If there's one phrase that is totally cliché and overused, it's this one — marriage is hard. Everyone says it, everyone knows it, and everyone hears it, especially when complaining about a spat with their spouse. But while marriage takes a lot of work, there are some relationship challenges that are more than the everyday obstacles. When you can't pinpoint where things are going wrong and you're tired of chalking it up to the standby phrase, it's time to take notice of the signs that you have a toxic spouse.
Neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez says that the actions of a toxic spouse are “not all that different” from what you might have experienced in a toxic friendship, though she calls the behavior “more shocking” when it happens with your partner. “When we are in this type of relationship, we can feel it in our core,” Hafeez tells Romper. “If a spouse is toxic, they will likely have a Jekyll and Hyde personality where you never know which version of them you are going to get.”
Rest assured though, Hafeez says that your spouse’s toxicity and their behavior “whether they behave in an evil way or angelic, has nothing to do with your actions.” Zero. Zilch. Nada. This is
not your fault. What To Do If You Have A Toxic Spouse
“Don’t be afraid to take action,” Hafeez tells Romper. You don’t have to sit idly by if you experience mental or emotional harm from a toxic marriage. Reach out to friends, family, and professionals for help.
“Finding the root of the problem is important, but sometimes, the answer may be as simple as knowing when to walk away,” says Hafeez. “If there’s more negativity in a situation than positive, it’s time to make a change. If you feel as if you’re in physical danger, you may need to involve the authorities. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers 24/7 guidance at 1-800-799-7233.”
Signs You Have A Toxic Spouse
When we are with someone, especially a spouse, it's easy to overlook their flaws and the little things they do that drive us crazy. Letting go of the irritation you have every time they lose their keys or working on communication so the little misunderstandings will stop piling up — that's what makes marriage hard.
But dealing with a spouse that is poisonous to your life? That's not the same and it's not normal. If you’re still unsure where you stand in your relationship, these signs that you have a toxic spouse may shed some light on the situation and propel you to find an antidote for the poison.
1 They Make You Feel Inferior
Eleanor Roosevelt meant it when she said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." And that counts for spouses.
“When we are with someone who makes us feel inferior, they are destroying our self-image and what we have worked so hard to build up for ourselves,” Stephanie Mintz, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Romper. “If your partner ever asked for your opinion on something, and then makes you feel bad about your opinion either by the words they use, the tone they say it with, or even their facial expressions or body language, then they are dismissing your personal opinions, tastes, values, and feelings.”
2 They Find Fault In Everything You Do
We all mess up. We all make mistakes. But constant criticism from your spouse is not OK, especially if there's never any positive talk.
“Of all people, our spouse should be the one who has our back, who builds us up, and who helps us back to our feet when we are down,” relationship coach Lee Wilson tells Romper. “If anything, when things aren't going well, it should feel like us against the world, not the world
and your spouse against you.” 3 You're Always Walking On Egg Shells
“Usually in these situations, one partner is overly fixated on another’s wants and needs and afraid to voice their own,” relationship coach Babita Spinelli tells Romper.
I've been in relationships where my partner was always defensive and quick to anger, and that sh*t is absolutely exhausting. You should feel free to speak your mind and have a discussion without your spouse flipping out on you.
4 They Encourage You To Withdraw From Family & Friends
“This is a significant sign of a toxic partner who is a narcissist,” Spinelli explains. “Controlling and isolating a spouse from family and friends is a huge red flag. This shows up when a spouse declines invitations from family and friends consistently or uses emotionally manipulative tactics such as ‘You care more about your friends and family then about me.’”
5 You Lie About Your Relationship
Remember that cliché? Marriage is hard. People know this, but when you have a toxic spouse, it can feel scary to be upfront and honest about how your marriage is going. “Most people do this because they know that if they tell the truth, they are going to be told something they don’t want to hear: ‘You deserve better!’” Mintz tells Romper. “You love your partner and don’t want to lose the good in the relationship and don’t want to even think about leaving, so you lie not to hear the negative.”
6 They Are Controlling
Whether it's controlling how you spend your money, who you hang out with, or even little things like what to eat for dinner, a controlling spouse is no good for you.
“When a partner checks in on you constantly or expects you to be responding to every text instantaneously while you are out with a friend or at work is controlling behavior,” Spinelli explains. “Another example is if they insist on knowing all your passwords or reading all your text messages. Healthy couples are comfortable spending time apart with friends or family, and refrain from needing to control every move.”
7 You Think About Their Happiness First, Before You Do Anything Plan Shooting 2 / Imazins/ImaZinS/Getty Images
Keeping your spouse in mind for big decisions? That's OK. What's not OK is constantly thinking about their happiness when it comes to little things. “Another example is if you are constantly changing a plan or decision to make your partner happy,” Spinelli tells Romper. “Finding a healthy balance is important and being in touch with your own happiness not just theirs.”
8 Their Negative Energy Drags You Down
Everyone has bad days, but it's awful when your spouse's negative energy drags you down all the time. “This is similar to the walking-on-eggshells issue and is usually the result of angry outbursts and other traumas from when your spouse didn't get his or her way,” says Wilson. “Life has enough worry to also have to constantly feel that your spouse is going to fly off the handle or complain about things that are minor.”
9 They Expect You To Solve All The Problems
Even if the problems aren't marriage-related, a toxic spouse will expect you to solve them. They're irritated, so they expect you to make them happy. They're tired, so they want you to turn off the television so they can sleep. They're angry, so they want you to do what they're asking to keep them happy. It's exhausting having to cater to someone's every whim, and it is not fair in the slightest.
“Though being a good listener is a necessary trait of a good spouse and it's often important to take on issues with your spouse, when you feel that your spouse is trying to make you their emotional punching bag, things have gone much too far,” Wilson tells Romper.
10 They Don't Take Responsibility For Their Actions
"You chose to feel that way," is the most passive-aggressive comment you'll hear from a toxic spouse. There is nothing worse than constantly being told it's your fault, especially when it's something you have zero control over.
Another glaring example of this? “If you are walking with your partner on the sidewalk and your partner is looking at their phone and they bump into someone else and then yell out, ‘Watch where you are walking’ and you feel the need to make an ‘I am sorry’ face to the stranger, your partner is seeing themself as the center of the universe who can do no wrong, and the other people living in their world are the ones making their lives difficult,” Mintz tells Romper.
11 They Aren't Sorry For Making You Upset
When you're upset, especially as a result of something your spouse did, they should be the first ones there to comfort you, to try and fix it, and to offer their apologies. The words they use can be a big indicator of their lack of empathy. As Spinelli puts it, when they say things like, “I am sorry you think that I hurt you,” it’s a red flag.
12 They Ignore You
And I don't just mean when a football game is on. Ignoring your conversations, ignoring your moves at intimacy, ignoring your feelings and communication efforts — all of them count.
“It's the ultimate form of contempt and will decimate emotional and physical intimacy,” says Wilson. “The physical equivalent is when your spouse brushes aside an attempt to hold their hand or a touch of another kind. When your spouse pretends you don't exist or that you don't matter, it hurts a great deal. I rarely see marriages last where this is the norm.”
13 You Have Zero Privacy
There’s a level of trust that doesn’t exist in a toxic relationship, which means that even if you’ve done nothing wrong, your spouse might still try to find some evidence of wrongdoing. “Toxic spouses are also likely to have little regard for your personal space, privacy, and may eavesdrop or go through your belongings when you are not present,” Hafeez explains. “They may interrogate you even when they don’t find anything ‘suspicious’ at all.”
14 You Feel Physically Exhuasted
“A toxic spouse can make you constantly feel stressed whenever you think about your partner,” Hafeez tells Romper. “If you feel physically exhausted from spending time with them, your relationship may be seriously impacting your mental health.” It can stem from the way they make you feel, their energy, or simply their toxic personality, but the specifics don't matter.
15 You Feel Miserable All The Time
The biggest sign of all that you have a toxic spouse? You are just miserable every time you are around them. “If you find that the majority of the days you wake up dreading the day, or feeling emotionally and physically drained, you aren’t enjoying even what would be the fun times with your partner, and start finding yourself wondering what it would be like to be alone, then it is past time to start thinking about your feelings, needs, and wants and what would be the best way to attain them,” Mintz tells Romper.
You're supposed to be happy with your spouse, end of story. There will be days where you don't want to be around them or days when they are driving you crazy, but you should never feel straight up miserable and unhappy by being with your spouse.
Experts: Dr. Sanam Hafeez , neuropsychologist in NYC, director of Comprehend the Mind Stephanie Mintz , MA, LMFT, The Strategic Relationship Consultant Babita Spinelli , LP, relationship coach Lee Wilson , relationship coach
This article was originally published on
Dec. 9, 2015