How to Leave a Toxic Marriage

When you can't fix it, it's time to get out

toxic marriage
Rubberball/Mike Kemp/Creative RF/Getty

A good marriage can elevate your life in ways that you never thought were possible. A bad marriage can leave you heartbroken, depressed and listless. Relationships that have patterns of abuse (physical or emotional), chaos, repeated infidelity, inappropriate sexual behavior, drug abuse and so on, are more common than you might think. This is a serious problem, and its effects can often be crippling.

These unhealthy, toxic relationships are often baffling to people on the outside. Surely, if someone makes you miserable and hurts you physically and emotionally, the obvious decision is to leave them, right? Well, the truth is often more complicated. People get tied up in relationship patterns that can be hard to break out of. Many people also feel trapped financially or worry about their children. In fact, women make an average of seven attempts to finally end an abusive relationship.

Why is it so hard to exit a toxic marriage?

In these kinds of marriages, one partner is likely to be extremely manipulative towards the other. This frequently comes in the form of threatening the partner with physical, emotional and sometimes even financial consequences if the other person talks about leaving. Lots of fear is instilled in the victim. For couples who have children together, it can be very challenging to set themselves free because it will be difficult for them.

If you've been in a roller-coaster relationship for a long time, it can be hard to discover the self-worth that will help you head out the door. You may even believe that you are really the cause of the problem or to blame. Feeling crazy is a common phenomenon as the perpetrator in the marriage is often an expert at gaslighting.

Additionally, a lot of people hide the nature of their relationships from their friends, family, and acquaintances. As a result, they silently suffer because they are too ashamed to ask anyone for help. They might turn to drugs or alcohol for solace, worsening the toll that the relationship is taking.

How should you get out of a toxic marriage?

Ending a bad relationship can be really complicated, so here are some things you should use to make the process as easier.

·         Build a safety net.

If you're thinking of ending a relationship, make a plan for how you are going to deal with the transition. Where will you stay? What possessions will you need to bring along? Don’t do this haphazardly. This process should be well thought out.

·         Set a goal to be independent.

If you do not have a career or a way to support yourself, it is time to begin carving this path. Go to school, get training, begin a job (even a low level or part-time job). Your financial independence is one of the main roads to freedom.

·         Let someone know.

No more secrets. Confide in a family member or friend so that they can help you with the process. If you feel threatened, inform the local authorities that you are going to need help.

·         Seek professional help.

Leaving and recovering from a toxic relationship will take effort and time. Reach out to support groups or counselors who are experienced in relationship problems. A therapist can be a great impartial resource to guide you and hold you accountable for creating and meeting your goals. An experienced family law attorney is also necessary. You will need to reflect on some of your own behavior in the marriage as well. 

·         Stop talking to your partner.

Toxic people are very cunning and can use emotional blackmail to lure you back in. When you make the decision to separate or end the marriage, terminate any form of communication with them unless you have children and need to co-parent.

In this case, only communicate on concerns about the children. If you need to file a restraining order, so be it.

·         Indulge yourself with things you love doing.

Being part of a toxic relationship is extremely detrimental to your self-esteem. It will take some time before you are ready to be part of another relationship. Don’t rush this! Take time for yourself. To help yourself recover, make time for hobbies that you ignored during your marriage. Start working on a pet project or your own business. Take that trip you've always wanted to.

Leaving an unhealthy and toxic marriage is a tremendously difficult step to take. But if you want to find happiness and comfort in your life again, you have to make the leap. There are good people out there. Don't let this experience sabotage your pursuit of happiness. When the time is right, you will find someone who makes you happy.

GET WEEKLY UPDATES FROM THE MARRIAGE TOPIC DELIVERED RIGHT TO YOUR EMAIL...SIGN UP HERE!