What should a wife do when her husband has a pattern of abusing her emotionally and verbally (but not physically)?

Defining emotional abuse

Abuse is not the occasional burst of anger, selfishness, or criticism. Genuine abuse equals the Biblical term “oppression.” Abuse is a pattern of toxic behaviour (see chart) intended to maintain control over the woman whom he vowed before God and witnesses to love, cherish, and protect. My post Defining Emotional Abuse further clarifies.

A husband-wife relationship is “a covenant of mutual commitment that is designed to survive normal and even serious marital conflicts… however, verbal and physical abuse do to a marriage what murder and rape do to a life.”1

Leslie Vernick has an eye-opening article listing five indicators to determine from the Bible if a husband has an abusive, wicked heart.

Emotional pain leaves scars and is more damaging than physical wounds that heal. Words are sword thrusts (Proverbs 12:18) and full of deadly poison (James 3:8).

What should a wife do who is repeatedly mauled emotionally, is threatened, and has a price to pay whenever she is honest?

1) Get counselling.

The abuser has trained his wife to believe the abuse is her fault and if she would only do or be different, the abuse wouldn’t be necessary. It takes a neutral perspective to help her understand that she is seeing her husband for what she wants him to be, rather than what he is. God loves truth, not lies.

It is important for her to seek out her pastor who has the theological framework from which to view her situation.

Unfortunately, however, too many pastors have not researched the unique abuse paradigm, so wives are told to work harder at being submissive and to trust God more. This counsel unintentionally drains all hope and further enables her abuser.

Therefore, it is vital to also see a therapist who is trained in the scientific study of the mind and works daily with victims like her. Abuse organisations offer free counselling and support.

She urgently needs encouragement and validation that she is not insane, as well as evaluation of her own actions that she will receive from both types of advisors.

2) Lovingly confront him.

Matthew 18 says to make an “official” attempt to help a sinner understand his offences. James 5:19 encourages her to try to turn him from his error, not to enable him.

Suggestion: list on paper, concisely, two or three main areas of the abuser’s sinful behaviour patterns which are destroying the relationship. Under each main point, list three undeniable examples of that behaviour.

Next, she should hide a small bag of clothes outside, have the car and house keys in her pocket, and secure a temporary place to stay, just in case things get ugly.

With the genuine goal of seeing her marriage repaired, she needs to pick a good time during the “honeymoon phase” of the abuse cycle to hand him a copy of her list. See if he is open to discussion and suggest he get counselling, as she has been, to help save the marriage. (Not marriage counselling together.)

The idea is not to nag him to change but to determine how she will change, judging by his response.

3) Take it to the church.

If he is unrepentant after a couple of godly men approach him, this is God’s next step in the attempt to restore him to spiritual health and to warn those in the church family about behaviour that God hates. Ephesians 5:11 says to expose and reprove works of darkness.

4) Leave.

Though we strive to imitate God by offering repeated mercy, a temporary separation is the only statement that offers the possibility of waking up the abuser to the seriousness of his actions. Temporary may need to become permanent, based on his reaction. True love does not continue enabling him to sin by allowing herself to remain the object of his sinful addiction.

He has broken the marriage vows and habitually shattered the woman he vowed to cherish, thus forfeiting the perks of the relationship he destroyed.

Leaving is also a step to protect her children and others from the effects of abuse and generational perpetuation.

Emotional abuse statistically escalates to physical violence over time. Over 70% of women are injured after separation, so if she feels unsafe, she should appeal to the legal authorities to hold him accountable for his actions… just as Paul did when he was being mistreated (Acts 22:25).

Separation is a natural consequence and he is reaping what he sowed (Galatians 6:7). She is getting out of the way so God can work. The future is his decision; the present is hers.

Refer to the last post as to places of refuge and resources available.

It’s natural to want to stay and hope things will be different, but her hope is misplaced. Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” and continual striving to change or do whatever to soothe his un-soothable internal storm will make her sick emotionally, spiritually, and physically. David’s answer was “put your hope in God.” Not in what God will do, but in God Himself.2

Marriage is honourable but sometimes we honour it best by ending that caricature of it that makes it a mockery.

–Jason Harris

Biblical proof that God allows separation? Ironically, in I Corinthians 7:10, 11—”Let not the wife depart”—we see there is the possibility of an exception. The wife departs then she is told to remain unmarried or be reconciled.

I Peter 3:1 tells wives to use actions, not words. Will she “win” her husband by bowing to his pattern of cruelty and lies which God hates?2 This is the practical application of “do him good” (Proverbs 31).

The series “When You’ve Been Hurt” is highly recommended.

You can access domestic violence resources here.


1 Martin DeHaan II in God’s Protection of Women
2 Leslie Vernick at leslievernick.com

this is part 4 of 10 in the series
Help For the Abused

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About Joy Harris

Joy studied elementary education before going on to teach at the primary school level as well as homeschooling for twenty-six years. Joy has touched the lives of thousands through her ministry in state Religious Education, Sunday Schools, and Holiday Bible Clubs as well as through her speaking at various seminars and retreats. Joy is also a gifted musician and has collaborated on multiple recording projects as well as maintaining a private teaching studio for over thirty years. Joy is retired and lives in Cairns, Australia. Joy has seven children, twenty-one grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. You can contact Joy at joy@jasonharris.com.au.


  1. David 28 January, 2015 at 6:52 am - Reply


    I always say there are two sides to consider,and when the Church starts acting like the world and pushing their agenda,then they create even bigger problems. I’m not discounting that there are legitimate claims being made by women,but from my observations,women are guilty of many offenses too. It’s not cut and dry. But since only one side is given here,please allow me to offer up the other,writen by a women no less.

    5 ways you are unknowingly destroying your husband and killing your marriage
    You might be surprised to figure out you are doing these five destructive things that will ultimately ruin your relationship with your spouse.

    Katelyn Carmen

    (note from editor: your comment has been edited to exclude the long article you included. In doing this, you have broken the comment guidelines (accessible under the “COMMENTS” headline). You may add the link to the article, if you wish)

  2. Joy Harris 28 January, 2015 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    I agree that there are two sides to everything and the long article you posted (which was removed for breaking the comment guidelines) had good advice.

    However, you are concluding that the marriage is between 2 normal people who are mutually committed to each other’s happiness. This is not the abuse paradigm.

    I also agree that men are abused, not just women. As stated several times before in this series, I refer to the abuser as a ‘him’ because there is a much higher percentage of men abusing women statistically.

    The point with abuse is that nothing the wife does is good enough. She can do everything in your article and beyond (and usually DOES to ward off the abuse!) and that does not change the abuser behaving as in the chart at the top of my post.

    Additionally, even if a husband HAS a wife that is selfish and mean, nothing is an excuse before God for being an abuser. There is nothing a wife can do that justifies abusive behaviour. See Hosea’s story in the Bible.

    You have put the blame upon the victim. That is a typical reaction for those who have not researched the world of abuse for themselves. I recommend taking just 20 minutes to research “domestic violence” online.

    “Only one side is given here” because this is one post in a series and it is on abuse, not how to improve your marriage.

    “When the church starts acting like the world and pushes their agenda” – what was meant by that? When the church abuses women and children by failing to protect them, they ARE the world.

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