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What Constitutes Marital Betrayal?
Tuesday, June 14, 2016 by Laura Bender

What Constitutes Marital Betrayal?

Marital betrayal involves some manner of abuse to accomplish power and control by way of overt / aggressive behavior, or covert / passive behavior. I am not a therapist, so I will not be getting clinical, but I want to simply and briefly lay out an understanding of marital betrayal.  Betrayal can happen by both men and women in marriage.  Since this organization and website are focused on assisting women in their struggles, what is below will focus on a wife’s experience in betrayal.  

To start, let’s lay out a basic definition of betrayal: violation of trust; breach of confidence; breaking a contract or an agreement; to be false or disloyal to; to mislead or deceive; aligning or joining with the enemy; to hurt by not giving help; to be unfeeling involving injustice; moral wrong doing; to support, tolerate, or condone moral wrong doing; to give aid to an enemy.”

Betrayal in marriage can take many forms and can rise to the level of abuse.  Betrayal in the area of the sexual relationship stands out, but it can also be physical, financial, and/or fall under the heading of emotional abuse, and be described as psychological, intellectual, verbal, social, and/or spiritual. 

We will be expounding on abusive behaviors in marriage in future blogs with other contributing writers, but for now, I want to summarize some of these forms of abuse. I feel that it's necessary to lay out some groundwork for better understanding of the reasons for the formation of this nonprofit ministry, HER Hope Empowers Restoration, so hang in there with me.

  • Physical abuse can involve: battery, physical assault, sexual assault, violence, etc.
  • Sexual abuse can involve: pornography, sex addiction, strip clubs, escort services, sexual massage services, affairs, all sexual immorality, being given over to lust, guilting a spouse for sex, etc. (an abusers who has sex with his wife while sexually betraying her is a form of sexual abuse)
  • Financial abuse can involve: hiding income, hiding spending, omission of finances, husband ruling finances alone, lying about money, spending money on sexual immorality, spending money on another woman, spending money on addictions, not discussing investments or financial plans, not sharing decisions of large purchases, keeping close tabs and controlling wife's spending, not allowing donations or tithes, limits access to money or accounts, divorce, etc.
  • Emotional abuse can involve: psychological manipulation, willful intimidation, lying by deception or omission, verbally degrading, belittling, yelling, forms of isolation, indifference, minimizing, withdrawing, avoiding, emotionally detaching, mind games, being two-faced, addictions (including workaholism), invalidating feelings, justifying, blaming, shaming, withholding affection, sarcastic teasing, demanding, entitlement, refusing third party help or counseling, never being sorry, pornography, affairs, withholding forgiveness, resentment, divorce, etc.
  • Spiritual abuse can involve: joking that wife is overly obsessed with God, mocking her spirituality, using church to make himself look good, twisting scripture, claiming Jesus Christ but not caring about him at all, being a false brother, not allowing wife to get involved in church, not ever repentant, refuses to confide in godly men, living one way at home and another around Christians, does not love his wife, does not live with his wife in understanding, has an ungodly worldview instead of a biblical worldview, divorce, etc. 

What is the Difference between a Problematic Marriage and an Abusive One?

All marriages have problems, and problems can be caused by either spouse. We are all sinners - actively and reactively, passively and inwardly.  Common problems and abuse however, are two different categories.  Both spouses can contribute to problems in marriage - there can be failures relationally, financially, emotionally, spiritually, or even sexually.  These failures do not constitute abuse if they are not prolonged, and if they are confessed, addressed, and changed.  

I appreciate the clarity in The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Dr. Leslie Vernick, how she compares marriage health with physical health. Marriage problems are like having illnesses such as colds, broken bones, or a flu; a marriage that is abusive is like having cancer, or another fatal disease.  Just like treatment for physical illnesses would vary, the same sensitive care must be taken for determining treatment for marriage issues. 

What causes a wife to feel that the issues in her marriage cross over from “problems” to “abuse”?  When these problems are ignored after she desperately expresses that she wants them resolved.  An unwilling husband who continues in his ways, ends up creating an abusive environment for his wife.  

The fact that these behaviors occur within the marriage make them feel far more painful than if they were to occur in other relationships.  Marriage is an intimate relationship: it begins with a covenant, is confirmed with vows during a symbolic ceremony, and is sealed with sexual intimacy.  

Great inner pain consumes a wife when her husband treats her contrary to his promises at the altar. The closer the relationship, the deeper the hurt when sin toward us occurs. The more we value our relationship with someone, the greater the degree of pain we feel when they betray us.

David expressed this in Psalm 55:12-13 - "If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide, but it is you, my equal, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship."  Here he was describing a friendship relationship, not even to be compared with intimate partnership.  David felt the deep hurt of betrayal because this was someone he opened his heart to and confided in.  In a marriage relationship, this hurt would be amplified even more.  

A Note on Seeking Help

For the Christian woman, help in addressing problems or abuse is often sought through the church.  However, many churches are ill equipped to handle issues beyond the realm of normal problems.  While some qualified counselors may understand these serious issues and the depth of the pain involved, many pastors or church counselors lack the training and understanding to help a marriage in serious crisis.  Many have tried treating serious marriage crises as if they were treating flu symptoms and all too often, the victim in an abusive situation may become blamed for the problem or for not forgiving quickly enough. 

There can be multiple failures involving the support systems that women usually turn to at the onset of her marriage crisis disclosure. My prayer is that women who are suffering from abuse in their marriage, would cry out to God for a safe avenue to bring it into the light. Ephesians 5:11-13 talks about how we're to expose the deeds of darkness even though it's shameful what the disobedient are doing in secret. We are not to contribute to keeping dark deeds hidden, because when exposed to the light, there is opportunity for the Lord to work. I'm praying that God would give women the courage to expose a husband's sin in a trusted, confidential setting.  If you need help finding a Christian counselor, you can search the Association of Biblical Counselors

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Laura Bender

Laura serves as the Executive Director on the board of HER. She is passionate about helping  betrayed women who struggle emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and financially. She has been leading weekly marital betrayal support groups for several years. Currently, Laura connects with leaders, writers, and counselors, to unite the efforts of those who share a burden for betrayed women.


Vanessa S From At 1/26/2018 11:46:20 AM

My experience with an ACBC counselor was him telling me he and other pastors continued to see the emotional abuse yet it was the perfect opportunity for me to show grace and mercy to my kids. Staying in the relationship would have continued putting me and my kids in harm's way. Add spiritual abuse.

Reply by: Laura Bender

Absolutely that advice was spiritual abuse and I'm so sorry! While this post focuses on spousal abuse, other posts mention secondary abuse that comes from pastors and counselors. Check out the post, Leslie Vernick on Emotional Abuse.

Melody From Provo, UT At 7/29/2017 12:10:42 AM

So much to process when we go through this! My husband made me think I was emotionally unstable and he never validated me. I don't wish this on my worst enemy! I've been in emotional pain for so many years and I'm tired of it.

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