Good, bad, fantastic, toxic, perfect, insufferable. We are all guilty of tossing around descriptors as if our personal interpretations are facts. Descriptions of relationships are no different. New partners are somehow always “perfect” in the beginning. But then, fast forward years past “I do,” and those same can-do-no-wrong destiny-makers are suddenly bad marriage antagonists.
As subjective as personal perceptions are, criteria for the health and “goodness” of a relationship are surprisingly objective and often measurable.
Likewise for a bad relationship or bad marriage.
It’s natural to go through periods of disappointment, boredom, frustration, and even questioning in a marriage.
Love, after all, has its predictable stages that come with growing pains and stretch marks. You know to expect them, but they still register with disquieting surprise.
Despite the evolution of love over time, even a good marriage can become a bad marriage. Lack of attention, poor communication skills, and unresolved childhood trauma carried forward. The list of underlying causes can be long, complex, and insidious.
And yet, there are cautionary signs of a toxic marriage – signs uniquely scripted to any relevant marriage while telling a common story.
By the time a marriage becomes toxic, it has probably passed through “unhappy” and even “bad.”
Some of the signs of a bad marriage include, usually in combination:
- Lack of interest in spending time together
- Lack of physical intimacy
- Fantasizing about life without your partner, perhaps with a different partner
- Thinking about divorce
- Making someone other than your partner your primary confidante
- Infidelity, whether emotional or sexual
- Constant arguing, usually about the same thing(s)
- Not arguing at all
- Constant criticism
- Keeping secrets
- Not feeling heard
- Not listening
- Wanting different things out of your relationship and life
- Unexplained health issues
- Lack of self-care
- Changes in sleep, eating, weight, exercise
- Wondering if you made the “wrong” decision when you married
Interestingly, the health of you and/or your spouse can be a barometer of the health of your marriage.
One of the bragging rights of ‘til-death-do-us-part is that it helps postpone the “death” part.
Marriage, in general, comes with health benefits that surpass those of single people. Longer life spans, better mental health, better immune function, lower cortisol levels, and greater adherence to medical direction are just a few of the notable benefits.
First, there currently is no evidence to causally link these health benefits to marriage. That is, marriage isn’t, in and of itself, a safeguard against heart attacks, cancer, depression, and early death.
Second, the health and happiness of the marriage are also a predictor of those benefits.
People in stressful, unhappy marriages may be worse off than single people surrounded by loving support systems.
Cortisol levels, for example, have a fascinating connection not only to stress but to the predictability of marital happiness and stability years into the future.
At least for women.
So what are some of the long-term health impacts of a bad marriage?
- Delayed healing of simple wounds
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of cancer
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
- Increased risk of arthritis
- Increased risk of depression
- Changes in appetite regulation
- Decreased immune function
- Increased release of stress hormones
- Increased inflammation
So much for all the health benefits of marriage!
The point to be made here, though, isn’t about how marriage by itself can benefit the health of those in it. It’s about how the quality of the relationship and what the partners do for one another can benefit – or harm – the health of those in the marriage.
So, what are your choices if you find yourself in an unhappy marriage? A bad marriage? A toxic marriage?
You can choose to get your needs met outside your marriage.
But how does being a cheating wife make you any better than a cheating husband? Cheating is still cheating – an avoidance of accountability to and within your marriage, regardless of who has done what.
And cheating as a way of dealing with a bad marriage does nothing to make your marriage better.
On the contrary, it will make it more difficult to repair your marriage if the two of you decide to stay together.
And it could put your settlement and future at risk if you end up divorcing. (Not because the law will hold it against you in the divorce process, but your husband may.)
You could choose to end your marriage to get away from the negativity and/or toxicity.
But remember that divorce is a demanding process with lifelong consequences. And there are a lot of things you will need to do if you are thinking about divorce.
If your marriage has reached a level of toxicity, however, divorce may be the wisest and healthiest solution for your future.
Living with abuse, addiction, contempt, and/or power and control disparity, for example, doesn’t lend itself to a DIY solution.
And, if you have children, their welfare may be at risk, as well.
Leaving your marriage, however – regardless of your reasons – won’t save you the work of self-reflection, grief, forgiveness, and starting over.
Finally, you have the choice of working on your marriage.
Only you know what makes your marriage “bad.” It’s not the word that should decide your course of action, but your experience, perception, and intuition about any lingering hope.
If you and your spouse still have a foundation of love and respect for one another, divorce may be a hasty resignation.
You may not feel love or know how to express it in a healthy, healing way. But there is always help available for those who ask for it.
Remember that divorce doesn’t “fix” any underlying issues that lead to it.
It may free you of a toxic or hostile environment that is prohibitive to your growth and well-being. But it doesn’t, in and of itself, provide the healing, clarity, or self-awareness necessary to prepare for a new life… and even new love.
Before making a decision about how to resolve a bad marriage, spend the time – ideally with professional guidance – evaluating why your marriage is bad. Getting a professional perspective from someone who is trained and understands your circumstances is key. This professional will help you understand what is normal, what is not and what steps you could be taking to look at your circumstances in a different way, other than the well-practiced version you may be telling yourself. This professional could be a marriage therapist or discernment counselor for you as a couple, or a therapist or divorce coach to support you individually.
If you and your spouse haven’t made every effort to work through your issues with respect, equality, and willingness to seek help, perhaps your work isn’t done.
There’s no denying the impact of a bad marriage. But knowing how to recognize its salvageability or finality is the beginning of prudence.
And prudence is always a wise choice when something as important as marriage is at stake.
Even if you are “just thinking” about divorce, choose not to go it alone.
Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional and oftentimes complicated experience of divorce. SAS offers all women six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.