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

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Where Does God Fit Into My Toxic Marriage?

by | Apr 6, 2021 | Articles, Emotional Abuse, Healing from Spiritual Abuse, Learning, Waking Up | 22 comments

A reader recently wrote the following question:

I am struggling greatly and most of the help and support I am reading automatically assumes one is devout Christian who would not not be deeply questioning the role of God in your experience as an abuse victim.  If He is a good Father why would he permit something like this knowing that abuse fog, trauma bonding, etc. are part of the way He made us and that it keeps us stuck, and He doesn’t intervene, prayers go unanswered, faithfulness is not rewarded, etc.  I’m pretty angry and trying to understand and work through but keep running into brick walls.  Nothing explains it well and blind faith and not questioning helped get me into the problems in the first place. I need to understand and not just accept.  Thanks for any thoughts on the matter.

I can relate to that gut wrenching feeling of abandonment. Everyone else in your life seems to be abandoning you, and God doesn’t seem to do anything about it.

It’s like He has joined forces with the abuse and is, Himself, being abusive by ignoring your cries for help.

In the middle of the night when that feeling hits, it’s actually a physical pain in your core. It’s worse than spousal and church abandonment.

If God has forsaken us, (or isn’t even there) what do we have? Who are we? Where can we turn for hope? It’s excruciating.

Your experience is actually normal and to be expected as part of the healing process.

You’re angry? You bet you are! Who wouldn’t be? Underneath anger is hurt. The deeper the hurt, the deeper the anger. That’s part of being a flesh-and-blood human being, and God gave us that emotion for some very important reasons.

Emotional abuse that involved another person using God or His Word as a weapon of control is also called spiritual abuse, and this type of abuse is horrific in its potential to destroy one’s faith in God.

Can you imagine how it plays into the hands of the enemy of our souls—and how deeply it grieves our Heavenly Father who loves us so incredibly much and would never, ever, in a million bazillion years abandon His beloved child?

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close. Psalm 27:10

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! Isaiah 49:15

Did you realize that Jesus, Himself, was spiritually abused by religious people?

Satan abused Him with the Word of God (Matt. 4:1-22). The religious people murdered Him. You are in good company. The best company. Jesus Christ knows, really knows, the hell you are going through.

So why isn’t God doing anything about it?

He is. He’s doing something about it. The fact that you are reading this article and searching this blog proves it.

I believe He led you here. You are somewhere one of the stages of your journey to healing, and it is absolutely a divinely appointed journey that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You are somewhere in the beginning or middle, and those are the places you can really feel lost.

Think about any story you’ve ever read or any movie you’ve ever watched. There are always, always parts of the story where the main characters are really in a pickle with no visible way out. No hope. No help. So then, when the help comes, it is quite a rush, isn’t it? That’s what makes the story incredibly satisfying.

God is the greatest story teller in the universe, and He is telling a story through your life. You think you are an insignificant dot in the universe? Think again. That’s how God works. He takes dots of nothingness and makes breathtaking art. That’s you. That’s your story. Your life. Your essence.

So why did God let me get into this mess to begin with?

I’ve wondered that. I grew up in a very conservative Christian family. My deepest ambition was to bring glory to God with my life. I wanted to share Christ with everyone I knew (and I did!) I wanted to marry a committed Christian man and have babies and be the best wife and mom in the world. Anyone who knows me also knows I pour my guts into everything I set out to do, and my marriage and family were no exception.

Yet things were all wrong from the very beginning. I continued to believe in faith that my life was exactly as it should be, and I plowed ahead in spite of the pain.

But you know what? We don’t live in a perfect world. We all make stupid choices, and those around us make stupid choices. Some get lucky—and others don’t. The Bible says the rain falls on the bad and the good (Matthew 5:45).

God doesn’t make mistakes. People do.

What does God do?

He comes in and takes care of His children when they suffer, whether it is because of their own choices or the choices of those around them.

His children are those who look to Him for help. For forgiveness. For wisdom. His children are not just anyone who calls themselves a Christian. I know this can get really confusing for us because our abusers and their buddies call themselves Christians, but they are not repentant and are certainly not looking for help or forgiveness or wisdom. They do not strive to love. They are haters disguised as lovers.

So things went wrong in your life. You ended up with an oppressive partner. You believed the lies he and others fed you. You tried hard doing all the wrong things. You did all of this in good faith, believing God would reward you and honor your hard work behind the scenes. And now, here you are, faced with a home in utter shambles and very few choices—all of them bad. So what gives?

You are on the brink of huge transformation—that’s what!

Here’s the glorious truth: we all start out as little creepy crawly caterpillars who know very little and can do very little. But that is not your destiny, my friend! Your destiny is so far beyond what your caterpillar mind can imagine!

You are used to just seeing dirt and leaves and shadows. But one day you will see the tops of lovely gardens and trees and meadows with majestic mountains in the distance. You will fly through white- cloud-dotted blue atmosphere with your heart beating in rhythm with the universe your God created.

You are experiencing the pains of transformation, and oh, does it hurt, but oh, is it worth it!

Transformation requires a complete overhaul of your belief systems.

You will need to abandon the man-made rules and regulations of your religious community and embrace the Grace and Peace offered to you through your Creator.

You will taste and see that your Creator is good even when people are like fingernails on a chalkboard.

So what can you do to cooperate with this God-appointed transformation?

When I was at the bottom of my very deep pit, I could do nothing but rock myself and say, “God, help me. God, help me. God, help me.” I couldn’t pray anything else because I felt that all my millions of prayers up to that point had been ignored. What was the point of asking for something God obviously didn’t want me or my family to have?

So I figured I’d just ask for help, and let Him help however He wanted. I was skeptical that even this would work. But what else was there to do other than kill myself?

I had, for the first time in my life, a very difficult time reading my Bible as well. Again, all the verses that had been used against me by my spouse and his church to shame and control me kept popping out, and I wanted to vomit. I couldn’t separate the Bible from the religious haters who used it like a club on my head.

Except the Psalms. It was like the Psalms were off limits to the religious people. The Psalms were for the broken people. The angry people. The people in agony. The hopeless people. The frightened people. They were for the me people.

I could also bring myself to read bits and pieces of books that were healing and that helped me unravel “Christian” lies and ground myself in true, Bible TRUTH. Check out my favorite books for survivors. 

My final recommendation, for now, is music. Lots of music. Check out my Overcomer playlist on Spotify (below). I’ve slowly compiled that list over the past five years, so it marks different stages in the process. You’ll find both Christian and secular music there. (Some of the most healing pieces have been secular. All truth originates in God, Himself.)

So how does God fit into your toxic marriage?

The answer to this question is that He doesn’t. The Holy Spirit lives within individuals. Not institutions. He is not the author of your toxic marriage, nor does He dangle the “way out” carrot in front of your nose with a sadistic cackle. He is the Author of your LIFE, which happens to include the circumstantial fact that you are married to an abusive individual. (Or maybe you are separated or pursuing a divorce. Whatever the case may be. Your life is what it is, and He is INVOLVED.)

Marriage isn’t a jail sentence. You aren’t a POW (no matter what anyone tells you. Totally wrong metaphor.) God’s Word doesn’t promote oppression. The opposite is true. It provides a way out for people who live under oppression, but that truth has been covered up and kept from many Christians in the recent history of Christendom for the simple purpose of power and control.

Maybe you bought the same propaganda I did. It’s designed to keep you stuck and powerless to be and do all that God created you to be and do.

Suffering involuntarily in such a way that evil is allowed to thrive is NOT what glorifies God. It’s suffering for standing up for what it TRUE and RIGHT that glorifies God. And telling yourself the truth about your relationship is the first step to being set free. It’s time to untangle yourself from the web of lies and fly away.

(I recently recorded two podcast episodes that may change your life. If There is a Loving and Powerful God, Why Does He Allow Abuse? Part One and Part Two.)

Nothing can separate you from the love of God. His love and His truth is what will eventually lead you out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

22 Comments

  1. Melissa

    Thank you. Just Thank you.

    Reply
    • Victoria

      I’m 28. And I eloped this past January 2019. My partner has been not only physically abusive but emotionally and mentally . I’ve tried to explain to my own mother the trauma I feel expecially from dealing with a dive relationships my WHOLE LIFE and how I just can’t take it . But she seems to think this is the one for me . She’s even forcing a wedding ceremony on me in less than 2 months which is causing extreme stress on top of me owning a business , being a part time barber and recording artist .. I just feel so lost :’( it’s like no one is listening to me cry out !! We do t have kids and I really want out before children are envolved but I feel so stuck .. even with all the jobs I do I still don’t make enough to take care of my self :’( .. I u sweat and God is working on me .. but please pray for me . I need guidance and I need it NOW ! I really don’t want to pretend in front of my family at a wedding ceremony that’s meant for happiness . My husband is grumpy , mean and very negative.. and it seems to show when ever I’m striving to be the happiest or just succeeding at something . I believe God will help me ..I just need more prayers .

      Reply
      • Natalie Hoffman

        You are an adult, and you get to make your own choices. To stay – or go. Don’t let anyone else tell you what to do for your life. Where do you want to be five years from now? Which decision will get you there?

        Reply
        • Sheri Cook

          It will only get worse and worse. We always hope things will get better. But without God’s direct involvement with your partner’s willingness to be changed and an honest desire from him to change….it won’t happen. Your relationship will CONTINUE to be a living hell! GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!!!! I loved it. I KNOW !

          Reply
          • Sheri Cook

            I meant I “LIVED IT”. Not loved it. Sorry

            Reply
    • Keri O'brien

      I think this was written just for me

      Reply
  2. NCJ

    Your reply to the reader described EXACTLY to a tee what I have been living for the last 2 years since I cried out to God for help and immersed myself in worship and the Word. Your butterfly symbolism is especially powerful for me because God too spoke to me very early in my healing journey through a butterfly flying near the handle of my car door one morning as I left for work. I knew God was transforming me even though my depressing circumstances weren’t changing.
    The Holy Spirit is indeed the Great Psychiatrist and Counselor. Over this time the Holy Spirit taught me half of the stuff you teach on emotionalabusesurvivor. He taught me all these things i didn’t know. Most importantly that there is nothing wrong with me I just needed to turn back to my manufacturer for a quality control check along with healing and restoration and authentic LOVE. I love being loved by the Father and I am a caterpillar no more
    I found this site on a night when I am scheduled to pick up keys tomorrow for apartment for me and my two boys. My husband has even agreed to this temporary seperation. But i been wracked with doubt and you can’ts and how could yous and what ifs. And I bitterly felt ready to call the whole thing off for lack of peace. The truth on this site has helped remind me of what at stake.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Welcome! I hope you’ll join our Flying Free group at the end of this month. I think you’d find it extremely helpful.

      Reply
  3. MicroGal

    A-MEN!!!

    Yes, so much truth here. All I could do in the early days was cry, moan (letting the Spirit pray for me through groaning), and – once I felt up to it – pray Psalms back to God. I still struggle with reading my Bible but I know God isn’t hitting me over the head with that.

    Music was also a HUGE part of my healing journey and still is. When I get triggered, I take some specific steps and one of them is music. I love how God speaks to us through these outlets, healing us, calming us, comforting us.

    Freedom!! Thank you, Lord!!!

    Reply
  4. California Girl

    I too am an emotional and spiritual abuse survivor. After 21 years of marriage, 4 children, moving 20+ times, being missionaries in foreign countries… I finally had the boldness to take a step in the direction of change, and watched all hell break loose as the passive agressive narcistic man I was married too, suddenly lost control. And the secrets I’d carried and covered for years were finally revealed. Boundaries were set. I went against everything I grew up believing as a conservative Christian, and went with prayerful wise counsel to separate. I hoped and prayed change would come. That he would miss us and do everything in his power to seek healing and restoration. None of that happened. After many prayers and several months of separation, the Lord told me to cut all ties. That was not what I wanted to hear. I had done all the right things. I had fought for my marriage.

    Now, two years after my separation, and one year after my divorce, I have peace. And contentment. That doesn’t mean I’m always happy and totally healed. I have days when am still angry. Even though I was married for 21 years, I was “alone”. I was hurt by a church who ‘meant’ well, but didn’t ‘listen’ to what I was saying.

    My heart goes out to everyone who is walking the journey I have been on. Wondering do I stay or do I go? Am I going crazy? Do I need to live every day walking on eggshells, trying my hardest to please a person who can’t ever be pleased? How many times do I forgive? And how will I know if I am being walked over?

    I lived in shame. I felt like I wore the letter D on my forehead. I never wanted to be a divorced single mom. Ever. I only wanted to serve God with my husband and family. Did I know this would happen? No. Did I want it to happen? No. But it did. And now I get to chose the rest of my journey… one day at a time.

    Thank you, Natalie, for sharing your heart. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t had my strong connection of Christ loving and following women, holding my hand along the way. Letting me cry when I needed too. And be angry. And sad. But they didn’t let me stay there. They helped me walk through my grief. I still have hard days. And I mourn for my kids who have an ‘absentee dad’ who doesn’t even call or send a card for Christmas. I still struggle. But I refuse to be run over by circumstances. And I chose to live with joy even though sometimes life is just plain shitty. I love my Jesus. And I am not alone.

    Reply
    • California Girl

      I forgot to add one more thing to my first comment, but there is a book called Keep Your Love On by Danny Silk. Someone suggested that book to me. And it has been a life changer. I’ve read it through at least 3 times. I’ve given the book away. It was a game changer and helped me to see what was really going on, and put a name to my reality. I highly highly recommend it.

      Reply
    • Natalie Anne

      Thank you for sharing your story here – it will give inspiration and hope to others!! ((Hugs))

      Reply
  5. Cindy Burrell

    This is a wonderfully thorough piece that effectively chronicles the kinds of journeys that so many of us have been through – and found our way to the other side, free of the legalist doctrines and wagging fingers of guilt and shame.

    You also suggested some wonderful resources. I wonder if you would willing to also mention, “Suffering Love: A Redemptive Force or an Enabling One,” a blog piece I wrote specifically to address the notion that somehow suffering is always a noble thing – something I struggled with for many y ears. I offer it here for any who might be interested. http://www.hurtbylove.com/love-a-redemptive-force-or-an-enabling-one/

    Natalie, I appreciate your outreach and the clarity with which you enlighten so many. Thank you…

    Reply
    • Natalie Anne

      You can link to any of your articles here any time you want, Cindy!

      Reply
  6. OnMyWay

    Hi Natalie
    I have been following your blog for quite some time now. Thank you! However, I have a question about Cloud and Townsend as I see you recommend a lot of their books. I am reading SAFE people -good stuff, but in the last chapter it talks about repairing unsafe relationships…it seems to do harm than good for women in abusive situations, no? in terms of you must stay in the relationship with boundaries- before separating and to be long suffering. I have tried to stay with boundaries for about 2 years now but finally separated because I wasn’t seeing any heart change …but I feel torn. Could my boundaries have been better and more firm? sure they probably could have been but when you have been abused for so long sometimes we just can’t and need to regain sanity and safety! Can you help me untangle this?

    Reply
    • Natalie Anne

      As with any reading, it’s good to eat the meat and spit out the bones. Not everything we read will apply directly to our situation, and it’s okay to say, “Nope, this advice might be right for someone else’s situation, but it isn’t for mine.”

      Like you, I worked on boundaries for a couple of years and really grew in that area. Are we ever going to be perfect? Nope. But when we establish healthy boundaries, it has the dual purpose of keeping us safe while also revealing the true heart of the other person. If your spouse was healthy and growing, he would respect your boundaries. There would be no kick back. If all you saw was an escalation of his poor behaviors, that means there is no heart change. With unhealthy people, no amount of boundary setting will help them. Boundaries are for YOU, in that case. Separation is a boundary that you set up when all other boundaries have failed to protect you emotionally and spiritually. And if they violate that – then divorce is the last option you have in order to be free from abuse. I hope that helps. I think you are on the right track! (((hugs)))

      Reply
      • OnMyWay

        Yes that makes sense and I understand. I am just in such a vulnerable state right now that anything I read that makes me think I did the wrong/sinful thing sets off panic and feelings of condemnation. My husband modified a few behaviors but his attitude toward me never changed…and he still continued to yield power over me.

        Thank you thank you for your blog. My husband was a master a warping my reality that I suffer from A LOT of self doubt
        Your blog helps me ground myself in reality!

        Reply
        • Natalie Anne

          I know that feeling. As you change your belief systems and heal, that will keep getting better. ((hugs))

          Reply
  7. Colleen G

    First let me note that I am an adult child of an emotionally abusive and narcissistic father so what I had to process through and heal from wasn’t mirror image the same.
    One very helpful thing in your journey with God is when you are ready to start reading around Christian things again, blogs, devotionals, books etc. go for the positive messages. Do not fear that somehow positive equals worldly. Stepping out of message after message of condemnation, here’s what’s wrong with you, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps so God will like you is scary because all they tell you are the messages of peace, hope, love and happiness are a trick from satan. This does not mean throwing away all your convictions or all the rules. It just means purposefully choosing to only open your heart to messages that help heal your hurts.
    Think of the beatitudes. Jesus lists emotional and spiritual needs people have and God filling those needs. God is love, the same love defined in 2 Cor 13. The kingdom of God isn’t rules and punishment. It is righteousness(His not ours), peace and joy! Somewhere in history Christianity traded true joy and happiness for pride in the sucked lemons look and scoring brownie points for suffering . Hurting people then lost access to the God who died to become their daddy(Abba was the cultural equivalent to daddy), who said millstones and the sea were a better options than dealing with Him over hurting His child.

    Reply
    • Natalie Anne

      Excellent! Thank you for commenting!

      Reply

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