What To Do When Your Spouse Is Toxic

Evaluating your situation can bring clarity.
By John Daum
June 3, 2022
what-to-do-when-your-spouse-is-toxic

Concern and confusion about your relationship are completely understandable. On the one hand, people say things like: No marriage is perfect. Marriage requires work and self-sacrifice. Every marriage experiences ups and downs. On the other hand, you might be wondering: Are my spouse and I an explosive combination? Is my spouse toxic? What do I do now?

This marriage is draining the life out of me. 

Sure, no marriage is perfect… but your overall marital experience should be positive, nurturing, and safe. Your marriage should be a positive, fulfilling part of your life, even with ups and downs.🚦Certain aspects of marriage may be hard, but simply being married shouldn’t be hard. Being married shouldn’t threaten your well-being.

A relationship is toxic when painful dysfunction with your spouse is the norm.

  • You’re hurting and feeling drained daily because of your spouse.
  • Your sense of self is spiraling down because of your spouse.
  • You aren’t receiving the support or encouragement found in marriage. 
  • Your marriage isn’t a refuge or a safe place. It’s an explosive minefield. 
  • Your marital day-to-day with your spouse is a drama-filled act of survival.

I want you to repeat after me: 

My marriage is not meant to feel like this.

Before we talk about your options as the spouse of a toxic partner, you first have to make some crucial distinctions. You must evaluate your welfare and safety. (This is non-negotiable.) How are you?

1. You have to reclaim yourself.

It’s not uncommon for people in toxic relationships to literally abandon and lose themselves. They’re busy focusing on navigating the minefield of their marriage. 

Here’s how to reclaim yourself. Here’s info on the value of mindfulness and meditation.

  • Affirm yourself daily. Your “inner voice” may have become your spouse’s critical, demeaning voice. Tell yourself the truth each day. Listen to your own voice. Here’s a clear explanation of affirming yourself with practical tips and suggestions. 

2. You need to understand abuse in its various forms.

  • Toxic relationships are definitely unhealthy. They aren’t necessarily abusive but frequently have abusive elements in them. Get help making any distinctions between unhealthy and abusive. Often, the individual enduring abuse is the last one to realize it. Victims frequently make excuses for their abuser, downplay abusive behavior, or blame themselves. This is the time for some reality-based honesty. 
  • Let the experts on abuse help you sort it out. Commit to call, text, or chat online with a specialist. It’s anonymous. You’re worth it. Believe what they tell you. Call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. Chat securely with an expert on abuse online here.

3. You need a dependable support system.

  • Take some time to consider and write down your immediate needs. When was the last time you had a health check-up? Be clear about any physical or emotional symptoms you’re experiencing. You should also seek care from a qualified therapist or counselor. 
  • You need people in your life who:
    • Believe in you, not people who blame or shame you.
    • Let you safely vent, and will empathize with you.
    • Can get you out of the house and help you recharge.
    • Will join you in your journey and help you reach your goals.

DO NOT LET MONEY MAKE YOU FEEL HELPLESS.

Yes, money can be a thing. It’s a hard reality. And finances can be entangled with your spouse’s toxicity. Think of your time as a valuable currency. Invest it in the search for resources. Use this guide to therapy for every budget and the resources at the end of this blog.

Internet time! (Delete your browsing history if it helps you feel safe.) What low-cost or no-cost physical and mental health services are available in your area? (Check here and here.) Are support groups available locally or online? What apps can meet critical needs? Hotlines, like the ones at the end of this blog, can steer you toward local resources. Give yourself permission to ask for and receive help.

Is your marriage or your toxic spouse hopeless? What options should you explore?

Hope? Find a mirror. Take a long look. You’re looking at the face of the person who is your best hope. Let this empower you to create a future characterized by hope and not hurt

Facts! There isn’t an option on the table that isn’t challenging. Nobody knows your situation better than you… but this blog has some important things to consider.

More Facts! Research has identified two significant “at-risk” periods for marriage. The first at-risk period is the first two years of marriage, which obviously makes sense. The second at-risk period is roughly years five through 10. 

Catch This: The average length of a first marriage that ends in divorce is eight years. The divorce process takes about a year. On average, an individual takes two years to consider divorce before taking action. Crunch those numbers. It’s clear marital troubles frequently hit couples about five years into marriage. This makes so much sense.

About five years into marriage, there’s a good chance that:

  • Marriage has become less fun and more difficult.
  • Circumstances like demanding careers or raising children have caused relationship drift & disconnection.
  • Unhealthy relationship habits have hardened into an unhealthy marriage. Poor communication, poor conflict management. Not being proactive & intentional about strengthening intimacy & connection. It’s all finally caught up with the marriage. 
  • Someone has inflicted significant personal hurt, often fueling bitterness, resentment, and contempt. (Left undealt with, those feelings are marriage-killers.)

Press pause if your marriage is in that window, generally between years five through 10. Barring abuse in any form, there are many reasons to hope that change is possible in your spouse and marriage. Research also indicates that couples who work through years five to 10 experience a “second honeymoon” period from years 10 to 15. 

Hear & Know This: You are not responsible for your spouse’s toxic or abusive behavior. Period. Full Stop. You are one-half of your marriage. 

This Is Critical: Was your spouse always a toxic person? Or is this something they have become? Can you see a possibility where you, your spouse, and a therapist might do the hard work to sort your relationship out? It wouldn’t be easy, and it wouldn’t happen overnight. But if your spouse was willing and actually did the work, could they (and your marriage) get back on track?

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author, explains the critical factor in whether a toxic relationship is doomed. “If only one partner is invested in creating healthy patterns, there is, unfortunately, little likelihood that change will occur.” Put another way, WE can move toward a healthier marriage. But a willing ME stands little chance of experiencing change with an unwilling ME.

Can you and your spouse work toward a WE? 

As in, WE are:

  • Responsible for choosing to be the best versions of ourselves.
  • Open to seeking whatever individual and marital help we need.
  • Willing to prioritize and invest in our relationship and each other.
  • Committed to doing less blaming and more team building.
  • Agreeing to learn from the past and leave it there. 

REMEMBER: These are commitments to foundational principles for a healthy marriage. The way these principles translate to specific behaviors depends on your particular situation. Ideally, a counselor or therapist would help you and your spouse identify the behaviors, routines, and habits that honor these principles in your marriage.

★ If you’re married to a toxic spouse, RELATIONSHIP EXPERTS consider these principles a fundamental shared “minimum requirement” for BOTH spouses to work toward a healthier marriage. The proof these principles have become integrated into a spouse’s life is when their behavior moves from hurtful to helpful. NOTE: This is more than promises to change. This is change.

★ MARITAL HEALTH cannot begin to be addressed unless you are first in a place of PERSONAL SAFETY.

If abuse in any form is present in your relationship, your personal safety is your TOP PRIORITY. The appropriate professionals must address this. Don’t wonder if you’re experiencing abuse – reach out. 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. 

If your spouse is abusive, you need to safely remove yourself from the situation. Do that as soon as possible. 

As much as YOU might be committed to WE, your spouse must meet you there. You can’t make them move from ME to WE. Regrettably, some spouses can’t or won’t move to WE. 

After professionals have helped you determine you’re not in danger of abuse, you need to decide if you can be healthy with a spouse who is unwilling to function as your marriage partner. This is a critical decision to consider carefully. Please: Allow professionals to walk with you through your options. I wish you all the best in this challenging situation.


TAKE THE GUESSWORK OUT OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

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Relationship Resources

Mental Health Care

The Importance of Self-Care 

The 13 Best Meditation Apps of 2022

Calm: App for Sleep, Meditation, Relaxation

Headspace: App for Stress, Anxiety, Mindfulness

5 Powerful Self-Care Tips for Abuse and Trauma Survivors

Hotlines & Helplines

National Domestic Violence Hotline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Or dial 988)

National Sexual Assault Hotline

Support Groups & Group Therapy

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Find Support Groups | Mental Health America

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DomesticShelters.org

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FindTreatment.gov

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TalkSpace Online Services: Individual & Couples

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Sources

Meditation: In-Depth | NCCIH

Everything To Know About Stress: Causes & Prevention

The Effects of Stress on Your Body

Stable Negative Social Exchanges And Health

4 Negative Behaviors That May Be Making You Sick

Dispositional Contempt: A First Look At The Contemptuous Person

The Dark Core Of Personality

19 Signs Of A Toxic Relationship & What To Do If You’re In One

10 Necessary Steps To Fix A Toxic Relationship

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional Abuse Test

The Problem With Online Toxic Relationship Quizzes

**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.***

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