9 Signs You’re In a Toxic Marriage
Re-posted from Redbook magazine http://www.redbookmag.com/love-sex/blogs/sex-stories/signs-youre-in-a-toxic-marriage#comments (Sept. 12, 2014)
1. You don’t respect each other.
When you start dating someone, you’re head over heels. But eventually, you discover their flaws, weaknesses, and the totally random stuff that drives you crazy. “You have to respect that people get to be who they are,” says Megan Hunter, author of Bait & Switch: Saving Your Relationship After Incredible Romance Turns Into Exhausting Chaos. “Remind yourself that your brains are wired differently, and asking your partner to change that is like asking someone to change their skin color.” It’s all too easy to resort to a disrespectful or condescending tone when we’re not getting our way, but research shows that speaking with contempt can be a big reason for a marriage imploding, adds Hunter. “When I see spouses begin to change their tone of voice and really pay attention when their partner is talking, I typically see that relationship become stronger again.”
2. You’ve unconsciously uncoupled.
Over the years, couples can devolve into more of a management team than a married pair, thanks to overwhelming to-do lists that include everything from managing a mortgage to caring for kids and aging parents. “By year 10, many relationships come to resemble that of two roommates,” says Debrena Gandy, author of The Love Lies. “Your communication becomes focused on the business of your lives, rather than meaningful topics related to the two of you.” The easiest solve? Date night. But making that a priority amidst other tasks can be tough. “I recommend that couples have a standing date night each month. Switch off planning, block it off on your calendar, and make a rule that if it needs to rescheduled, the other person must first agree,” says Gandy. “As time goes on, it becomes an integral part of the relationship, which both partners value and mutually support.”
3. You’re not putting in the extra effort.
Remember when you first started dating—you spent hours getting ready and he both shaved and put on cologne. “You stepped up your game to be in each other’s company,” says Gandy. “We call it the ‘honeymoon phase,’ but the fact that we identify the time when passion and interest are high as a phase suggests there is an underlying belief that these things are expected to eventually decline.” That can lead to your taking your spouse for granted and losing respect for each other, which in turn can spur emotional or physical infidelity, resentment, and frequent conflict. “The wordrespect is based in seeing the other again,” says Gandy. “By striving to see your partner anew each day, you’re committing to the idea that passion doesn’t need to fade, but can instead continue to grow deeper.”
4. You’re playing the blame game.
In a marriage, things happen—someone misses a credit card bill, someone forgets an anniversary, and so on. “But the more you get into that it’s-all-your-fault mentality, the more you stop taking responsibility for your own actions,” says Hunter. “When you’re not looking inward and trying to improve yourself, it can start to erode your marriage.” In a tense situation, you want to connect with your spouse on two levels, says Hunter: verbally, by saying something like, “I think I understand what you are trying to say,” and nonverbally, by using a calm voice or kind eye contact—anything that shows you’re paying attention. “The next step is to help the other person, and maybe even yourself, shift into problem-solving mode. Once you’ve dealt with the emotional aspect, you might say something like, ‘What ideas do you have to resolve this?’” suggests Hunter.
5. There’s no intimacy.
If your marriage has been reduced to an exercise in management, one of the first things to go is intimacy. “Marriage isn’t just about sharing your body, it’s about opening your heart,” says Gandy. “When those moments of closeness—both in terms of physical proximity and emotional bonding—disappear, the consequence can be accusing your partner of not meeting your needs, which can then be used to justify infidelity.” But if you’re not getting what you need in either area, the fix may be as simple as speaking up. “As women, we resist asking for what we want because our faulty gender programming tells us that our husbands should be doing it without us having to ask,” Gandy says. “Men respond well to action-based requests—even if it’s just for an extra hug or making time each night for a real conversation.”
6. Your union isn’t the centerpiece of your marriage.
Of course your children are hugely important to you. But if you’re able to make your relationship with your husband the number-one priority of your marriage, they too will benefit. “The health and vitality of that partnership creates a home environment in which kids are fed emotionally,” says Gandy. It’s easy to get caught up in the age-old societal construct, where the woman does all the work at home and the man becomes relegated to the sidelines. “As a result, the husband becomes increasingly disengaged and passive, and the wife becomes resentful from overexerting herself,” explains Gandy. “Try to ignore the instinct to constantly take on more, and instead work on building up your asking muscles. People around you—especially your husband—will feel closer to you when you let them help you out. And you’ll find you have time for your children and your relationship.”
7. Someone has control issues.
“The number-one sign of a toxic relationship is if one partner feels they have the right to check the other’s email, texts, and Facebook messages,” says Hunter. It’s a modern version of a tried-and-true-problem—the feeling that you can’t talk to friends or family, or that you must report what you’re doing and where you are at all times. “When someone feels trapped or stuck in a marriage, like they’re walking on eggshells, it’s a very toxic situation.” If that sounds familiar, it’s important to get a professional involved immediately.
8. You’re not willing to adapt.
Between years seven and 10 is when many marriages hit the rocks, according to Gandy. “That’s when a marriage is calling for a transformation, and we don’t know how to navigate it.” But really, it’s the ideal time to acknowledge that there has been a shift, and develop the skills to move forward. “The mark of a healthy, strong marriage is that you’re willing to adjust it by recognizing that there are stages where you may get bored or annoyed with each other; however, it’s at those times that you need to remind yourself why you married your husband, the ways you support each other, and the feeling you had when you first fell in love,” says Hunter. “Accepting that marriage isn’t always be rainbows and sunshine helps you keep a realistic perspective on the relationship as it progresses.”
9. There’s chronic emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse is just as serious as physical abuse—and it’s unacceptable. But, as women, we sometimes disregard our inner knowing for too long in hopes of bringing things back to the way they once were. If that sounds familiar, you’re not in a good place to make the best decision for yourself—or to extricate yourself from the situation. However, if you’re in a toxic marriage and this has gone on for years, you do need the help of a trained professional and a support network that can help steer you onto a clear, safe path.
Megan Hunter is a speaker, trainer, consultant and CEO at Unhooked Media. She is co-founder of High Conflict Institute and was a Family Law & Child Support Specialist at the Arizona Supreme Court. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.