Maybe it wasn’t a great business tactic on my part, but when I practiced family law, if I had doubts that the client’s narrative really warranted a divorce, I would ask probing questions during the initial consultation. I would point out the consequences of divorce if they hadn’t fully considered them. And I almost always asked if they had tried marriage counseling. To that last point, sadly, many of them had—obviously, without success.

I can’t conclude from these instances alone that marital counseling is ineffective; after all, only the ones that don’t work end up in a divorce lawyer's office. But if the success rates of the therapist are not stunningly impressive, perhaps it’s less the fault of therapy and more so because many troubled couples wait too long to engage in the process.

When couples delay seeking help, issues can become so deeply ingrained that they are difficult to resolve. Over time, persistent failure to address problems can lead to irreparable damage that ultimately ends relationships. Rarely is it one cataclysmic event. Rather, between the first sign of trouble and the filing of a divorce is a slow but steady breakdown—a “death by a thousand cuts,” as the saying goes.

And although each situation is different, I wonder whether there is some identifiable point when a marriage tips over from being salvageable to its inevitable demise. Were there warning signs? And if so, were they obvious? And if someone had heeded them, could the relationship have been saved? After all, isn’t that the point of conflict anyway—not to ignore it, but to use it as a pathway to growth?

While every relationship has its ups and downs, spotting warning signs early on is crucial because it can help prevent significant problems. If any of these five issues are present in your relationships, you may want to confront them head-on.

1. One of Us Is Controlling the Other

Relationships can fail due to a lack of acceptance and compromise. For example, one partner may be unwilling to compromise on specific issues or insist on imposing their beliefs and practices on the other. This can lead to resentment and conflict, ultimately causing the relationship to break down.

One area that can generate significant conflict is religious tension. I think back to when my husband and I became Torah-observant in mid-life. As excited as we were to take on this new lifestyle, it generated conflict as well. Although we were moving in the same direction, we weren’t always moving at the same pace. Over the years, we’ve learned to navigate the thin line between encouragement and respecting boundaries and differences.

This requires sensitivity and restraint, which is true for wanting other people to change in any way. We believe we are doing it for their good, but when we try to control others, we let our disappointments be known when they do not measure up. Since people resist being controlled, this dynamic can lead to very counterproductive behaviors and poison the relationship. So be aware that controlling or manipulative behavior is a warning sign, and as this type of behavior can quickly escalate, it’s essential to address it early and to set healthy boundaries.

2. We’ve Stopped Communicating

Communication is the foundation of any successful relationship; a lack of it can breed misunderstanding and conflict, ultimately contributing to a relationship’s failure. When your partner starts to pull away or doesn’t seem interested in talking, it’s a clear sign that something is wrong.

Some couples cope with a lack of communication by creating the dynamic of the “invisible divorce,” where they stay married but pretty much lead separate lives and have little emotional engagement. Being a workaholic, for example, or being addicted to hobbies or activities that don’t include the other partner, are usually signs that someone is looking outside the marriage for fulfillment instead of inside.

And be aware that not all communication is equal. “Did you remember to call the plumber?” is not the same as “How was your day?” and then genuinely listening. Happy couples don’t just engage in small talk for information, but spend time in heart-to-heart conversations that create intimacy. When you notice this warning sign that you’re not talking, or not talking about what truly matters, it’s essential to figure out what’s going on with your relationship.

3. We Speak Disparagingly

It’s normal for couples to have disagreements, but it can be a warning sign of a bigger problem when they routinely turn to negative or nasty comments. Over time, negative comments, especially when they are contemptuous, will erode a relationship and create more significant problems.

According to relationship expert John Gottman, contempt is the most destructive thing to a relationship because it breeds feelings of superiority and disrespect towards one’s partner, which ultimately leads to a breakdown of communication and a lack of emotional connection.

We all know couples who “bicker.” For one pair I knew, this was their primary mode communication, and the negativity was always directed towards the husband. I never saw the husband react, so I assumed that these comments rolled off his back and that although it was uncomfortable to be around, it was just their “communication style”—that is, until the husband decided he had enough and abruptly left the marriage.

That is why the Torah exhorts us to be mindful of our speech and not harm or aggrieve others with our words. In fact, the Second Temple was said to be destroyed for lack of proper speech. Speech is holy; its misuse is one of the most destructive forces on the planet.

4. We’ve Stopped Trusting Each Other

Trust is another essential factor in any relationship. When your partner becomes secretive or doesn’t want to share important information with you, that’s a warning sign.

When doing an intake for a divorce or support case, one of the first questions I ask is “How much does your spouse make?” Often, the client has no idea, has never seen a tax return, or signs off documents without reading them. They are unaware of debts because the bills go to their spouse’s office.

If you don’t have information—and when you ask, your partner gets angry or defensive—then it’s probably a sign that they have something to hide. But even if they don’t, a lack of trust needs to be addressed.

What about when someone doesn’t feel safe to share? For example, someone might hide credit-card bills out of shame. When sharing vulnerable information is met with denial or ridicule, it’s a surefire way for someone to retreat into silence as a means of self-protection. Either way, this dynamic leads to a lack of emotional intimacy, and it’s vital to address it early on.

5. We’ve Stopped Trying

When your partner stops putting effort into making the relationship work, it’s a warning sign that they are losing interest. For example, your partner may stop doing things they used to do, like sending you sweet messages, planning dates or expressing affection. When this happens, you must talk to your partner and figure out what’s happening. Unaddressed, it can lead to other problems.

We all know the difference between doing something in a mechanical way versus doing the same action with genuine emotion and connection. We see the difference in performances, we feel it in our relationships, and G‑d knows the difference between “lip service” and “heart service.” G‑d tells the Jewish people that we will suffer calamities—not from failing to perform mitzvahs but from doing them carelessly or without joy.1 Just like marriages tend to wither when a partner acts out of habit or rote, our connection with G‑d diminishes when we are indifferent.

Spotting warning signs early on is crucial because it can help prevent further deterioration. If red flags and other danger signs are present in a marriage, they were likely there during the dating phase; marriage doesn’t make them go away. If you see signs of trouble in otherwise good relationships or relationships that are valuable to you, don’t sweep them under the rug with denial or procrastination.