Emotional Abuse in the Christian Marriage. Part 5

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness    (c)2015  Nancy Virden

Physical (including sexual) abuse involves emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can also occur without physical assault.

In this series, emotional abuse is described and put in context. A special focus on what it can look like in a Christian marriage, leads naturally to this last discussion, can the church sanction divorce on grounds of emotional abuse alone?


Clearly, a woman needs to leave a situation where she is beaten, threatened, or assaulted. Divorce ia appropriate in cases of sexual activity outside the marriage. I think those are popular opinions.

What I’ve noticed however,  is that when women from widely considered “christian” marriages, try to describe their husbands’ non-physical maltreatment,  a limited and judgmental viewpoint from the church may not recognize emotional abuse.

A friend of mine was reprimanded by her pastor for making her husband “look bad.”  Another pastor told a wife, “Everyone says nasty things once in a while.” Emotional abuse is often confused with disappointment in a marriage. 

Recently, I met a young pastor who proactively sent a woman to counseling for the emotional abuse she endured. Domestic abuse is less and less taboo, yet in the United States we are a long way from knowledgable with regard to emotional abuse.

Results of emotional abuse

The best write-up I have seen about domestic abuse both physical and emotional, is found on HelpGuide.org.  One line reads, “There are many signs of an abusive relationship. The most telling sign is fear of your partner.”*

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)** is not limited to extreme trauma or war. An emotionally abused wife feared entering her home, and spent much of a frozen night in her car. Eventually, her husband moved out. She felt trapped in bed, tense, and scared that the noises she heard were him coming back.

Some women are jumpy, suddenly angry, or suffer bad dreams. 

Wives say their husbands treat them like prostitutes, ignore them and choose porn, express unspoken yet very real threats, practice gross neglect, or use back-handed put-downs disguised as jokes. Love is withdrawn as punishment, and promised as reward for cooperation. Gaslighting is frequent; this happens when a person purposely tries to make another question their own judgement.

Survivors of emotional abuse have to overcome the brainwashing that systematic blame, belittling, disrespect, dishonesty, lovelessness, and gross neglect cause. Negative beliefs about herself  can become a pervasive issue and undermine her ability to function.

God’s calling on her life often is replaced with a mutated rationalization, that by keeping the peace she is doing God’s will. 

Social interaction

A posting on a survivors-related facebook page reads, “Many [women]blame themselves for the abuse and continue to feel responsible and guilty for anything bad that happens to them or to other people they know. Survivors often feel bad about themselves and different from other people. They therefore isolate themselves from other people and avoid making close friendships.” ***

We need interaction.  Kind, nurturing photo-24779100-frowning-womanrelationships are God-given needs for fulfillment, productivity, and health.

I would argue that emotional abuse is life-threatening because in many cases it leads chronic loneliness which is diectly related to poor physical health, substance use, and suicidal thinking.  One woman I met, who remained in her emotionally abusive marriage,  eventually existed in a constant state of defeat and despair. 

Religiously unaware

It is convenient for abusers of any type, to use and count on a Christian victim’s 70 x 7 forgiveness obligation, and honest desire for relationship.  Misuse of scripture while cherry-picking verses to support power and control, is a common thread in abusive “Christian” marriages. Wives taught to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord, are not reminded that the Lord does not abuse his bride. 

In The Silent Killer of Christian Marriages, author Amy White writes:

Unless pastors and counselors can recognize the often subtle and always complex dynamics of emotional abuse, women will continue to be victimized first by their husbands and then by the church or the community. An abusive man who is not held accountable is indirectly supported and given license to continue his destructive patterns, and those around him become enablers. Women are not treated with dignity and respect, as God intended, and so God is not honored.****

If you still do not understand the dangers of emotional abuse, consider this: it is used as a torure device to extract information from prisoners of war. When a woman is emotionally abused, her life as intended by God is dead or dying.

Of course separation or divorce are appropriate!  Escaping the control of an abuser is a holy action. We are not showing the love of Jesus to victims, or abusers for that matter, by continuing to enable grave sin. 

Love is to be the most telling sign of our faith in Jesus. We believers are to treat others as we want to be treated. Leaders are to be servants. Justice and freeing the oppressed are tenets of our faith. 


See  Is Watching Porn Emotional Abuse  and More on Is Watching Porn Emotional Abuse


Today’s Helpful Word : 

Proverbs 10:10 

 Winking at sin leads to sorrow; bold reproof leads to peace.



****”The Silent Killer of Christian Marriages” by Amy Wildman White  http://christiancounsellingcentre.ca/sitecontent/ur3P9wM1inxspbnup9fYhQ–/mfiles/the-silent-killer-of-christian-marriages.pdf


NOTE:  I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness, abuse, and addiction. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here

If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S.  (for international emergency numbers, go here ), or go to your nearest emergency room. Do not be alone. Hope and help are yours.

-pictures from qualitystockphotos.com



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