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No one sets out to have a toxic marriage, and often we don’t even realise it’s happening. Little by little our marriage goes from wedded bliss, to absolute resentment and we look back and wonder where it all went wrong. With a global divorce rate sitting around 44%, it’s safe to say there are some behaviours out there that couples are doing that are toxic for their marriage.
From the outside, it’s fairly easy to see the obvious signs of toxicity, but often these are late signs. There could be things that you’re doing that are toxic for your marriage that you don’t even realise because they’ve become part of your relationship.
We don’t get lessons on how to be in a relationship, no one teaches us the right way to be married, and really – there is no one right way. But what we do need to learn is how to communicate, how to respect each other and how to identify toxic behaviours before they destroy our marriage.
These are some of the common things you could be doing that are toxic to your marriage and can cause major problems for you.
1 – Competing With Each Other
A little friendly competition is always fun, but when everything is a competition or when it’s no longer fun, things can turn sour.
Often this is something that manifests when you have children and your dynamic changes. Unless you’ve communicated clearly your expectations, wants, and needs about this dynamic change, then often the ‘I work harder’ or ‘I’m more tired than you’ arguments start to appear.
And when you’re tired, you’ve been tending to babies or kids or you haven’t had a break in a while, then it can be easy to forget your filter and let your hurt and anger show in a competitive argument.
But a marriage isn’t 50/50. It’s 100/100. But sometimes you can’t put in 100, so the other has to pick up the slack and support you. And that’s okay. But you need to make sure it’s happening from both sides and in a respectful way.
There’s going to be times when someone works harder than the other, or when someone is more tired than the other. But if you’re doing what you can to support each other, it’s not a competition, it’s a partnership.
2 – Fighting
Let me just put this to rest right now – not all couples fight. And there’s a very big and very important difference between fighting and arguing.
Arguing looks like:
- Disagreements about a particular topic
- Sometimes heated discussion, usually able to be discussed calmly
- Able to listen to each other and hear each other’s point of view
- Sometimes emotional and may need to take a break
- Able to be respectful and still feel like you can cuddle after
- Come to a conclusion that may be a compromise, or may be an ‘agree to disagree’
Fighting looks like:
- Yelling and loud protests
- Always heated discussion
- Name calling and swearing
- Personal attacks
- Feeling uneasy, scared or threatened
- Actual threats being made
- Not focused on a solution, only on who is ‘right’
It’s not uncommon for couples to argue in a marriage, sometimes this is how they communicate when they cannot figure out how to express themselves properly when there is a lot of emotion or frustration involved.
However, fighting is toxic for your marriage. It is based on intimidation, threats and intends to belittle and cause harm (whether physical or emotional) to the other person.
Learning how to communicate effectively can help you to keep your disagreements at ‘argument’ level and not let them escalate to ‘fighting’.
3 – Not Putting Each Other First
I always get a funny look from people when I tell them I put my husband first, before my kids. There seems to be this belief that, especially as mothers, we need to martyr ourselves to be a ‘good mother’. That we need to put everyone else first, including our kids, in order to fulfil our role as ‘mom’.
You’ll find people who say that you should always put your kids first, but I’m firmly in the camp of ‘you put your husband first, he puts you first, and together you take care of your kids’.
Let me explain.
Long before my husband and I got married, we were putting each other first. I didn’t have to be ‘selfish’ to ensure my needs were met because he was always meeting them. He would offer to book me in for a massage when he knew I was getting stressed, knew when to give me time out and knew when I needed more time together. And I did the same for him. His happiness meant the world to me and I could always pick up when he needed time out and I’d suggest a fishing trip or a camping trip away.
When our kids came into the picture, we kept putting each other first. He would make sure I had time to myself when I needed it, and would make sure there was chocolate when I was craving it and I’d make sure he had time with the kids when he was craving family time and made sure he had a break from work when he felt overdone.
By taking care of each other and putting each other first, we were able to put our children’s needs first, together. Even if you don’t have kids yet, or you don’t want to have kids, putting your husband first (and he putting your first) is how you ensure you’re both continuing to show love and affection in your partnership.
I put him first. He put me first. Together we put our marriage first.
This isn’t something that can be done as a one-sided thing. You both need to be on board, and you both need to make the effort to care for the other.
4 – Expecting Each Other To Change
Okay, here’s where I get a little bit ranty, so get comfy.
One of the things that irks me is when I hear couples who have been together for quite sometime complain about a characteristic or trait of their partners that annoys them.
For example, I knew a couple who had been together for over 10 years. She was more extroverted, he was more introverted. She had a big group of friends, whereas he had a few close friends he would see every now and then. This never was a problem in the early years of their relationship, but as they were married and started making more ‘couple’ friends, she started to complain that he didn’t want to go out to dinner with friends every week and that all he wanted to do was stay at home.
This was something she knew about him and accepted about him when they got married. She was expecting him to change and because he wasn’t, she was becoming upset and disgruntled with their marriage.
If there is a behaviour or trait or characteristic your partner has that you cannot live with, don’t expect them to change just because you get married.
5 – Not Getting Time To Yourself
Another major misconception that causes so much angst in marriages is that we are supposed to spend all of our time together. Not true! Time alone is not only good for you, but it’s also essential. You were a perfectly functioning individual before you were in a relationship, and when you get married, you are still a perfectly functioning individual. You need time alone to recharge and to just be with you.
You have to make this work in your marriage, even if you have kids. Time alone, for each of you is so important. And, just to be clear, time alone does not include going to work and it does not include grocery shopping.
Time alone means time to do whatever it is you want to do, by yourself, that fills your cup. It might be to sit and read a book, to go fishing, to go and sit in a cafe an eat cake, to get a mani/pedi… whatever it is that is important to you and you get to do it alone.
Expecting to spend all of your time together, even if you want to and love each others company, is setting you up for burnout. You can’t pour from an empty cup and you need time alone to fill that cup.
If you’re experiencing any of these toxic behaviours in your marriage, it doesn’t mean your set for a divorce. It just means you need to pay attention to them and work out how to eliminate them so they don’t cause major, long term problems. Each marriage is unique and your marriage can be made to be whatever you want it to be.