Most marriage books tell you to keep trying, work harder, hang in there, ride out the tough spots. I’m here to tell you that is bullshit. If you marriage is in trouble, fail fast.
My husband and I are in the process of separating. As emotionally exhausting as this process has been, we have both committed to working together. We are coparenting, more or less on the same page, with the help of our mediator.
By “Failing Fast” we got out of our toxic relationship in the nick of time. What do I mean by this? We ended things while we still had goodwill, generosity of spirit, and caring for each other. I see far too many couples try to hold on to their unhappy, miserable, and sometimes abusive relationships for decades. They slide into mutual disrespect, loathing, and disgust as the years roll on. This is a terrible mistake.
Once your partner feels disgust for you, they often feel justified in any number of lowlife behaviors, from cheating, lying, stealing money and so on.
My advice to married couples is separate as soon as you detect any of the following: Contempt, Dishonesty, Disrespect. These three together will eventually create an environment of abuse, and they NEVER go away on their own. If your spouse exhibits any of these signs, get out early. Separate, move out, do what you have to do, because I promise you, once Contempt, Dishonesty, and Disrespect have colored your spouse’s view of you, there is no going back. It will only get worse.
Here are some red flags to watch out for. If you sense any of these, you should strongly consider separating until you can either reestablish a mutually trusting and respectful relationship, or decide to move forward with divorce if it is not salvageable.
- Talking negatively about you to friends. It’s fine for spouses to complain about each other occasionally to their close friends. But watch out for contempt, which can take many different forms. For example, calling you names, telling others that you are incompetent or childish, selfish or lazy. These attacks on your character are not to be tolerated ESPECIALLY if they happen in front of your kids.
- Gaslighting. This is a horrible form of emotional abuse, wherein your spouse tells you that you are crazy, mentally ill or similar. The most nefarious form of this happens when your spouse lies to other people about your mental health. He may do this to get sympathy from other people, or to isolate you from your friends and family. For example, telling your friends that you have Borderline Personality Disorder or some other nebulous, difficult to diagnose mental issue. If your spouse gaslighting you, get out before you start believing his bullshit. If you stay in the marriage, your self confidence will soon be eroded by his insinuations, and you will eventually start to question your own sanity. This is so unhealthy!
- Repeatedly lying. We all tell little lies now and then, and occasional untruths to not justify getting divorced. I am talking about repeatedly engaging in a campaign of dishonesty. This may indicate that your spouse is hiding something he is ashamed of. For example, lying about drinking, spending money, sex, pornography, or lying about his whereabouts. Trust is the underpinning of a loving relationship. Without trust, you have no marriage. Its that simple.
- Hiding money. If your spouse is hiding money from you, get out of the marriage. It will only get worse, and you need to separate your finances quickly. Quick tip: If your spouse routinely cashes checks, rather than depositing them into your joint account, they have a completely untraceable source of funds to do with as they please. If they cannot give a good reason for doing this, you can bet your ass they are hiding something. It could be drugs, strip clubs, or just a bad spending habit, but either way it means they are doing something they are ashamed of, and essentially lying about it. I’m not saying your spouse has to account for every penny (unless you have both agreed to this), but there should be open communication. Hiding money, or sneaking cash is unacceptable. Pay attention to how much cash your spouse has on hand. If he always has a pile of $20’s in his pocket, ask yourself where he’s getting it and why he needs it. Then ask him. If he tells you he’s spending it on “gum and coffee”, or some other bullshit, or if he acts cagey and defensive that is a red flag. No one spends $100/week on gum and coffee, and he should be able to give you a good reason for carrying so much cash. (I’m not talking about getting $100 from the ATM now and then, I’m talking about ALWAYS having cash on hand, for no express purpose). If he tells you its for gum and coffee, at best you are dealing with a spouse who lack financial discipline.
In short, Contempt, Dishonesty, and Disrespect are three marriage killers that are incurable once they arrive. Don’t try to save your contemptuous marriage. Separate, and either re-create a healthy new marriage with new communication patterns and new ground rules, or divorce and move on with your lives. Either way, Fail Fast and don’t try to hang on to the toxic relationship.