A black and white photo captures a couple sitting apart, their expressions filled with sadness and despair, symbolizing the pain and turmoil toxic marriages can bring, echoing the Bible's teachings on love and respect.

What Does The Bible Say About Toxic Marriages?

Marriage can be an incredibly rewarding union filled with joy, fulfillment and growth when both partners are committed to each other and to following God’s principles for marriage. However, when selfishness, unresolved conflicts and neglect take root in a marriage, it can become unhappy and toxic.

If you feel trapped in an unhealthy marriage, you may wonder if God allows divorce in cases of toxicity or abuse. You also likely yearn for specific Bible verses about how to repair brokenness and reconnect with your spouse.

In this comprehensive article, we will dive deep into biblical truths about toxic marriages, including God’s desire for healthy marriages, guidance on separation and divorce, as well as steps for healing.

Defining a Toxic Marriage From a Biblical Perspective

Damaging Patterns of Interaction

Toxic marriages often involve unhealthy communication patterns like criticizing, blaming, attacking or manipulating the spouse (Prov 15:1). These damaging ways of interacting erode feelings of safety and trust in the relationship.

According to research, criticism between partners has shown to be the most destructive communication pattern, leading to eventual contempt. Other harmful relating patterns are defensiveness, stonewalling, or withdrawing from conflict.

The Bible warns against treating others with anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech (Col 3:8). These ways of communicating fail to build up and can deeply wound a spouse emotionally. Ephesians 4:29 offers positive instruction, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Emotional, Verbal or Physical Abuse

Toxic marriages involve emotional, verbal, spiritual or physical abuse. This can include behaviors like name-calling, intimidation, isolation, sexual coercion, threats, humiliation, or physical harm. According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, over 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the U.S. have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.

The Bible clearly prohibits abuse and violence against others. Galatians 5:19-21 warns that hostility, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, and dissensions are sinful acts of the flesh that destroy relationships.

And Romans 13:10 says, “Love does no harm to a neighbor.” Toxic marriages where abuse is present violate fundamental biblical principles.

One or Both Partners Stuck in Unrepentant Sin

Another indicator of an unhealthy marriage is when a spouse remains unrepentant in patterns of sinful behavior. This could include things like addiction, pornography use, infidelity, or a prideful unwillingness to address personal flaws.

If a partner is confronted but refuses to take responsibility for their contribution to marital problems, it erodes the relationship.

The Bible teaches the importance of confession, repentance and forgiveness in marriage. James 5:16 instructs, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Couples should gently restore one another when sinful patterns develop (Gal 6:1).

However, when a spouse remains hard-hearted, the marriage suffers (Prov 29:1).

God’s Design and Desire for Marriage

Lifelong Union Between Husband and Wife

God’s original design for marriage was for one man and one woman to be united together for life (Genesis 2:24). This lifelong union reflects God’s everlasting love and commitment to His people (Isaiah 54:5).

Though broken in a fallen world, God can miraculously restore marriage relationships according to His perfect will when both partners surrender to Him.

Marriage is intended to be an unbroken, lifelong covenant relationship, not entered into lightly. As Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage should be honored by all.” The serious lifelong commitment demonstrates Christ’s sacrificial relationship with the Church (Ephesians 5:25).

Reflecting Christ’s Love for the Church

Human marriage between husband and wife is meant to mirror Christ’s relationship with His Bride, the Church. The selfless, agape love between spouses reflects how Christ loved us enough to lay down His life (Ephesians 5:25). This kind of unconditional love only comes from God.

The marriage relationship displays the mystery of Christ’s union with the Church (Ephesians 5:32). As human marriages grow to reflect God’s self-giving love, they declare God’s redemptive power and grace to the world.

Though imperfect, Christian marriages give the world a glimpse of Christ’s perfect love for His people.

Partnership, Intimacy and Mutual Submitting

God designed marriage for intimate partnership between husband and wife, not hierarchical status. Though the husband is called head like Christ (Ephesians 5:23), he is to lovingly serve his wife just as Jesus served the Church. There is mutual submission rather than power struggles (Ephesians 5:21).

This partnership leads to emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy, becoming “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). This intimacy reflects the believer’s intimate relationship with Christ. As spouses unconditionally accept and cherish one another, their marriage points to God’s unconditional love and our identity in Christ.

In mutual submission and intimacy, marriage partners uphold Christ’s charge to love one another (John 13:34). This agape love in marriage is only possible with God at the center as the source of love. As His love flows through redeemed marriages, they display God’s glorious intention for Christ-centered unions.

When Separation or Divorce May Be Permitted

In Cases of Hardness of Heart

Jesus permitted divorce only in cases of hardness of heart, when one spouse is unfaithful or abandons the marriage (Matthew 19:8). This provides relief when the marriage vows have already been broken. However, divorce should always be a last resort after attempting reconciliation.

God can heal even the most broken marriages when both spouses surrender to His will.

When There is Unrepentant Sexual Immorality

Infidelity breaks the marriage covenant and can be grounds for divorce (Matthew 5:32). However, if the unfaithful spouse repents and ends the affair, forgiveness and reconciliation are encouraged. Statistics show that 75% of couples who go through counseling after infidelity are able to save their marriages.

With God’s help, marriages can be restored even after betrayal.

If an Unbelieving Spouse Leaves

If an unbelieving spouse abandons the marriage, the believer is no longer bound and may file for divorce (1 Corinthians 7:15). This permits the Christian spouse to remarry. However, if there is any hope of restoring the marriage, patience, prayer and godly conduct can inspire the unbeliever to reconsider (1 Peter 3:1-2).

Resources are available to help spouses willing to fight for restoration.

Steps for Healing a Damaged Marriage

Pursue Counseling or Mentorship

Seeking professional help through counseling or mentorship can provide guidance and support for healing a toxic marriage (1). Trained therapists and counselors have the skills to facilitate healthy communication, identify core issues, and develop strategies for rebuilding trust and intimacy.

Mentor couples who have overcome their own marital struggles can also inspire hope and model what a healthy marriage looks like through their example. According to research, couples therapy has been shown to improve relationship satisfaction for over half of couples who participate (2).

With godly wisdom and compassion, counselors and mentors can help couples rediscover the love that initially brought them together.

Practice Open Communication and Active Listening

A key component of moving forward in a damaged marriage is learning how to communicate openly and effectively. Toxic patterns like criticism, defensiveness, and contempt must be replaced with vulnerability, empathy, and active listening (3).

This allows each spouse to share their thoughts and feelings without judgement and builds understanding. Couples should set aside regular times to talk where they can express appreciation for each other, discuss problems gently, and truly listen without interruption.

Learning each other’s love languages also fosters positive communication. Simple practices like maintaining eye contact, eliminating distractions, and asking clarifying questions can keep interactions healthy and loving.

With patience and practice, communicationexchange that heals and unites rather than harms.

Recommit to Loving One Another

At the heart of healing a toxic marriage is the choice to love one another with God’s grace. Even when the feelings of affection aren’t there, couples can demonstrate selfless love through their actions (4).

Making deposits into the relationship “bank account” by showing care and consideration through hugs, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and words of encouragement can rekindle positive emotions. Respecting each other’s boundaries and being accountable also exhibits love.

Saying “I’m sorry” and extending forgiveness when wronged follows Christ’s example. Refusing to bring up past hurts and mistakes reflects love that “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Couples should regularly reflect on what initially drew them together and recapture their sense of teamwork.

As spouses choose daily to love one another as Christ loved the Church, emotional intimacy is renewed.

Pray and Study Scripture Together

Couples healing from toxicity and damage in their marriage greatly benefit from spiritual practices like prayer and Bible study together. Setting aside time to pray as a couple invites God’s presence and opens their hearts to His wisdom, comfort, and purpose.

Studying passages on love, grace, hope, and redemption as a team reminds spouses of biblical principles for marriage. They can also explore Scripture to address specific struggles like conflict, unforgiveness, or dishonesty.

Christian marriage counselors often encourage doing devotions and Bible journaling as a duo as well. Praying for one another in between sessions can also promote healing (5). God desires unity and restoration in marriage and will bless the efforts of couples who seek Him first and foremost.

Shared spiritual life sustains marriage through good times and bad.

64% Improvement in relationship satisfaction from couples therapy (2)
20% Lower risk of divorce for couples who regularly attend religious services together (6)

By humbly pursuing counsel, improving communication, making loving choices, and grounding their relationship in Scripture and prayer, couples can find hope again after toxicity and damage have taken root. They must cling to God’s perfect love and redemptive grace to weather the storms.

With openness and commitment to the hard work ahead, husbands and wives can rebuild their marriage into something new and beautiful.


  1. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/building-healthy-marriage/healing-a-toxic-marriage
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/meet-catch-and-keep/201909/do-couples-therapy-really-improve-relationships
  3. https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling
  4. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/love-and-romance/marital-healing/recommit-to-your-marriage
  5. https://www.crosswalk.com/family/marriage/ways-to-regain-intimacy-with-your-spouse.html
  6. https://ifstudies.org/blog/worship-service-attendance-linked-to-better-marriages

Coping with a Toxic Marriage If Restoration Is Not Possible

Let Go of Bitterness and Resentment

Holding onto bitterness and resentment will only poison your spirit and prevent healing and growth. Though certainly easier said than done, Christians are called to forgive others just as God has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Continuing to dwell on past hurts will bind you to the pain of the past.

Ask God to soften your heart and enable you to release the anger and hurt through His power. As He fills you with His love and joy, there will be less room for the bitterness.

Refrain from Speaking Negatively About Your Spouse

Even if your spouse behaves badly, take the high road and avoid trash talking them to others (Ephesians 4:29). Venting may provide some temporary relief but often exacerbates bitterness. If you need to process with someone, speak to a trusted friend or counselor who will listen compassionately without fanning the flames of resentment.

Seek Supportive Christian Community

Isolation feeds toxicity. Surround yourself with other believers who will encourage you, pray with and for you, and remind you of Christ’s hope and healing (Hebrews 10:24-25). If you don’t already have a supportive community, visit local churches and try out some small groups.

Seeking authentic Christian fellowship can help protect your heart from despair.

Keep Pursuing God as Your Primary Refuge

When we fix our eyes on Jesus instead of our circumstances, we find peace and joy that transcends difficult relationships (Hebrews 12:2-3). Spend time daily in God’s Word, prayer, worship, and Christian community.

Allow His presence to comfort you and remind you that your identity and worth is firmly rooted in Him. Though marriage restoration may not be possible, God can still redeem your pain and use it for good (Genesis 50:20). Trust Him to sustain you each day until the hardship passes.

With God’s help, even the darkest valleys can be temporary as we walk hand-in-hand with Him toward restoration.


In passages throughout Scripture, God makes clear that he ordained marriage to be a loving, supportive and mutually uplifting covenant. When toxicity, abuse or unrepentant sin enters in, it wounds the individuals involved and grieves God’s heart.

Through God’s compassion and transforming power, damaged marriages can be healed when both partners are willing to courageously walk through a process of counseling, repentance, forgiveness and renewal.

However, in certain situations – especially when emotional or physical danger is present – separation or divorce may be permitted.

Regardless of your current marital circumstances, you can find hope and healing in Jesus. As you seek support from other believers and prioritize understanding God’s guidance, you will gain wisdom and strength for whatever path forward restores peace and wholeness in your life.

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