Toxic people make life very difficult. In one of my former jobs where I worked with teenagers and their parents, I constantly dealt with one mom who could easily be labeled as toxic. Her behavior put everyone on edge. And if you were to say or do anything that appeared as if it was some kind of slight against her, then hang on tight—you were sure to receive her wrath. She was cold, insensitive, and believed the world revolved around her. It got to where, admittedly, whenever I saw her coming, I’d want to turn and run the other direction.
It’s one thing to deal with toxic people who are “out there;” to a degree, you can simply turn and run. But what do you do if the person to whom you said “I do,” the person you love the most, is a toxic person?
☆ Let’s define what I mean by toxic. Toxic people bring you down more than up. And this can be done by a direct action, such as being highly argumentative (everything is a fight); or, it might be more passive such as by constant moodiness, undermining, or withdrawal.
A toxic person often tries to control, manipulate, and break boundaries. They violate your privacy. Toxic people tend to be hypercritical or contemptuous. Furthermore, they do not take responsibility for their own actions; any volatile behavior on their part is, in their eyes, the fault of someone else. A toxic person can cause you to feel insecure, dehumanized, and possibly even guilty for wanting to be a better version of yourself.
When you leave the presence of a toxic person, you feel worse.
If this describes the way your spouse behaves or what it’s like to live with your spouse, things might seem pretty desperate. And understandably so.
But… living with a toxic spouse does not mean all hope for a good marriage is gone. There are steps you can take to give yourself the best chance of reclaiming a healthy relationship with your spouse and helping them to “detoxify” themselves:
First, ask yourself: What is it that could be causing your spouse’s toxicity?
Has it always been there, or is this something new? If your spouse’s toxicity is something that has come up recently, consider what might have been the starting point for their toxic behavior. Could it be stress from work, a painful loss, the onset of anxiety, health or hormonal changes? You may not be able to determine with complete accuracy the cause of their toxic behavior, but considering the question can help you to understand things from your spouse’s point of view a little more.
On the other hand, your spouse’s toxicity may have been there as long as you’ve known them. Toxic behavior rarely goes away on its own, and if it’s deep-seated from the distant past, it could very well call for more professional help.
Do not accept responsibility for your spouse’s toxic behavior.
Let me say this loud and clear: you are not the reason your spouse is toxic. People are not toxic because of other people, no matter how much blame or shame they may put on you. Toxic people are toxic because of something that is going on inside of them. If you feel any hint of guilt for your spouse’s toxicity, it’s time to let that go.
Keep in mind that, while people make their own decisions about their own toxic behavior, we can certainly influence that behavior if we behave or react toward them in unhealthy ways. If we are abrasive, insulting, or condescending, this does nothing but fuel toxic attitudes back and forth between spouses. In many instances, helping our toxic spouse means also being willing to change.
Understand that you can only control what you can control.
You cannot change another person, even if it’s the one you are married to. A toxic person must decide on their own that they want to “detox” and behave in ways that bring you up and not down. However, it’s possible to influence their decision to do so by doing that which is within your control. Therefore…
…Lead the Dance.
Often, marriages turn around because one person chooses to take the lead and do something different. Exemplify what it means to be a healthy spouse. You can lead that dance by making the prioritization of your marriage known. Support your spouse in the way they feel loved, whether it’s affirming words, hugs throughout the day, being kind, or spending intentional time with them. Make it a point to connect with your spouse, and find opportunities to express gratitude for them. 🔎 This may feel very counterintuitive since the gestures may not always, if ever, be reciprocated. But leading the dance can, in time, spark a difference in the way your spouse engages with you.
Schedule a time to address your concerns.
It’s important to express to your spouse the negative impact their toxic behavior has on you. Scheduling a time helps you to carefully consider what you are going to say in the healthiest, most productive way possible, rather than reacting in the heat of a tense moment. Be sure to use “I feel” and “I need” statements. Communicate boundaries respectfully but firmly that will protect your emotional well-being. Be prepared that this may not be received positively. That’s okay; remember that you cannot control your spouse’s reaction. Toxic people often do not have the capacity to calmly accept things that are hard for them to hear, and they need time to let it sink in. Also, if they share something with you that you are doing that is creating toxicity in your relationship, avoid being defensive. ☆ Be willing to look at yourself and make necessary changes.
As you balance reinforcing your boundaries and leading the dance to connect and support your spouse over time, the chances are greater that the message will get through more clearly that their toxic behavior needs to disappear.
Finally, seek help and support if it persists.
If your spouse’s toxic conduct shows no signs of letting up even after covering these steps, and especially if their toxicity threatens your emotional, mental, or physical health, seek out the help of a professional therapist. If your spouse is willing to attend couples counseling with you, that is most ideal. Again, if not, lead the dance and seek help on your own.
★ It isn’t easy living with a toxic person. But hope is not lost and despair hasn’t won. You possess the power to control what you control, to lead the dance and possibly influence your spouse to detox their behavior.
**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 your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***