At some point in your life, you may catch yourself thinking: "Do I have a dysfunctional marriage?" or "Is my marriage toxic?" The mere fact that you are asking these questions signifies that there already is some doubt in this regard. Even if your relationship is not dysfunctional, there are issues worth looking at. Here are the 10 signs of a toxic relationship in a marriage that you need to look out for.
1. Lack of Support
How do you know if you are in a relationship with an unsupportive partner? There is no one right answer. A lack of support can take many forms.
For instance, you might be sharing important details about your life with your spouse, and they often look like they couldn’t care less. If you have children, the problem might be that you put a lot of effort into taking care of them while your spouse does not. Or maybe, you feel that you’re doing much more in the relationship than your partner does, and it seems like they do not value you at all. Being ignored and unsupported are the primary signs of a toxic marriage.
If issues like these are familiar to you, then you are probably in a marriage without emotional intimacy. This, in most cases, leads to a lack of physical intimacy as well because the flame of your love slowly dies out. Sexuality is a large part of marriage, and a lack of it will inevitably lead to its breakup. If spouses do not communicate their need for support and make no efforts to change, they end up in an unhappy, “dead bed” marriage or eventually part ways.
A lack of support is also often felt in codependent relationships, where one partner always gives, and the other partner only takes. This is quite common when one spouse abuses substances or engages in other self-destructive behaviors.
For example, one spouse may be an alcoholic, and they may shirk their duties as a partner. Putting up with your spouse’s behavior in this codependent relationship may lead to resentment on either side. As long as one is giving, the other one will be taking, and it takes both partners working on themselves to end this vicious cycle.
Finding ways to support one’s partner is a responsibility of both. If a person evades their partner by not seeking or giving emotional support, this represents toxic emotional distancing. When one partner isolates from the other, this can lead to unhealthy jealousy and possessiveness or create an even bigger wall between the spouses, ending with a divorce.
2. Toxic Communication
Communication problems in marriage are pretty common for those who are in a toxic relationship. Some spouses fight over the smallest things, blame and criticize each other, or hide their feelings behind sarcasm. Others might simply not bother to talk to each other anymore. Poor communication in a marriage is not better than none at all in the long run.
Little to no Communication
Lack of communication in marriage may be a sign of toxicity. If one of the spouses is not willing to listen to the other one, there are no trust, emotional intimacy, and affection in such relationships. Leaving the room while the other speaks, dreading the conversations, and feeling irritable are a few signs that the communication is not working right.
Both spouses have to put effort into initiating and maintaining healthy communication with one another. When the couple does not work towards healthy communication, this can lead to a lack of understanding between them and emotional or even physical bullying, especially if one of the partners is passive-aggressive or narcissistic.
You may not even realize that your spouse has a narcissistic personality disorder and has an exaggerated sense of self-importance and little empathy for you due to it. If you believe this is the case, it might be best to get them diagnosed and research the options for individual, family, or couple’s therapy.
3. Envy and Jealousy
Envy is a component of a toxic marriage that often leads to unhealthy jealousy. Marriage envy may take away from healthy sexuality and intimacy.
Jealousy in marriage can occur when one’s spouse is sexually interested in another person outside the marriage. This can also include emotional infidelity when one spouse is emotionally involved with a friend, coworker, or any other person, without being sexually intimate with them.
Marriage envy is a little different and may occur because one of the spouses is more successful in certain aspects of life, such as work, friendships, or maintaining a good physical appearance. This might make an envy spouse feel inferior, less successful, misunderstood, and looking for recognition or acknowledgment outside of marriage.
When lack of commitment is a problem, jealousy, envy, and a lack of closeness between the partners may break the bond of marriage. If one partner lacks commitment to the marriage, the other spouse may know something is wrong but not realize what the issue is. When there is no honesty in this aspect, such a spouse may be blindsided by the infidelity or even divorce.
Affairs by one spouse can lead to depression in the other spouse, even when love can keep the abused partner in marriage despite it being toxic. The faithful partner may feel the effects of the abuse, even if they cannot or will not acknowledge it to themselves.
Neither envy nor jealousy can simply disappear, and issues emanating from them cannot just resolve themselves. Marriages where either or both are present gradually become more and more toxic, as levels of satisfaction of both partners take a nosedive, resentment grows, and a chance to restore any sort of closeness or intimacy decreases with each passing day.
4. Controlling Behavior
Controlling behavior can involve manipulation, passive-aggressiveness, and verbal abuse. It might also lead to physical abuse when the spouse who is seeking to gain control feels like they are losing it or want to scare their spouse into obeying their wishes. If this is the case, the marriage will be highly toxic.
One of the signs of a controlling relationship is policing spending.
Of course, financial problems may emerge if one spouse is hiding money or excessively spending, and confronting a spouse about it would not be considered controlling.
However, when the controlling partner holds all the resources and does not give access to them to the second spouse or berates them for using funds to cater to their basic needs, it isn’t healthy.
This holds for any other kind of controlling behavior involving the following: how to raise children, who should cook dinner and clean the house, and when to initiate sex.
Some other signs of controlling behavior include:
- Determining who you can or cannot communicate with.
- Saying what you can or cannot wear, eat, or watch.
- Spying and requests to prove you did or didn’t do something.
- Constant messaging and phone calls asking what you do, where you are, and who you’re with.
- Constant criticism, threats, and guilting, whether direct or not.
- Conditional love and acceptance.
Emotional Bullying in a Marriage
Emotional bullying occurs when one spouse is patronizing, dismissive, or insulting towards their significant other. The bully may do it to feel in control or to deal with their own self-hate. Such people are usually very insecure themselves and may replicate behaviors that were common in their families as they were growing up. Their words and actions make their partners feel timid, devalued, and overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and fear or resentment.
In a toxic relationship, wherein one spouse is controlling, and the other is being controlled, there will be a situation where neither spouse feels in control. The controlling spouse may act out to regain it and become not only emotionally but also physically abusive. Alternatively, they may change their behavior temporarily or shift blame. In such a relationship, none of the partners is truly happy. The bully, however, may feel comfortable in their position and not seek to end the relationship, while the bullied spouse is often unlikely to end it due to the decreased self-esteem and a wrongful belief they are “unworthy” of better treatment.
5. Feelings of Resentment
Resentment involves blame and even guilt, but it is mainly a situation of pointing the finger at the other person by either marriage partner. Blaming your partner for the toxic aspects of your relationship is not really productive unless you both are open to discussing the problems. In spite of the negative emotions you encounter in a toxic marriage, if both of you remain polite when discussing your problems, that would be an enormous step toward resolving the issues.
Frustration and resentment in marriage can lead to anger. A resentful spouse may feel that they:
- Contribute more in different aspects of a marriage.
- Are not valued, heard, or cared for.
- Are underappreciated and unloved.
When one spouse exhibits anger and resentment in a marriage, this compromises closeness, dedication, and sexuality. It is said that spouses should not go to bed angry. If it is possible, you should follow this advice.
Practicing assertive behavior that involves respectful statements of one's feelings can combat communication that reflects anger and resentment. Assertiveness training has the quality of making toxic communication respectful, and the spouses practicing it are more able to appropriately express their feelings. When partners use assertiveness in a relationship, by making “I feel…” statements instead of angry or timid ones, they may have a healthy discussion of their marital situation.
One’s partner can excessively blame the other for real or imagined problems, and this is referred to as “emotional scapegoating.” Scapegoating occurs when one partner blames the other partner for certain actions or emotions. Feelings of resentment for emotional scapegoating in a toxic marriage may be likely to be expressed by both spouses simultaneously. This is seen in fighting about finances, children, and all the activities of life.
6. Disrespect for You and Your Feelings
A partner’s disrespect when you express your feelings is hard to take. If both you and your partner engage in this kind of behavior, it is a sure sign that your marriage is toxic.
Signs of disrespect in marriage can take many forms. Disrespect and reactions to it can include a lack of support, stonewalling, envy, negative comments, unwillingness to engage, and feelings of resentment. Partners may show disrespectful behavior in the form of slurs, name-callings, or threats. Finally, they may be disrespectful in a relationship just by ignoring you.
Effects of Disrespect
The behaviors enacted by the disrespectful spouse can culminate in a horrible marriage. You may end up in an abusive relationship that only brings negativity in your life and feels like an obligation. Both spouses can sink into deep depression or already be in one, which will inevitably touch other aspects of their lives such as parenting, job, time with friends and family, etc.
7. Negative Financial Behavior
Money relationship problems are the ones that very often lead to divorce. A bad sign in a marriage can take the form of one’s spouse’s hiding of money, using it as a control mechanism, refusing to talk about it, or spending it excessively.
Obviously, a couple has to be in agreement in terms of how money is spent. When a couple’s finances are joint, there are bound to be disagreements on how to manage them, which should be resolved during a discussion.
If one of the partners spends a considerable amount without their partner being on board, it will lead to arguments and resentment. It may even put the family in dangerous situations where they wouldn’t be able to afford things to cover for their basic needs, such as food, housing, and medical care.
In a single-income household, either spouse may heavily control the spending and deprive their partners of basic necessities or guilt them into buying or not buying certain items. Also, the earning spouse may be resentful and controlling of the other one due to the latter’s dependence on them to survive.
If you are married with separate finances, you may face situations where your abilities to afford something differ from your spouse’s as they manage their money differently. Moreover, your finances cannot be entirely separate. Paying bills and providing the family with food, clothing, and housing may cause arguments if the division of financial responsibilities is uneven or one of the spouses ends up disadvantaged due to it.
If one partner is dependent on the other, such as is seen in a one-income family, this can make it extremely difficult to stay in or leave a toxic marriage. The partner who is in the dependent position financially is likely to stay in a toxic marriage and fear leaving the relationship because of the independence that they feel they cannot achieve. Most of such spouses do not have a safety net but may start building one when they feel their relationship is becoming toxic.
8. Constant Stress
To a certain extent, everyone who is married endures a stressful marriage from time to time, while unhappy marriage signs stress in general. When the stress is never-ending, it means you are in an unhealthy marriage.
Managing work, bills, children, housework, cleaning and cooking, repairs to one's home, eating out, and entertainment are daunting tasks. All of these responsibilities and the demands that they cause can lead to stress. Serious disagreements between partners about these activities and responsibilities can lead to frustration and anger.
When stress builds up and is never released, discussed, or put to an end, there is usually a breaking point where either spouse may fall ill, become depressed, stop sleeping, or become a shell of a person barely managing to function. Where there is barely any time to rest or take care of oneself, there will be no time to care about a partner or vice versa. There can be no satisfaction of any kind in such a relationship, and action has to be taken to salvage it by changing the routine and relieving the stress that a person feels.
Stressful marriage depression is not uncommon and is resolved through communication and subsequent action in a healthy relationship. However, two partners who are constantly in a state of discord will create a stressful environment for each other almost inevitably. If such a couple has children, they may see their parents fighting and develop bad coping mechanisms, which will then lead to deviant behaviors. When parents are unhappy, kids are unlikely to be happy too, and stress is “contagious” in a way.
9. Ignoring Your Needs
“Needs” are “needs.” They are not "whims," or even "wants." When one ignores their spouse’s needs, closeness and sexuality typical for a healthy marriage are likely to decrease. “Needs” can take the form of getting a set amount of alone time to recharge or go on dates to feel the connection. Or it may be one partner’s need to vent after they come home from work and get a hug.
The one whose needs are not addressed is likely to feel locked out, isolated, and perhaps confused. They may feel avoided or become the ones avoiding their spouse due to the built-up resentment. If the thought “my spouse ignores me” comes to your mind more and more often, they may either be doing it deliberately or because of certain life events. Once you feel avoided, it is important to have a conversation about it and figure out why you feel this way and what can be done to change it, if anything.
Feelings that are not consciously identified may have a great impact on both of the partners. As stated, “needs are needs.” If unfulfilled, they should be addressed in the relationship or, at the very least, discussed.
The conversation is always a place to start with, as your spouse may not even be aware that you feel that your needs are being ignored or see the change in their behavior. However, if no change follows, the dissatisfaction will build up and eventually lead to the breakdown of the relationship.
10. Fights and Arguments
Unconscious feelings may be asserted without the partners being aware of what lies beneath the surface. This may lead to anger and fighting in a marriage. Arguing with your spouse from time to time is normal, especially if you keep it polite and both put effort into resolving the differences.
However, constant marriage arguments and relationship fights are unhealthy, especially when they are petty, unfounded, and do not result in any changes being made. Husband and wife fights may often be pleas to be heard, loved, or seen coated into a message full of pain, which thus comes off as aggressive, offensive, or attacking. Going to individual, couple’s, or family therapy may be an important step to saving a marriage, but both partners need to be motivated to start it.
When It Is Time to Stop Fighting for Your Marriage
There may come the point in which it is time to stop and think: “Is a marriage worth saving?” It is important to evaluate your marriage in terms of dedication, closeness, and sexuality to gain an understanding of the pros and cons of staying vs. leaving.
How To Leave a Toxic Marriage?
Finding the courage to leave a bad marriage may take a while. Being divorced and single can be scary as this represents a huge transition. Even when you are getting out of a marriage that is toxic and unfulfilling, you should be aware of the aspects that are significant for such a transition:
- Plan where you will move to after divorce.
- Make sure you will be financially independent.
- Discuss it with someone close to you the ramifications of your toxic relationship and your intention to leave it.
- Seek help from a therapist who will be an impartial and supportive person in your life.
- Avoid communication with your partner unless it is necessary in case you have children.
- If your partner has been physically or severely emotionally abusive, inform the authorities or get a restraining order.
How To Recover from a Toxic Relationship
Dealing with the ramifications of ending a toxic marriage is definitely emotionally hard. However, you can and will eventually get over a bad marriage – you owe it to yourself to be happier and healthier than you were in your relationships.
To survive toxic marriage:
- Allow yourself to feel what you feel. You may be sad and angry or happy and cheerful – both are adequate emotional responses.
- Do not rush into a new relationship. Exploring the dating pool is normal after you feel the freedom to do so. However, do not create a replacement for your ex and give yourself time to process your divorce.
- Explore your interests. Get busy with things you love doing or find something new to try. You may even visit group activities with your friends or make new friends at certain group events you go to alone.
- Take care of your mental health. Reach out to your “safety net” – trusted friends or family for support when you need it or give yourself some alone time if you feel like it.
- Get physical. Exercise can reduce stress and make you feel healthier, happier, and more in control of your life. Join a gym or resort to home workouts – whatever works best for you.
Overall, remember that your current or previous relationships do not have to limit you. If your partner doesn’t value you, it doesn’t mean you do not deserve to be valued. Take a good look at your relationship, recognize if it is toxic, and take action, be it trying to save it or leaving it. Your choices are your own to make.