Helping women of faith find hope and healing after emotional and spiritual abuse

Sign up to get new articles and podcast episodes sent directly to your email inbox.

I will also send you a free PDF copy of the first chapter of my book, Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage as well as the first chapter of the brand new companion workbook. It’s like a super-charged therapy session!

Episode 82 Transcript: Survivor Story – Robin

Hi. This is Natalie Hoffman of Flyingfreenow.com, and you’re listening to the Flying Free Podcast,
a support resource for women of faith looking for hope and healing from hidden emotional and
spiritual abuse.

NATALIE: Welcome to Episode 82 of the Flying Free Podcast! Today we’re going to hear
from a survivor. Her name is Robin. Welcome to the podcast, Robin.

ROBIN: Thanks, Natalie. I’m so excited to be here with you. You totally have saved my life!

NATALIE: I don’t think I have that much power but thank you.

ROBIN: When I first came upon your stuff on the internet, your website, it was like, “Holy
cow! There are other people out there like me.” Your story is so similar, like all of ours are.
But it was the first person I read that was like, “Wow, this is a real thing.”

NATALIE: How long ago was that?

ROBIN: It was almost two years ago.

NATALIE: Okay.

ROBIN: It was two years ago because I was in the second group of Flying Free when we
were on Facebook.

NATALIE: The second wave, yes.

ROBIN: It was the first thing I ever did for myself. I mean, I’d buy things, but that invested in
me.

NATALIE: Like self-development, self-growth.

ROBIN: Yes.

NATALIE: That’s awesome. That’s super exciting. We want to hear about your story. Why
don’t you start by telling us how you met your husband, and I always like to ask if you saw
any red flags? (For people who might be starting over again, or maybe there are single
women who are thinking, “I really want to make sure I don’t get into a relationship like that.)
Did you notice anything?

ROBIN: I had no idea what a red flag was. I was 21 years old. I was working in a casino
dealing Blackjack and going to college. A guy friend of mine, who would come into the
casino all the time and talk to me, wanted to date me, but he was 14 years older than me
and shorter than me. I just brushed him off; he was just a friend. Then he brought in this
guy, and we eventually started dating and what not. But I had no idea what a red flag was –
and yes, there were some. We started dating. Three weeks after we started dating, he told
me he loved me. It came in a conversation like, “I was talking to an ex-girlfriend of mine.
She called and wanted to get me back. I told her that if I went back to her and stopped
dating Robin, it would be the biggest mistake of my life.” At that time I was like, “Wow. This
guy really likes me.” I mean it was three weeks, and he told me he loved me. The other
thing he would say to me, and he was about 26 at the time, “I’ve been on my own for 26
years. I like to be by myself, and I don’t want to be smothered.” I thought, “Okay, fine.” Then
every night he would call me. We lived about 20 minutes apart. He would call and say, “So
are you going to come over? Do you want to go out for dinner?” I was like, “You told me
yesterday you wanted your space.” But in my 21-year-old mind I thought, “This guy really
likes me.” So there was that. Anger had come out. He would shoe horses for friends. (I
don’t like horses because I’ve had some bad experiences with them.) There was a day
where he had just finished shoeing a horse, and he got back to his apartment before we
went out for dinner. He had a message on his answering machine that the horse threw a
shoe. He threw his keys on the floor and a whole line of cuss words, swear words, came
out. I just looked at him like, “Are you okay?” But I didn’t realize that the guy had an anger
problem because don’t we all get mad at things? I’d be mad because I just worked my butt
off. But then it happened…Not so much the first year we were dating. We got engaged after
six months. We got married after a year. So yes, there were red flags. One of them was that
he was disrespectful to his mom. But I had only met her one time. It was after we had
gotten engaged. She came up for a week. He just wasn’t that nice to her. But I was always
making excuses for his behavior. The whole sex before marriage – I was a virgin when I met
him. We did have sex before we were married because it was that we were getting married
anyway. So the sexual coercion, I had no idea what that even was until two years ago. So
yes, there were lots of red flags. I should have run, but I stuck with him because, “I can
change him, right? I can heal his wounds.”

NATALIE: Right. So after you got married, was it pretty much the same stuff? Or were there
any new things that were introduced into your relationship as far as abuse?

ROBIN: There were. Right away we had agreed…I wanted a lot of kids. I wanted six kids,
and he only wanted two. So we made this agreement that we’d have four kids, and we
would raise them in my church because he wasn’t churched. We used to call him a
heathen. That was okay because my sister, two years before that, had married a Catholic.
We’re Lutheran. She married a Catholic and that was like World War 3 in our family. So he
came in and he wasn’t anything. So everybody was so excited because of course we can
bring him over to our side, right? Anyway, we made this agreement on four kids, and I
would get to raise them in my church. I agreed to move anywhere in the world with his job.
He works in an industry that is very small. You go to very remote places. It’s not missionary
work. That was our agreement. Right after we got married…People always ask you at the
wedding, “Are you going to have any kids?” He started saying, “Yeah, we’re going to have a
couple of kids, but Robin’s going to finish college first. Then we’ll have some kids like five
years down the road.” I thought, “That’s not what we agreed to.” But we were newly
married, so I thought it was something we had to work out as a newly married couple.
Then we made a trip south to his parents about a month after we got married, and they
threw a party for us. The same thing was happening. I said, “We agreed to four kids.” He
said, “Well you need to get done with school, and you need to do this, and you need to do
that.” I kind of brushed it off again as married problems, and thought, “I can change his
mind.” A couple months later he came back from a weekend at my parents. He saw how
my family interacted – all the kids together, the nieces and nephews. I had to stay and work
that weekend. He came back and said, “Robin, let’s have kids.” I was like, “What? For the last
three months you were saying we’re not having kids for five years, and now suddenly it is
important to have kids.” A few months later I got pregnant. Our first baby was born a little
after the first year. Then the second baby came shortly after this. I was still going to school
full time. That was an argument that we had. Then baby number two came, and he was
absolutely done. We moved again. We moved a lot. We moved for another job. I ended up
getting pregnant with the third child, and he was not happy. I will probably never forget
that night because I thought I was dying. I took five home pregnancy tests. They were all
negative. We had just moved to a new place again. I went to the doctor, took a blood test,
found out I was pregnant, told him that night, and his answer to that was…I don’t want to
say this out loud because it’s swearing. “G—d—, Robin, I told you I didn’t want any more
kids.” That was his answer to that. Later that night, I asked him why he didn’t want anymore
kids. He looked at me and said, “Well look at you. You haven’t lost the weight from the first
two.” That’s when…I had known even before that in the first couple years of marriage that
he started in on my weight. We used to go out and eat junk food and pizza and all that, and
then suddenly it became, “We have to get healthy. You have to look good.” The emotional
abuse that comes with not being good enough, keeping your house cleaned…There’s so
much.

NATALIE: So how did you cope? Did you have any strategies that were helpful to you?

ROBIN: I pretty much just shut down. I did what I was told to do. I made sure I had the
house cleaned, especially when the kids were younger when he came home from work.
You know the abuse cycle. When he was getting bad, I would gain weight because I used
food to cope. So I would gain weight, and then we’d have this blow up. My weight would be
talked about. Then I’d start losing weight again, and then suddenly life was good because I
was looking good again. But if there was anything I needed to bring up emotionally with
him, I had to make sure it was worth it, the emotional amount to put into it, to bring it up
because if it wasn’t worth it, it wasn’t worth me getting yelled at, chewed out, or just being
ignored.

NATALIE: Did anything ever get resolved anyway when you brought things up? Even if you
did risk all of that, were you ever able to solve any problems with him?

ROBIN: No, because it would always get turned around as being my fault, or he would
always say I would bury the hatchet but leave the handle sticking out. Again, I never knew
that this was abusive. I would bring up whatever it was, and then maybe a year later I’d
bring up the same thing, but nothing ever was resolved. So then I just stopped talking
about it. That’s how I resolved it. “Okay, I’ll just do what he tells me to do. If he wants my
shoes away from the front door, I’ll put my shoes away from the front door.” I would usually
make my bed in the morning. There would be days where I would run upstairs two minutes
before he walked in the door to go make the bed just so he would not get mad.”

NATALIE: Wow! So he was like your daddy and you were like the kid.

ROBIN: Yep. Always walking on eggshells. I didn’t even know what walking on eggshells
was. I was very naive.

NATALIE: Yeah, most of us were. We didn’t have any training in any of this kind of stuff.
Kids don’t have any training these days either, but they are getting more of it than we
certainly did. There’s certainly lots of information online that people can look up. I’m
wondering when did you start to realize, or did it just dawn on you one day? Was it a slow
wake up call? Or how did you realize, “Wait a minute. There’s something seriously wrong
with this relationship, and I have to figure out a way to either solve the problem or get out?”

ROBIN: Almost four years ago we were in a hotel. We lived overseas, and we were in a
hotel with our youngest. He raged at me because we were going out with friends, and I
suggested we go to a different restaurant than where he wanted. After that I still didn’t
know what was going on, but I had prayed that God would harden my heart. It was the
worst thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I did because I was so tired of being hurt. We had
been married about 19 years. When we got back home, I told him that he had six years left
and then I was done after our youngest graduated from high school. He started talking to
our pastor back in the U.S. and got his act together for a little bit. But then everything
started getting worse. Since we had moved overseas, I had always been accused of
sleeping with other men when that was never the case. In his industry, there’s a high
percentage of men who work there. So when you are living in these remote villages, that’s
who you talk to. You just become friends. A small ex-pat community – you become friends
with everybody. But I would be accused of that. I would be accused of not being respectful
enough, not being loving enough. Over the next year and a half, it just got worse. Then I got
to where I believed that God didn’t love me, but I knew God hated divorce. I still never
wanted to disappoint Him, even though I didn’t think He loved me. I knew my kids. I didn’t
want to hurt my kids, and I didn’t want to hurt my dad. I was always afraid of disappointing
my dad. Then it got to where I started thinking about having an affair with another guy
because something had to change. I know this is so backwards thinking, but I figured if I
had the affair, he could divorce me, and that way God could hate him and not me.

NATALIE: Isn’t that fascinating. Oh my goodness.

ROBIN: I can laugh at that now because honestly, I knew better. But I got that desperate. I
didn’t know what to do. I was living far away from my family. I would never tell them
because they absolutely loved him. Nobody knew.

NATALIE: I need to interrupt here. Do you know what’s so fascinating about this? In our
Christian culture it’s okay to have an affair. You can be forgiven for an affair. You could be
forgiven for killing yourself – that’s totally fine. But never, ever get divorced. That is the
unpardonable sin. So you’ve got all these women thinking about killing themselves, killing
their husbands, or having an affair but not thinking about the most logical solution which is
just get a divorce. Divorce the jerk!

ROBIN: That was worse than being an alcoholic and abusing your wife. That was the worst
sin you could…Like you said, having an affair, smoking, hiding your alcohol…The other thing
in my church was a divorce or living with someone out of wedlock. Those two were the
unpardonable sins. Everything else – you could be a porn user and be okay with that right?

NATALIE: Yeah because a lot of pastors are. I really think the leaders are just projecting
rules for themselves and subtly, unconsciously (or subconsciously) projecting all of that
onto the rules that they make for their churches. That’s my little theory.

ROBIN: Well, I forget the numbers. It’s either seventy percent of men in churches are porn
users, (I don’t know if that’s the addiction number,) and fifty percent of pastors use porn.

NATALIE: Yep, I believe it.

ROBIN: I unfortunately had to study porn a lot in the last couple of years.

NATALIE: Here’s the other thing about that. When you are a person who is watching porn
on a regular basis, you are dehumanizing human beings. When you start dehumanizing
human beings, that gets woven into your psyche and you start treating human beings in
the way that you view them, which is dehumanized.

ROBIN: Yeah, it’s an awful thing. This will play out later in my story in a little bit, but I had no
idea. So during this time that I was thinking about having an affair, I was praying so hard
that God would give me a way out because that’s what He says. If there’s temptation in
your life, there will always be a way out. What happened is that there was a mini war
around the village that we were living in, and all the women and children had to leave.
Honestly, that saved my life. That saved me from doing a thing I knew was totally wrong,
but I had to figure something else out. Three weeks after that I left. At that time, my kids
were in boarding school. I know I said I wasn’t going to get too detailed, but this has to be
part of the story. They were in boarding school and I went to stay with them. I then met my
husband three weeks later, and in the hotel I just knew that it was time to do something
because I could no longer have sex with this man mostly because he suggested we use a
condom during the middle of sex. We had never used a condom before in our married life.
He had a vasectomy after the last child was born. Again, I had no idea what was going on,
but I just couldn’t take it anymore. A couple weeks later I told him that, and that’s when the
accusation was, “I know you are f’ing one of them.” I also heard, “We need to do
counseling.” I got, “If we end this marriage then the next one will just have as many
problems as this one.” At this point I was not listening to him. Just to get out of the
conversation, I agreed to counseling, which was probably one of the best choices of my life
because I did get the help that I needed eventually. I also agreed to meet with our pastor. A
month later, because there was some travel time in there, I talked to my pastor for the first
time, and I told him all the stories. We were on the phone for hours. He’s the one who told
me, “Robin, you know you’ve been in an abusive and destructive marriage.” I honestly said
to him, “No I haven’t. He’s never hit me.” I had no idea. It still baffles me that I had no idea.
We started meeting separately with a counselor that my soon-to-be-ex and our pastor
picked out. Like it says in all the books, he used the counselor and pastor to try to get me
back in line – saying all the right Bible passages – saying everything. I knew that it wasn’t
sincere. I fought the establishment on that. A couple of months later my father passed
away suddenly. No one knew that I had said I wanted out. This is now six months later. We
go home for the summer like always, and I finally figure out that this counselor is not
working for me. I asked the pastor that we were talking to, “What is going on? I hadn’t told
my dad or my family, and now God took my father.” I never had to tell my dad. I never had
to disappoint him. To this day I do believe that he would have disowned me.

NATALIE: Oh that’s awful.

ROBIN: Yeah. All of that would have been spiritual abuse – you can’t do this because God
hates divorce, and whatever. I then found a counselor that I used for a year because she
lived in a different state and we were still doing it all online. I was still going back and forth
overseas. I did stay home for the fall, and this was when we had kind of separated, but I
knew I was going to go back overseas because my kids were still in boarding school halfway
around the world. I knew the minute I went back it wasn’t going to work. About six months
after that, my kids decided they would stay in the U.S. and not go back to boarding school. I
filed for divorce a week later. Now we’re here and still waiting. I just had no idea. I find that
baffling.

NATALIE: Yes. That’s very common though. How can we know? If that’s all you know,
especially if you get married at age 21, how can you know that anything is different?

ROBIN: Right. You grow up in church, and the whole “submit to your husband” and “your
body is not your own.” I even had my parents tell me, “Don’t ever talk about your marriage
problems to anybody.” So I never did, not even the pastor, up until I was pretty much
forced to. So you sit there and try to be a better wife, and you pray, and you pray, and you
pray. It just didn’t work.

NATALIE: When you separated from him, did anything get better for you? Did you notice
things getting notched down as far as your emotional health?

ROBIN: The thing that got better for me, I used to have horrible hand pain. I had to stop
golfing because I could barely hold a club. I could barely carry in a bag of groceries without
my hands hurting from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. I went to doctor
after doctor thinking it was lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. When I told my first counselor,
she said “Robin, that’s actually your body trying to get rid of all the stress you have been
living under.” She gave me some exercises to do to relax, and that did help. But it wasn’t
until I filed for divorce that the pain went totally away.

NATALIE: Very interesting.

ROBIN: I consider separating, then going back, and then filing for divorce…What else got
better is that I can walk into my house and not be afraid – not be afraid of something not
being done. I don’t have to run home from a friend’s house in case I left the dishes in the
sink. But the best thing for me is that I can walk into my bedroom at night, and I am not
afraid.

NATALIE: That’s huge. Wow. So basically you get to be like a grown-up adult now?

ROBIN: Yeah. I can make decisions for myself. Sometimes it’s hard because I think, “Oh my
gosh, what should I do? I don’t have anyone to ask.” But then I think, “Just calm down,
Robin. It’s going to be okay. Whichever way you decide, it is still going to be okay.”

NATALIE: Yep. You grow into that skill and you become more and more confident as you
get more time under your belt after getting out. I’m wondering, are there any regrets,
looking back on the whole thing? Maybe we could combine this with the next question
which is what is something you have learned through this whole process that you wish you
could go back and tell your younger self?

ROBIN: Overall, I don’t regret any of it because I think all my experiences from the time I
was born until now has made me into the person that I am. I truly like myself. It took me a
long time, but I am okay with the person I am. I like that I love people. I like that I am
friendly to people. I like that I do things for others without expecting anything in return. So I
wouldn’t change it. I also think if you regret what you have been through then you regret
your children, and I absolutely do not regret having children with him. I love my kids. The
only regret that I have in getting out is that I wish I had been more prepared. I think just
because of the circumstances of where we were living at that time because we were so
isolated, I needed to leave. But with other things, I wish I would have acquired more
evidence – watched his phone usage, watched his computer usage – and then
documented things before I left. But it was such a year of turmoil that first year. I do wish
that. What was the last thing you asked?

NATALIE: If you could go back and tell your younger self something, what would you tell
her?

ROBIN: God does love you. He always loved you. He loved you through all your prayers
when you didn’t think He was listening to you. And that I am a stronger, more intelligent,
and more beautiful person than I have ever given myself credit for. Just because someone
tells you that you’re not, doesn’t mean that it is true.

NATALIE: I love that. That’s so important. It’s something that so many of us have struggled
with our whole lives. Really this is the process. It’s an ugly process, but it yields that result of
finally knowing that for ourselves for real.

ROBIN: There was a plaque I got at Hobby Lobby a long time ago, probably early 2000, that
says, “He makes all things beautiful in its time.” I got that and hung it in my bathroom
because I thought if God would make me more beautiful my husband would love me more
and treat me better. But that is not what that passage means at all. I used to pray for these
things. God says He answers your prayers. I just didn’t know He was answering them in a
different way. When we lived overseas, my heart became more beautiful in the people that
I loved, not the outside of me, and more thankful. I used to pray every night, “I’m thankful
for my husband. I’m thankful for the life I live.” I learned how to be respectful. I didn’t say
anything bad about him. I think when you get to that point, your younger self, don’t do that
for someone else – do it for yourself. You are beautiful just because God made you. That’s
it. Period. That’s I guess what I would tell my younger self.

NATALIE: That’s beautiful. Do you have any advice for someone who is listening who is
thinking about leaving and may be scared to death?

ROBIN: First, God is not going to hate you. He hates the abuse. Divorce is not always a sin.
Just trust Him with everything. I remember when the kids were younger, we lived at this
place that had a stream behind the house. My boys loved to be outside. At that point I said,
“Okay, God. You’ve got them because I can’t have my eyes everywhere all the time. I have to
trust that You are going to take care of these kids.” I remember saying that a month or so
after the divorce and even before that. “God, you’ve got to take care of these kids of mine
because I don’t know how this is all going to work out. But I trust that You’re going to do
whatever the kids need to have done.” It’s kind of like Hannah and Samuel. I remember
that story from the Bible. “I give my kids back to You. You are in charge of their life. I’m here
to take care of them.” I started doing that with everything – finances, my family. I have lost
my sister in all of this.

NATALIE: I’m sorry.

ROBIN: She is totally against me getting a divorce. But my brothers have stepped up. My
mom has come around. I’ve lost friends. But give that all to God. God will show you who
your real friends are and who your fake friends are also. It’s okay to give them up. It truly
sucks getting out. It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever had to go through, but it is so worth
it. Life is so much better on this side. You will eventually find peace and hope again. It may
not be exactly how you want it to be or picture it, but it will be so much better. God has this
all worked out. He sees around the corners that we can’t.

NATALIE: Yes. I want to thank you for being here and giving us some of your time. I know
you are still in the middle of your divorce process. I hope and pray that it ends soon. Right
before this podcast you said you were…What was the word you used? It wasn’t insane, but
you basically…

ROBIN: I was going to have a coronary.

NATALIE: Yeah, you were going to have a coronary. I don’t want that to happen to you,
Robin. So I’m really hoping that your divorce gets finalized soon. So thank you.

ROBIN: Yeah, thank you for everything. You are a blessing to so many women.

NATALIE: Well good. For the rest of you who are listening, thanks for tuning in. Until next
time, fly free.