Dealing with a toxic husband is hard. You feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells.
You question yourself all the time. And you never know when the next argument is going to blow up out of nothing.
It becomes impossible to live like this.
Every relationship has its natural ups and downs, but toxic relationships are almost constantly down.
Toxicity can happen without you even knowing what’s going on until, one day, you realize that you never feel truly happy.
You never feel completely at peace, because you’re always worrying when the next row is going to blow up.
Because it is so constant, you never have space to really think about what you want, whether this is how you want to live or whether you should leave.
You just want it to be back to how it used to be, when you fell in love, went on fun dates, and felt like you were always on the same team.
However toxic your relationship has become, there can be a way back to happiness.
But getting there is going to involve some hard thinking and possibly some tough choices.
That’s scary stuff, and you might find yourself asking ‘Is it really that bad? Is he really toxic, or am I just exaggerating?’
In this article, we’re first going to take you through the signs that your husband is toxic, so you can decide for yourself whether he really is.
Then we’re going to look at what you can do about it, how to decide whether to stay and what you can do to leave if you decide that’s what you need to do.
What are the signs that your husband is toxic?
When you think your husband might be toxic, you often end up doubting yourself. Run through this list of 11 signs so you can decide for yourself whether he really is toxic, or not.
1. You have no say over decisions
Toxicity often manifests as controlling and possessive behavior.
Do you find that you never get to choose what happens, even over the little things?
Does your husband always have to choose what to have for dinner, even though you’re the one doing the cooking?
Does he criticise your choice of clothes, so that you always end up going to change?
Do you always have to go to bed at the same time as him, or he sulks the whole next day?
These might sound like tiny things, but they’re often part of a bigger picture.
The husband who keeps on telling you he hates your dress, is probably also going to be unhappy about you taking the lead on bigger decisions.
Or worse, he might not want you to have a say at all.
What happens if you talk about the future? Are you too scared to even mention it?
Maybe you’ve always dreamed about moving out of the city, and you thought he did too, but now he’s refusing to even discuss it?
Or perhaps you want children, and you got married having planned for that, but now he’s acting like you never even mentioned it before (leaving you distressed and heartbroken)?
It’s not that you have to always agree. And it’s not that he can’t change his mind.
But in healthy relationships, there’s always a willingness to discuss and compromise over decisions, both large and small.
In a toxic relationship, you end up going along with whatever he wants because you’re scared of the fallout if you don’t.
2. You feel depressed and tired all the time
A toxic relationship will feel like it’s draining the life out of you. Does that sound familiar?
If you feel like you can never get enough sleep, even though you slept 9 hours, that’s a sign there’s something wrong.
Or if you constantly feel flat and find it hard to take pleasure in the things that used to bring you joy, then there’s something wrong.
These feelings aren’t always caused by a toxic relationship, but they don’t come out of nowhere. Be honest with yourself about why this might be happening to you.
3. Your friends keep trying to tell you something’s wrong
Often, your friends will be able to tell before you can that you’re in a toxic relationship, especially if they’re friends that knew you before this relationship started.
If they’ve seen you go from a happy, sociable person to someone who rarely socializes and just doesn’t seem to have the same love for the life they used to, they’ll know why.
Think about the conversations you’ve had with friends recently. Have they mentioned your husband? Or have you always got the feeling that they don’t like him?
They have your interests at heart, so it’s worth hearing what they have to say (even if it’s painful).
4. He tries to stop you from seeing your friends
Because your friends will nearly always know if there’s something wrong, a toxic husband will probably not be too keen on you seeing your friends.
Do you find that your husband keeps on finding excuses to join you on nights out with your friends?
Is there always a reason why you have to cancel that long-awaited girls’ dinner?
Does he refuse to ever have a BBQ or dinner party at your house, even when you owe a ton of people return invites?
A toxic husband will often try and justify trying to isolate you from others as a sign of his love for you.
He might tell you that he’s worried that you’ll end up getting too drunk if he’s not there to protect you, or that another man might try and take advantage.
He’ll tell you that he loves you so much that he doesn’t want to be without you, even for an evening.
But in healthy relationships, both partners need space to be themselves, to socialize apart as well as together, and to pursue whatever hobbies they choose.
5. Your husband isn’t the one you go to for support
One of the wonderful things about a fulfilling, healthy relationship is that you are each other’s biggest source of support and guidance. When you hear people say ‘he’s my rock’, this is what they mean.
In a toxic relationship, you’ll often do everything you can to hide any emotional distress from your husband.
He’s the last person you go to when you need to talk something through, not the first.
You’re scared that if you ask him for support, he’ll react with anger or simply be dismissive.
If he’s also isolated you from your friends, then you’ll be left with no source of support at all.
He doesn’t like it when you try and improve yourself
Toxic husbands will often do anything they can to stop you mixing with new people, or trying new things, or visiting new places.
They’re scared that if you do, you’ll grow away from them and have a reason to leave.
Maybe you want to start training for a dream new career, but he makes it clear he thinks you’ll fail, so you don’t bother.
Or perhaps you want to start running, but he constantly finds reasons why you shouldn’t go out for a run.
He might even tell you that by trying to do the thing you want to do, that you’re damaging your marriage.
He’s scared and insecure, and that insecurity means he can’t risk feeling that you’re achieving more than him.
He needs to feel that you’re less accomplished and successful than he is.
6. You always get the blame
Because a toxic husband is so insecure about himself, he’ll always seek to deflect blame on to you.
If he scrapes the car while parking, he’ll tell you it was your fault for distracting him. If he burns the dinner, it’ll be your fault for not offering to cook, as you should have known he was too tired.
He’s unable to accept responsibility for ordinary mishaps and small failures, because his fragile ego has to believe that he’s beyond reproach.
He’ll also go over the top with his criticism when you make small mistakes. You might yourself being given 24 hours of the silent treatment just because you forgot to pick up food for dinner, for example.
In healthy relationships, both partners accept that they will sometimes make minor mistakes, and that this is just part of life, and usually something to laugh about together, rather than argue about.
A non-toxic partner will ring for a pizza when you forget dinner, and then open the wine to celebrate your unexpected treat night. He won’t spend hours telling you you’re awful.
7. You never have sex…or even cuddle
Toxic relationships are not loving, happy partnerships. And it’s no surprise that if you’re with someone who constantly criticizes you, that you’ll find yourself unwilling to have sex with them.
Lack of emotional intimacy leads to lack of physical intimacy.
But it’s not all about sex. In a relationship that’s becoming toxic, any kind of physical closeness will often stop.
You’ll find that you watch TV from different couches (or even different rooms).
You never share a spontaneous cuddle in the kitchen. You eat dinner in silence without even really looking at each other.
A toxic husband might also use sex and intimacy as a tool of control.
He’ll withhold it as a punishment for you doing things he sees as ‘wrong’, and if you do have sex, it might be rough, unemotional and one-sided. He won’t make you feel loved and cherished, but used.
8. You’re always arguing
Every couple argues sometimes. But in a toxic relationship, you might get into a volatile cycle of constant arguing with extreme highs and lows.
Your relationship, and your life, feel constantly unstable. You might even find that he keeps on breaking up with you after an argument, only to get back together the next day. This leaves you constantly trying to keep him happy to avoid the draining breakup-makeup cycle.
Can a marriage to a toxic man be saved?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: only if both parties in the marriage are willing to talk openly and honestly, and are able to change.
It’s worth remembering, before you try and save your toxic marriage, that many such marriages simply can’t be saved.
There is a difference between a toxic marriage, and one that is abusive. If your husband has become abusive, either to you or (if you have them), your children, then you tread extremely carefully.
If you want to try and save it, and be aware that it is very likely that you won’t be able to do so.
Experts recommend that if your marriage has become physically abusive, that you don’t attempt to save it.
Doing so could put you in danger, and it’s important that you get out of the marriage to stay safe.
Emotional abuse is often a precursor to physical abuse, so even if your husband is not yet physically abusive, you should be aware that this may change.
Anyone in a marriage that is abusive should seek professional help.
If you feel that your husband is toxic, but not necessarily abusive, then there is a chance that you can save your marriage.
It’s worth remembering that pretty much everyone is capable of some level of toxic or unhealthy behavior in a relationship. Few, if any, relationships are perfect.
The difference between healthy relationships where people sometimes behave in ways that are unhealthy, and toxic relationships, is communication.
It’s unlikely that you and your husband will always be completely aligned in your goals, values and dreams.
There will always be times when you disagree or where you have different priorities.
It is loving communication and appreciation of each other, both as partners and friends, that will make the difference to whether or not you can get past toxicity and re-establish a healthy connection.
Do you think that’s possible in your relationship? Talk to your husband. Tell him, openly and honestly, how you feel when he engages in toxic behavior.
If you feel that he’s constantly critical of you, talk (when you’re calm, rather than when you’re angry), about how that makes you feel.
He might simply be so caught up in his own insecurity that he hasn’t stopped to think about how he’s making you feel.
If he tries to stop you seeing your friends, talk to him about why your friends are important to you.
Perhaps he, wrongly, feels that you wanting to spend time with them means that you’re pulling away from him, and he’s worried he’ll lose you.
These feelings aren’t necessarily rational on his part, and might be the result of deep-seated insecurities developed in childhood.
It may be that, by recognizing and talking about them, you can work together to change the toxic patterns you’ve got into.
To change your toxic relationship, you should:
- Talk openly and honestly about how you feel. Listen to him and ask him to listen to you.
- Re-establish your physical connection. Even if you’re tired at the end of a long day, take time just to hug each other. The natural endorphins that result from physical touch will go a long way to healing your relationship.
- Commit to spending time with each other, feeling thankful that you have each other and respecting each other both as friends and partners.
- If your husband is unwilling to do this, then it might, sadly, be time to end the relationship. Not every relationship can be saved, even with counseling.
Remember that you deserve to be happy, and if you have children, that they deserve a happy home.
What to do if you have children in a toxic relationship
If you have children with a toxic husband, then it’s often tempting to stay in the relationship because you want to keep your family together.
You might also be worried that, if you leave, your children will have to spend time alone with your toxic husband, without you there to make sure that he doesn’t become toxic towards them.
But having children can also be a pressing reason why you should leave a toxic husband.
Even if you think that the toxicity in your relationship is being kept away from the children and that they’re not aware of any arguments or unhappiness, it’s likely that they are absorbing some of the toxicity.
Children whose parents are in a toxic relationship will often feel anxious.
If they see their parents unable to control their emotions, then they might feel that they are responsible for calming those emotions.
They might feel guilty, as if it is their fault that their parents are arguing or unhappy. And they might compare your relationship to those of their friends’ parents, who will often seem happier and more stable.
Children who grow up in a toxic environment, often end up repeating the same toxic patterns of behavior as adults.
None of this means that you shouldn’t try and save your relationship with your toxic husband if there are kids involved.
Just as if you didn’t have kids, it’s important for you to be communicative, loving and open with each other if you want to save your marriage.
If you can do this successfully, then you’ll have taught your kids a wonderful lesson in how to manage their emotions and change their behavior.
But, if you can’t, don’t be tempted to stay together ‘for the children’.
Instead of staying in a toxic relationship that you can’t fix, you’ll be able to give them two happy homes rather than one unhappy one.
How to leave a toxic relationship
Leaving a toxic relationship is really difficult.
Just because you’ve been unhappy, doesn’t mean that you don’t love your husband. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love you.
But love isn’t always enough. Feeling that you love your husband, even though he behaves in a toxic way, doesn’t make you happy.
If you’ve been in a toxic relationship for some time, it’s easy to forget the importance of happiness.
It might have been such a long time since you felt truly happy and relaxed, that you can’t remember what it felt like.
You might find that you hang on to memories of the early days of your relationship, when you did feel truly happy, and be desperate to recreate them.
But, if you’ve tried talking and communicating, and your husband isn’t willing to cooperate, then it’s very unlikely that your relationship is going to change.
Without open communication, your relationship will only get more toxic, not less. And if that’s where you find yourself, it’s time to move on.
If you’ve been with your husband for a long time, it can be very difficult to figure out the practicalities of splitting.
Even if he no longer makes you happy, you might be struggling to see how you can leave.
To do it, you need support. Start by talking to a trusted friend about your feelings.
Even if you’ve never opened up before, she’ll have known that there is something wrong.
She’ll be relieved that you’ve finally admitted it. Just talking about your feelings will help you see how you can make a change.
With your friends’ support, make plans for leaving, but don’t tell your husband until you’re actually about to go.
If you think he might be dangerous, don’t tell him at all – leave when he’s away or at work.
Think about where you’ll stay, or how you’ll get him to leave your home. Make sure you have a secret bank account for your leaving fund.
And decide where you want to be in a year’s time – having a vision of your future will make it easier to get out and stick to it.
What should you do about your toxic husband?
Many relationships become toxic, often so gradually that you don’t know what’s happening.
If your relationship is toxic, you probably find that you don’t get much control over your own life, and that he is constantly criticizing and trying to stop you from doing things you want to do.
He’ll find a way to make you cancel dinner with your best friend, or change out of the dress you love that is too revealing for his liking.
There’ll be arguments over small things all the time and you’ll just never feel comfortable with him.
Over time, you’ll get more depressed and anxious, and you’ll almost certainly never want sex.
When this happens, don’t panic. You might be able to fix it, but only if you both want to.
If he is willing to talk openly and honestly and recognize his mistakes, then your relationship can be saved.
But if it can’t be, then it’s important that you leave, even (or especially) if you have children. Get the support you need and make a plan for a non-toxic future.
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