Differences Between an Abusive Marriage and a Healthy One

So many times, women who have left abusive relationships hop right out of the frying pan and into the fire because a man comes along who is a tiny bit “better” than the former abuser. It is so difficult to see that this new man might not be that great because (1) a former victim of abuse does not necessarily believe that she deserves, or can do, better and (2) that “tiny bit better” seems monumental. She needs someone outside of her world and paradigm to say, “He is not that great, friend. You deserve better.” One of the most difficult and painful parts of being in this ministry is watching women leave an abusive relationship to return to another one. And we believe it is because former victims of abuse NEED to understand that healing takes time . . . . detoxing . . . a new perspective that is truly Christian.

So often, I say to my wonderful husband (David), “No one has ever done that for me before . . . ” And he looks at me with love mixed with mercy mixed with pity. He says something like, “No one has ever filled up your gas tank?” I remember my Daddy doing that a few times but it had been years. David fills up my tank on a regular basis and acts like that is normal. In fact, he delights in it. He is always surprised when I over-thank him for normal acts of kindness that should be part of the every day Christian marriage. It has made me think about how little I knew of “normal” for such a long time. My “normal” was skewed and painful. I found myself in the center of swirling selfishness, inconsistency, blame and (near) hatred. For many other women who are struggling to understand how marriage can actually be wonderful, I have compiled a short-list of what is normal and not normal for a Christian marriage. It is imperative that “our” mamas know some of these things or they will find themselves back in another relationship where “normal” is actually not normal — but abusive. These are only some of the truths I have learned in the past three years of marriage:


  1. It is normal for a Christian husband to treat his wife with dignity, as an equal heir to the throne of God and a partner in this life here on earth. She has her own thoughts, ideas and passions. Sometimes these passions join together and other times, they do not. It is NOT normal nor biblical for a wife to simply be an extension of her husband. It is not normal for her to not have her own opinions or ideas or goals. 
  2. It is normal for a Christian husband to be kind to his wife, to acknowledge her hurts and her tears and to apologize if he harms her. It is not normal for a husband to tell his wife that she is being oversensitive or ridiculous. It is not normal for a woman to wonder if she is crazy or defective because her pain means nothing to her husband.
  3. It is normal for a Christian husband to treat his wife as a fragile and beautiful vessel. He gives her extra sleep and cares for and warms her body and soul. He is strong for her and able to handle her deepest struggles. It is not normal for a man to ridicule a woman for her weakness . . . or make her hate herself for being a woman. A Christian man is forever in awe and wonder over his wife because he is captivated by her.
  4. It is normal for a Christian husband and wife to talk about things together and make decisions together. It is not normal for a husband to make decisions without the valuable input of his wife.
  5. It is normal for a Christian  husband to encourage his wife in her dreams and desires. He upholds her with his strength — a safety net. It is not normal for a husband to dump all of his problems onto his wife to bring her down. It is not normal for him to vie for her pity and create an atmosphere of insecurity for her in her home.
  6. It is normal for a husband to provide a home that is safe. The one thing I asked my husband before we married is that our home is “always safe”. It is not normal to walk on eggshells or uncertainty around your spouse because you are not sure of what mood he is in. It is not normal to feel unsafe. Furthermore, it is not normal for YOUR NORMAL to be insecurity in your home.
  7. It is normal to feel like the apple of your Christian husband’s eye. A Christian husband loves his wife like Christ loves the church. She completes him. He readily admits that he needs her and adores her. He is not ashamed of that. It is not normal for a man to act like his wife (and kids) are his afterthought.
  8. It is normal for a Christian husband to keep his wife aware of where he is and what is happening. They are ONE. Out of respect and honor for each other, a husband and wife keep each other abreast. It is, in fact, joy to do so and to feel that connection. It is not normal for a husband to show up whenever and wherever and not stay connected to his wife. It is not normal for days of silence to ensue and then a great expectation for intimacy in the bedroom. That is not normal.
  9. It is normal for a Christian husband to listen to his wife and understand her point of view. It is not normal for a husband to blow his wife off and make her feel like a nothing. It is not normal for a husband to make her feel crazy.
  10. It is normal for a Christian husband to nurture his wife, to protect her and to cherish her and her body. It is not normal for a husband to work his wife to death, not offering any help with the children or around the house. 
  11. It is normal for a Christian husband to love his wife because she is . . . . not because of what she can do for him. I love my children because they are. They do not have to earn my love. Likewise, a Christian husband simply loves his wife because of her beauty and loveliness. It is not normal for a wife to have to earn her husband’s love by hard-work, extra-biblical “godliness” or anything that involves striving. 

A Christian wife can rest in her husband. And he delights in her. In this context, a Christian marriage can have a Garden of Eden-like experience where there is no shame, no lording over, no superiority, no entitlement. Of course, we all slip and hurt one another (so painful), but, in a Christian marriage, we know that the other does not want to hurt us. We know that the motivation of the heart is to love and bless. This is what we wish for all of our hurting mamas and all of those, in the world, who have been mistreated and abused. Dear one . . . . wait for that man who will adore you. You are worthy of being loved and cherished because of all that God has done for you. He died for you . . . He wanted you . . . He covers you with His love. You are like a bride adorned with jewels (Isaiah 61:10). Please, dear-heart . . . . do not accept anything less from a man on this earth. They are out there. Just pray . . . and wait . . . and worship, in the meantime, a God who is so much more worthy of worship than any human being in your life ever was or ever will be.





37 Replies to “Differences Between an Abusive Marriage and a Healthy One”

  1. This makes me cry. I don’t even have the hope of a godly man at this point. My divorce is final, but he cheated so much and made me feel worthless, then put me down when I questioned his lies, behavior and inconsistencies. He blamed me and called me crazy. While I am healing, I look in the mirror and wonder how anyone could ever love this broken, hollow shell of a woman.

    1. Dear beloved -your ex does not define you. Jesus does and you are beautiful and worthy of being loved and cherished like the King’s daughter that you are. I pray for healing and that you will believe what the Lord says about you and stand against the lies that the enemy would want you to believe. You are precious and dearly loved. I’m sorry for the pain and suffering you have lived through. God bless

    2. We are out there but tend to be disregarded as too gentle and reserved. Only Jesus can fully heal your heart and make you whole again. Happiness and joy come from within ourselves and is not dependent upon another. The absolute most difficult thing facing you is that you must totally forgive your ex and lay the burden at the foot of the cross. I speak from experience, you will feel such a heavy weight lifted from your spirit. I pray that the Lord gives you wisdom during this trial.

      1. Praying for you, Kim. It is so very painful.

        Re: forgiving him…. please do not accept condemnation about this from anyone — forgiveness has been so mistaught, for even Jesus did not forgive the unrepentant. Bless you. (Reading the book “Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them” by Dr. Paul Hegstrom (and I am not saying your husband is a violent man, but there are many ways to show anger/control/ in hurtful ways… might be of help to you as you walk through the treachery.
        http://www.academia.edu/399293/Should_we_forgive_those_who_show_no_repentance Praying for you especially during this time of the year. May you feel the presence of the Holy Spirit’s comfort upon you.

        Thank you, Megan C, for writing this blog. You are right on — normal living in marriage should be wonderful

    3. Ditto, MicroGal, a husband DOES define a wife’s value & acceptance, that’s how God designed MARRIAGE (… and her desire shall be for her husband…) Healing will take time; this kind of devastation can rock our world to the point where it even destroys our faith, but God and His WORD remain true, even when men fail us. I don’t know what that looks like, or what the future holds for me either, but I know we need time to heal, even when it seems the painful wound will never heal. You are in my thoughts & prayers. I pray that the Balm of Gilead heal your broken heart, and renew your faith in Him.

      1. When God created man and woman in His image, and brought them together, He did not say, “her desire shall be for her husband”. That came after the fall. While we still live in a fallen world, our Redeemer and Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, is the source of our value and acceptance. A husband does NOT define a wife’s value and acceptance. I’ve been married over 35 years to a godly man, a leader in our church.

    4. MicroGal, I was once in your position, 30 years ago. Same kind of terrible marriage and then divorce. I got some counseling, and experienced some healing, and even today I am still growing and learning. The Lord provided for me a Christian man whose wife had passed away. We have been married 25 years. Even a “normal” Christian marriage is hard work, but not crazy-making abusive. I pray for your healing, that you would grow and love Jesus with your whole heart and that God would help and protect you as you wait on Him to provide for you and your children.

    5. You are hurting. You WILL heal! I’ve been where you are! Lies, cheating, fake repentance, promises to change and then more of the same. My heart hurt so badly it felt like I had a knife in it. I cried so hard I thought my head would explode from the pain.
      But YOU WILL HEAL!
      Take care of your self physically.
      Eat well and exercise.
      Treat yourself – fresh cut flowers (flowers are a gift from God – HIS bouquet to you!)
      Plant some wonderful smelling herbs on your windowsill.
      Use girly soap and an oil diffuser for aroma therapy – Gid delights in perfume.
      Look for all the reminders that God is with you.
      When triggers happen (and they will!) keep a few Bible verses handy – they are God’s encouragement to you – HE is your strength! HE is the live you long for!
      Those triggers will diminish.
      Your heart will heal.

      I highly recommend “Every Woman’s Battle” weekend with Sheri Keffer and or Healing is a Choice weekend with New Life.
      Also Harboring Hope through Affair Recovery Center.
      A local divorce support group may be helpful too.
      Don’t dwell on reconciliation …

    6. You wrote this in Dec 2015, and as I reply, it is July 2016. I hope these months have been a healing for you, that you are discovering that the trials you went through have made you stronger. I was in a similar place many years ago, and while it was horrible, I came out the other side much better, and found a man who makes me his world as his wife. There are great men out there. Discernment, strength, but first healing.

      All God’s blessings to you

      1. Thank you, Nana! Yes, many more “good days” now than bad ones. Pressing into Jesus and moving forward one step at a time. Still much healing to do but I am in a good place and moving in the right direction. Thank you for checking on me. 🙂
        I do get lonely but find it is less and less these days, and I am happy to develop my hobbies and just do self care. It nourishes my soul.

  2. MicroGal, I am right there with ya. One day at a time. One memorized verse of Gods Love letter at a time will hopefully renew our self-view and mend our hearts. HUGS.

  3. MicroGal said: “when I questioned his lies, behavior and inconsistencies. He blamed me and called me crazy.”
    You have described a narcissist. Google and read a few articles about narcissism. It might give you some better understanding of that crazy-making behavior.

    1. Oh yes, I have done lots of reading on NPD! It explains so much.
      I just don’t know how to go about healing. I just moved to be near family and am now working and raising the kids on my own. It’s exhausting.

  4. I left a 27 year abusive marraige about 5 yrs ago. I also saw how my participation in Mormonism was encouraging these toxic beliefs, so I left that too. I am now married to an amazing Christian man whom you described so well. I thank him profusely for what to him are normal acts of a husband, but to me are precious gifts. I put him through some very honest and difficult “tests” as we became involved. We started as friends and moved very slowly. He was always kind and patient as I healed from decades of programming. He still is! God has lead us both here and we live in gratitude daily for His grace and mercy. Thank you for this wonderful message.

    1. We are so happy for you, Redeemed! You have been through much and I am sure the beauty of your marriage is even more magnified due to your gratitude for your husband. And he has been given a tremendous gift in YOU, as well, friend!

  5. What do you do when your husband matches more of the “not normal” than the normal/healthy? I don’t want a divorce, but I also want to be happy with a kind husband I can rest in. He doesn’t seem to take me seriously when I tell him that the way he treats us is wrong. We do walk on eggshells around him, he’s always in a “mood.” 🙁
    (Unless we are in public, he’s much nicer in public)

    1. That’s tough, Jen. I would definitely seek out counseling. Probably not couples or marriage counseling but a counselor you could go to, yourself, just to talk these things over.

      1. Yes. Seek individual counseling first. A counselor may try to get you both together, but he or she needs to know first why you walk on eggshells at home. I did, for 18 years. I had to get one on one with a pastor who would listen and who knew what narcissistic abuse looked like so that I could see clearly just how bad it was. Couples counseling won’t likely let you speak honestly about what’s really happening. I feel for you.

  6. I say Amen to the letter. The comments written about God being your all is so true but it takes time! We are on a journey those of us coming out of abuse. The longer you are in one the longer it takes to take those steps forward. Some days are good and somedays you fall. I know I have been there and am still trying to move forward. But surrendering to God is worth it!!

    1. Thanks, Bev. We walk a fine line, at Give Her Wings, between reminding our mamas that only God can fill THAT place in our hearts and lives . . . and acknowledging that there is nothing wrong with desiring a good and godly marriage.

    1. you noticed that, too…. yep — lay the burden of requiring her to forgive an unrepentant abusive man… something not taught in the Bible – forgiveness always comes after repentance

  7. I’ve seen fathers treat their daughters in all of these ways (except bedroom expectations), and it is perhaps the most devastating thing possible. Not only does a girl not know marriage can be different, she doesn’t even know that a man can be different. Her entire life is built on skewed expectations of men and a skewed perception of herself. I know at least one in absolute slavery to her father’s approval, because she can’t or won’t see how despicable and abusive he is toward her, her mother, his mother, and basically every woman in his life. I have tried so hard, but how can I help her, when she doesn’t want help? It breaks my heart.

  8. I think this is a great post, and I would add a few more categories to help women who are in a sexually abusive relationship.
    1.) You are exhausted, sick, etc., and your husband is whining or pressuring you to have sex. This is not normal. Christ woos his bride with His love. A godly man would never pressure his wife to have sex.
    2.) Your husband desires sex from you, morning, noon, and night, and continues his advances with no regard for your feelings. This is not normal. A godly man loves you for who you are, not what you do for him. He enjoys conversing with you, spending time with you, serving you (rather than being preoccupied with his own selfish desires).
    3.) Sex is painful, but your husband does not care. He continues anyway to satisfy himself, and does not care that you are in pain. This is not normal. A godly man loves his wife as his own body.
    4.) Your husband makes lewd comments about your body and sneakily takes pictures of you when you are showering, etc. This is not normal. A godly man values who you are, your inner person.
    5.) You feel afraid to undress or shower where your husband can see you, because you know that he will immediately attack you. This is not normal.

    I have read books that say that men “need” sex, and I have heard many male church leaders teach that a woman has no right to deny her husband. Beloved, this is a distortion of God’s word and His picture of the marriage relationship. Men, if your wife does not desire you sexually, if there is a lack of love in your home, this is your fault. Men, pressuring your wife to have sex with you, placing your needs above hers, etc., is the exact opposite of the servant role that God has called you to. Ladies, there is a word for a man who is sexually abusive, who forces you to have sex with him – it is called rape and it is a felony. “Taking” sex from a spouse is never ok. The biblical picture of sexual intimacy is one of giving, giving this beautiful treasure of yourself to someone you love and want to give it to.

  9. Wow, this is beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. It’s been nine years since our divorce and I still see the affects of his cruelty all around me (my sons) and in me. Hoping for someone to love and be loved like you described is almost too much to hope for. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for putting into words just a little bit of the crazy thinking that I, and so many others, have come to see as normal. Thank you, this means so much!

  10. As a Christian man, I want to add one thought – The content of the article applies to all marriages, not just Christian marriages.
    And Christian men are called to “love their wives and give themselves up for them as Christ gave himself up for the church”

  11. This post has been featured on the Aquila Reports top ten for the week! Well done Meg.

    It’s a fantastic post. I’m sorry I haven’t had time to be following the Give Her Wings blog. I’m sure you understand why. . . so much to do at ACFJ.

    May we reblog this at A Cry For Justice?

  12. Proverbs 27:7 “A sated man loathes honey, But to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet.” For us, (no man but have looked to churches that turned out to be unsafe), this describes our journey. For those starving for Godly love but have been treated with hatred, every morsel of attention shown them seems like a feast. It takes times to discern, which is a journey we are still on. The longer the abuse and the more layers of system abuse (from spouse, from church, from more churches, from family, from those who were thought to be friends, the courts, counselors) the longer it may take to unravel. This happens to the children, too. Some of mine are trapped by the morsels thrown their way by abuser as they desperately struggle to be accepted while at the same time be reviled, and others who have left, struggle at times to believe it exists. We are are on a journey. It is getting better. Learning to discern any bitter thing from what is truly sweet, as this post describes, is a large part of the journey. Thank you this beautiful description.

  13. Chapter 10 in the book “Mending the Soul” has the best Biblical teaching on forgiveness I have ever read! It did not lay a burden on me at all but gave me freedom.

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