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10 Toxic Marriage Habits and How to Change Them

Watching my beautiful bride walk down the aisle all those years ago was a dream come true. I saw perfection. Not in the literal, shallow sense, but in the sense that she made me whole, was absolutely amazing in so many ways, and I just knew our life together would be an adventure.

What I didn’t plan for were her toxic marriage habits. Let’s be honest, though. I brought along my own toxic marriage habits as well. I thought if I could just hide them long enough and put up with hers, then she wouldn’t run for the hills.

The thought process of hiding my toxic marriage habits and putting up with hers was setting us up for failure from day one. She isn’t perfect, and I’m far from it. Pretending to be was simply unrealistic and was starting our marriage off with hidden secrets—secrets that could have very well led to our downfall.

I asked myself, “Why is my marriage failing? What am I doing wrong?” I never want to ask myself those questions again. It was easy to blame it on her toxic marriage habits. The truth was that I could only change MY toxic marriage habits.

I only have control over myself.

I learned the importance of being aware of my toxic marriage habits and committing to being better.

What did I do after this realization?

A young man sitting on a tree stump and pondering his toxic marriage habits.

I got to work on figuring out my toxic marriage habits. I decided that creating a mindset of receiving fulfillment from my spouse’s happiness would help me curb my toxic marriage habits, and then maybe I could inspire her to curb hers.

I started working on being the best version of myself.

I can’t say we always succeed, but we both work hard to keep our toxic marriage habits at bay. When we slip, we remind ourselves of our love for each other and leave it to forgiveness. Don’t be fooled! Even those couples who seem to have it all together have their struggles.

Falling in love is easy, but real love takes real work. Click to Tweet

Angela is my wife, and I am her husband. Our goal isn’t to make each other miserable. Our goal is to help each other become the best versions of ourselves. Below are some of the toxic marriage habits Angela and I have had to overcome.

This list below isn’t your typical boilerplate list of toxic marriage habits you can find all over the internet. Our list below is a genuine list of bad habits we recognized were ruining our own marriage.

Here are 10 Toxic Marriage Habits and How to Change Them

1. Nagging, nagging, and more nagging.

A cartoon couple showing one of their toxic marriage habits by nagging each other.

Our list of toxic marriage habits starts with nagging, which was more so one of Angela’s habits than mine. Nagging your spouse will break down the respect they have for the things you say to them. Take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Is my better half really that stupid, or am I not communicating effectively?”

Your better half is not stupid. Maybe a little oblivious, but not stupid. How and what you say is vital in your marriage. You likely have expectations of your spouse, of which they are not fully aware. Even if they are aware, they may not know how much it means to you. Having unknown expectations will set your marriage up for failure.

Maybe your partner doesn’t know you feel disrespected when they leave their socks 5 feet from the hamper for you to pick up. There are so many different scenarios that give a reason for you to be a naggy spouse.

Don’t give in to the temptation.

Instead, plan an evening to address your concerns thoroughly. Make sure your spouse is willing to hear you out and is not feeling attacked.

Be patient, kind, and understanding when you have a conversation with your spouse about what is important to you that they may not be seeing or doing. Increasing our efforts toward creating good communication skills helps to curb toxic marriage habits. After all, that’s what marriage is all about—doing it together.

2. Teasing too much for fun.

A man pointing and laughing to show teasing his wife is one of his toxic marriage habits.

It was just playful banter for me, but not for Angela. It didn’t matter that I didn’t mean what I said or that I just meant it as a joke. One of my most significant toxic marriage habits was always taking the teasing too far, and she started to hurt. She couldn’t trust that I wouldn’t say something hurtful when we talked, so she didn’t want to talk to me anymore.

That realization hurt.

You can’t have a happy and healthy marriage if your better half isn’t willing to talk to you.

Angela genuinely expressed her concern for my behavior. She felt unloved, not good enough, and always under pressure to not do something that I could tease her about. She didn’t perceive my teasing around as being very funny.

Talk about an eye-opener. We teased each other as couples do and still do. The issue was me always taking it too far. I had no idea that my teasing caused so much hurt. Knowing how my teasing affected the love of my life made it easy to recognize it as one of my toxic marriage habits.

You need to realize when enough is enough and then have the discipline to knock it off.

3. Belittling your spouse.

A young woman showing one of her toxic marriage habits by belittling her husband.

Belittling is one of the many toxic marriage habits that makes me cringe. It is emotionally abusive to belittle your spouse or anyone for that matter.

Let me say that again—IT IS ABUSIVE to belittle others!

Constructive criticism is one thing and can be an excellent thing when given correctly. Shaming your spouse for their mistakes or for not living up to your expectations is straight-up wrong.

You make your spouse feel inferior, minimized, and as it says in the word—little. Belittling may seem harmless, especially if your spouse seems to shrug it off, but continuing to belittle your spouse over time will lead to more toxic marriage habits that will break down your spouse’s self-esteem. Belittling makes your spouse always question their self-worth and makes them wonder if they are good enough.

How can you identify if you belittle your spouse? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you negatively criticize your spouse and tell him that what he did was not good enough?
  • Do you say things to manipulate her feelings and actions to get what you want?
  • Do you speak to her condescendingly?
  • Do you say things that make her feel self-conscious instead of confident?
  • Do you make him feel foolish when he talks to you about something he is excited about or interested in?
  • Do you make light of things that are important to him or achievements he’s fulfilled?

The same goes for someone who feels they are on the receiving end of belittlement. If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then you need to evaluate if you are belittling (of being belittled).

If you are a victim of this or any kind of abuse, I suggest reading this article.

If you recognize that you belittle your spouse and want to change, then we suggest sitting down with a pad of paper and a pencil. Your goal is to determine what drives you to say hurtful things to your spouse.

Maybe you’re egotistical, always needing people and things to revolve around you. Or quite the opposite, perhaps you feel inadequate, and to cover up your shortcomings, you highlight those of your spouse. If you want to change belittling behavior, then I recommend trying some of the following suggestions. If you still feel like you aren’t making any headway, perhaps seek professional help, or help from your church leader.

  • Put others’ needs before your own. If your wife usually takes out the trash, try doing it for her. Get her a drink with dinner and not just one for yourself.
  • Compliment your spouse without criticism. You can tell your husband he looks handsome without telling him he’d look even more stunning if he lost 10lbs.
  • Confide in your spouse when you feel troubled, instead of dragging her down to your level of unhappiness. As a married couple, you want to help your spouse through whatever problem they have. Reach out for that help from the person you love the most.
  • Apologize. If this is difficult to do, start small. Maybe write a short note to your spouse, saying you are sorry for your actions. You know she deserves better and that you are trying for her, but change is difficult and can take a while.

One thing is for sure, though, and that is if belittling is not stopped, it leads to further emotional abuse and toxic marriage habits. You did not get married to hurt each other for the rest of your lives, so take the necessary steps to change.

4. Swearing at your spouse.

A woman yelling with #*$&% shown on a chalkboard behind her showing swearing in an argument is one of her toxic marriage habits.

Swear words are fascinating, aren’t they? Whether through passion, fear, or frustration, swear words provide a direct line to very powerful emotions. Swearing at your spouse out of anger is not in line with marriage etiquette, is one of the more disrespectful toxic marriage habits out there, and just isn’t necessary.

Swearing seems to have become part of normal conversation in everyday life, but it has no place in our marriage. The absence of foul language increases the chance of establishing effective communication in a less hostile environment and decreases your chances of casting a wrong impression of immaturity. In case you’re wondering, flipping the bird isn’t very resourceful either.

My wife isn’t married to a schoolyard boy—she’s married to an honorable man.

The first step to eliminating this from our list of toxic marriage habits was understanding that there are better, less aggressive ways to have your voice heard while communicating with your spouse.

If you are easy to pop off when you are frustrated, then wait to have the emotionally charged conversation with your spouse. Cool off and meet back in a controlled environment where you can focus on each other. You could also try writing your thoughts down in a letter. This way, you can read through your notes with a clear head before handing them off to your spouse.

As husband and wife, accept that you are both human and have a complex range of emotions that at times require the undivided attention and compassion from the ones we love.

5. Criticizing or yelling at your spouse in front of others.

A young wife and her mother scolding the young wife's husband and showing one of many toxic marriage habits.

I never thought of the military as a coach that would help with toxic marriage habits, but it taught me the importance of praising in public and disciplining in private. I didn’t appreciate having unplanned and emotionally driven conversations with my wife while in earshot of other family members, and I don’t think I’m alone in sharing that sentiment.

There will be times in your marriage when your better half does something you don’t fully understand or agree with—and you will be in front of other people. The conversation that typically follows is one that should be private between you and your spouse. It doesn’t need to include your friend, mother, or a crowd of people.

Constantly criticizing or yelling at your spouse in public creates emotional insecurity. It is an attack on their self-esteem and dignity. Not only are you treating the person you love with disrespect, but the people around you look at your spouse with pity for putting up with such disrespectful behavior.

Be sure to praise each other in public and “discipline” each other in private.

6. Complaining about your spouse behind their back.

A woman texting on her phone with an unhappy look on her face to show talking behind her husband's back is one of her toxic marriage habits.

My wife has shared with me that complaining about me behind my back early on in our marriage was one of her worst habits. It kept her believing that I was not doing a good enough job and that I didn’t have our family’s best interests at heart. She eventually realized that the friend she was continually complaining to never really complained about her husband. And that is when the light-bulb went off.

Instead, Angela decided to be grateful for my contributions to our family and spoke with me, instead of her friend, about my behavior that bothered her. I can do something about my behavior, Angela’s friend can not. Complaining about me put up a mental wall between Angela and me, and only she could tear it down by actively choosing to do better.

7. Purposely going to bed at different times.

A young couple showing one of their toxic marriage habits by laying in bed and avoiding going to sleep together.

Raise your hand if you’re guilty of being mad at your wife, so you try to look busy to avoid going to bed when she does. I know you can’t see me, but my hand is raised high! When Angela and I were newlyweds, we were caught up in the high of falling in love, and we told each other we never wanted to go to bed mad at each other.

We conveniently forgot about that little promise when it suited us.

This is one of the toxic marriage habits that I regret most. Looking back, I can’t even tell you what I was mad about—that’s how important it was. What I can say to you, though, is that doing so stole away times of intimacy and happiness from the one I care for the most. The out of sight, out of mind mentality only works for so long.

Stop pretending to be busy, talk to each other, listen to each other, and if possible, go to bed with each other.

8. Keeping secrets from each other.

A woman with her finger over her mouth showing that she keeps secrets as one of her toxic marriage habits.

You married your spouse because you two chose to spend and share the rest of your life together, not just some of it. That means the good and the bad: the proud moments and the not so proud moments. Keeping secrets from each other is dishonest. It’s no surprise that this one is on our list of toxic marriage habits.

Even leaving out details is a form of lying if you ask me. I’m not saying you have to tell your spouse that you used a fork to eat your yogurt that afternoon because you grabbed it by accident. I’m saying, tell your spouse if anything happened in your day that they should know about.

If your child received discipline at school, your spouse should know about it. If someone you once were in a relationship texts you out of the blue, your spouse should know about it. If you broke something but fixed it before your spouse came home, your spouse should know about it. If you are getting off work early but want to hang with the guys for an hour, your spouse should know about it.

These are all things that you may not realize are important to your spouse. Choosing not to tell your spouse could be taken as lying to them, leading to mistrust.

We don’t want to be undoing the damage of little white lies 30 years down the road. Fessing up to a mistake, telling the truth about your day and your feelings, sharing your life with your spouse, and not keeping things hidden are easy ways to knock this off your list of toxic marriage habits. A little bit of uncomfortable now can save you a lifetime of hurt later.

9. Ignoring the needs of your spouse.

A young married couple showing one of their toxic marriage habits by ignoring the needs of each other while looking at their phones in bed.

You might be saying to yourself, “Wow! How horrible is this! I would never ignore the needs of my one and only true love!” Unfortunately, I believe this is one of the most comfortable toxic marriage habits to fall into. The sad part is you won’t realize you have until you’ve already fallen. The first year of marriage isn’t called the honeymoon phase for nothing. After several years of marriage, sometimes, but not always, you lack that passionate luster you once had for one another.

Yes, we fell into this.

Yes, it took some time to get through it.

Yes, we had to use our good ole communication skills to figure out our way back to a happier marriage.

We became like roommates—taking care of ourselves and the bare minimum of what the other needed. We weren’t rejecting each other on purpose, but it sure did feel like it at times. That rejection can lead to a sense of loneliness, depression, and so on.

Your marriage is like a garden. Like a garden, it needs tending to so it can flourish, or it will be overrun with weeds that eventually choke out the good fruits. If you feel like you are ignoring your spouse’s needs, or yours are being ignored, take a few quick minutes to read how to have a happy and healthy marriage.

If you want to give your relationship an extra spark, try having an at-home date night.

10. Undermining your authority with the kids.

A young couple showing one of their toxic marriage habits by arguing in front of their child.

Toxic marriage habits don’t just affect you and your spouse—I think it’s pretty clear that they can affect your children too. When one parent makes a decision when it comes to a child’s behavior or request, the other parent needs to stand with that same decision, even if they don’t 100% agree.

Why should the other parent agree in front of their children even if they don’t agree with the decision? For a few reasons:

  • Undermining your spouse’s authority shows your children that being married does not mean you are united with your spouse on decision making.
  • Not being united leads to inconsistency in your children’s lives. If one parent always says no, then they go to the next one. Your children have no reason to take you seriously if they can possibly get a yes out of the other parent.
  • Then comes your children having problems with authority. If dad always overturns mom’s decisions, then authority figures don’t need to be trusted because another authority figure could easily prove them wrong.

It’s important to talk with your spouse privately after a decision has been made if you disagree with it. Together, you can decide if it needs to be changed. Your kids don’t need to hear you discussing it in front of them.

It is equally important to stay united with your spouse about the initial decision. Standing with your spouse proves that they can trust you to have their back, no matter what the circumstances.

In conclusion:

Creating a mindset of receiving fulfillment from your better half’s happiness helps put an end to the toxic marriage habits and helps your spouse put an end to theirs. Falling in love is easy, but real love takes real work. Our goal in marriage isn’t to make each other miserable. Our goal is to help each other become the best versions of ourselves. It’s never too late to salvage your marriage through kindness.

To be clear:

There’s a difference between toxic marriage habits and an unhealthy marriage. A marriage where someone is unsafe, either physically or emotionally, is a serious matter. If you suffer at the hands of domestic violence, please—I can’t stress this enough—please call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233), or click here to visit National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website.

Do you feel you are continually fighting an uphill battle against toxic marriage habits? What are some ways you’ve found to put an end to your toxic marriage habits? Let us know in the comments below! If you found this article helpful, please share it, pin it, tweet it, email it to help others. Be sure to subscribe at the bottom of this page to stay in the loop!

2 thoughts on “10 Toxic Marriage Habits and How to Change Them”

  1. To quote Simone de Beauvoir — ‘To catch a husband is an art; to hold him is a job.’

    I can’t agree more with your suggestions on this topic. Good that you guys have come to realize what the toxic patterns in your marriage are. That said, consider half the battle won. I admire how open and honest you are about each of your shortcomings.

    Me and my husband met in China. We don’t have many friends here, and on top of everything, we were in business together long before lockdown began. More often we resort to business methods of communication to solve problems. So we treat the relationship as a science and I can say it really helps.

    1. Thanks, Kat! In relationships, it can be like science to solve each problem. You wouldn’t throw water on a grease fire, just like yelling or lying will never solve a relationship issue. Kindness, understanding, truth, and honesty are proven formulas to help solve relationship problems. Using the right tools will always get the job done! Very cool that you met in China!

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