5 Ways to Tell if Your Marriage is Toxic, and What to Do
It’s fairly easy to identify toxic relationships when they involve overt, obvious forms of abuse, like physical and verbal abuse or infidelity. But what do you do if you know that something is wrong in your marriage, but just can’t put your finger on what it is?
Toxic relationships are not necessarily lost causes; in many cases, with appropriate therapy, bad behavior patterns can be corrected in order for a healthy marriage to thrive. It takes time and effort, but it is absolutely possible.
Today we’ll share five ways to tell whether your marriage is toxic, and what you can do about it.
You’re walking on eggshells.
Your spouse might have a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality. From one day to the next, you never know who you’re going to be dealing with. Maybe his preferences change without warning, and you never know when he’s going to give you grief about something he seemed happy about the day before. Or perhaps she’s affectionate one minute, then raging and screaming at you the next.
If you deal with contrasting inconsistencies in your spouse’s temperament, you’re eventually going to be in “fight-or-flight” mode all the time. Having a spouse who displays these tendencies breeds fear and contempt (making the marriage even more toxic) and puts you in a permanently defensive state.
You’re always on the defensive.
After you’ve been on eggshells for an extended period of time, your tolerance for your spouse’s inconsistency becomes low. You begin to expect to defend yourself during every interaction–conflict, in particular–once your trust in your spouse has eroded.
Defensiveness is detrimental to your marriage because you begin to find yourself acting in toxic ways yourself, in order to deflect whatever behaviors you’re expecting your spouse to display. If your spouse approaches you with an issue and you explode, you’re only making the situation worse.
It’s important to pinpoint why you’re on the defensive, and to try to avoid slipping into unhealthy behaviors yourself.
You feel drained after interaction.
Exchanges that should be simple, everyday conversations feel unnecessarily heavy–almost heated. Maybe you find that your spouse turns every benign subject into a debate or a full-on argument. Perhaps you can’t really put your finger on what’s happening.
All you know is that every time you walk away from an interaction with your spouse, you feel drained of energy. You might even feel sick, or like you’ve just completed a harrowing obstacle course.
You’re dealing with toxicity in your relationship if you experience exhausting interactions like these on a regular basis.
You feel out of control.
Does your spouse somehow manage to keep an upper hand over most, if not all, areas of your life? It’s fairly easy to identify whether your spouse is controlling your communications, relationships outside your marriage, money, or other resources. But maybe your spouse isn’t openly lording over those things (if at all).
Instead, your spouse might be passive-aggressively controlling your time, energy, or attention. You may find that he or she is manipulating you under the radar.
You may find it difficult (or impossible) to set healthy boundaries with your spouse. If your spouse continually finds underhanded ways to sidestep those boundaries, he or she is behaving in a controlling manner.
You’re experiencing depression.
Depression robs you of your energy, your passion for life, and your interest in the things you used to enjoy. It drives wedges into your relationships with friends and family, particularly if they don’t know you’re in the midst of a crisis.
If you’re depressed, you may find that you neglect your self-care, other relationships that need your attention, your job, and even your relationship with God.
Being immersed in a toxic relationship will eventually cause you to become depressed if you don’t seek the help you need to get healthy. And untreated depression can easily become dangerous.
If you’re depressed and you are contemplating suicide or any other form of self-harm or harm to others, seek professional help immediately.
What To Do If Your Marriage is Toxic
If you’ve concluded that your marriage is in a toxic state, there are a few things you can do to get your relationship on the road to recovery.
First, seek professional help. This is not a job for a lay counselor like a pastor or marriage mentor; you need a licensed therapist to help you create strong boundaries in your marriage so that you can become the healthiest version of yourself.
Ideally, the two of you should seek help together, but if your spouse won’t attend therapy with you, go alone. In time, he or she may decide to join you.
Second, take responsibility for your own role in your situation. It could be that being in a toxic marriage has led you to display unhealthy behaviors yourself. Hold yourself accountable for the things in your marriage that you can control. Owning your issues doesn’t guarantee that your spouse will own theirs, but you will be better as an individual for making those changes.
Third, remember to draw close to God as you walk through this difficult, very painful situation. Stay in the Word and spend time in daily prayer for comfort and strength. Growing your relationship with God will have positive effects on you and on your marriage, and it will make an impression on your spouse as well.
If You’re In Danger
If you are in danger because of physical or verbal abuse, you need to get yourself out of the situation. We can’t stress this enough.
Communicate to your spouse that you will come back home when they have made the necessary changes–with the help of a licensed therapist–to the dangerous behaviors they’ve displayed.
It’s scary to set a boundary like this with a toxic or abusive spouse, but it is necessary in order to get to a healthier place. You will need your own support system in order to take this difficult, but sometimes necessary, step.
Sometimes a toxic, abusive spouse requires this sort of drastic wake-up call in order to turn their destructive behavior around. It’s our prayer that your marriage may become healthy in spite of this storm, and the two of you will create genuine, lifelong love.