A toxic marriage is a lot more than just an occasional disagreement or a flare-up between spouses who are otherwise generally happy in their relationship.
Here are 23 signs you’re stuck in a toxic marriage – along with some helpful tips on exactly what you can do about it.
- What is a Toxic Marriage?
- 23 Signs You’re in a Toxic Marriage
- Is There Any Chance of Saving the Marriage?
- How to Leave a Toxic Marriage
- How to Heal After Your Relationship has Ended
What is a Toxic Marriage?
A toxic marriage is a chronic condition characterized by ongoing unhealthy mental, physical, and emotional issues that are unresolved and fester into even bigger problems.
Physical abuse, substance abuse, adultery, desertion, or other major transgressions are obvious signs that a marriage is in trouble. But often, the signs are a lot more subtle than that. But they are still just as toxic.
A toxic marriage is a lot like being overdrawn on an emotional bank account. You’re in trouble. You may even be aware you’re in trouble. But you’re crippled by negative feelings or you feel smothered without any way to break the cycle you’re in. You have little energy to fight the good fight (either to repair or flee) and feeling heartbroken, sad and hopeless are common occurrences.
23 Signs You’re in a Toxic Marriage
If you’re in a toxic marriage, there’s a good chance you already suspect it. Maybe it’s just a general uneasiness or perhaps there are concrete examples you can point to. It’s easy when a spouse’s actions are overt, but when they are more subtle, you need to dig a little deeper before deciding if you are indeed in a toxic marriage.
Keep in mind, that even though you might be in a toxic marriage, that does not necessarily mean your marriage is a lost cause. Many marriages have rough spots, and with enough time and effort, a toxic situation can be remedied.
Here’s a checklist we’ve developed to make it easier to identify behaviors and actions that can more clearly define your situation. When you recognize these behaviors, you’re more inclined to take some sort of action to fix them.
1. Your spouse has a Jekyll & Hyde personality.
You’re never quite sure what to expect from them, one day to the next. One moment they may be warm and fuzzy, but the next might produce unwarranted rage and anger toward you.
2. You’re depressed.
Lots of things can cause depression, but if you can trace it back to your marriage, that’s a sure sign of toxicity. When you’re depressed, that spills over to your other relationships. The longer the depression lingers, the tougher it is to dig out of your hole.
3. You constantly feel exhausted.
Toxicity is a life-draining force. Without joy in your life, you will feel drained physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
4. You overcompensate by talking about how great your relationship is with your spouse all the time.
If you feel the need to constantly gush and reinforce how great things are, that may actually be a sign you’re insecure or unhappy.
5. Your friends see and say things you don’t (or choose to ignore).
If people you trust are telling you that you’re being abused or in an ugly situation, then it may be worth giving them a listen.
6. You hide or protect certain relationships from your spouse.
Maintaining a separate social circle is healthy, to a point. But when you start purposing pursuing outside friendships that do not include your spouse, or you become defensive and secretive when asked about them, it could be a sign your marriage is on the rocks.
7. You have thoughts of cheating on your spouse.
Conversely, you may suspect your spouse wants to cheat on you. This is a pretty obvious toxic behavior.
8. You feel like you’re always playing defense.
If you have to constantly think about how you’re going to defend every little part of your life, it’s a sign trust between you has eroded. It’s also a path to entering into your own toxic behaviors as a self-survival mechanism.
9. You don’t go to your partner for emotional support.
In fact, if you go to everyone but your partner for emotional support, that’s a big red flag. In healthy marriages, spouses support each other. When you can’t trust a spouse for basic emotional support, there’s a real chasm between you.
10. Your spouse is indifferent or distant when you’re trying to communicate with them.
Not paying attention, whether the issue is big or small, is a sign of disrespect.
11. You become the scapegoat in the marriage.
Your spouse blames you for all things, real or imagined, as a way of shifting their own shortcomings away from themselves.
12. Your partner is lying about your marital finances.
Hiding money or going on a spending spree to put your marriage in a hole is a devastating thing to uncover down the road.
13. You spend more time with your children than with your spouse.
Kids are a great excuse and a great wedge in breaking your marriage apart if you don’t set boundaries and carve out exclusive husband and wife time.
14. You’re overwhelmed by a feeling of a lack of control.
If your spouse is controlling your actions, relationships, and all other areas of your life, then you are married to a toxic bully.
15. Your spouse passively-aggressively manipulates you.
Your spouse turns everything it a mind control exercise, or engages is devious argumentative actions.
16. Your spouse has asked for “one more chance” a lot more than one time.
If you’ve confronted your spouse over toxic behaviors, and they have broken promises to change on several occasions, it’s because you’re letting them get away with it, making you a toxic enabler.
17. You rationalize bad behavior to a point of creating a new normal.
When you cave in, you embolden a toxic spouse to push boundaries even more.
18. Behaviors snowball from small imperfections to big issues.
When you draw a line, but then you don’t call your spouse out on it, you are to blame for growing a toxic relationship as much as your spouse.
19. You are too wrapped up in each other’s lives.
While your spouse should be your primary relationship, things go from healthy to toxic when you exclude others and focus solely on your spouse. That excessiveness can lead to jealousy and possessiveness in an unhealthy way.
20. You don’t discuss important decisions before making them.
When one spouse takes it upon themselves to be the gatekeeper for both of your lives without your input, and doesn’t give you the courtesy of weighing in, you are being taken for granted (or worse). The “me” mentality is a dangerous replacement for a “we” mentality.
21. Stupid little fights become big stupid fights.
In a toxic environment, things will get blown out of proportion, and a fight about one thing, is probably a fight about something else.
22. You don’t feel relaxed around your spouse.
If there’s one person you should be able to feel yourself or who you can let your guard down with, it is your spouse. if not, you’ve got big problems.
23. You’d rather be anywhere but home.
When happy hours turn into late-night binges, or when a quick trip to Home Depot becomes an 8-hour missing person event, you’ve built a toxic wall between you. Home should be a place of refuge, and not a place of misery.
Is There Any Chance of Saving the Marriage?
Can a toxic marriage be saved?
And sometimes, no.
A couple of things need to happen if you want to save your marriage.
First, you have to recognize that you’re in a toxic relationship.
Second, both you and your spouse need to make an honest commitment to wanting to save your marriage. You both have to want to do the hard work of repairing your broken relationship. You can’t do it on your own, and you can’t commit half-way to seek a solution.
Marriage counseling is a good place to start. In fact, you can even try couples therapy online with sites like BetterHelp. Visit BetterHelp here to get started.
When discussing things with your spouse, don’t accept lip service. That’s a dead-bang loser and will only create a longer and more painful road to break up that probably needed to happen anyway.
There are some other signs to look for that will signal whether it’s time to call it quits or not:
- You don’t feel safe around your spouse anymore. This can be either a physical or emotional situation.
- Your spouse cheated. Once that seed of distrust has been planted, it will grow like a weed and never go away. It can be sexual, financial, or in other ways, too.
- You’ve lost that loving feeling. You’ll know when you’ve fallen out of love. And that’s probably a good clue that you need to fall out of your marriage.
- You can’t trust your spouse to have your back anymore.
- You look more forward to spending time apart instead of spending time together.
- You might deny it on the surface, but deep down you want to be single again.
- Although you may try, ultimately you can’t look past certain transgressions.
- Chronic substance abuse that one or both of you can’t kick.
- People change over time, and when the changes pull you apart, it may mean the relationship has simply run its course.
- Your partner has become a narcissist. This can be a particularly ugly situation.
How to Leave a Toxic Marriage
There is no formula or magic bullet advice on how to leave a toxic marriage. Some people are able to walk away a lot easier than others. Much of this depends on you and the nature of your relationship with your spouse.
But there are some general guidelines to consider, no matter what your situation is.
The biggest battle is going to be the one that is fought in your mind. You have to not only want to leave a toxic marriage, but you also have to set a goal (meaning a specific date) to make your break. That can take time to set the table. You’ll need to plan for how to take care of yourself, and that could require going back to school, getting a better job, or doing whatever it takes to achieve enough financial independence.
Take responsibility if you’re partly to blame for the toxic nature of your relationship. Denial is not healthy and will block you from moving forward.
You’ll also need to start making specific plans. Confide in people you trust. Enlist them to help you, whether it’s with a place to stay, or helping you move your physical possessions when its time, monetarily, or whatever else you might need help with. You can do it on your own, but it’s easier when you’ve got people in your corner helping you.
In addition to a personal network, also get professional help. Consult an attorney. If you need emotional help, seek a therapist, or join a support group. Trained professionals can keep you on track and boost your spirits and your actions.
Chances are if you’re thinking of leaving, your spouse may have some degree of awareness as well. You’ve got to be careful what you divulge and when. Toxic spouses will take what you tell them and use it to their advantage to either keep you in a bad marriage or use information however they can to their advantage.
When you leave your toxic marriage, stop communicating except for essential messaging. This is more complicated if children are involved, but in general, the less said, the better. If your spouse is threatening in any way, consider getting a restraining order to protect yourself.
You’re going to be under siege a bit, so to balance that out, find a place of refuge by doing something good for yourself. It may be line dancing on a Thursday night, or a yoga class twice a week, or a happy hour gathering with co-workers that you’ve always blown off until now. Feed your soul as best as you can. It’s part of the healing process that eases your burdens until you get better.
Leaving a Toxic Marriage Can be a Battle
When a spouse is in denial, leaving a toxic marriage can lead to anger, defensiveness, the threat of violence, or other consequential behaviors that can intensify the process.
When you’re married to a narcissist or someone with an oversized ego, your problems are multiplied several times over. They will make every attempt to cajole, manipulate or control you as a way to keep the status quo. Recognize when this is happening, and refuse to engage when it does.
Another battle you’ll face is internal. Fear is common. Facing an unknown future is intimidating. You’ll need to have confidence in your newly charted course and stick to your guns as you move forward. Also, don’t be afraid to course-correct as things change. Remaining flexible will take a lot less of a toll on you.
The other big thing that complicates leaving a toxic marriage is children. There is a huge layer of complexity you must deal with no matter what age your children are. Instead of making a clean break, you’ll have to find a way to co-parent and maintain some degree of civility. If your marriage has been particularly ugly, that will make this part extremely difficult.
But guess what? As a responsible parent, you’ve got to do it.
You will also be challenged by having to redefine your relationship with friends and family members. Explaining your situation time and again, dealing with judgmental people, and trying to draw the right lines of confidentiality can be hard. You’ll also have people who will take one side or the other, and some who will want to remain friends with both of you. Go slow, and those intentions will reveal themselves over time.
Another battle may be resisting drugs and alcohol to numb your pain. Facing your challenges when sober is hard enough. Facing them with a wicked and constant buzz, or the mother of all hangovers is just plain crazy. Moderation is the key.
How to Heal After Your Toxic Marriage has Ended
Here are some of the emotions you can expect to feel on your road to toxic marriage recovery:
- Obsessing over past choices
- Increased stress-related physical ailments
- “If I had only…” or “What if…”
- Ruminating on lost time
- Dealing with present-day triggers that cause marital flashbacks
- A flinch response for any new relationship
You’ll have your own unique set of emotional baggage to deal with after the fact. And all of what you’re feeling with be intensified many times over if children are involved. You will worry about how your failings as a spouse translate into any failings you might have as a parent.
This will be further compounded by not knowing or having control of how the other parent is going to treat your children. It’s not uncommon for one parent to manipulate children as a way to get back at a spouse. Toxic relationships are all in the family.
All of this can lead to a relationship version of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Expect to suffer some form of post-traumatic relationship disorder so that you can better cope with the fallout. Biological reactions to stress can lead to weight gain, weight loss, lack of sleep, difficulty concentrating, and other related symptoms.
Part of the way to heal is to recognize these behaviors so that you can take steps to deal with them. Another is to build a support team and get the help you need. Talking to a therapist is a must. You can get started with online therapy at BetterHelp here.
This way, you can begin to redefine who you are and the person you’d like to be after the end of your toxic marriage. Understanding these feelings may happen to you will allow you to better cope with them. That can be a big step in managing your life, your finances, your surviving relationships, and other parts of your life.
If you’ve been badly traumatized by a toxic relationship, this can feel overwhelming. But you’ll have to realize that just because you had a bad experience with your marriage does not mean that will be the case with others.
By our nature, we are social creatures, built to bond with each other. Once you know and understand that positive relationships can supplant negative relationships, you’ll have an easier time moving forward.
Get help if you need it.
Give yourself time because you will need it.
With diligence and a positive outlook, you can heal from a toxic marriage.
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