Neglect Is Abuse

neglect“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.”  Ephesians 5:28-30

There is no way to justify neglect in marriage from a biblical standpoint.  It is an oxymoron; it is hypocrisy.  We cannot profess to love someone and consistently neglect their most basic needs and desires and expect the relationship to thrive.  I am not talking about the occasional oversight or an inadvertent failure to love perfectly.  There are times we all fall short even when our hearts are right.  However, the perpetual and deliberate refusal to acknowledge or meet the needs of our spouse represents emotional, material and perhaps social neglect.

In a one-flesh union, it is not a burden but rather a privilege to tend to the heart, mind and soul of our beloved, for our spouse is an extension of our self.  We stand before the marriage altar confident that we will traverse this life alongside this person who is more than merely a mate or a lover, but a co-laborer, a teammate, a companion, a confidante and our most trustworthy friend.  Therefore, to neglect a spouse emotionally, physically or materially is to dishonor and, yes, to break our solemn vows to love, honor and cherish; vows which reflect not merely intent but active and evidenced devotion.

Quite simply, these vows entail identifying our spouse’s needs and desires, taking the initiative to meet those needs, and investing in one another’s well-being with a design to contribute to – and enjoy – long-term intimacy.  So the mutual and ongoing demonstrations of affection, respect, admiration and attentive care should be common hallmarks of a healthy marriage.

Yet I have read and heard countless stories of victims who have suffered profound, deliberate manifestations of neglect.  Some neglectful husbands* refuse to allow their wives to pursue an education or a job, while simultaneously hoarding or controlling the income to the point of their families’ desperate need.  There have been occasions where the stay-at-home mom must beg permission to take her children to the doctor or dentist for necessary treatment only to be told by her husband that he doesn’t want to cover the expense, and if she wishes to seek medical care she will have to find some other source of money to pay for it.  This same kind of neglect can also be felt in a refusal to purchase shoes, clothing, school supplies, or provide transportation and even food.

Then there are the husbands who arrive home from work expecting a hearty meal and the freedom to sit speechless in front of the television for hours night after night without lifting a finger to assist with clean-up or household needs or offering to help the kids with their homework.  These same men expect their taken-for-granted wives to eagerly spring into lover mode at bedtime, and then roll over and fall asleep without so much as an “I love you,” while she resorts to holding herself to stem the flow of tears.

And there was the shocking account of a woman whose husband agreed to take care of their infant son for a couple of hours several evenings a week so that she could attend yoga classes.  The first evening after class she returned home to find her husband stoically watching television, his tiny son in his lap screaming for attention without receiving any comfort whatsoever from his father, who offered no explanation or apology.  He had fulfilled his expressed obligation, but nothing more.  It was a devastating moment as the mother realized she could not leave her son with his father for any length of time, and she had to surrender any thought of attending yoga class.  Neither the man’s wife’s needs, nor his son’s, were a priority to him.

Depriving a spouse or children of basic, material and emotional attention is wholly inconsistent with what we know to be love.   It is neglect – the practical abandonment and emotional betrayal of those who should naturally be the recipients of our most gracious measures of attention and nurture.

What Are Some of the Things We Need?

We need relationship, both the intimacy of a one-on-one relationship with our spouse as well as the freedom and opportunity to enjoy outside relationships and socialize in a variety of settings with friends and family, which may include work, volunteer opportunities, classes, hobbies, meet-ups with friends and recreational outings.

We need shared responsibility, a sense of teamwork and cooperation where needed, whether paying bills, running errands, maintaining the household or caring for children.  It should be understood that, if we need help; if we are ill or incapacitated, or involved in a project that requires teamwork, our spouse is willing to do what he can to help out – without whining or complaining or hurrying us along or inferring that we owe them something.

We need to feel understood, respected and accepted, as well as to be encouraged and supported as we walk through the daily challenges that come with everyday life.  We need to know that our spouse will provide us with a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on and a heart that does not shame or belittle us, but sees our strengths, loves us in spite of our weaknesses and always seeks our good.  Of course, there may be seasons where we must each give and take, depending on the need, and similarly, we also bear a responsibility to vocalize our needs and desires at times when our spouse is simply unaware.

We need affection.  While this includes sex, it should not be limited to sex, but should incorporate the incidental demonstrations of care in the everyday, which might be evidenced by acts of service and words of affirmation and casual, physical touch.  In fact, if the affection demonstrated in a marriage only consists of sex, then I contend that would constitute physical neglect.  While men might be less inclined to agree with that last statement, in my experience, most women long to experience tender, non-sexual affection in addition to sex to feel truly loved, respected and appreciated.

We need some undivided attention and alone time.  Scheduling time alone together periodically out of the house, and perhaps out of town provides both partners with the opportunity to unwind and detox and connect on a deeper friendship level.  And many of us also need some time either by ourselves or with our closest friends.  This requires that each partner reasonably accommodate the other’s freedom and need for outside connection.

The consistent failure to see or accommodate our spouses’ basic needs constitutes neglect; a silent assault on the heart, mind and body.  Neglect may not be overtly hostile, but it is a betrayal nonetheless, a slow burn, a form of incremental relational starvation and among the most subtle and least identified of all forms of abuse.  It quietly whispers, “You are not important,” its voice borne of apathy, insensitivity, selfishness and pride, and its victims will ultimately find themselves living a life characterized by a sense of barrenness, loneliness and loss.

Some will say that we should find all of our needs met in God, and He will be enough.  But in marriage, our spouse has a divine calling and a role to play in the relationship, and each of us enters into that relationship with a belief that our spouse’s confessed love will translate into an appropriate measure of thoughtful devotion.

The Apostle Paul describes the obvious this way:

“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself, for no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church…”

In the image Paul paints here we see the tangible, proactive, love-based evidence of marital devotion.  A nourished person is healthy and satisfied, not left begging for basic sustenance.

There is no place for the sullen, sorrowful effects of neglect in marriage; nor should we be surprised when neglectful marriages fail.  As with any other living thing, the relationship that does not receive the nourishment it needs is destined to wither and eventually die.

There is no such thing as a neglectful, happy marriage.


*Although women can be abusive, as well, the majority of abusers are male.  For this reason, the abuser is referenced in the masculine. The reader’s understanding is appreciated.

10 thoughts on “Neglect Is Abuse”

  1. Thank you for this article. It spoke of my marriage of 17 years. My husband started to neglect me almost as soon as the wedding vows were over. He was so cold and distant that I could not understand how a loving man during dating days could suddenly transform. Now I realize that he was an abusive and manipulative man who had identified me a an easy target to woo and deceive. He was simply looking for someone who earned well and had a good family support.

    2 years after our marriage my husband stopped having intimacy with me. He would not even hold my hand or cuddle. Soon I discovered that he was addicted to porn and masturbating. He refused counseling saying he will stop viewing porn but he did not keep his promise. If I asked for intimacy he would say that I was unappealing, fat and unattractive. He made me feel undesirable and unlovely throughout our marriage.

    Now he is having an affair with a woman half his age. My husband has hardly earned a living during our marriage. He let me work and pay for all the mortgage and expenses and now he tells me he was attracted to this girl due to his low self esteem. He is trying to go abroad to start a business and he has been hinting that I should help him out with funds to start the business. I have since discovered that he is planning to bring this girl abroad. He has refused to give up the girl. His plea for restoration of the marriage is shallow and a sham. He wants to take my money to start a business and provide a living for this girl, who is not educated. I am hurt that my husband has made use of me all these years and refused to provide for me and yet now sees fit to provide for another girl who is not even his wife.

    He does not want a divorce. Maybe he wants to continue sponging off me as long as he can. Although I have been lonely for most of my marriage, the thought of divorce is still painful as I will be alone to pick up the pieces. I am in my early fifties and I cannot imagine meeting someone else at this stage of my life. I am trusting the Lord to bring me out of this though I cannot see what is ahead.

    1. Hello, Sarah. You have been through a lot with the man to whom you are married. There are many things I would like to say to you, but suffice it to say that what you have is not a marriage, and your husband has materially, physically and emotionally abandoned you. He has also committed adultery – perhaps not physically but emotionally and spiritually. Porn use is incredibly demeaning and destructive. I know; I’ve been there…

      And marriage is sacred. The relationship is to be reflective of the vows both parties take to love, honor and cherish. Your husband’s offenses toward you are more than sufficient cause to divorce him, should you decide to do so.

      Will things change for the better in your situation? Only you know the answer to that question. If not, then every day, month or year you remain with him translates into you giving more or yourself away – while he wanders off to do what he wants. That is so wrong.

      I know it is scary later in life, but I have seen God do amazing, miraculous things, and I will be praying for you – that God grants you the wisdom you seek. (James 1:5)

      If you are interested, I also offer phone consultations. They are fee-based, but I have worked with some women who have found themselves grounded after a single session. Let me know if you are interested…

      I just want you to find God’s truth in this so that you can be set free.

      Wishing you well,


  2. Thank you so much for this, Cindy. Beautifully and clearly written. Poignant in its message about neglect.

    I am trying to voice a very deep, shelved hurt, so my words might come out a little bit off. But this article really brought awareness to how much I am neglected in my marriage, and how little I acknowledge it, for fear of “not being grateful enough for what I have.”

    My husband neglects everyday, but is unaware of it. He has a disorder that makes it difficult for him to empathize with others, and because of this, I have been told by family members and leaders within our church that he’s doing all that he can considering, and I should learn to meet my needs in other ways than through my marriage (as in, immerse myself in creative projects or find empathy with friends instead of expecting it to come from my husband.) Anytime I voice that I’m not receiving any emotional support, or help at home with all the chores/meals, or help with parenting beyond basic babysitting–I am told that he’s who he is, he’s doing the best he can, and he’s not yelling or being unkind to me, so I should be “grateful for what I have.” Then it feels like if I’m not grateful for the small crumbs being tossed out to me, I’m somehow selfish and unChristlike, or I’m asking for far too much because “most marriages have ups and downs” and “most men are that way anyway.”

    These are simply things I’ve been told over and over again by virtually everyone around me.

    Financially, I’m well supported so I appreciate him for that, and I also see that he tries in some ways to be a good person, but he prioritizes his phone and tv, and he puts in the bare minimal into his relationships without any effort for a deep connection (which he can’t anyway, because of his disorder). I’m at a loss of what to do, and in pain over the ways I feel like emotionally my needs are ignored.

    He feels like he’s doing the best he can, and sometimes makes effort or shows kindness.

    It’s been the loneliest and most silently agonizing struggle for many, many years. I appreciate that you voiced exactly what I was feeling, so that I don’t have to feel alone in it.

    1. BellaBee, I am heartsick to read what you shared. To be honest, I have not heard of such a disorder. I’m not trying to stir up trouble here, but if your husband knows he has the disorder, then he must have some understanding that it would benefit you for him to get out of his comfort zone and seek to meet some household logistical needs for help and support. That does not require empathy, but merely an understanding of shared responsibility.

      I also don’t want to pour salt in your wound but wonder if you have point-blank asked him to do things that need to be done. I know this can be uncomfortable, but you have every right to ask and expect him to cooperate. It is not your responsibility to hold everything together, and I am certain that your resentment is simmering – and rightly so.

      You are also welcome to contact me on my private email if you would like to “converse” privately.

      I’m very sorry you are hurting.


      P.S. I also have a hard time accepting what your believing friends have told you, nor do I personally believe you are obligated to be grateful for the crumbs of attention you receive.

  3. Cindy,
    Thank you for dealing with the topic of ‘neglect’ as being a form of abuse. I have heard so many excuses over the years for why ‘he’ is the way ‘he’ is. Quite often this is considered, “Well, that’s just the way men are.”
    Although, BellaBee didn’t mention what her husband’s condition was, I have heard some refer to Asperger’s Syndrome. I had read about it years ago and forgotten about it until one of my adult children who is also very cold-hearted towards me recently was reading a book on this subject and hinted very strongly that this was their problem … hmm, I’ve witnessed this adult child be quite sympathetic and caring towards others except for me.
    I believe Dr George Simon had written an article stating that even those with Asperger’s can still change if they have the will to work on their character disorder.
    I apologize for not having the link or the title of the article but I read it earlier this year after seeing the book my child was reading.
    We all have character disorders to some degree … it takes a repentant heart to change .
    AND quite often the abused are expected to change for the sake of the those who are neglecting us. They expect us to become as uncaring as them – to show absolutely no emotion except for what really offends them!

    1. Hi Beverly, you definitely nailed it: my husband does have Asperger’s. He is learning how to adapt to life with it, learning emotions in a formulaic way. While he has stopped so much of the abusive behavior that was present for so many years, and he’s learning how to socially integrate with me and others in a way that makes his disorder virtually invisible, there’s also this gaping hole where emotional connection should be. So he has no need to emotionally or physically or spiritually connect with me at all. I can ask him to do things, and he will do them, but when I need help through grief? Through the difficulty of dealing with my son, who is also Asperger’s? Through depression and anxiety? He retreats into his world of computers and phones and television rather than deal with discomfort of my emotions. He’s a good guy in SO many ways, but the lack of emotional connection is hard for me to deal with, because there’s really no replacement for it in a marriage. And with his past of verbal and sexual abuse, it’s hard to trust him or establish a bond, even if I know he’s trying to learn and change. It’s a hard situation. Thanks for your input. 🙂

  4. My story is similar to Sarah here. I have a 20 year marriage with one child. My husband pursued me intensely when we were dating. He promised to be committed to me forever and to die with me. Soon after marriage he abandoned me by refusing to have intimacy or share any affection. He has never affirmed or praised me for anything. Even on my wedding day, he did not say I looked beautiful or that the dress was nice. He in fact criticized me a lot by saying my cooking was not on par with his family. He would not say that my baking was good or that I could decorate the home beautifully. He just could not say nice things at all.
    To compound the problem. my husband was and still is involved in porn. I suspect that he was watching porn even whilst we were dating because his emotions dulled and cooled soon after marriage.I felt so unloved and lonely all these years. I wish I had left earlier but I stayed for my child thinking that God could work a miracle. Plus I was not sure if I had biblical grounds for leaving my husband.
    Recently I came to know that he has been carrying on with a younger woman. He does not want to give her up. He calls her on his phone very often and it destroys me when he does that. He lies about it and says that someone else was on the phone. He lies to me a lot and I find it increasingly difficult to live with him. His words crush my spirit.
    After our marriage my husband worked in a teaching position for 3 months and since then has not worked. My family who does not about my marital issues want to help him out by giving him financial assistance. My husband knows how to put up a good facade to the world out there. No one would believe me if I told them what he has done to me all these years.
    I wasted so much time and effort on a marriage that was doomed to fail from the start and I am ready to put it behind me and move on. I hope to find love along the way. I know God must have a purpose in all this emotional turmoil and will bring something good out of this. Thank you for an article well written which reflects what is happening to so many women out there.

  5. BellaBee,
    Thank you for sharing more of your testimony.
    My situation sounds so much like yours except the man I married is past “the seeking of change”. Instead he chooses to remain as is since he has family and friends accepting him and snubbing me mainly because of the Christian faith.
    I really feel for you because I’m still so exhausted as I cautiously desire to move forward but feel so unsure of whether I’m within God’s will or not. I go through so many times of self-doubt — the positive is that this has made me totally dependant on God’s leading — I’ve cried out because of my fatigue and know that He will protect me even though I’m well aware there is to be more emotional abuse.
    Praying for you and others.

    1. Hello, Beverley.

      My primary concern for you is your uncertainty about God’s will. I absolutely agree that we need peace in order to move; however, sometimes I think that outside pressures and voices can cause us to doubt our reality, our value and our options. That’s what happened to me. It wasn’t until I left that I could see the depth of harm and understood that I was enabling and facilitating the continuation of the abuse. By remaining, I was validating my abuser’s actions and attitudes.

      Outsiders’ version of truth is not the same as our own – or God’s. And I hope you don’t mind if I encourage you to consider the option of a temporary separation just so that you might have the opportunity to see and measure the patterns and outcomes in your relationship. The reality is that we become so entrenched in our
      present reality and have been so trained to cope with whatever is dished out that we really cannot comprehend how bizarre our situation really is or how much pain we are in – until we step outside of it and take the time to see it from a new perspective.

      Time and distance provide clarity. To remove yourself for a time and see what life is like on the other side, free from abuse, where you can allow the fresh air in and begin to detox is powerful stuff. Then, if or when you decide to try it again, you can see the dynamic and the truth of the situation much more clearly. It becomes easier to sense God’s heart and love and to realize that you are not obligated to live according to others’ expectations of you, nor are you called to suffer when God has provided a means of escape.

      Just my two cents, but I have seen this reality replayed many times with profound, life-changing results. Of course, at the end of the day, you have to do what you believe God would have you do.

      All the best,


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