What Makes a Marriage Toxic?


If we were to define a toxic marriage, the first thing that comes to mind is a list of repeated behaviors from one or both partners. These behaviors are emotionally and physically damaging. In toxic relationships, a heightened sense of insecurity, dominance, self-centeredness, and control exists. 

In contrast, a healthy marriage contributes to your self-esteem and, therefore, your emotional wellbeing. Such a relationship involves the exchange of mutual care, respect, and interest in the welfare and growth of your partner. In this case, both people in the marriage can share some degree of control over decision-making and possess, in general, a mutual desire for each other’s’ happiness. Healthy marriages are without fear. The dynamic shared between spouses comes from a place of comfort and security. 

Unfortunately, there are many types of toxic marriages. We could start from the worst-case scenario: marriages that involve physical violence and substance abuse are by definition highly toxic. They are potentially life-threatening and always require urgent intervention followed by a separation from the abusive partner. There are cases where these marriages are reparable; however, that is extremely destructive and not advised.

Furthermore, toxic partners are essentially controlling because of one reason: they want themselves to be in full control always and have more power in the marriage.

Power struggles occur even in non-toxic relationships, especially in the early stage of a marriage. However, in toxic relationships, at least one partner insists on always being in control. Let’s now look at some common dysfunctional behaviors that signal toxicity in a marriage. 

Types of Toxic Relationships

As mentioned above, dysfunctional situations are often a norm in such relationships. Paradoxically, the toxic partner is often the most exemplary spouse you can have for the outside world. Therefore, you need to understand that what makes marriages toxic are often behaviors based on your partner’s following personality traits.

1) Deprecator-Belittler

People with these personality traits will make sure to belittle you constantly. They will make insensitive jokes at your expense and will consider your ideas, wants, and beliefs to be silly.

Such husbands do not hesitate to belittle their wives in public, in front of their friends and family. Even if the woman requests to stop putting her down, the partner will tell her: “I am only kidding” or “do not tell me you cannot take a joke”! He keeps continuing regardless of the discomfort he causes. 

The issue, however, is that these partners are more often not joking. They want all of the power in terms of decision-making. If they long-term tolerate this deprecating behavior, they start to believe that indeed their husband is right.

These people will also often remind you that you are lucky to have them as partners because nobody else would want to be around you. Their goal, therefore, is to make sure that your self-esteem remains as low as possible so that you are unable to challenge their authority and control in the relationship.


2) The “Bad Temper” Toxic Partner

Women often complain that they have stopped disagreeing with their partners because they tend to get extremely angry. They end up having no meaningful interactions with their spouses for days at length. This behavior aims to maintain control by intimidation. These individuals have erratic and unpredictable tempers. They make their partners always feel like they have to “walk on eggshells” around them since they do not quite know what can send their partner into a fit of rage. This persistent need to stay vigilant and constant uncertainty about the future wears out the victim in terms of emotional and physical health.

Again, we must remember that an emotionally abusive spouse hardly shows this side of themselves to the world outside. Therefore, the people around you would not be able to label your relationship as toxic and would instead think of your partner as a pleasant person whom everyone likes. Ill-tempered partners will mostly blame you for their outbursts when confronted. It is somehow your fault that this person was screaming at you! Therefore, what makes a marriage toxic is often the failure of partners to hold themselves responsible for their dysfunctional behavior.

3) The Guilt-Inducer

In these marriages, the toxic partners control the relationship via inducing guilt. These partners often want their spouses to feel guilty whenever they perform an action or say something they do not like. These husbands also convey a sense of disappointment through third parties, for example, through another family member. A partner who tries to impose control through guilt will often remove the guilt-inducing behavior momentarily if their spouse tries to please them. Since women are usually guilt-prone, they tend to try to resolve unpleasant circumstances in any way possible. Hence, the guilt-inducing husband has a powerful, manipulative method available to them. 

Frequently, toxic partners tend to disguise these patterns by pretending to support some decision you made. Let us say you want to start working again. They will think your decision is reasonable, but will also remind you how much the children miss you, or how you have not been giving them enough attention. As with other toxic behaviors in a marriage, guilt-inducing aims to set boundaries for your behavior so that your toxic spouse always gets what they want.

4) The Over reactor/Deflector

Women face this in their marriages whenever they try to tell their partners that they are hurt, unhappy or angry over something their partner did. Instead of their husbands trying to make amends or apologizing, they end up comforting them. Not only that, but they also end up feeling like they have been too selfish for bringing up something that would upset their partner this much. Whenever an issue arises, it goes unexamined because they have to remorsefully cater to the feelings of their husbands.

Another variation of this behavior in marriages is in the form of the deflector. This is where you express your irritation regarding some issue; however, your spouse prefers to stay out longer with their friends than they initially planned to; they do not call and instead, find a way to blame this on you.

Deflection in marriages occurs when your spouse believes that whatever information you bring to their attention happens to conflict with the perception they hold about themselves.  Such situations are incredibly tiring, to the point where you are eventually convinced that it is you who needs to work on yourself. You are likely to think that perhaps it is you who is being extra sensitive.

In these situations, in place of an apology, you are often presented with this standard question: “But do you love me?” and suddenly, all of your criticism has to be replaced with your partner’s praise.


5) The Cheater

This final type of toxic partner is the kind that this book will focus on and discuss extensively. That is the cheater.

Given that healthy marriages are born out of friendships deep-rooted in mutual trust and authenticity, what makes marriages fall apart, in a nutshell, is their lack.

Therefore, when in marriage, explanations and excuses stop adding up, the seeds of doubt are sown. The first thought women have is that their partner is probably cheating on them. Every day they spend with this partner, they find themselves wandering in a maze of confusion. No matter which path they take, they end up always pondering over another uncertainty.

Even if these women look for clarity or seeking a confrontation, their husbands respond with a rather tight-lipped denial, gas lighting them into believing that neither their reaction nor questions are reasonable.