Fear and “The Excellent Wife”

The Excellent Wife is a popular book within conservative Christian circles. However, the author’s interpretation of many biblical passages is incredibly troubling to me. I will examine much of the problematic content in this book over the course of several posts. This particular post will be dedicated to the author’s portrayal of the emotion of fear. Her treatment of this topic suggests that in cases where a husband is mistreating or abusing his wife, the wife is equally responsible for a “sin problem” because she responds to the abuse with fear.

Consider the following quotes from the book:

Fear as a “Sin Problem”

The idea that fear is a sinful response from the one experiencing it oversimplifies complex emotional responses, especially in contexts where a wife’s fear is due to her husband’s alcoholism or abuse, both of which are possibilities that the author acknowledged in her treatment of the topic of fear.

Misguided Interpretations of Scripture

The book suggests that the key to overcoming fear is love, citing 1 John 4:18 as its basis.

“The key to overcoming fear is love (I John 4:18). Fear will certainly ruin a godly atmosphere in any home. If you are fearful, your responsibility is to repent” (p. 78).

Not only is this a heartless response to a wife who is afraid of her husband, blaming her for the lack of a godly atmosphere in her home, but it is also a totally backward use of that verse.

In fact, it is God’s perfect love that casts out our fear. Because of His perfect love, we can have confidence before Him at His coming, knowing we are accepted in the beloved. So, for one thing, this passage is not about relationships; it is about the love of God.

But if one were to try to apply it to a relationship, the proper comparison would be that if someone loves you, there is no need to fear them. Fearing someone would be an indicator that their love for you is lacking. To imply that fearing one’s abusive husband is sinful and a cause for repentance is such a grotesque handling of this beautifully assuring scripture about our perfectly loving God.

Love creates peace and trust, not fear.


Instead of being encouraged to honestly explore why they might be afraid of their husband, and instead of acknowledging that fear is the body’s alarm that it is not experiencing safety, readers of The Excellent Wife are told they must repent for experiencing fear. That breaks my heart.

The Impact of Fear on Marital Relationships

Fear is a common emotion in relationships, particularly in circumstances involving anger, addiction, or other forms of mistreatment. The book acknowledges this reality but frames fear primarily as an impediment to loving one’s spouse effectively. This perspective can inadvertently place the burden of overcoming fear solely on the individual experiencing it, rather than addressing the root causes of fear within the relationship dynamics.

“Whether your fear is that your husband will die, leave you, or abuse you in some horrible way, the key to overcoming your fear is trusting God and loving your husband” (p. 99).

Such advice, while well-intentioned, overlooks the complexities of fear in abusive or manipulative relationships, where trust and love on the part of the victim will not undo the mistreatment she is experiencing but will in fact feed the abuser’s entitlement.

A Call for Compassionate Understanding

The treatment of fear in The Excellent Wife warrants critical reflection. While I assume the author’s intention is to increase the harmony within marriages, dismissing fear as sinful and shameful will only entrap the wife who has legitimate needs for safety and support into blaming herself and ignoring whatever behaviors of her husband that are causing her to experience fear.

True love, as exemplified in scripture, should foster environments where individuals feel safe, valued, and supported in their journey toward healing and growth.

As we continue to engage with these important issues, let us strive to uphold biblical teachings in ways that promote justice, compassion, and the genuine well-being of all individuals within marital relationships.

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