As 'silent divorce' interest spikes, relationship expert lists the warning signs

Couple on the brink of a silent divorce
There's been a rise in people looking to understand what silent divorce is, according to new data. (Getty Images)

You probably already know the warning signs that you may be on the brink of a split, but what about a ‘silent divorce’?

Toxic criticism, stonewalling, defensiveness and contempt are the four main signs that your marriage may be hurtling towards its end, but the signs of a silent divorce are much more subtle.

"Silent divorce refers to a gradual slow decline of a relationship whereby two people drift apart," says relationship therapist Beverley Blackman.

"This usually happens without conflict or animosity of any kind, but the emotional and physical connection between the two people fades, leaving the couple living together in more of a friendship or housemates kind of way."

This year, Counselling Directory has noticed a marked increase in people seeking to learn more about silent divorce, with the term seeing a 544% rise in January and February this year compared to the same time period in 2022.

"It also happens more commonly in long-term relationships, often ones whereby couples have been together for quite a number of years,” Blackman adds. “It’s as if they grow together in the early part of their relationship and flourish together, but then grow apart while maintaining the appearance of a strong relationship."

Senior couple sitting in bed back to back in their bedroom. Concept of relationship difficulties.
A silent divorce is when a couple grows apart over time. (Getty Images)

6 signs of a silent divorce

So, what are the warning signs you could be headed towards a silent divorce? Blackman says six tell-tale behaviours include:

  1. Lack of meaningful communication or intimacy.

  2. Sense of distance between partners which can lead to emotional avoidance – conversations are often about mundane, day-to-day things, rather than anything personal.

  3. Sense of taking the relationship for granted – the partner is simply there. And this may provide a certain amount of security, but there feels little impetus to address the situation or to be intimate together in the way they once were.

  4. Sex can feel functional, if it happens at all.

  5. Partners do not share their thoughts and feelings; the focus is put on other things, such as children or work.

  6. Sharing space is something that neither partner wants to do, so that they drift around like ‘two goldfish in the same bowl’, not really meeting, but occupying the same space.

The increase in the number of people looking to learn about silent divorce could be due to the no-fault divorce bill being introduced in April last year, which meant that neither spouse needed to be blamed for the marriage breakdown in order to apply for a divorce.

Data from the Ministry of Justice has shown that there has been a 20% increase in the number of divorce applications filed since the option became available last year.

Watch: 'Irreconcilable differences': Kevin Costner's bitter divorce