How to Leave a Toxic Marriage

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

How to leave toxic marriage

Verywell / Jessica Olah 

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), disharmony, 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/or 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.

You can contact an advocate or counselor to find ways to reduce your risk or to seek support or shelter by contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 or TTY (800) 787-3224.

Why It's Hard to Leave

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 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 leave because of the perceived negative impact on the children.

If you've been in a roller-coaster relationship for a long time, it can be hard to see a way out the door. You may even believe that you are really the cause of the problem. 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.

6 Steps

Ending a bad relationship can be really complicated. Here are some things you can do to make the process easier.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 issues. 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.
  5. 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, do so.
  6. Indulge yourself. Being part of a toxic relationship is extremely detrimental to your self-esteem and mental health. It may 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. Start working on a pet project or your own business. Take that trip you've always wanted to go on.

A Word From Verywell

Leaving an unhealthy and toxic marriage is a tremendously difficult and brave 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 joy.

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Article Sources
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  1. Bloch L, Haase CM, Levenson RW. Emotion regulation predicts marital satisfaction: more than a wives' tale. Emotion. 2014;14(1):130–144. doi:10.1037/a0034272