37 Warning Signs You Have a Toxic Marriage and How To Fix It

by Lauren Cook-McKay | Last Updated: September 3, 2021

What is a Toxic Marriage? | 37 Toxic Marriage Signs | Saving a Toxic Marriage | Getting Out of a Toxic Marriage | Moving On After a Toxic Marriage

 

So you got married and life was blissful, right?

Or wrong?

What if your marriage turned into something other than bliss…like sheer toxic hell?

There are many warning signs that you will need to evaluate if you believe you may be in a toxic marriage.

While doing this reflection on your marriage, please do not feel like you are alone.

Many married couples experience toxicity within their relationships and you wouldn't even know it.

We have conjured a list of 37 proven warning signs your marriage has turned toxic and how to fix your bad relationship before it's too late.

Every person deserves happiness, and not every marriage with toxicity is headed toward unrepairable harm. There is help!

Below is everything you need to know about toxic marriages and what you can do to fix it.

picture of a husband and wife showing signs of a toxic marriage

What is a Toxic Marriage?

A toxic marriage is classified as an unhealthy relationship that possesses abusive mental, physical, sexual and emotional behaviors.

These behaviors cause damage to one or both spouses and will get worse over time.

Typically, it takes two people to contribute to turn a relationship toxic; therefore, both spouses are usually involved in the dysfunctional behavior.

However, let’s not get overly complicated right away.

We can start with the basics.

You have heard of toxicity before… but what exactly is a “toxic marriage”?

Toxicity goes well beyond the occasional disagreement and argument.

Every couple has its situations where both sides find it difficult to reach an agreement. However, “toxicity” within the marriage is completely different.

A toxic marriage bares no shared interest in each other’s well-being, happiness nor independent growth as an individual.

A lack of  a solid foundation that is based on mutual respect can be one of the biggest root causes of toxicity in a marriage.

The 10 most common toxic marriage signs include:

  1. Adultery
  2. Substance abuse
  3. Lying
  4. Deception/betrayal
  5. Abandonment
  6. Jealousy
  7. Blaming
  8. Gaslighting
  9. Isolation
  10. Punishment

Psychology Today states that toxic people in a relationship do not outwardly show their toxic traits at the beginning of a relationship.

As time draws on, these behaviors begin to rear their ugly heads, showing their true colors.

Toxic people can be manipulating, controlling and demanding to their partners.

Toxic partners are also known for recreating events in order to shift the blame on the other partner.

Toxic marriages draw the energy and respect right out of a relationship.

You will be left feeling completely exhausted.

When this happens, resent can occur.

Resent is one of the main reasons for marriage fall-out and can land you both heartbroken—and maybe even asking each other for a divorce.

We don't want that to happen to you if a divorce can be avoided.

So the first step is identify your marriage is toxic.

Below are all 37 signs that indicate you are in a toxic marriage.

picture of a married couple discovering they are in a toxic marriage

37 Toxic Marriage Signs

1. Belittling

Toxic marriages typically involve the belittlement of one another; especially in public.

If your  spouse feels threatened, they will not hesitate to belittle you in front of your friends, family and strangers.

This gives them the upper hand in their mind while gaslighting you to potentially question your self-worth and self-identity.

Also, a “just kidding” will usually be thrown in, just to take the extra edge off and hold themselves less accountable.

2. Bad Temper

A toxic spouse will showcase a quick pull trigger temper.

They are quick to flare up and cause you to walk on eggshells.

The toxic marriage experiences either you and/or your spouse engaging in emotional blow-ups but is rarely seen in the public eye; it is reserved for behind closed doors.

3. Over-dependency

Contrary to popular belief, being co-dependent is not always a good thing.

Your spouse may act so passively overdependent on you that they have them make every decision for them, or vice versa.

This triggers passive-aggressive behaviors if the “wrong” choice was made and gives them ammo to use against the other.

This type of toxicity is based on one spouse allowing all of the responsibility to fall on the other—so they never have to take the blame for anything.

4. Possessive Control

Another type of toxic marriage showcases either your and/or your spouse as possessive and controlling.

There is no privacy, no personal conversations with others, no friends night out and certainly no “inappropriate clothing”.

Passwords do not exist and independence from one another is frowned upon.

Toxic individuals’ jealousy flares up easily and their suspicions continue to grow if they suspect you of looking anywhere else… for anything!

Do not be shocked if there is a tracker on your phone or car.

5. Guilt

Toxic marriages are loaded with guilt.

One or both sides inflict guilt on the other for every step they take.

There will be a sense of disappointment or hurt that is immediately shown if you do something they do not like.

This guilt-inducing is used to control your actions; especially if you are guilt-prone.

There are also passive guilt situations such as urging you to take that promotion at work… but later mentioning how little attention they are now receiving.

There is no winning.

6. Ruminating and Obsessing

Constant worrying and panicking about your spouse is a surefire sign there is toxicity present.

If you both are altering your normal lives for the other—especially out of obsessive fear or worry—you are definitely in a toxic relationship.

Giving up other important aspects of life makes your spouse the only important thing in your life—and is incredibly dangerous.

7. Constantly Fighting

Always being at extreme odds with your spouse, you are living in toxic marriage hell.

Have you stopped to ask yourself the last time you were happy with your spouse? Or how long ago you had peace?

Some marriages are so toxic that they believe constant fighting with one another is normal and that other healthy couples do it… They don’t.

8. Slinging Insults and Yelling

Yelling at one another and throwing insults out to hurt each other means your marriage is toxic.

It is not normal nor healthy to purposely try to hurt the person you vowed to spend the rest of your life with.

Words are used to shame, manipulate, embarrass, degrade and inflict pain are definitely tactics of the toxic.

Saying anything to make the other spouse feel bad is the weapon of choice.

9. Physical Abuse

Physical abuse of any kind is considered one of the deadliest forms of toxicity.

This is unacceptable behavior and domestic abuse is nothing to take lightly.

No matter the size of the injury, whether small or serious, physical abuse is wrong in all cases.

It is also a way to beat a spouse into submission to gain control and to continue manipulating.

This is scary stuff for sure. Get help immediately if you find yourself in this type of toxic and abusive relationship.

10. Lacking Self-Care

Toxic relationships manifest themselves to have each partner care for the other more than themselves.

It is indubitably toxic to neglect yourself and the things you need and once enjoyed.

A noticeable sign of a toxic marriage is one or both spouses pulling back from their typical interests and hobbies.

Also, lacking self-care in terms of appearance and neglecting both physical and mental well-being.

11. Compromise Doesn’t Happen

Toxic marriages hardly allow for compromises, let alone being heard at all.

Toxic behaviors typically include one needing to always be in control and right.

If the other speaks up, they are immediately silenced into submission.

This prevents any sort of compromise and accommodation from ever being had—and contributes to the toxicity overall.

12. Depression

If you are feeling depressed within your relationship, toxicity may be present.

If you are no longer feeling satisfied and are left with a void, depression may be creeping itself in.

Depression spills over into other aspects of your life, including your work.

If you have no safe, peaceful space, you are on the road to disaster.

Seek help immediately if this sounds like your relationship.

 

What We Recommend
Online Therapy That Works - Stop Toxicity Before It's Too Late

Being in a toxic marriage can really take an emotional toll on even the strongest people.

If you are in need of therapy with both privacy and convenience, we recommend Online-Therapy.com. Their incredible service gives you access to instant professional help, on any device, wherever you are in the world.

Visit Online-Therapy
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

13. Lies and Deception

Where there are lies and deception, there is toxicity.

Lying to avoid “dealing” with your partner is one of the most deceptive traits in a toxic spouse.

Deceiving the person you are supposed to care for the most is unhealthy and can cause long-term damage.

Both to the marriage and to the person’s mental well-being.

14. Overcompensation

If you find yourself constantly overemphasizing just how great your marriage is—you are in a toxic one.

Healthy relationships do not need the approval of others.

People in healthy relationships also do not have to attempt to sway people’s thoughts away from what is really going on inside of your marriage.

Overcompensation is a sign you may be unhappy and insecure in your marriage.

15. Denial

Friends and family are the closest things to you—and they know when something is amiss.

If you find yourself pushing away friends and family as they share their concerns about your marriage with you, you may be in a toxic one.

If they are saying they notice abuse and toxicity, and you push them away, you are going to sink further into the toxic hole.

It may be worth listening to their thoughts with an open mind.

16. Hidden Aspects

Having your own life is a healthy trait in an interdependent relationship.

However, in toxic relationships, this does not always occur as it is supposed to.

If you find yourself hiding or protecting certain relationships in your life in order to avoid a fallout with your spouse, this is surely toxic.

You should not have to hide anything to prevent your spouse from blowing up.

17. Defense Game

Always having to be on the defense can become exhausting.

Being involved in a toxic marriage includes always feeling like you have to defend your choices, your stance, your thoughts.

This can wear down the trust and build up the resent—thus leading to more toxicity.

18. You Go to Others for Support

One of the best parts of being married is the innate support system you gain.

However, if you are in a toxic marriage, you will find yourself going to others for emotional support.

Trusting your spouse for support is a basic need in a relationship—especially in a marriage.

This is a HUGE red flag.

19. Distant and Indifferent

If you try to talk with your spouse, and they act indifferent or distant, you are in a toxic marriage.

A healthy marriage consists of two people there to listen and support one another.

When one or both partners play the avoidance and distance game, it is the ultimate sign of disrespect.

No matter a big topic or small, distance and indifference are marriage killers.

20. Hiding Money

You may not think so, but a spouse hiding money is extremely toxic.

Marriage is a foundation built upon trust and if your spouse is hiding money or spending large amounts without telling you, this qualifies as toxicity.

This toxic trait can land them and you in a financial hole—and in a world full of trouble with one another.

21. “Give Me One More Chance”

Have you heard “give me one more chance” more than a dozen times?

Yes, that is a toxic marriage.

Your spouse should not continue the traits that cause you to consider separating from them; especially if it is a repeat offense.

In the end, you are becoming a toxic enabler, and furthering the toxicity within the marriage.

22. Making Excuses

Making excuses over and over for your spouse breeds the toxicity that already exists.

You rationalizing this toxic behavior permits it to keep occurring.

If you feel the need to constantly make excuses for your spouse’s choices—either to yourself or to your friends and family—you need to reevaluate the health of your marriage.

23. No Discussions Before Important Decisions

You are being taken for granted if important decisions in your marital life are being made without you.

Your voice is equally as important, and if there is not a discussion before large decisions are made, your marriage has become a “me” versus a healthy “we”.

The “we” aspect is what marriage is all about, after all.

24. Cannot Relax Around Each Other

If you or your spouse cannot relax around one another, something is amiss—and it’s toxicity.

You should be able to feel like yourself and be who you truly are.

If you feel the need to suppress yourself and cannot let your guard down, this will lead to bigger mental health problems for you down the road.

25. Home is a War Zone

If you find yourself wanting to be anywhere other than home, toxicity may dwell there.

Home is where the heart is and where you are supposed to kick your feet up.

Looking for refuge outside of the home is a tell-tale sign that there is not happiness nor health within your own home or in your marriage.

26. You Are Always to Blame

If every decision and situation falls on your lap, you can bet your marriage is toxic.

Sometimes we put the foot in the mouth but it is a completely different story when your spouse agrees and blames you.

You may be feeling attacked—and you may in fact being emotionally attacked.

27. Lack of Sex

Sex is a basic human need.

We all crave touch and experiencing another person; especially our spouse.

Whatever your usual pattern of sex is with your spouse, if it suddenly changes and is no longer happening, there is toxicity in the air.

If your spouse is intentionally withholding sex as a form of punishment or refusing to connect with you, it can cause you to resent them and/or take a toll on your mental health and certainly your marriage.

 

What We Recommend
Online Therapy That Works - Stop Toxicity Before It's Too Late

Being in a toxic marriage can really take an emotional toll on even the strongest people.

If you are in need of therapy with both privacy and convenience, we recommend Online-Therapy.com. Their incredible service gives you access to instant professional help, on any device, wherever you are in the world.

Visit Online-Therapy
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

28. You Fantasize About Leaving

Your mind wandering into what life would be like somewhere else with someone else is a ready sign that you are in a toxic marriage.

If you feel you may get relief from leaving your spouse, you must take this seriously.

Fight or flight is a very real response in humans and if you are getting that within your marriage, it may be time to consider which one you need to do to make yourself happy.

29. Self-Esteem Slips Away

Toxic spouses love to etch away at your self-esteem.

It is a huge issue if you find yourself constantly being criticized and ridiculed.

Even down to your clothes, if you are consistently being hounded on your choices and behaviors, your spouse may be toxic to you.

30. Trying to Change Them

If one of your missions is to “fix” your spouse or wait for them to change, you are further fueling the toxicity.

People do not change unless they want to—or are able to.

You can not focus your relationship on changing your spouse or constantly wanting to be changed by your spouse.

Your willingness to not set boundaries and to accept the toxic treatment does not give them any reason to stop.

Waiting and hoping to change someone do not make for a healthy marriage.

31. Gaslighting

If you find your spouse always projects issues and responsibilities onto you, you may be experiencing gaslighting.

This is one of the common traits of a narcissistic spouse.

Toxic partners shift away from any semblance of accountability onto you to make you question your own thoughts and the reality of the situation.

It is possible to be convinced that you are at fault, even if you are not—that is the manipulative gaslighting taking its hold.

Think Jedi mind tricks gone terribly wrong.

32. Threatening Nature

If you are constantly being threatened, your spouse may be toxic to you.

If your choices are stonewalled by veiled threats—such as leaving you or withholding affection—you are living in a toxic environment.

Spouses are supposed to be safe places and if you are consistently being threatened, a reevaluation of the situation is needed.

33. Using the Kids as Leverage

Your toxic spouse may try to use the children as leverage.

This is an attempt to control and manipulate you into doing what they want.

This is the utmost toxic behavior for both you and your children.

This can teach them that this behavior is normal and acceptable—and can transcend into their relationships in the future.

34. Consistently Stressed

Every relationship deals with its own levels of stress—but more times than not is not healthy.

If you are constantly walking on eggshells or on edge, you may need to step back and reflect on what is truly going on in your marriage.

35. Unyielding Disrespect

Sometimes things happen such as when people forget an event.

However, if this has become a pattern in your marriage, it may be toxic.

A toxic spouse will conveniently ‘forget’ an important event in an attempt to assert their control over you.

The more intentionally disrespectful they are to you, the more toxic the marriage.

36. Cheating

Sometimes people make mistakes and have an affair.

It can be a one time fling or a relationship on the side.

This is a sign of a toxic marriage but what is even more alarming is repeatedly cheating on your spouse.

Or worse both of you are cheating on each other in order to hurt each other.

If cheating is a part of your marriage, you are involved in unhealthy behaviors that need to stop.

37. Substance abuse

Having a couple beers or glass of wine every now and then is normal.

However, what is not normal is feeling the need to constantly get drunk or high in order to escape whatever it is you are running from and it might be your marriage.

The other form of toxic behavior in a marriage is when you and your spouse constantly enabling each other to abuse substances together.

If this is how your marriage is and part of your normal life, it is not normal.

You have a problem and might need professional help or even rehab.

How To Save a Marriage Once Toxic

While reading the above signs of a toxic marriage, did you find your relationship related to some of them? A lot of them?

You may now be convinced your marriage is toxic and it's time for divorce.

However, this doesn't have to be the case.

If both you and your spouse acknowledge that your relationship is toxic, there may be hope.

picture of a couple working on fixing their toxic marriage

Here is a proven list of how to begin your healing journey in your once toxic marriage:

Talk. Then talk some more

So you have both established that you are involved in a toxic marriage with one another.

The most important thing to do now is to TALK.

And when you are done talking, talk some more.

There is no such thing as a quick fix, so both parties involved need to practice patience and compassion for one another.

If this is a struggle, this is also something to acknowledge and talk about.

Perhaps one spouse is not even aware they are being toxic.

Discussing it with them is the best way to bring the toxic behaviors to light—and to tell them how it makes you feel.

Not talking about the problems at hand is a missed opportunity to save the marriage.

To get started on what to talk about, make a list of the following:

If your spouse does not want to discuss anything, you can only tell them how important it is to you.

Some things may take time and they may indeed come around.

Self-Evaluation

Both spouses play a pivotal role in the marriage; therefore, both parties are accountable for the turnout of the marriage.

It is vital to self-assess what YOU bring and/or neglect in the relationship.

It is easy to point the finger but as the old adage goes—three more fingers are pointing back at you.

Evaluate your own behaviors and patterns.

Are you practicing healthy, non-harmful habits with your partner?

If not, this is the time to make a choice and decide to better yourself for the sake of your marriage.

Your partner must also be on board with this or the toxicity with continue.

Couple’s Therapy

Sometimes there is a stigma against therapy—especially couple’s therapy.

There have been countless comedy movies that have exploited the healing benefits couple’s therapy can truly bring a toxic couple.

This should not be an option thrown off the table.

Nobody is perfect, and some people struggle with looking inward or lack the necessary tools to be able to do so.

This is why therapy can be such a brilliant option.

Couple’s therapy offers a safe space with a certified specialist to get the ball rolling.

The therapist is there to guide you both through and to your new, healthy journey with one another.

Self-care

Your safest bet of bringing healthy patterns into your relationship is to start with yourself.

Have you been neglecting your mental, spiritual and emotional self?

It’s time to stop!

You must take care of your own needs first so you can bring your best self forward and into your marriage.

If you only focus on your relationship, you may still be neglecting your own level of self-care.

This can include reconnecting with friends and family in addition to participating in your favorite activities and hobbies again.

Willing to Invest Time and Effort

In order for your marriage to be saved, both parties must be invested.

You must both want to invest time and effort into salvaging your relationship.

Ridding yourself of toxic takes time, compassion and patience; therefore, you must both be on board for it to work.

Toxicity’s arch-nemesis is kindness and awareness.

If you both want to make it work, so it shall.

Please remember that these things take time and that nothing is going to happen overnight.

Set achievable goals with one another on the new healthy behaviors you are going to practice in your marriage… together!

 

What We Recommend
Online Therapy That Works - Stop Toxicity Before It's Too Late

Being in a toxic marriage can really take an emotional toll on even the strongest people.

If you are in need of therapy with both privacy and convenience, we recommend Online-Therapy.com. Their incredible service gives you access to instant professional help, on any device, wherever you are in the world.

Visit Online-Therapy
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

How To Get Out of a Toxic Marriage

If working on your toxic marriage proves a moot point, unfortunately the next step is to get out of it.

There is no reason to drag out a marriage that is either one-sided or proving itself over and over to be incompatible.

Staying in a toxic marriage can be harrowing to your mental and physical health and it's time to end your marriage.

picture of a couple that decided to end their toxic marriage

Here are several steps you can take to get out of a toxic marriage:

Admit It’s Over

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to admit that the relationship has run its course.

Remember, this does not mean that you are a failure.

You did everything you could so you must realize that relationships are a two-way street.

Toxicity is no way to live, so you should not have feelings of guilt nor shame.

Do not allow your spouse to make you feel otherwise as you must now put yourself first.

Take Back Your Control

As you focus on removing yourself from the toxicity, it is time to take back your control.

For too long you have allowed your toxic spouse to control and manipulate you.

That stops now.

Set a goal to take back your independence.

When you are ready to leave, start focusing on yourself and your needs.

Your spouse is responsible for themselves and no longer can use you to their advantage.

You have yourself to worry about now.

It’s time for you to take care of you.

Tell Someone

It is imperative to have someone in your corner and be aware of your next moves.

Toxic people can be incredibly dangerous, so let someone know before you take action so they can be part of your support system we will discuss below.

If you feel that you may be in danger, contact your local authorities.

Someone must be aware that you are leaving, and that you may need help.

No Communication

Once you have removed yourself from the situation, it is vital that you no longer speak to your spouse.

Their manipulative techniques will come into play in an attempt to lure you back in.

Unless you have children, there is no longer a reason to communicate with one another.

This will hinder your growth and the new life that awaits you.

But if you must communicate with your spouse, try to have someone present with you to diffuse the situation and keep any toxicity at bay.

Set Up a Support System

Before and after you make any moves, you want to ensure all of your ducks are in a row.

Seek out local help or the help of a therapist.

Make sure your closest friends and family are aware of the situation so you have the emotional support you need when you finally remove yourself from the marriage.

Divorce can be incredibly difficult, so the support system you choose will be pivotal to your recovery.

You need people you trust to help you through this time as getting away from toxic people may throw you for a loop for some time.

Legal & Financial Preparation

If you are ready to end the marriage, make sure you are legally and financially prepared for the implication of divorce.

Talk to a legal and financial team to get your financial affairs in order should you go through with getting out of the marriage.

Your team can be your savior as you transition into single life again; especially if you were financially dependent on your toxic spouse.

Start The Divorce Process

Once it's 100% clear that there is no turning back into your toxic marriage, you need to formally start the divorce process.

Every state is different and has laws that govern what options you have to legally end your marriage.

Luckily, we have put together guides for getting a divorce in your state. Check them out here.

How To Move On After a Toxic Marriage

picture of a woman moving on after a toxic marriage

Accept That Love is Not Enough

Many people believe that love is enough. This is not factual.

With marriage comes respect, honesty, kindness and healthy behavior.

Love is a separate facet.

It is possible to love someone and for them to be toxic to your well-being.

This happens often as people struggle with balancing love and lack of needs being met, abuse, manipulation, etc.

Know that not everything is meant to last forever and save yourself the continued and future heartache.

Indulge Yourself

How long has it been since anything has been about just you?

Take this time to nurture and heal yourself.

Do not jump into another serious relationship right away.

You will not be bringing the best version of you, and you need this time to get yourself back together.

Focus on what you want out of life.

Remember those dreams you had? It’s time to start living them.

Once you are ready to date again, you will be in a much better position to avoid another toxic relationship.

Don’t Look Back

Admitting to yourself that you were involved in a toxic marriage will help you stay away.

No matter the urge to run back or feel sorry for them, you cannot go backward.

They may attempt to reach out so be sure to not entertain any advance in getting you back.

They are simply using their manipulative techniques to lure you back in, so trust that the story is NOT different, and they have NOTHING new to say or offer you.

Final Thoughts

Living in a toxic marriage is difficult—and leaving one can prove even more so.

Please know that you are not alone and that help is available for you.

Not all toxic marriages will end as many can be amended with the aforementioned tips.

You must both choose to work on not only your marriage but the people involved within them.

Know that help is just around the corner whether it be for you and your spouse—or you on your new single journey!

 
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Director of Marketing & Content at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She strongly believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure.