7 Signs of a Toxic Marriage

A relationship between two people is not always going to be perfect. You and your spouse are two separate people with different backgrounds and opinions. There will be inevitable disagreements. But is your relationship toxic? And what are the differences between a toxic marriage, a healthy marriage, and something in between? Keep reading to learn about it.

What is a toxic marriage?

A toxic marriage is characterized by persistent, potentially or intentionally harmful behaviors and interactions that cause emotional, psychological, or physical damage. Key signs of a toxic marriage include a lack of trust, constant criticism, manipulation, control, disrespect, and a lack of emotional or physical support. The relationship dynamics foster negativity and can severely impact the well-being of both partners.

Healthy relationship vs. toxic relationship

Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of trust, cooperation, and communication. In a healthy marriage, for example, both people strive to always be respectful to one another. They care about maximizing each other’s well-being. As partners, they find ways to communicate their needs. The goal is for both partners to have their needs met.

Comparison table: normal vs. toxic relationship dynamics

Here's a table highlighting the key differences between normal and toxic relationships in terms of behavior, communication, and overall dynamics.


Normal Relationship Dynamics

Toxic Relationship Dynamics


Open, honest, respectful, and constructive

Dishonest, disrespectful, hostile, and destructive

Conflict Resolution

Healthy, open discussion and compromise

Avoids resolution, escalates conflicts, or uses manipulation


Mutual respect and reliability

Suspicion, jealousy, and betrayal


Partners support each other's goals and well-being

One or both partners undermine or sabotage the other's efforts

Emotional Health

Promotes positive emotions and safety

Causes stress, anxiety, and emotional distress

Power Dynamics

Equal power and decision-making

Imbalance of power


Mutual respect for each other's individuality and boundaries

Violation of boundaries, and demeaning behavior


Healthy interdependence; each maintains some independence

Overdependence or detachment, lack of individuality


Positive reinforcement, appreciation, and kindness

Negative reinforcement, criticism, and cruelty


Encourages personal and mutual growth

Stagnation or regression; blocking personal growth

Physical Health

Safe, supportive, respects physical well-being

Can involve abuse or threats to physical safety


Mutual consent, emotional connection, and respect

Forced, lack of genuine intimacy, or emotional disconnect


Respected and upheld by both partners

Frequently violated or dismissed


Shared responsibility and accountability

Blaming, avoiding responsibilities, lack of accountability

7 signs of a toxic marriage

A toxic relationship may or may not include outright abuse. Toxicity can be far more subtle than emotional or physical violence. The toxicity may slowly increase over time, or it may be there, full force, from the very beginning. 

Here are seven signs of toxic behavior in a relationship.

1. You feel emotionally exhausted after trying to express an opinion to your spouse.

You might feel you have to justify any viewpoint that differs from your spouse’s. You might feel like you have to give up your own opinions because it’s just not worth the effort. Not being allowed your own feelings makes you feel devalued and exhausted. In a toxic relationship, however, the devalued person finds themself always giving in

2. They use you as the butt of their jokes.

It may have started out as simply kidding around, but if you have now become the constant subject of put-downs cloaked as passive-aggressive “jokes,” this may be a toxic relationship. If you mention that you feel hurt by their little jibes, you may be labeled too sensitive or as having low self-esteem. After that, the criticism may then become that you can’t take a joke. 

3. They are adept at gaslighting.

Your spouse may insist that what you know and have experienced didn’t actually happen. They may constantly accuse you of misunderstanding or blowing things out of proportion. Hence, you may begin to question your reality, mental health, and even your sanity.

Read: What Is Gaslighting? How to Recognize It in a Relationship

4. With others, your spouse is one kind of person. When you’re alone, they’re someone else altogether.

A toxic partner may be friendly and charming at work or around friends, but the minute you’re alone, they may become somber, argumentative, and angry. You may find yourself walking on eggshells until you’re able to ascertain whether you’ve got Jekyll or Hyde in front of you. 

National Domestic Violence Hotline website and phone number: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

5. You can’t trust your spouse for emotional support.

You may feel unsure whether your spouse would be there for you in your hour of need. If you do ask for their guidance or support, they may belittle you for feeling the way you do or use the information against you in the future. 

6. You feel like you have no control in the relationship. 

You may feel unable to make any decisions by yourself, even when the matter only concerns you. Your spouse might demand that you report what you buy, where you’ve been, and who you’ve been with. 

7. You keep rationalizing their behavior even though you know it isn’t normal. 

The logical part of you knows that your relationship is unhealthy and emotionally depleting you. But you rationalize your spouse’s physical or emotional abuse because you’re afraid of the unknown. In the middle of this dysfunction, it can be difficult to see how extricating yourself from the relationship would make your life better

Most people can easily recognize an unhealthy relationship when it happens to someone else. But if it happens to you, your rational senses may fail you. Your toxic spouse’s behavior may have overpowered you to the point that you cannot see the situation clearly.


Can a toxic marriage be fixed?

The relationship may be repairable if both people see a problem and want a solution. If there is still a sense of love and respect, it may be fixable.

The question is, do both partners want it to be fixed? Unfortunately, in a toxic relationship, one partner often exhibits narcissistic behaviors with little need or desire to get “fixed.” This can leave the other spouse with no alternative but to end the relationship

Psychological effects of staying in a toxic marriage

Staying in a toxic marriage can cause extensive damage to your emotional well-being. Here are some of the key impacts that could happen in a prolonged toxic relationship:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Lowered self-esteem and self-worth
  • Emotional instability/moodiness
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Fear and hypervigilance
  • Guilt and shame
  • Cognitive impairments such as poor memory, concentration, and decision-making abilities
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in extreme cases
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor sleep
  • Stress can cause physical health problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, and a weakened immune system

What to do if you’re in a toxic marriage

Now that you have learned all the possible negatives of being in a toxic marriage, you probably want to know what to do about it. You have choices. Here are the actions you can take.

Put safety first!

If there is any risk of abuse toward you or your dependents, develop a safety plan. Identify a safe place to go if you need to physically distance yourself, have important documents and emergency contacts ready, and have contact information for local authorities or shelters.

1. Acknowledge the problem

Recognize and accept that you are in a toxic marriage. It is a valid concern that you can back up with evidence.

2. Seek support

Talk about it with friends, family, or someone you trust to provide emotional support and a healthy, preferably unbiased perspective. You might also join a support group to connect with others who are experiencing toxic relationship dynamics. Your feelings will be validated and you might get some helpful advice.

3. Consult a professional

Individual or couples counseling or therapy can help you process your emotions, build coping strategies, and gain clarity on your situation.

4. Set boundaries

Establish clear rules and limits to protect yourself emotionally and physically. Communicate these boundaries to your spouse and stand firm in maintaining them.

5. Prioritize self-care

Engage in activities that promote your physical and mental well-being, such as exercise, healthy nutrition, sleep, relaxation techniques, self-help books or podcasts, and hobbies that bring you joy.

6. Ending the relationship: your options

Consider the future of your marriage and whether the relationship is salvageable (both partners must be willing to work together to improve it). If you’re considering separation or divorce, reach out to highly-rated online divorce services like Hello Divorce (check online reviews) or consult a family law attorney to understand your rights and options.

Resources for help with a toxic relationship

Here are some trusted services to help you if you don’t think you can get out of a toxic marriage on your own.

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
  • Local shelters and support services: Find local resources that provide support for individuals in toxic or abusive relationships.
  • Therapists: Look for therapists who specialize in relationship issues and trauma.

FAQ about toxic relationships

Why do people stay in toxic relationships?

People may stay in toxic relationships due to fear of being alone, financial dependence, hope that things will improve, low self-esteem, concerns about children, and lack of support or resources.

How can I support a friend in a toxic relationship?

  • Listen without judgment
  • Offer emotional support and validation
  • Provide information about resources and support services
  • Encourage them to seek professional help
  • Avoid pressuring them to take immediate action and respect their decisions

How can I leave an abusive relationship safely?

  • Develop a safety plan, including where to go and how to get there
  • Have important documents and essentials ready
  • Seek help from support services and shelters
  • Inform trusted friends or family about your plans
  • Consult a legal professional to understand your rights and options

If your relationship has taken a toxic turn and you’re unsure what to do, getting the assistance of a therapist or divorce coach can help you understand your options. At Hello Divorce, we are here to help with affordable online professional services and advice. Please schedule a free 15-minute call to learn more about what we offer.


Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.