In Christian circles, toxic marriage is not often discussed. They are taught how to have healthy relationships (to an extent) based on what the Bible tells them to do. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church.” “Wives submit to your husbands as the church submits to Christ.” They are told that infidelity is wrong, and that divorce is a sin.

What they are not taught is what to do when a marriage becomes toxic – like poison – slowly destroying one or both people until nothing is left. Christian culture has begun talking about what it looks like to deal with other types of toxic relationships.

However, when Christian couples are in toxic marriages, they frequently get advice from pastors or leaders within the church telling them to keep their struggles quiet, keep leading in the church despite their marriage problems, and that divorce is never an option for them.

Wives leave feeling like they should always submit even if their husbands are abusive, manipulative, and controlling. Husbands leave feeling like they should love their wives even after their wives have cheated on them. Nothing gets resolved. People remain stuck in lifeless, life-draining marriages with no real help.

All marriages go through hard moments and seasons, and no marriage is perfect. When a marriage becomes toxic, it is important to take it seriously and know the best next steps. Here are some of the signs of a toxic marriage:

Signs of a Toxic Marriage

Secrets/ Deceit

From one or both partners, keeping secrets or repeatedly deceiving one another is a sign that the marriage has gotten very unhealthy. Trust is foundational to a long-lasting, life-giving marriage. The Relational Attachment Model says that good relationships are founded on intimate knowledge, the ability to rely on each other, full trust, commitment, and touch. If partners can’t trust one another, then what is the point of being in a committed marriage?


Sometimes couples can find themselves like two ships passing in the night. Their lives become so busy with kids and work and extracurricular activities that they realize they barely speak to or spend time with one another. Withdrawal is different. It is more intentional. People withdraw when they are hurt or struggling with something.

When one or both partners intentionally withdraw from each other, not talking or spending time together or even discussing the problems in their relationship, their marriage is on the brink of divorce, according to John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Manipulation/ Controlling Behavior

Though many assume this behavior comes from a narcissistic husband, wives can be this way, too. This type of behavior can get so bad that it becomes emotionally abusive. Some examples of manipulative or controlling behavior include:

  • Gaslighting
  • Lying to get what they want
  • Threats
  • Giving unnecessary ultimatums
  • Not allowing one’s partner to go anywhere or do anything
  • Being the “boss” in the family
  • It’s your way or the highway
  • Placing unrealistic and unhealthy expectations on the partner
  • Controlling the family schedule

Kids are the center

In modern culture, kids are too often the center of the family. Life revolves around them completely – around their schedules and activities. Unfortunately, marriages fall apart when this is the case. A couple that does not prioritize their marriage will find themselves lost when their kids leave the house.

They no longer know one another because they have not been on a date in eighteen years. They do not like being around each other alone because they have forgotten how. Likewise, the couple should not be the center of the relationship either, because they begin to worship one another. God should be the center, nothing else.


Sexual addiction (e.g. – excessive use of pornography) can be a huge downfall in a marriage. Substance abuse can also be detrimental. When addiction comes into play, people are unable to think clearly and make wise decisions. People can even become abusive.


Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse is unacceptable behavior in a marriage. Pushing, hitting, kicking, or any physical aggression is dangerous and should never be present in a relationship. Partners can also force sex or sexual activities on the unwilling partner.

Emotional abuse can look like the manipulative, controlling behaviors mentioned earlier. Other things could be constant name-calling and degrading language. Abuse can quickly destroy a marriage, and it is never OK. Partners need to feel safe with each other.


This probably seems self-explanatory, but if infidelity is present, a marriage is well past the unhealthy stage. Again, commitment and trust are foundational to a healthy, thriving marriage. Infidelity ruins this. Repeated infidelity can do even worse damage.

Increased selfishness

When one or both partners mainly think of self and self only, marriages can become unhealthy. Marriage is meant to help people learn what it means to love and serve one another, help to meet some of their needs, and let go of selfishness as much as possible. It is good for one person to consider his or her own needs and take care of himself, but when the self becomes the center, this is not good.

What to Do When Your Marriage Becomes Toxic

Seek godly counsel

If you are a member of a Bible-believing church, godly counsel can come in the form of your pastor. If a pastor is not a viable option for you, seek professional counseling from a Christian counselor who can be unbiased and help you see what is going on. Do not wait. Seek counseling now.

Have intentional conversations

Sit down and give one another undivided attention. Allow each person to have the floor while speaking and work hard to avoid interruptions. Discuss the main toxic behaviors that you see in the marriage. Give examples of each thing.

Talk about what needs to happen for the marriage to continue. Some examples of what this could look like include: telling your partner to get professional treatment if they are battling an addiction or telling a person that the secrets cannot continue.

Stop enabling

Many times, when one person exhibits toxic behaviors in a marriage, the partner is also enabling and acting codependent. The partner does not speak up for himself and stays even through abuse. Because the partner “needs” the other so much, he downplays the toxic behaviors and even may hide those behaviors from others to protect the person.

Speaking about these issues openly and honestly with a trusted person or counselor can be the first important step toward healing. Establish some boundaries and be willing to maintain them.

Prioritize one another

Though God needs to be the center always, the marriage needs to come in a close second. Prioritize spending time with God and staying as active as possible in church. Stay in a good community. Many marriages that crumble are not involved in a good Christian community.

Prioritize each other. Go on dates and take trips just the two of you. Spend time everyday reconnecting with undivided attention. Take the time to know one another and keep knowing one another. Your marriage will last long after your kids leave home if you make each other a priority.

Walk away if it is dangerous

If there is any kind of abuse, repeated infidelity, or serious addiction issues, it may be time to walk away. Though divorce breaks the heart of God, it seems highly unlikely that God would want a person to stay in an unsafe situation.

If the person struggling with addiction or abusive behavior is unwilling to get professional help or do anything to change, the situation is no longer safe. However, many people will say that they will change, even promise that, but they keep doing the same things over and over again. In these cases, it may be best to walk away.

No one needs to endure a toxic marriage. Get professional help and if both parties are willing to work toward change, a toxic marriage can become a healthier one overtime. If both parties are not willing to work toward change, it may be time to step away. Toxic marriages can be incredibly painful if nothing is done about them.

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