How to Stop These 10 Toxic Habits from Sneaking into Your Marriage

How to Stop These 10 Toxic Habits from Sneaking into Your Marriage

Next month my husband and I will celebrate ten years of marriage. This time of celebration has sent us into a season of reminiscing on how it all started. When I look back on our first few years of marriage and compare them to now, I can see how far the Lord has taken us, and I praise Him for that. I’ve realized that many of our struggles early on were simply bad habits and unhealthy thought patterns that we took into the marriage.

As God has grown us over the years, he has helped us to break those habits, and we’ve experienced more love, happiness, and peace in our marriage as a result. I want the same for you. So here are ten bad habits that couples need to break right now.

*This advice is for good marriages that want to be better. If you are experiencing abuse, seek help at the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at thehotline.org or 1-800-799-7233.

  • 1. Trying to Change One Another

    1. Trying to Change One Another

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    Any attempt to change your spouse will not work in your best interest. Of course, we think if they would do this or stop doing that, things will be better. But our attempts to manipulate or guilt our spouses into “better” behaviors can actually make matters worse.

    So what can we do when we really want our spouse to change? We can influence, counsel, and motivate our spouses and leave the results up to God. When we try to take matters into our own hands, we find ourselves more frustrated than when we started.

    The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. - Proverbs 21:1 ESV

    I’ve learned to trust the Lord to move the heart of my husband and my heart as well because guess what? God is the only one who can change our hearts anyway. When we try to change someone, we are trying to take God’s place, and we become out of alignment with our prospective roles in marriage. This causes all types of chaos and even miss trust. No one wants to feel controlled and manipulated. Our better option is to openly communicate our needs, pray about it, and give it to God.

  • 2. Having Unrealistic Expectations

    2. Having Unrealistic Expectations

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    The fastest way to marital dissatisfaction is our desperate attempts at holding onto unrealistic expectations. Each spouse will come into the marriage with different family backgrounds, experiences, and dreams that will all determine what we expect from our marriage and one another. So it’s important to ask what experiences and beliefs have formed our expectations and contemplate if they are even realistic.

    Some of our most toxic unrealistic expectations come from what we see on TV or read in books or online.

    -- Marital problems in a sitcom are resolved in a quick 22 minutes. That’s not real life.

    -- A reality show may show a couple with three kids and a perfectly clean home. That’s not real life.

    -- Fairytales show happy romantic relationships with no disagreements or strife. That’s not real life.

    If you want to set yourself up for a good (not perfect) marriage, make sure you and your spouse figure out what works best for the both of you and let go of unrealistic expectations.

    Question to ask yourself: what expectations have I brought into our marriage about sex, housekeeping, children, work, etc. that I might not realize? 

  • 3. Not Communicating Expectations

    3. Not Communicating Expectations

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    You might think from point #2 that all expectations are bad. That’s not true. There is nothing wrong with having expectations, as long as they are effectively communicated and agreed upon. However, when we have expectations that we haven’t even communicated, we set our marriages up for failure.

    We cannot expect our spouses to know what we want without telling them. And often, we need to talk through the same expectations more than once! The thing is, communication is hard, especially in marriage, but it needs to always be developed so you can create healthy lines of communication to let your spouse know what you desire and expect.

    Looking for some help with your communication skills? Here are 4 Tips for Improving Communication in Your Marriage

  • 4. Leaving God Out the Marriage

    4. Leaving God Out the Marriage

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    Marriage is not just between two people. Marriage is between a man, a woman, and God.

    We’re usually very happy when we first get married. The romance is fresh and the excitement is still buzzing. Things are generally looking up. However, we have a tendency to forget God when we get what we want. We lose sight of our dependence on Him when we are happy and feel like we are not in need. This is very dangerous for your marriage.

    You’ve probably already figured out that the honeymoon does not last as long as we would like. Struggles, temptations, and disagreements await. This is not unusual, nor does it mean that you are doing something wrong. It means that relying on our own strength won’t keep you in it for the long run.

    The good news is, we’re not alone in our marriages. God wants us to invite Him into our marriages to give us His strength when we are weak, His light in times for darkness, His truth when doubts arise. 

  • 5. Seeing Your Spouse as Your Enemy

    5. Seeing Your Spouse as Your Enemy

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    When challenges arise in our marriages, our greatest temptation will be to see our spouse as the enemy. But the Bible tells us differently.

    For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. - Ephesians 6:12 ESV

    In a marriage, both spouses are on the same team. If there ever arises a need to fight, it’s not against one another. Ever. If you’re going to fight, fight for unity. Fight for humility. Fight for peace. But the most significant waste of your time and energy will be to fight one another. When we fight each other no one wins.

  • 6. Not Fighting at All

    6. Not Fighting at All

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    This may seem contrary to my previous point, but stay with me. I still stand by the truth we should not fight our spouse as the enemy. But we still need to fight for our marriages. This means having difficult conversations, making sacrifices, and putting in the hard work especially when it’s challenging.

    Avoiding the challenges altogether may prevent tension for the moment, but trust me, unresolved issues in a marriage always resurface in the future at more intensity than before. So don’t cover up and avoid confrontation. When problems arise address them together as teammates with the same mission: a healthy and honest marriage that gives God glory.

  • 7. Not Being Kind

    7. Not Being Kind

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    This may seem obvious. And it might seem like such a small thing. It’s one of the first and simplest lessons we learn as children: share and be nice. The thing is, once we get comfortable in marriage, we can often take for granted our loved one.

    So how can you practice being kind? A simple smile when they get home, or a thank you for washing the dishes or taking out the trash can go much farther than you may think.

    Ask yourself: When was the last time I was intentionally kind to my spouse? How can I show them love and kindness in ways that speaks to their specific love language?

  • 8. Not Addressing Old Wounds

    8. Not Addressing Old Wounds

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    It’s easy to take old baggage into your marriage. We all do, and some of us have more baggage we’re hauling around than others!

    It’s good to be honest and open about past hurtful relationships or family issues that may affect how you relate to your spouse. You’ve probably heard the popular saying “hurt people hurt people.” Going into a marriage with emotional brokenness will not heal you. Unresolved brokenness and unhealthy coping mechanisms only lead to more hurt.

    For this reason, I highly recommend pre-marital counseling to address any needed healing before getting married. 

  • 9. Not Getting Help When You Need It

    9. Not Getting Help When You Need It

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    Of course, some issues will not surface until after marriage. In this case, counseling should not be limited to pre-marriage. The Bible tells us to seek wise counsel.

    Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. - Proverbs 15:22 ESV

    Seeking trusted, professional, and biblical guidance, especially during challenging seasons, can help you out of hurtful patterns harming your marriage.

  • 10. Isolating Yourselves

    10. Isolating Yourselves

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    When you’re enjoying wedded bliss, it’s easy only to be consumed with each other. This is good for a season but don’t forget personal friendships are essential to your overall well-being. So don’t forget to cultivate those relationships too.

    I hope these tips help you as you enter marriage. This truly is a special bond that grows deeper with time and glorifies God in ways we may never truly be able to grasp. My hope is that you’ll keep God first and see Him move in great ways through your marriage.

    Christina Patterson is a wife and stay-at-home mom with a passion to encourage women in the love of Jesus Christ and the truth of God’s Word. When she is not folding laundry or playing blocks you will find her with her head deep in her Bible or a commentary. She holds her masters in Theology from Liberty University and is the founder of Beloved Women, a non-profit providing resources and community for women to truly know who they are in Christ: His Beloved. She blogs at belovedwomen.org.