You and your spouse are arguing constantly. Maybe there’s a never-ending tension-filled silence at home when you’re around your partner. Or you feel like you can’t ever believe anything your significant other says.
You’ve heard that marriages can be hard work. But you’re not sure if this is “good” hard work, if you just have problems to work through, or if your marriage is truly a toxic marriage.
Here are 10 signs that are often present in a toxic marriage and what you can do about it…
You react to each other most often with criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or withdrawal/stonewalling. Dr. John Gottman, marriage researcher and therapist, calls these The 4 Horsemen. Each of these communication styles do a lot more to drive you apart than they do to bring you together. Healthy couples respond to each other as equals and approach conflict with respect for one another. They also take responsibility for their role in a conflict.
Conflict is never resolved or managed. It just grows.
It’s true that there are some things the two of you will never totally agree on. In fact, Dr. Gottman has identified 10 common differences within marriage that couples may not agree on for the duration of their marriage. Issues surrounding parenting, family and in-laws, work/life balance, and sex are all areas you may never see the same way. A marriage isn’t toxic because of these differences. When the relationship is unable to manage the differences and learn how to respect and work with one another, resentment and bitterness creeps in and creates high levels of toxicity. Being different doesn’t mean one of you is deficient. The world and your family needs the differences you both exhibit.
Intimacy is non-existent.
There’s little to no connection physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It breaks my heart to hear a spouse say, “I’m lonely.” Living with someone you love and feeling unable to feel seen, heard, or valued can leave one feeling lonely. Sharing intimate moments, whether they are times of deep, relational, and emotional connection or sexual experiences may be difficult when the marriage is toxic.
It’s not that you should share every detail and every interaction you have with your spouse. However, purposely withholding information, financial information, or heavily censoring interactions you have with other people is a sign that there’s some potentially serious disconnect within your marriage. This can destroy trust and lead to betrayal. A healthy marriage works to build trust. It also works to understand why you’d risk the trust of your spouse for self-gratification.
We can always find something wrong with our spouse. But, if you are constantly criticizing or constantly being criticized, your relationship is not in a good place. The tone of voice and nonverbal communication are significant indicators as to how you communicate and how it will be received.
You consistently seem to bring out the worst in each other.
Whether enabling negative behaviors or provoking one another, a toxic relationship encourages you to be your worst self. You may constantly react to one another with anger, hostility, jealousy or any number of emotions. You may find yourself being manipulative, deceitful, or controlling. In healthy relationships, people look for ways to humbly help one another be their best selves, not from a place of superiority, but one of love and care.
Never fighting the right fight.
This isn’t about being physical. Sometimes couples argue so much they never actually discuss the real issue. She’s frustrated he won’t help with the dishes after eating. He’s always complaining that the family is rushing to this and that event. She wants more sex. He wants more peace and quiet. They’ve argued about the same thing for years and never actually talked about the real issue. The issue may be about valuing family time or lack of intimacy. Sometimes digging into the roots and understanding the real issue takes time and the help of a professional counselor. You want to fight the right fight, the right issue, the real issue.
Control and isolation.
Controlling or being controlled can have severe consequences to one’s mental and emotional health. Dictating where the other goes, what they do, how much money they can spend, what they say and who they spend time with are strong indicators of a toxic marriage or relationship. This is unhealthy behavior. Seek professional help.
Disrespect and disregard for each other.
This may look like a total lack of care or interest in one another. Dismissing and neglecting one another’s being in the marriage is a deep sign of trouble. Stepping back and appreciating the strengths of your spouse and their contributions to both you as a person and the marriage is a sign of a vibrant relationship.
Neither of you is becoming a better version of yourself.
The relationship is having a negative impact on your character. You’re becoming deceitful, manipulative, or more self-centered. While this may not always be attributed to the marriage, it’s important to look at marriage and determine what type of character the marriage is feeding.
★ So, What Can You Do?
You’re not expected to be perfect, but you can work to take care of yourself, mentally, physically and emotionally. Eating well, getting plenty of rest, setting aside time to meditate/pray and be mindful are all proven ways to help you think better. These things can also help you respond to stress in a productive way. Research by The Institute for Family Studies indicates couples who cultivate mindfulness through activities such as meditation “may experience a feeling of greater connection within their romantic and sexual relationships.”
Focusing on the friendship within the marriage is focusing on the marriage.
Separating the marital expectations from the growth of a friendship can help the two of you focus on getting to know one another again. Friends talk, listen, support and share. When the marriage itself feels toxic, focus on being a good friend to one another. You’ll be strengthening your marriage.
Numerous studies confirm the number one issue couples experience in marriage is poor communication. Have honest, non-judgmental conversation with your spouse about your concerns. Don’t blame. Don’t speak to your partner with contempt as though you have all the answers. There’s no guarantee your spouse will receive it well or even reciprocate. We can hope, but not expect. Part of being a healthy you is sharing your honest thoughts and emotions.
Schedule your fights.
Many toxic relationships are characterized by incessant arguing. Your mind has become trained to only communicate conflict, disagreement and strong, negative emotions. Set aside a time where you will discuss your disagreements and conflicts. This may give one spouse the security of knowing that issues will not be avoided while giving the other person the space to get their thoughts together. As you develop a pattern of dealing with your issues in a healthy, productive way at a given time, it will become easier to coexist. It will also be easier for you enjoy one another at other times because there’s no fear that you’re ignoring your issues.
As stated earlier, sometimes counseling is necessary. If your spouse isn’t willing, you may choose to seek counseling on your own to help understand the root issues of the toxicity. You may also find out what, if any, contributions you have made to the relationship’s toxic nature.
Find ways to express gratitude.
There’s something good about your spouse. Otherwise, you would have never been attracted to them. Relationship expert Dr. Jack Ito says, “little acts of love and kindness go a long way (in marriage).” Help your brain see the good in your spouse by showing and expressing gratitude for the good, regardless of how big or small it is.
Talk with healthy couples. Limit interaction with toxic couples.
You can expect to be contaminated with more poison when you continually interact with other toxic couples. During this season when you’re trying to eliminate toxicity, it’s crucial that you interact with couples who are relatively healthy—not perfect, but healthy. You won’t find any perfect couples.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***