Am I in a Toxic Marriage? Signs That You and Your Spouse May Need Help
It’s the middle of the night and you hear the garage door opening, the motor slowly grinding. Up it goes and in comes the car. Then the grind of the motor as the door closes while s/he opens the door and walks into the house makes you freeze, hoping you can still live but silence your breathing which is starting to get faster and faster as you nearly break into a sweat and feel like you’re going to throw up.
“I’ll just pretend to be asleep and breathe as quietly as humanly possible. Maybe that will stop the fighting that is otherwise coming because s/he is undoubtedly in one of those moods. I’ve waited all night for him/her to come home but now I wish I were anywhere but here. Can I disappear or teleport somewhere else? How did I get into this mess? What drove me into his/her arms?”
“Do I really believe this is the best life I can live? What did I do to deserve this hell? I think an answer is deep inside, but I can’t seem to unlock it. HELP! PLEASE!” Thoughts like this rumble regularly around in your head. You feel like you’re on a never-ending and ever speed-increasing treadmill. You’re dizzy and feel disoriented. This is overwhelming and I’m xenacious (yearning for a change) from the incredibly chaotic.
Above, you see one way to think of toxic. According to Merriam-Webster, it means 1) containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation; or 2) extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful. That is some sobering language, isn’t it?
Is your marriage killing you emotionally? Has it begun to adversely affect your physical well-being? Have you forsaken your spiritual foundation as things have gotten worse? If you can identify with anything you’ve read thus far, I suggest that you may be in a toxic marriage.
Top Signs that You May be in a Toxic Marriage
1. In your spouse’s eyes, you never do anything right.
“You never look right. Your makeup is too heavy. You don’t fix yourself up at all like when we were dating.” “You’re so undependable, always putting the guys ahead of your family. You never take me out anywhere anymore. Are you ashamed of me?” “You should look at yourself. You’re no prize either.”
2. When your spouse talks about you to others, it is only to put you down or degrade you.“I can’t believe what a drain s/he is. S/he never likes to go out or have fun.” “She bounced another check.” “She’s a terrible wife and mother. All she does is nag me.” “He is loud and crude. What a slob. My friends were right.”
3. Your spouse calls you names.
They use lewd and crude labels that degrade and leave you feeling devastated. “How can they love me but call me (fill in the blank)?”
4. Your feelings, opinions, and desires are discounted and not factored into conversations or decisions.
“I’m going to do X with our retirement monies.” “Your check is my money. It’s all my money.” “I’m going to buy you the car I want you to have. We have an image to keep up, you know. You can’t be seen in just any vehicle.” “I’m going to choose your clothes. You have no sense of image and style.” “I’ll parent the children. You don’t know what’s best. Look at how you were raised.” “You’re lucky I can do the thinking for the both of us.”
5. There is physical violence between the two of you.
Pushing, shoving, hitting, unwelcome or painful pinching, kicking, slapping – it is all physical abuse.
6. Your body, once healthy, is breaking down due to stress in the relationship.
You have gastrointestinal symptoms or ulcers. Your stomach, head, or back hurt more after a fight or without a medical reason and the pain is more and more frequent.
7. You dread, yes actually fear him/her coming home.
Perhaps this is due to the unknown or volatility of his/her mood or perhaps because you do know exactly what lies ahead and it twists you into knots.
If any of this resonates with you, you and your spouse need intervention.
Steps to Heal Your Relationship
Here are some practicalities to help you get started:
- Recognize that this is a pattern that neither of you have been able to break on your own.
- Do you and your spouse both recognize that there is a serious problem in the dynamics between the two of you? If you do but s/he doesn’t, you need to consider if this is even a relationship in which you want to choose to remain. If you both are committed to working to resolve the issue, seek out a counselor or therapist that has experience dealing with toxic relationships.
- Don’t make or settle for empty promises. If you do not do something different, you will continue to see the same results and remain unfulfilled and angry.
- If there is violence involved, consider separating for a time even if you both seek therapy. Such behavior only gets worse until a person does the time and labor-intensive work of changing. And, therapy, while needed, will hit some nerves that an abusive person may misuse to excuse their behavior, saying they were triggered and that such somehow absolves them of personal responsibility for their actions.
- Don’t forget the big question: What drew you to be abusive or abused?
Unless we are intentional or conscious about what we learned, we operate on a behavioral sort of automatic pilot. If we were shown mostly positive ways of interacting, on automatic, we will typically continue cultivating the positive and starving the negative. However, the reverse is also true.
You may have been taught that bullying, intimidating, screaming, using your fists or other pain-producing, controlling behaviors were normal and the way to get your needs met, and if you do not make a conscious decision and take proactive steps toward health, you will most likely go into an autopilot mode of operation and be repeating the pattern you learned while growing up. Sometimes, you may have a thought or conviction that what you are doing is unhealthy; but it takes work and intentionality to change.
Also, if you were the recipient of abusive behavior growing up and now find yourself once again in a relationship where you are being hurt and victimized, you will need to be purposeful in your actions to break free and move into healthy living.
The reality is that we have good and evil within, beautifully illustrated in the following as taken from www.virtuesforlife/two-wolves/:
Two Wolves is a Cherokee Indian legend and illustrates the most important battle of our lives – the one between our good and bad thoughts. Here is how the story goes:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
So, which wolf are you feeding, and which one will you continue to feed?
Getting Help for a Toxic Marriage
Please reach out for help today if you recognize yourself to be in an unhealthy or highly toxic marriage. You know the pattern will not change without you taking steps and getting support to make it happen. Call or email a counselor or therapist of your choice to take the first step of transformation, dare I say revolution.
“Factory Smoke”, Courtesy of SD-Pictures, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Gas Mask”, Courtesy of Lukaszdylka, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Pollution”, Courtesy of Rilsonav, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Fight”, Courtesy of Mstlion, Pixabay.com, CC0 License