passion projects, hobbies, and friends. It might not be your bag, but (all together now!): If it’s important to them, it should be important to you!

Every marriage is as unique as the people in it, and the reasons that people choose to file for divorce are complex and varied. That caveat being said, in our time guiding hundreds of couples going through a divorce, our team has learned a thing or two about the “little” things that turn out to be not so little.

Taking time to consider if your relationship is being undermined by some of the little things can have a big payoff: A happier marriage.