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Is Marital Indifference Emotionally Abusive?

Leslie Vernick

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If he doesn’t hit you it’s not abuse?” It’s not true. One of the most silent yet destructive forms of marital abuse is chronic indifference.

The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference. Indifference says I don’t care enough about you to give you my time, my energy or other resources to show interest, care, or love towards you. Indifference says how you feel or what you want doesn’t matter to me. Indifference says you are not a person to love, but an object to use. Indifference says I don’t need to change anything to make our relationship better for you if it’s okay for me. Indifference says that you exist for my benefit and when you don’t please me or benefit me anymore, you are replaceable or disposable.

One of the most horrific abuse Biblical stories is one of gross indifference. A Levite and his concubine wife were traveling home when they stopped in the town of Gibeah. Expecting the typical Jewish hospitality, they waited in the open square, hoping someone would invite them to spend the night. As evening descended, an old man spotted the couple and graciously took them to his house. While the two men were getting acquainted, vile men of the city surrounded the home, beat on the door, and demanded the old man bring his guest outside so they might ravish him.

The men of the town refused to listen to the old man so the Levite grabbed his own concubine wife and shoved her out the door. The men of the town raped her, taking turns until dawn.

The scriptures say, “When her husband opened the door to leave, there lay his concubine with her hands on the threshold. Coldly he said, “Get up! Let’s go! But there was no answer. So he tossed her lifeless body on his donkey and took her home” Later on he cut her up into twelve pieces and sent one piece to each of the twelve tribes of Israel, portraying himself (not his poor wife) as the victim of a horrible injustice (Judges 19:1-30).

The rape and torture by those vile men was traumatic, but I often wonder if her greater suffering was that her own husband indifferently tossed her out the door like a piece of trash, knowing full well she would be used and abused.

Marriage is the one relationship where a man and a woman publicly make promises to not be indifferent. They promise to love, to cherish, to protect, and to honor one another. When a person regularly fails to keep his or her fundamental marital promise, the marriage is in deep trouble and to pretend otherwise is not healthy or biblical.

For example, Karen was a wife who loved her husband and wanted things to work between them but he had little time for her. He was too busy running a business and making money. When she tried to talk to him about her feelings, he became harsh and then gave her the silent treatment, sometimes ignoring her for months. When Karen pursued or pressured him to discuss their problems, he attacked. He accused her of being controlling and manipulative. The only personal connection he desired was sexual and this left Karen feeling empty and used.

Finally she decided to have a heart-to-heart talk about changes she needed in their relationship. Wiring up all her courage she said, “Steve, there is something that I need to share with you that’s really important. Do you have time tonight?”

“Okay, but I don’t have all night. There’s a football game starting in about 15 minutes.”

Karen took a deep breath and began. “I know you get very frustrated when I’m not responsive to your sexual needs. I know you want me to be more sexual with you and enjoy our physical relationship. But the way you treat me much of the time makes me feel angry and hurt. When you ignore me for long periods of time or accuse me of being things that I’m not, I just can’t manufacture warm and affectionate feelings towards you when I’m upset and hurt.”

Then she asked him the million-dollar question. She asked, “Wouldn’t you enjoy our sexual relationship much more if you knew I wanted to be with you and enjoyed that part of our relationship rather than me just doing my wifely duty?“

Steve’s answer floored her. “Of course I would,” he said, but added, “But if wifely duty is all I can get, I’ll settle for that.”

Steve’s response woke Karen up to his gross indifference toward her as his wife, as a woman, and as a person. Everything in their relationship revolved around him and his needs. As long as her body was available when he wanted sex, it mattered little to him how she felt.

Later, Karen told me, God never intended me to be a sexual object nor to sacrifice my body to enable my husband’s selfishness to continue unchallenged.”

Indifference can be one of the most unrecognized yet damaging forms of emotional abuse in marriage. You are not alone.

Book Giveaway


The Emotionally Destructive Relationship

by Leslie Vernick

Leslie Vernick, counselor and social worker, has witnessed the devastating effects of emotional abuse. Many, including many in the church, have not addressed this form of destruction in families and relationships because it is difficult to talk about. With godly guidance and practical experience, Vernick offers an empathetic approach to recognizing an emotionally destructive relationship and addresses the symptoms and the damage with biblical tools. Readers will understand how to:

  • Reveal behaviors that are meant to control, punish, and hurt
  • Confront and speak truth when the timing is right
  • Determine when to keep trying, when to get out
  • Get safe and stay safe
  • Build an identity in Christ

This practical and thorough resource will help countless individuals, families, and churches view abuse from God's perspective and understand how vital it is for victims to embrace His freedom from the physical, emotional, spiritual, and generational effects of emotionally destructive relationships.

Two winners will be selected in our next newsletter! (Giveaway only available to U.S. residents)

If you would like to enter to win, you can click here to provide name and email address.

The winners of “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship” by Leslie Vernick are April S. and Kimberly B.

Enter For Your Chance to Win

I’m Stuck. How Do I Help Him See His Problem Instead of Blaming Me?

By Susan King

Question: My husband is going through a mental crisis in his life and he blames it all on me. He is not willing to get help or see a counselor and instead tells me that I need to go fix my issues.

He lost his job twice last year and is blaming me for his job loss. Currently, he is uber driving and does not tell me how much he makes and does not contribute money to help pay the bills.

He says he doesn't make much as a uber driver and that he is just doing the job to pay for his personal needs and car maintenance. He says it's my responsibility to take care of the family and show my love by bearing the burden financially. We own a house and it is very hard to live with one person's income.

I'm currently handling all the expenses and he is not willing to contribute at all. He says he is looking for a job and until then I have to wait and take care of the family. I want to leave him and separate temporarily but am unable because I have a financial responsibility towards the house and am afraid that my credit will suffer if I don't make the payments on time. In addition, it will be extremely difficult to rent an apartment or a rental home because of my current financial responsibility toward our home mortgage. It is very difficult to have a conversation with him as he ignores me and gives me the silent treatment. I want to be able to sell our home, but he won't leave and won't have an open discussion with me about the state of our marriage. I feel stuck and not sure how to move forward. please help.

Answer: I’m sorry you are going through all of this. Your husband is in a crisis but let me ask you a question. Is all his blame-shifting and excuse-making something new for him? Or has this been a regular pattern throughout your marriage? Sometimes people do have a crisis in their life where they are destabilized for a season and say and do some foolish and unhealthy things.

Only you can answer the question of whether this is his normal pattern, or this is completely out of character from the man you have lived with thus far.

You don’t mention how long you’ve been married, whether you have children who also are dependent, and why he lost two jobs this past year. Again, has job stability been a problem previously, or is this a new issue?

What People Are Saying About Leslie’s book “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage”

This book was very good. A friend recommended me to read this. I would recommend this book also. I like how Leslie doesn't just say “Oh the woman is provoking her to have her man to anger.” I also appreciate that she looks at the whole picture of a relationship and not just here and there type of thing.

~ Amanda


Leslie wants to help you grow in your personal and relational effectiveness. Please submit your questions by clicking here.

Then, visit Leslie's Blog as she posts her responses to one question per week.

Note: Due to the volume of questions that Leslie receives, she is unable to respond to every question.


Leslie Vernick PO Box 5312 Sun City West, Arizona 85376 United States