The conflicts arose because John had been involved in an adulterous relationship with Abigail, who used to be their maid. When Elizabeth discovered the affair, she immediately dismissed Abigail. This obviously created tension between husband and wife and resulted in Abigail resenting first Elizabeth, for her humiliating dismissal, and second John, since he later rejected her advances.
Abigail believed that Elizabeth despised her and when they conversed in Reverend Parris' house, soon after rumors of witchcraft in Salem surfaced, she told John:
She is blackening my name in the village! She is telling lies about me! She is a cold, sniveling woman, and you bend to her! Let her turn you like a—
John threatened her with a whipping but Abigail was insistent. She desperately wished for a resumption of their relationship and passionately cried out:
I look for John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart! I never knew what pretense Salem was, I never knew the lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian women and their covenanted men! And now you bid me tear the light out of my eyes? I will not, I cannot! You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet! He turns abruptly to go out.She rushes to him. John, pity me, pity me!
John's abruptly cold rejection became a turning point for Abigail. She then decided to plot against Elizabeth, using the witch trials to exact her revenge and also to finally get rid of Elizabeth and perhaps reclaim John as a lover. When she witnessed Mary Warren fashioning a doll whilst they were in court, she saw that as an opportunity to perform her evil. She later cried out at supper, seemingly suffering terrible pain. On investigation, a needle was found stuck in her stomach. Abigail then accused Elizabeth of having sent out her spirit to hurt her and that she used a poppet to do so.
A search warrant was then issued to Ezekiel Cheever to look for the poppet and to arrest Elizabeth if the incriminating evidence was discovered. Indeed, the poppet, which Mary Warren gave to Elizabeth as a gift, was found in the Proctor house. More remarkably, a needle was seen protruding from its stomach. The evidence was damning and so convincing that even reverend Hale was persuaded. When Elizabeth learned about the true nature of Abigail's accusation that it was she who had sent her spirit to stab her with a needle, she ardently cried out:
Why - ! The girl is murder! She must be ripped out of the world!
Ezekiel Cheever saw this outburst as further proof of Elizabeth's guilt and wanted to proceed with her arrest. John tore up the warrant, but Elizabeth later calmed him down and said that she believed that she had to go with the arresting officers. She was then taken into custody and chained. This event signified a major turning point in the play, for John later implicated himself when he went to court to defend his wife. He confessed to lechery and was incarcerated.
Evidence of the tension between Elizabeth and her husband arose from the fact that John believed that Elizabeth did not trust that he had completely broken with Abigail. Firstly, he lied about his meeting with Abigail claiming that they had been among others when they spoke, but later saying that they had been alone. Secondly, he seemed unwilling to go to court at his wife's insistence and testify that Abigail was a fraud. Elizabeth saw that as an indication that he still harbored a soft spot for Abigail, for she said:
John, if it were not Abigail that you must go to hurt, would you falter now? I think not.
John was clearly upset about Elizabeth's suspicions and at one point cried out in anger:
No more! I should have roared you down when first you told me your suspicion. But I wilted, and, like a Christian, I confessed. Confessed! Some dream I had must have mistaken you for God that day. But you're not, you're not, and let you remember it! Let you look sometimes for the goodness in me, and judge me not.
In the end though, John did his best to save his wife from the gallows and essentially put himself at great risk in the process. His actions eventually resulted in his execution.