Toxic Behaviors Will Gradually Become Bigger Marital Issues

Revised 9/22/19

We all have marital issues. Some seem to come out of nowhere; an emotional affair, financial infidelity, or discovering that your partner has a sexual compulsivity problem or a substance abuse problem are but a few examples.

I’ve talked a lot in previous posts about these sudden, traumatic revelations during a marriage. Some marital issues are solvable, but some are perpetual, and will never be solved. But these marital issues can be managed skillfully with good couples therapy.

Research is now uncovering a distinct set of behaviors that chip away at trust and confidence in gradual and subtle ways. These behaviors slowly become looming marital issues.

Here are 11 toxic behaviors that will become significant marital issues:

Emotional Intolerance.

This is an issue that typically plagues husbands more than wives. Some men bristle at the first sign of frustration or irritation from their partners. Consequently, their wives feel that only pleasant and positive emotions are welcome.

Women are fundamentally different from men in that they have a higher tolerance for complicated, negative feelings. They still feel that emotional connection is possible through talking these feelings through.

Men see negative emotions as “problems,” which are a direct comment on their competence and capacities as partners. They often minimize, marginalize, deflect, or devalue their spouse’s emotions.

This typically results in the escalation of an attack-defend pattern, which results in the “walk-away wife.”

You Can Be Right, or You Can Be Married.

Some spouses are incredibly competitive. They are so insecure or anxious that they are perpetually correcting their partners over trivial matters of facts or data. I see this trait in highly intelligent couples often.

I once worked with a couple who slid into nasty arguments.

I once saw them fight about what kind of bugs were on their windshield during their last vacation.

After watching them argue for a few minutes, I asked: “so which one of you is an entomologist?”


Neither of them. He ran a political non-profit, and she was a VP of marketing.

This is a subtle toxic behavior that can slowly make conversation more of an effort. It’s one of the most preventable marital issues, and science-based couples therapy can help you break this bad habit.

Chronic Scorekeeping.

This is often found with needing to be “chronically right.” It’s another expression of the inclination to be toxically competitive. In this pattern, the normal “give and take” is subordinated into a fear of being exploited.

When your partner is keeping too close a score on “who does what,” it slowly erodes the capacity for mutual trust, goodwill, and gratitude.

Talking At Your Partner Instead of Talking With Your Partner


Another toxic competitive behavior is being a conversational overachiever.

When we get physiologically aroused, we aren’t listening; we’re waiting to talk at our partner. This usually happens because they’re talking at us as well.

Talking to your spouse as if they were someone you loved means pausing, checking in, and asking questions. That’s how you avoid dealing with an angry wife or husband.

Communication is a fundamental skill in any intimate relationship. We learn about communication in our family of origin. Any skills or deficits we may have, we first acquired them as a witness to our caregivers’ pattern of interaction.

The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting. Fran Lebowitz.

Poor communication can lead to marital issues over time. There’s a considerable difference between assertively asking for what you want instead and subjecting our partner to an endless barrage of criticism that will slowly kill any mutual desire for communication.

Failure to Set Time Aside for Meaningful Conversations.

At CTI, we deal with highly successful couples. They consistently complain that time management is a constant struggle. Powerful couples are pulled in multiple directions. They eventually become pretty good at being their individually successful selves, but they suck at being a couple.

These couples can increase their effectiveness by holding regular Generative Conversations. In science-based couples therapy, we help our clients assess what they are doing and why. We teach them to share what matters to each of them.

This helps assure the quality of their bond by teaching them to be more selfish about protecting their relationship from trivial outside pressures.

Marital issues can be processed, managed, or resolved through the habit of regular Generative Conversations.

Failure to Accept What Is.

marital-issuesGottman’s research tells us that 69% of all marital issues are fundamentally unsolvable.

They must be managed or accepted. If you keep aggressively trying to change your partner, over time, resentment will grow, and so will the marital problems between you.

You are different people.

Differentiation is a concept in couples therapy that reminds us that we are each unique individuals. You will not agree completely on everything. Failure to accept what can be a pathway to inconsolability, which is one of the most toxic marital issues.


A great marriage is not when the perfect couple comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.  Dave Meurer.

Inconsolability…One of the Most Toxic Marital Issues.

If you can’t forgive, explore your capacity to accept. Inconsolability is a massive roadblock to marital happiness. Whether the offenses are petty or profound… if you’re going to stay together, get some help in couples therapy putting it behind you. Inconsolability is one of the most toxic marital issues. It is both emotionally overwhelming and inherently disrespectful.

Acceptance is a key element of marital respect.

If you’re unwilling to forgive your spouse or accept them for who they are, or for the mistakes they’ve made, marital happiness and contentment will continue to elude you. Dr. Gottman considers inconsolability as a significant obstacle to having a “good-enough” relationship.

Adult ADD, OCD, Asperger’s, Developmental Trauma, or other Neuro-Atypical Behaviors…One of the Most Hidden Marital Issues.

Your partner is unpredictable, quirky, insensitive, selfish, nervous…fill in the blank.

You have a story about them because their behavior requires an explanation.

Dr. K works with couples struggling to deal with Asperger’s, and CTI team members can helps couples to cope better with Adult ADD. What if your partner isn’t an insensitive narcissist or a lazy good for nothing who can’t finish anything? What if you are a Neuro-Typical/Neuro-Atypical couple?

What if you just need some skills to manage these cognitive differences effectively?

Science-based couples therapy can help you both deal with these exasperating brain-based differences. It can help you communicate more effectively before you run out of patience and goodwill.

Weak or Non-Existent Emotional Boundaries Create Space for Critical Marital Issues.

One of the most subtle, corrosive marital issues is the inability to maintain firm, healthy boundaries. Couples need to keep kids, co-workers, friends, and family out of their business.

There are often family-of-origin and sometimes cultural challenges in keeping healthy boundaries. Science-based couples therapy can help with this most pernicious of marriage problems.

Boundaries are a wall of trust with you and your spouse on one side, and everyone else (yes, including the kids) on the other.

A happy couple presents a united front. Kids can’t split you; co-workers can’t seduce you, and your extended family can’t divide you.

A Fun Deficit Which Grows Year After Year.

Believe me when I tell you that your careers, kids, co-workers, friends, and extended family will put a strain on a healthy marriage if you let them. The most resilient married couples carve out time for themselves and can say “no” with love in their hearts and a smile on their faces.

No one will care about how much fun the two of you are having except…the two of you.

Say NO! more often to creeping demands and gnarly encroachments on your time.

Kid-Centrism, One of the Most “Socially Acceptable” of Toxic Marital Issues.

If your kids are the emotional center of your family, they may feel comfortable now, but when your nest is empty, you might find yourself married to a stranger.

Our consumer culture makes a virtue of putting the needs of the kids first. They have so many wants, needs, and desires. You barely have time to address them all.

Be selfish about your need for “couple time” and physical intimacy. And learn to say no sometimes.

The best gift you can give your kids long-term is to model a healthy intimacy, and frankly, you’re going to need to be a bit selfish sometimes to make that happen.

Don’t let your kids be the sole center of gravity in your family. Show them what “we-ness” looks like. Your grandkids will thank you.

Call Us Because You Want to Nip It In the Bud.

Ready for a change in your relationship?

It starts with a no-obligation 15 minute phone call with our client services team.

Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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  1. My ex husband asked to reconcile after 10 years. We have three children together. I’m currently in a serious relationship and honestly I thought about it. I was honest with my current spouse and now he constantly holds it against me for thinking about it. The only reason I thought about it was for the kids sake.

    1. If you spent time with your ex you cheated so you did more then consider it. You tasted it. If you have to decide over 2 men. You didn’t care about either. you simply was thinking of yourself. A narracist trait. its disgusting. I’m sure you cheated. I’m sure it’s not your first or your last. let me guess you simply just walked over your current one feelings for another. Yeah it sucks to be him. If you say you love someone you better mean it. Don’t screw up the one who your with. You’ll screw him up. So yeah I’ll be pissed and kick your butt down the road. If you consider another already yeah you’ll do it again and again just for your own pleasure while he hurts. Really crappy

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