Seven Steps to Getting Out of Your Emotionally Abusive Marriage So You Can Find Hope and Healing


Emotional abuse is a covert, dehumanizing, psychological and spiritual re-framing of reality that causes deep damage to the core of a person. Survivors of emotional abuse often struggle with depression, complex-post-traumatic-stress-disorder, muscular pain, vascular problems, brain fog, sleep disorders, and more. As long as you continue to live in the poisonous atmosphere of covert emotional abuse, you may wrestle with the ability to breathe the clean air of Truth and find the freedom and joy of living as the person God created you to be. Here are seven steps to getting out of your emotionally abusive marriage so you can find hope and healing.

I have personal experience walking through this process of healing, and looking back, I think it’s much like going from a caterpillar to a butterfly. So let’s take that analogy and look at each part of this process briefly, and you decide which phase you think you might be in. Please keep in mind that these phases may overlap a little or a lot depending on different factors.

Step One: DENIAL

The caterpillar is hidden inside a tiny egg.

You are in denial. You may know there is something horribly wrong, but you don’t have a category for what it could be. One day you think your relationship is fine and normal (and you want that so much), and the next day something happens that sends you reeling from the painful reality that your relationship is the most confusing and hurtful thing in your life, and that just can’t be “normal” or “fine” at all.

Your religious beliefs can feed into this denial. There are a variety of works-based theologies that encourage the kind of thinking that keeps women and children stuck in abusive situations.

People and institutions who believe in and teach these theologies may be able to make sense of them in healthy relationships, but these same people are unable to recognize how their theology doesn’t line up with the rest of Scripture when it comes to dealing with unhealthy relationships where there is a power-over dynamic of abuse.

The bottom line is this: the Word of God functions rightly in ALL circumstances. Not just ideal ones. So if something is off, it’s not the Bible. It’s the biased interpretation or spin that groups put on it. But that’s a topic for another day.

Let’s talk about what happens when the greatness of your pain no longer allows denial to be an option.

Other resources to help you with the Denial stage:

How Writing Will Help You Figure Out Your Confusing and Painful Marriage

How Do I Figure Out What is Wrong in My Christian Marriage?

What is Covert Emotional Domestic Abuse?

Why Your Marriage Makes You Feel Crazy in the Head

Seven Steps to Getting Out of Your Emotionally Abusive Marriage So You Can Find Hope and Healing

Step Two: Waking Up

The caterpillar is born!

This phase is like jumping into an icy cold lake in the spring right after the ice has just thawed. It’s shocking. Hurts like crazy. It’s a known fact that denial is one of the ways our bodies are able to absorb the initial shock of a traumatic event.

In the case of long-term emotional abuse, denial is a way of life. Breaking out of it is like a punch in the gut that sort of keeps punching for a while.

I can remember when this happened for me. One morning, after spending a night in a hotel room contemplating suicide, I dragged my eight-month pregnant body to a local bookstore and started doing some research on my computer.

I remember the dawning realization that I was in a destructive relationship that was quite literally killing me from the inside out. I wanted to believe I had married a good person. Someone who loved me. Someone who respected me and cared for my feelings. I wanted to believe we had a healthy family. A happy family. This was all I had ever wanted in life.

Now that kingdom I had spent 19 years passionately pouring myself into was crumbling to pieces.

It hit me hard. It felt like something inside me died. I remember telling myself—forcing myself—to look at it honestly. To face it. To not run.

I was aware in that moment that I had been running from the full impact of the truth for many years.

When this happens to you, you can’t go back. In a sense, you are born.

Like the tiny new caterpillar emerging from the tiny black dot of an egg, once you’re out, you can’t get back inside the protective shell of that egg.

You have to learn to survive in reality now. Which brings you to the next phase.

Other resources to help you with the Waking Up stage:

Emotional Abuse: When Your Husband Doesn’t Take Responsibility for His Behavior

How Emotional and Spiritual Abuse Prevents Women From Growing Up and the Two Mind Shifts You Need to Change That

Waking Up to Emotional Abuse so You Can Focus on Healing

The Beliefs that Keep Women Stuck in Emotionally Abusive Relationships

Seven Steps to Getting Out of Your Emotionally Abusive Marriage So You Can Find Hope and Healing


The caterpillar eats and eats and eats!

In this phase, you begin to learn everything you can about your experience. Just like a baby caterpillar eats continuously and grows daily, shedding her old skin to accommodate her new growth, so you learn and grow, shedding old belief systems that kept you deceived and trapped.

Compared to ten years ago, the resources available on the subject of emotional abuse have exponentially multiplied as victims have finally started to come out of the woodwork to expose and leave behind their abusive relationships.

I’ve compiled a Survivor Book List of my very favorite and most helpful books on the subjects of emotional and spiritual abuse.

And I wrote my own! Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage has sold thousands of copies and can be found in counseling centers all over the world. My book is the only one (so far) that covers not only the aspect of emotional abuse, but also how spiritual abuse in the church plays a role in neutralizing women and keeping them from living in the joy and freedom of their identity in Christ.

Several years ago I started the Flying Free Education and Support program where members have access to empowering courses, expert workshops, weekly coaching, a private community forum, and monthly live online events to help them work their way through the pain and confusion and find the true peace of God. This program has transformed the lives of almost two thousand women so far, and it’s open to new members every spring and fall. Learn more and hop on the waiting list!

Other resources to help you with the Learning stage:

How Do I Know if a Person or Church is Safe for Me?

What Kind of Woman Does an Abusive Man Go For?

What is Gaslighting in a Toxic, Narcissistic Relationship?

Why Foolproofing Your Life Will Save Your Life

Seven Steps to Getting Out of Your Emotionally Abusive Marriage So You Can Find Hope and Healing


The caterpillar goes into a chrysalis and begins transforming.

This phase definitely overlaps with the previous one. As you learn more, you feel a strange release of some kind of hidden, inner pressure, and it brings a sense of relief in many ways.

You discover you are not crazy, after all.

However, now that you are beginning to see things for what they really are, it dawns on you that you will need to do something with this new understanding. It means that life cannot go on as it always has.

As painful as the relationship was, it became your “normal.” And when something feels normal to us, we are reluctant to change things. It feels scary and uncomfortable to think about all the unknowns ahead.

You are also realizing the relationship was a farce. Your spouse didn’t love you. The relationship wasn’t what you dreamed it could be. The hopes you had were never realized. The wall you kept hitting was real, and you now know it is never going anywhere.

Seven Steps to Getting Out of Your Emotionally Abusive Marriage So You Can Find Hope and Healing

You are now convinced that your attempts to make a difference in your relationship never worked, and to think they will work at some point in the future is insane. You were living in a dead marriage where the vows were broken long ago, and now you will feel the full impact of that loss.

You will inevitably need to move through the grief cycle in order to find hope and healing. This process can take two years and longer.

Many people will not understand that you are grieving since you haven’t lost anyone to death.

If you look at the chart below, you’ll see the different stages of grief. Please notice that this process is not linear. It twists and turns through loops that overlap, move forward, and then fall back again.

Give yourself the time and compassion you need to get through this part of healing and choose to ignore those who are unsupportive and don’t get it. They will only keep you from doing the hard work that lies ahead.

Seven Steps to Getting Out of Your Emotionally Abusive Marriage So You Can Find Hope and Healing

I spent over three years going through the grieving process. The worst part for me was all the anger that surfaced after so many years wasted in vacillating between hope and despair.

I was also angry at the people I had reached out to for help who ignored me and actually took his side in blaming and shaming me rather than addressing the serious issues in his life.

I eventually became clinically depressed. I was having panic attacks and ended up going on medication for anxiety and depression. Something I never thought would happen to me.

But I made it through! Eventually, I came out on the other side a whole, intact person who is no longer stuck in the pain of the past, but who is looking forward to the future. It just took time.

The grieving phase can be compared to the caterpillar when she spins her chrysalis and begins the hidden process of transformation.

This is a dark, quiet stage where there seems to be no movement forward from the outside. It takes a long time and feels suffocating. It’s cramped, and everything in you is undergoing major changes in how you think, feel, and what you believe.

But just because you can’t see the transformation taking place, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

This hard phase is where the most painful, most miraculous stuff is actually taking place.

Other resources to help you with the Grief stage:

Why Emotional and Spiritual Abuse Cause C-PTSD

What Works (and What Doesn’t) When it Comes to Healing From Emotional Abuse?

When You Are Rejected by Friends and Family

Seven Steps to Getting Out of Your Emotionally Abusive Marriage So You Can Find Hope and Healing

Getting Out

The butterfly emerges.

The caterpillar is no longer a caterpillar. She is now a completely different creature altogether—a beautiful butterfly with the capability of doing things she could never do before. But first, she needs to shed the remnants of her old life in order to be free to move into all her potential.

If you’ve ever seen a butterfly work to get free, you will know that it isn’t always easy, but it’s critical.

While she struggles, blood is pumping into her wings, prepping them for their future flight. This takes time and effort, and others should not interfere with this process, though they may try to circumvent things by trying to control you as well as the process.

You’ll learn about healthy boundaries and apply them here, gently letting others know you are capable of making decisions for yourself now.

You’re all grown up and can take responsibility for your own life.

This would not be possible unless that caterpillar had already done the transforming work in the chrysalis.

In the life of the emotional abuse survivor, this phase is the last horrible one. It’s like the Final Battle.

It’s where you take all the things you’ve learned and integrated into your life, and you bring it all to bear on this last effort to break free. Your old life struggles to keep you trapped.

Your spouse may put up a big stink and make breaking free via separation or divorce hell on earth. Abusive individuals do not want you to have healthy boundaries, and they will do everything in their power to maintain control.

They may launch a smear campaign against you, making it appear to others that you are actually the crazy, abusive one while he is the innocent victim who just wants to keep the marriage together because he loves you soooooooooooooooooooo much.

Sadly, this usually works in the man’s favor. Be strong! Just because people believe lies doesn’t make them true. Healthy, respectful people will come to you to find out about your life—not just listen to your abusive spouse and his allies, buying their juicy gossip.

I’ve talked to hundreds of women who have told me horrific stories of how their abusive husband ended up being coddled and comforted in their religious communities while the victim was actually kicked out as a liar and a vow-breaker. And it happened to me. We are all in good company. (I love People Like Us by Kelly Clarkson. She’s got a great video HERE.)

Breaking free means saying goodbye to old friends who weren’t really friends. Saying goodbye to your reputation. To your church. To your marriage. To your financial stability. To your previous dreams.

It hurts. It requires much of you, but remember that in this stage, you are a new creature. God has given you the power and desire to do it. To fulfill your destiny and the purpose for which He created you. Satan can no longer destroy you through your spouse or your religious community.

You belong to God, Himself, bought with the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Nothing can snatch you from His hand. It’s just you and Him, now, and that’s all that is required for flying. Really!

Other resources to help you with the Getting Out stage:

Ten Steps Out of Relationship Hell

How Leaving an Emotionally Abusive Relationship is Like Giving Birth

Sometimes Loving Means Leaving

Oodles of Survivor Interviews on the Flying Free podcast where they talk about their own journeys up and out of abuse.

Seven Steps to Getting Out of Your Emotionally Abusive Marriage So You Can Find Hope and Healing

Rebuild Faith and Friendships

The butterfly’s wings dry and stretch out.

Once you reach this phase, you have passed through an almost unbearable crucible that has likely caused extreme pain for many, many years. Your life has been shattered in a million pieces, and you need a break. You need to rest and consider.

When the butterfly completes her struggle to get free from the chrysalis, she rests and her wings slowly dry out. She stretches and practices using her wings, strengthening them and getting them ready for a new life of flight.

This time is a crucial one because it’s where you process your entire belief system and all the pieces land where they need to for now. You organize your thoughts.

If your faith in God was shaken, you find out where the fragility lay, and that part of you gets strengthened.

Often, your faith will be more real and powerful than it ever was before, much like a broken bone that has healed.

Friendships will change during this phase as well.

There will be some friends who walked through the entire ordeal with you, loving and supporting you every ugly step of the way. Others will have left you in your pile of shit, never looking back. Cut your losses and be glad for the opportunity to discover the reality of your friendships.

But the exciting thing about this time is that you will actually begin to form new friendships that are healthier because as your boundaries and courage and confidence return, you will attract other healthy people.

I’ve been amazed at how God has replaced 100-fold everything I’ve lost. The tearing down was just His way of doing some awesome renovation in my life, and this will happen in your life as well if you allow yourself to courageously embrace and walk this entire process.

Other resources to help you with the Rebuilding stage:

Rebuilding Your Self-Esteem After Divorce

Does Decision Making Paralyze You?

Taking Back Your Life After Emotional Abuse

You Have Ten Strengths That Will Help You Find Freedom from Emotional Abuse

Seven Steps to Getting Out of Your Emotionally Abusive Marriage So You Can Find Hope and Healing

New Life Begins

The butterfly spreads her wings and flies away.

This is the part we all want to get to NOW, without the pain of everything that comes before. But do you see how all the phases are necessary in order to finally make it to the flying part? You can’t fly otherwise.

When you are finally rebuilding your life, your career, and your relationships, having left all the fully processed past behind, you are flying into your future. And boy, does it feel incredibly exciting! You can think clearly. You can see clearly. You can feel again.

You are embarking on a new path, hopefully moving toward the fulfillment of all that God created you for. This life you were given is now being responsibly stewarded, and you are finally free to worship and obey God, not men. Those who are on the same path will be flying right alongside you on the wings of grace.

One of the exciting parts of flying is helping others who are still crawling on the ground see how they can also fly with wings of grace and freedom. God will use you to help set captives free. Your testimony is powerful. Anything purified and concentrated with fire is powerful.

So where are you in this process? Are you right at the beginning? Just starting to realize there is something more seriously wrong in your marriage than you could have ever dreamed? Or maybe you are toward the end, getting ready to start a new life in Christ.

Wherever you’re at, Jesus Christ is right there with you. Even when you can’t feel Him. He loves you and will faithfully walk you through.

If you’d like more concentrated help through each phase of your healing process, consider joining my private Flying Free education and support program. Learn more and get on the waiting list!

Other resources to help you with the New Life stage:

NEW in 2021! We are launching our brand new program coaching and training program, Flying Higher, for Divorced Christian women who are ready to take back their lives. Learn more and get on the waiting list!


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    Great post.

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    Thank you for this article. I can’t fully describe my feelings. I know my marriage is toxic and not healthy and im not in denial of that reality. I am trying to work through things and figure out my next step. I thought God was leading me to stay, then I was clearly led here which made me question everything at first. I still feel like I need clarity and I pray for that often. Prior to being led to you, God led me to a wonderful church family and I have been finding myself through Him. I have definitely been reborn in Christ through all of this. And I know He brought me to you, to this. And I as I go through all the courses, articles, materials I know I will discover why. Is it possible to find yourself somewhere in all these not just one? Like I kinda feel stuck in more than one of these??

    • Natalie Hoffman

      Absolutely. There are layers to this issue of abuse, and there are layers of healing. You may be making progress in one area and still waking up to reality in another area. That’s very normal! Give yourself time and space to figure this out. God is with you, and He will never leave you during this process. Many of us have gone through a period of struggling with our faith even! Something we never dreamed would happen. Yet Jesus was always hanging on to us. We belong to Him. You are safe in Him.

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    Thank you for this!! I needed to read this. I’m in the process of going to school so I can live on my own without him. Unfortunately while doing this I’m stuck living with him. No where to go. I have a friend God put in my life at school who has been through the same thing as me and has helped me a lot. 1 more year to survive and then I can leave. We have three kids and I have to stay for them. One moved out because her Dad was so awful to her. God will get me through this. I’m getting stronger and going through counseling. I’m just scared because I’ve never been alone.

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    Thank you doesn’t seem to cover just how grateful I was to have found this argument. God must have direct my path.
    God Bless You!

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    I’ve been married 11 1/2 years. We have 4 children. I am contemplating a necessary separation. This article really hit home with me – particularly because of the references to how churches often side with the abusive husband. Fortunately I’m in a supportive church now. The pastors & other friends are walking through this with us. I’m so tired of people telling me what to do/giving advice. I feel like I go back and forth between denial and the grieving process. I believe God wants us together. I just know He also wants me and my children safe, healthy, & loved.

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    Married for 20 years, three children, two still at home.. The church didn’t really play a role in our divorce because he never engaged in church activity or attempted to connect with anyone in that way. However, I stayed for so long because I thought it was my duty to work on my marriage. I listened and believed him when he blamed my “anger” for all our problems because, after all, whenever I tried to engage him in discussion about our problems and how I felt, he would turn it around on me, and I did indeed become angry. I tried controlling my emotions for many, many years, thinking if I could just be calm, he would stop blaming me; I tried leaving him alone; talking quietly… it didn’t matter, he just stonewalled until I got angry again. I even tried writing my feelings out in letter form a couple of times, thinking it would help to give him space from any “tone” he would construe and use to distract from the real problem, but he just ignored them.

    I attended many bible studies over the years, even led one for women once using Stormie Omartian’s Power of a Praying Wife. Maybe if I prayed the right prayers, he would change, soften up, become loving –if I could just be loving enough myself. I felt like it all depended on me, and I felt like such a hypocrite; after all, the continual message I received from my husband was what a terrible wife I was and how he was such a better person because he could “control” his emotions.

    We were military and moved around a lot, so it was easy to sweep the problems under the rug for the sake of handling the next move, the next transition. I told myself so many times, “Maybe it’ll be different when we move to _____ and he no longer works ____, we’ll have more time to work on ___.”

    He was never happy in the job he was in and it was always someone else’s fault, and he garnered sympathy from me for years. Eventually, I grew weary of it and started challenging him, which of course just made me the bad guy. But I try to remember what I believed, what I fell for, for so. long…. So I can have empathy for others, especially for our children, who continue to be manipulated by his victim mentality.

    Our divorce took over two years (custody battle). It was final three years ago. As soon as I had court permission, I moved with our younger two to be near family; he’s still military and a year prior had already moved cross-country to his next assignment by then. Currently, we live half a country apart. In so many ways, I am lucky to have the geographical distance, even though he used that as another tool to be the victim because I didn’t simply follow him to his next assignment and therefore was the reason our kids would grow up away from their father. Never mind that I’m no longer a military wife, and that I make all the travel arrangements for them to visit him every school break, and two months every summer…

    I still feel guilty about so many things. Progress is when I when I show emotion — it doesn’t even have to be anger, or negative in nature — but I feel guilty for it, then I recognize the guilt, and gently send it on its way. It was revealed during the divorce proceedings that he had been lying about me and smearing me behind my back for years. The day before I filed, he even moved (a lot) of money out of our joint account and hid it from me and refused to talk about it. But … I still wonder if I made the right choice by filing.

    Based on your stages of healing, I’m probably still stuck in five, though it probably appears on the surface that I’m in six. During the divorce hell, I found solace in Psalms and instruction in Proverbs, mainly regarding what it means to be a fool, which I was myself for so many years. It’s taken me this long to even consider that what I experienced was abuse. For so long I was led to believe by my husband that I was the abuser…

    I am lucky that the court system actually ended up being my financial protector, because he was the sole provider of income for the last 15 years of our marriage while I stayed at home with the kids, even homeschooling the last four. None of that mattered to him; he still expected me to support myself from day one and I wouldn’t see a cent of support if it weren’t court-ordered. Still, I felt pressure to quickly seek and create a new career and so much of my energy and time has gone into that, plus the feeding and caring of our two children who live primarily with me. Because we have “no contact” as far as possible with kids involved, I am amazed at what I now recognize as abuse in what little he reveals when he’s forced to communicate, such as in legal motions — he continues to take me back to court to lower support — or emails addressing what he’s telling the kids about paying for college.

    Funny aside — during our marriage he never had a problem with me handling all of our finances, and even passively refused to participate when I would beg for help. (Bills had to wait when I gave birth, for instance, until I could get around to dealing with them again.) But once we got divorced, and even leading up to it, suddenly it all became about money. I thank God that I was the one who had a clue about them and wasn’t like so many wives whose husbands had complete control over their finances.

    So, to wrap this up! I am slowly trying to get back to self-care and continuing to educate myself about the truth of my marriage and its demise in an attempt to heal — which led me to your site — and I’m realizing that I still have a long way to go. It feels pathetic because three years should be enough time to be able to move on already. But I’m still not sure what that’s going to look like for me. Finding a church home has been a struggle, not least because my children basically refuse to go. Their dad professed he was a christian, but he never cared if he went to church. Now that we’re divorced, his lifestyle, joking statements, and insinuating remarks to the children are such that I’m not sure what he believes, and it has to be very confusing to our kids, trying to reconcile two very different lifestyles and practicing values. I’m also realizing how much guilt I continue to feel for being a “hypocrite,” which I’m slowly recognizing as a lingering symptom from his abuse in making me believe that the worst parts of me canceled out the good and made me undeserving of his love.

    I’d like to be a part of the facebook group, if that’s still a thing. I wasn’t seeing dates on previous comments and I’m new to your site, so I’m unclear if that’s still an active option, but hearing and reading other stories seems to ground me and make me not feel so alone (and crazy!).

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    Thanks for the article. I have recently been left by my wife. I’m starting to realize the abuse my children and I have endured. She was having affairs for who knows how long. When things looked suspicious I would talk to her about it. She had me convinced I was a jealous, possessive husband and that all of the problems in our relationship were my fault. I believed her for a long time. As evidence of her infidelity piled up she continued to lie and blame me. I felt like a horrible person for questioning her. No matter how obvious the signs were. She finally left me for him. And still denys anything ever was going on. But the evidence is undeniable. She even talked to the kids while I was gone (her step kids, my biological) and had them convinced I was a tyrant. She then would tell me my kids didnt want to be around me because of our problems. I feel horrible. I wanted to believe her so much. I actually wanted to believe I was a horrible husband because I loved her and didnt want to believe she would do the things she was doing. I guess I have a long road ahead of me. She had me convinced I’d never find anyone as good as her and I was ruining it.

    • Natalie Hoffman

      You might find this website helpful:

      It’s for men who have been emotionally abused by narcissistic or otherwise personality disordered women. I’m so sorry for your pain, and I hope you’ll be able to find a new life that is abuse-free.

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    Crying is not “ugly”. God gives us the ability to cry for relief and healing. It is nothing to be ashamed of.

    • Natalie Hoffman

      You’re right, we don’t need to be ashamed of crying. I do it a lot – it’s very healing. “Ugly crying” is a term that means intense crying with lots of boogers. 🙂

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    I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this. Even though it is obviously written to women, I got a lot out of it.

    My name is John, I am in the process of ending 21yr abusive marriage. Like you all I ever wanted was a loving spouse and kids, a family.

    As I approach the official end of my marriage I find myself in that unique position of losing everything I held dear in my life and at the same time knowing that it never really existed.

    The feelings are still very real, and painful, but the person I fell in love with never really existed she was a mask. A mask I still grieve over losing,

    The actual person I married has destroyed everything I held dear in my life. With callous precision she has turn family and friends against me. Even worse she turned my children against me in secret.

    The abusive behavior went on for years and years. I would tell myself “it’s your marriage suck it up” or make an excuse as to why it wasn’t her fault that she was treating me so horribly. It was my lack of something or something someone else did to her that would make her act that way towards me.

    This cycle continued until I had, what i lovingly call “THE WTF!” moment. Now to be sure i had lesser wtf moments all throughout my marriage, but i explained them away or made excuses. I didn’t want to see the painful truth.

    That pivotal moment for me was finding out that she had been stealing from me for over 3yrs. I had left a good job thinking I wasn’t getting paid for all my work. My next job, well I had the same issues. Finally when confronted she confessed to stealing 22k dollars from me, with no explanation of why or where she had spent the money.

    This WTF moment, I could not brush off. I couldn’t make an excuse for this behavior. That painful truth wouldn’t let me look away.

    That was just the tip of the iceberg. Your analogy of a journey through hell is app. In the end I have lost my wife, the life and family I fought so hard to keep,, a home I loved, and several “good” friends.

    To anyone going through something like this don’t stop, don’t turn back keep going. You will not feel like you do right now forever, it will get better.

    After all of that and so much more, I am heartbroken and grieving my loss, but nearing the final leg of my journey to free myself from my abuser. I am also happy for the first time in a very long time seeing future full of possibilities.

    I look forward to a full recovery and getting “me” back. I have a second chance at life, and I’m not going to waste it.

    Thank you for allowing me to ramble on. This is the first time I’ve ever written down an account of my abuse.


    • Avatar

      It is painful to read your post…because these are the things my husband said about me! But he was the abuser. I believe you….but this is just an example of how difficult it is for people totally see the truth…..or to know which party is telling the truth. If it weren’t for my grown children telling me what was going on with my husband, I would not have belived the truth EVEN ABOUT MY OWN SITUATION!! I have 11 children, and had been married 34 years when I left (and my kids with me). Its been 10 years now and I still struggle with understanding the truth.

      • Natalie Hoffman

        You might be helped by the book Brain Talk by David Schnarch. My ex used to tell me and others that I was “scary.” Mostly because I stood up for myself, and he didn’t like that. People believed him because he was quieter and acted like a whipped dog around them. It was just a ruse, but it was easy to buy because I was pretty outspoken and articulate about what was going on. I did really struggle not to believe his gaslighting though for many years. I totally bought into the lie that to speak up was abusive itself. To argue or to stand up for myself was dishonoring to him as my “head.” As the representative of God in my life. Very screwed up way of looking at life, but that’s what I strongly believed at the time. Many Christians still hold on to this underlying belief system, and it influences how they view a victim when she tries to get help or stands up for herself. It’s actually very common for the abuser to project his bad behavior onto his victim. To the point that he will accuse her of having an affair or watching porn when he is actually doing that. Sometimes you can figure out what they are doing JUST by listening to what they imply you are doing. It’s pretty fascinating, actually!

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    I would like guidance regarding having been married to a narcissistic paranoid sociopaths man. These are terms given to me by our marriage counselor and who he said was giving him therapy once a week. Turned out he lied about that. So we have been divorced two years. We have two kids. There was daily, hourly verbal and emotional abuse to me and kids. He also had sex addiction and a gambling issue. But he was so smooth and rationalized everything, I felt like I was crazy. So I’ve been healing…. my kids go to him every week and it’s like he’s doing something to them, emotionally screwing with them. They come back acting like him and being abusive to me. I can’t and don’t want to divorce my kids. So I’m trying to figure out how to deal with this.

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    This is really helpful, and you categorise with acumen and insight. Thank you. The sad feature is that this is also a painfully sexist site. Men suffer as much from emotional abuse as women. abuse of men is under-reported fir reasons you actually cover – shame, confusion, fear. Balance up.

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    Oh my goodness! – you have a Katy Perry video on your Christian site! for shame! Kidding. That song is on one of my take back my life playlists. Im still finding my way out of this chrysalis – actually I am doing more than one of these things at a time. I love that song so so so so much. Given Katy’s background, it seems she is uniquely qualified to write for us.

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    I denied that my marriage was emotionally abusive for a long time, but now I am finally divorced. trying to break free but it is hard we have 5 kids together and whenever we talk about living situation or our kids he continues to be abusive. It is slowing down my healing process with his continued abuse. God has gotten me through a lot and finally got me to get the divorce. Thanks for your article. It helps that i am not alone.

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    Thanks for the article. it helps me know I am not alone and that I am not crazy.

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    Thank you for this article.

    I’m not a believer, and I do respect your beliefs. Your way of viewing the healing process is spot on. I’m not sure where I am in the healing process, and I seek therapy for it.

    I did not leave an abusive spouse, but a father. He was abusive towards me, and I’m slowly healing from the mental pain he has caused me. I had to cut contact with him otherwise I would have been dead by now.

    To all of you people suffering from abuse, it is not your fault. If you are married to your abuser, you shouldn’t stay with him because it is expected of you. You should leave for your own safety and health. I know it’s not easy to do, and I do support you. I’m just a stranger on the internet, but I do love and support you. No one should go through abuses.

    Have a good day

    • Natalie Hoffman

      Thank you, Loriane. I’m glad you were able to get away from your abusive dad, and I hope you’ll find healing and peace as time goes on.

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    I would like to join your Flying Free Support Group. Its time to deal with reality and face what is happening. To take my energy and use it to be grow and become what I was sent to be. Sincerely, Brittnee

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    Is there anyway to print this!

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    Natalie, such a powerful article! Thank you for writing it!

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    I didn’t leave an abusive husband, but I left an abusive pastor. The stages are the same,I’m still grieving.

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    This was amazing to read and gives me so much hope that I will get through my abuse one day. Thanks!

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    I am thankful to have come across this information. As a Pastor seeing woman go through this abuse I just wanted to help them and getting this information has been a blessing. I am going to start a program Broken Vessels and use this information to help them. Thank you so much.

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    Oh my, I enjoyed reading your article. I so wish I could talk to you. I have been married for 37 years. I started going through hell around 5 years ago. I never could put my finger on what was happening. I went through many hard times during this, losing my mother and others. I now believe I was in complete denial of what was going on. Please contact me.

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    For 7 years I have been trying to leave this abusive marriage.Working with several agencies, counseling,the police and the local domestic abuse shelter. Every dang time I get an opportunity a clear path to leave some obstacle gets int he way.Some obstacle that takes time to overcome( mechanical issues with the car, no where to go with a medium size dog, behavioral issues with the dog you name it it has happened.) We in my area have had several murders involving domestic violence and I sure do not want to end up like them.He has threatened to burn down the house and shoot the dog among other things.Lately i have no where to go with the dog.The local domestic abuse shelter dos not take pets until their renovations are done in December,I do have a daughter and family 2 hours away..but they have a dog that does not like other dogs..I mean it attacks..Stay here? restraining orders were useless in the last murder cases and the police cannot sit in front of the house 24/7.I have gone through “hoops” having the dog classified as an emotional support animal per local domestic abuse shelter.Landlords do not care they do not want a medium size dog.Liability they say.Friends ? I have lived in this state over 40 years and never had any friends..acquaintances from work but no.friends..Why ? Everyone here goes to bars and I do not.Any ideas? Suggestions? Any thoughts?

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      My children and I escaped in the night. We did have help. If you have to leave the dog….it is worth it to save your life!

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    Natalie, I may need some personal coaching from you. After 35 yrs. of marriage to a man who himself grew up in an abusive home and church, I finally have identified where my mistakes have been, no boundaries etc. out of fear of displeasing God, afraid to leave, etc. I do not control the money in our home, and I need to find a way to determine what my legal rights are via the finances without him knowing right now. Please advise me how to contact you, what you charge, etc.
    Thank you, Miranda Flynn

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    This article is encouraging! “They applied grace to him though he was unrepentant, and they laid down the law for me when I most desperately needed support and love.” I still am judged and harassed four years after my divorce with little to no support. I read an article a pastor wrote after hearing women’s accounts of verbal and psychological abuse. His conclusion? God loves women more than He hates divorce.

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    I am so glad I read this. I have been struggling for three years to make sense of something that made no sense. I thought there was something wrong with me because every other article seemed to think a few months would heal me. And today I read that it can easily be three years. It has been. And the curve graphic is spot on. I have been all over the place and thought I was losing it. I would love to be able to tell my story, but what she did cannot be said. I don’t even know why she did it. It was unnecessary and cruel. So yeah, thanks for this. It really helps to know I’m not alone, and I’m actually normal. I do feel that I’m starting to improve.

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    What a great read. I have been verbally and emotionally abused for 10 years and I am still with my abuser. He seems to be different now, but I see glimpses of how it used to be and I cannot lef go of the past. As a Christian, I prayed and begged God for a long time to change my husband, and now all these years later he seems to be changed and I am now at a place where love is non-existent. I hate him! My church and my husband encourage staying together, saying our kids need us, and our relationship can be healed. However, I am angry at God for ignoring my pleas for so long. There is no part of me that has any desire to remain with my husband. Hearing his voice makes me cringe, being in his presence makes me feel sick, I have extreme anxiety around him, I am happy when he is away, and any idea of physical touch makes me cry. Yet, I yearn for someone to love everyday. I feel so empty and lonely. I want to be able to love someone and know what a true marriage in Christ looks like. All this pain, suffering, and heart break is too much to recover from. I do not know how to heal if I stay in this marriage. I only have stayed this long because it is what is expected of me.

    My soul feels dead and I want to feel alive again.

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    Wow, You have done a remarkable job of putting the right information and resources on your front page! Your comments on the resources are excellent and everything is so sharable.
    I came to all of the resources you shared through a long, struggly journey so it is very affirming and encouraging to see them all listed!
    Thank you.
    I am still with my abuser, who is a Pastor, and have experienced all you have described. I am really at the separation stage and I think hovering right before stage 5 but am still believing/sensing I should not divorce. I am “too old” in some ways but need to start over and would love to help women who are on this path.
    One piece that you might consider adding is the frustrating and counter productive experience with professional counseling that awaits people in this experience. You did a great job expressing the ignorance in the faith and friendship realm. Lundy Bancrofft helped me so much in this area.
    Thank you for a incredible site,

    • Natalie Hoffman

      That is a GREAT topic for a blog post, Ruth. Thank you. I’ll reach out to the community on Facebook and get some of their experiences with counselors. Mine were all horrible but one who treated me with EMDR therapy, but prior to the EMDR therapist, I only went to “Christian” counselors. If I had a do-over, I’d vet skilled therapists who are experienced in trauma recovery. I’d never, EVER go to a Christian or Bible counselor unless I was looking for help with spiritual formation. If you have anything you’d like to add about your experience, I’m all ears.

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        Yes I agree. Do you have any current videos or articles on the site about counselors who are untrained or biased and continue and or feed the misogyny ? Lundy Bancroft helped me in this area. There really is no reason to go to a counselor when in this type of circumstance. My husband has become very adept at using counseling to further his abusive behaviors.
        I am amazed at the level of ignorance and sometimes, hopefully unintentional complicity that occurs in Christian counseling.

      • Avatar

        Natalie I had an extremely competent trauma informed Christian counselor. She got it from session one. She named the abuse and supported me in getting healthy and stronger myself. When faith did enter our sessions it was incredibly helpful to process with someone who understood my spiritual framework. Don’t write off all Christian counselors. There are good and bad counselors, both Christian and non-Christian. I think having a good, trauma informed counselor is key, but one that is also biblically solid is the most helpful.

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    You have be beat by four… I’m a mother to five. Thank you for creating this site and making all these wonderful resources vetted and available. May God bless you and grant you peace and love as you fulfill your mission.



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    Thank you so much for sharing this! So beautifully written! My stages may be a little mixed up, by I can at least see that there will truly be a positive ending eventually I pray!

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    This was so beautifully helpful, thank you so much!! I can proudly say I am in the last and final phase :’)

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    Thank you.

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    Hi , your article spoke to me Ive been kicked out of two church’s already and I was emotionally abused as a child. And I’ve stopped talking to fake friends , so. I’m not sure where I am on the healing process Im scared of attachment and I don’t date because I don’t want to attract someone that will abuse me like my parents did, and sometimes I cry but I know it’s tears of healing not sadness and I hope to find a true family in god, but I’m scared to go to church because I don’t want to be labeled and kicked out again. I’m tired emotionally and spiritually I’m at a point where I don’t know what to believe in anymore,your article gave me hope again that someone in the family of God understands, I feel alot of shame sometimes because I’m a man and I have a fragile sensitive heart and i despise how men are told not to share emotions humans cant do that, thank you for this article I think god showed this to me

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    Natalie… I have read many many articles through my struggle, but this article spoke directly to me. It touched on everything I am experiencing right now, like it was written for me. You have no idea how much this has touched me and helped me. I am going to order some of the books you suggest and I’m sure they will help a tremendous amount as well.

    I am a mom of three and I have been through a lot. I am in pain… But I know I will come out on the other side healthier and happier. Thank you so so much. You have no idea the impact this has had on me.


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    Thank you thank you thank you for writing this and using your pain for a purpose!
    I was married for 18 years. I’m afraid of the future but knew I couldn’t stay in despair. I know God has a hope and future for me, He has gone before me in all of this. I know my worth now. These articles are teaching me so much about how there is life lived to the full ahead of me. Im trusting and believing God with my tomorrow even though I can’t see it and it’s scary.

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    Very true and helpful to my present life,

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    Reading this was like reading my husband’s story. Over the last few years, as I have witnessed the abuse he experienced in his previous marriage, I have been shocked and dismayed at what his ex does. It is hard because he lost his job, his reputation, home, membership in his church, work associates, etc. Everyone took his ex-wife’s side because she turned everything on him. We have been trying to learn more about what he had experienced and went from learning about narcissistic abuse to emotional abuse.

    As we read several articles today and then this article, I feel a sense of relief that there is someone who understands. It has been difficult to talk to anyone who has not walked through this type of abuse. They have dismissed everything he has said and acted as her flying monkeys to make him feels worse and blame him for her behavior.

    I know there is so much more to learn. My first marriage was mildly emotionally abusive, very neglectful, and isolating. I still do not know how to process what I went through. But, I know that witnessing what my second husband has to deal with and had to deal with for 13 years, I feel like my ex has been decent and kind in comparison.

    I am just the support to my husband as he suffers continual emotional abuse from his ex and I am left shaking and shocked…developing signs of PTSD. I needed to read a blog from someone who has walked this path and understands. Thank you.

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    So helpful for me right now . I believe everyone’s journey is different. Yet there are many many similarities mostly we all need to “fly free”.

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    Hi Natalie, I am coming out of a 13 year marriage of emotional abuse. I had all the alarms going off a year ago but God needed me to do some major work in forgiving my abuser. As the year progressed my ex-husband became more and more arrogant and controlling. The “ah-ha” moment for me was when I found a Christian video on dealing with a narcissistic husband and it described everything perfectly. Even though I had been forgiving him he was getting worse and probably getting ready to discard me. I left him before he had the opportunity to leave me over something trivial.I am now relocated in a place where I feel safe and can start my life over without the constant threat of emotional abuse. God has been healing me through His WORD and knowledge. Thank you so much for your website and all the advise you give. I hope to help others in my future who have gone through the same thing I went through. Glory to God

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    Thank you so much for this. This is the first thing I’ve read on emotional abuse that shook me to the core since it’s exactly what I’m going through. I’ve been going through the grieving stage for a year or so now, and 90% of my friends (who know about this) are aggravating me and saying just LEAVE. I’ve told them it’s more complicated than they think, but I couldn’t put into words why. But you did!! I’ve even wondered myself why I’m taking so long, but after reading that it can take at least 2 years, it makes so much sense now, along with realizing it’s a totally normal process. Up until 6 months ago or so, I didn’t have a single friend who truly “got it”– but I’ve made 2 friends who are there for me 100% and aren’t rushing me to leave. They’re the only ones who believe me that I AM leaving, but it takes time. I truly Berliner that when we go through this process, we will attract new situations/friends that are meant to be there for us.

    Thanks so much for this!!! I hope it helps as many people as possible.

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    Great article and meaningfully helpful in every way. One issue I have – picayune as it may be – is that in a blog entry about God and Faith and healing and such, the word “shit” seems out-of-place and detracts from all the spiritual verbiage.

    • Avatar

      Actually, I beg to differ. Not for the sake of differing – at all -but because of the way it struck me, and how (although, interestingly – not long ago I would possibly have had a similar response) it struck me in a positive way. I re-read it in order to experience it again.

      Please… consider….all of us…please consider this tool for living : “Take what you like (need), and leave the rest.”

      It may have have seemed vulgar; but anyone who has lived through this type of secret HELL understands that the word used was the most ‘clean’ and appropriate term possible.

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    Hi I’m tania An I need help I have been abused emotionally physically and mentally for some years now An I need help letting go of my past to let my future in for my 4 year twins an myself to have a healthier happy life

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    Boundaries… Something we all should teach our children from the beginning…

    Wonderful article.
    I’ve been through it all.

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    Seems the more I read The more I am Confused. I read What you said, felt like I was Getting an understanding of what I’ve been going through. Then I read Something about how to identify emotional abuse and wonder if I’m to abusee or the abuser. I’ve gone through years of begging for him to care, begging for him to not be so cold hearted toward me. To lashing out after finding out about hurtful things. I took A ball bat to a car, it’s been a constant struggle. It hurts like hell and I feel Like I just Want to lay down, cover my head and never emerge again.

    • Natalie Hoffman

      I’m so sorry, Vickie. Many survivors feel exactly like you do – and have experienced those times of rage. They are symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder. The Flying Free group deals with all of these issues, and it will take you from a place of bondage to a place of freedom if you are ready to begin that journey.

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    How do you go through this when you have been reduced to nothing. I completly Quit participating In my life a long time ago. I do The bare minimum of everything. I cant Even get out of bed most days. I remember How I used To be, but now I’m feeling worthless and lazy. Feels like why bother.

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    Thank you for this. I just recently ended a relationship with someone who ended up being a cocaine addict, a master-manipulator, and later I found out he was a certified sociopath (per his therapist) with textbook narcissistic tendencies. He was/still is a predator. He had other women AND several children in his past that he treated the same way and he’s currently looking for his next victim. The relationship only lasted 8 months but I finally grew the backbone to kick him out for good and I’ve gotten rid of every scrap that reminds me of him. It’s been 4 months and I’m still struggling with forgiving myself for allowing him to treat me the way he did – only because I had the audacity to care and I had hope that he’d change. I’m working on learning about boundaries and spotting this kind of man for when I decide I’m ready to start dating again in the future. I’ve had people ask me, “you’re not getting all depressed are you?” And I stay silent because I don’t want to blurt out that I’m just trying to heal. The best thing I’ve been doing for myself is to read everything I can on emotional abuse, going to Co Dependency Anonymous meetings and just working on getting my independent self back to where I was before I even met the guy. I do have the need to tell my story – all the time…if for no other reason than to give others hope that you CAN end it with them and you will be okay.

    • Natalie Hoffman

      Tell your story every chance you get. Every one of us plays a role in raising awareness about this kind of debilitating abuse. I’m glad you found this site. HUGS!

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    This is one of the best articles I’ve read about emotional abuse. Thank you for sharing your story and advice.

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    Hi Natalie,

    Thank you for this article. I have experienced all these things. The problem I am having in my outreach and recovery is this perception that females are the only victims. e.g. “the innocent victim who just wants to keep the marriage together because he loves you soooooooooooooooooooo much. Sadly, this usually works in the man’s favor. This is exactly what my wife does to me. I get that same, “she’s the wife how can you be a victim?” People don’t believe me. If they do, its like yeah all women are crazy, get over it.

    I felt like a dog in a too small cage, getting shocked every time they move. I finally got my own apartment. This perception that the male should be strong and get over it is crushing my recovery. I’m not even sure I can touch another woman, much less date anyone at this point. I’m smart enough that this will go away with time, but with her being the mom…she’s going to use the kids against me. Everytime I see them, I’ll think about the control she still exerts over me….will this go away?

    • Natalie

      The two greatest things you can do for yourself is 1. Let go of the desire for others to believe or understand you – and 2. focus on loving your kids the best you know how. Healthy boundaries means letting others be themselves and make their own choices – and you learning how to be yourself and make your own choices. No more worrying what others think. No more trying to control or manage your image or reputation. Keep your eyes on Jesus – and love those who come into your path. You don’t need a wife to be a whole, complete person. You don’t need the approval of others. Think about what you can GIVE to your children – not what you can get from them or from your wife. It sounds like you are making some good steps in moving forward by getting your own apartment and refusing to live in denial anymore. It’s a very isolating experience, but you will grow stronger for it. There is so much freedom in growing up into who you were meant to be!

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    Thank you for writing this post, it really made me realise the steps are actual life and you really do go through the motions. It’s hard to explain to those around you what’s going on , but you’ve made it sound completely normal. You even repeat some of the stages until your body tells you it’s healed. God bless you ♥️

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    Thank you for writing this! It is so beautiful in so many ways, and exactly what I needed to hear right now. I just finally found the strength to leave my abusive husband and am feeling things I can’t quite identity, but your words make sense of it. I’m at the phase of breaking out of the cocoon and it’s such a perfect analogy. You’ve shown me that I’m not at the beginning, the struggles I’ve endured to this point were all part of my transformation and I have so much to look forward to. Thank you so much. You are truly a blessing.

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    Wow, thanks Natalie. I’ve read numerous books (including a few mentioned by you here) and a lot of literature on emotional abuse during the past 4-5 years. Still, I love how you describe each stage and I’m absolutely speechless after reading the beautiful butterfly analogy that you made.

    You’re a very compassionate and inspiring writer. I saved this link to read over and over again to do “reality check” when confusion gets the better of me!

    I’m not Christian. I’m actually a very secular person with very human principles. Even though I don’t relate to the religious part of what you wrote (which mentions God and Jesus) I find that what you wrote, you did like a professional therapist. You did an even better job because you’ve lived it (according to yourself) and you’re very well-read on the subject.

    Once again, thanks for this beautiful article. It helped me tremendously and was a shining sun through a dark night.

    • Natalie

      That gives me joy to hear that it was helpful to you. Thank you for the feedback, and welcome to Flying Free!

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    Hello, I would love to gather information on coaching sessions with Natalie. Thank you!

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    I’m definitely moving between stages 3 to 5. Like the grief cycle, there is a moving between them,; sometimes more one than another. I would say I am currently in the emerging butterfly and wing stretching phase at this very moment. I am luckier than some. I came through the first stages relatively quickly, only because of Jesus, not my own will. In the early days, my will was not to live at all. But now, now I have hope and am learning new things, using the hard-won wisdom gleaned from the pain and knowing that, in time, I will reach out to others to point them to the “fire escape”, the way out. Love this blog Natalie. It is excellent. X

    • Natalie

      I’m so glad you are moving ahead – and so glad to have you here! 🙂

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    Hi Natalie,
    I just got out of an abusive realationship about 7 weeks ago give or take and I am hurt my heart is still hurting and I feel like a failure and my family has been there to support me but they are at their ropes end with me and me constanlty being angry and taking it out on them and my sibilings. i don’t know who to turn too or even who I can trust with this. I feel lonley and my emontions are dead right now I have a guy interested in me but I am scared to get into another realtionship this early still in the grieving process. I am hurt and angry that I allowed the realationship to get as toxic as it got. Can you help?

    • Natalie

      Hi Michelle – it IS too early to jump into a new relationship. I recommend taking some time to look at what may be missing in your own life that would cause you to get involved in an abusive relationship. Often we find ourselves in unhealthy relationships because our own personal boundaries aren’t in place yet. We feel inadequate on our own, so we look for our worth in the attention of another person. Even if it is “bad” attention.

      One of the reasons women get angry is because they feel out of control. They believe others should rescue them OR they believe they have no choices of their own. These are all boundaries issues. Without working on yourself and getting healthy and strong – you may find yourself in another abusive relationship, and that’s not what you deserve.

      Have you thought about joining Flying Free? It’s open for a brief time from now until this Friday. You can read more about it here:

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        Thank you Natalie. I’m 61 and have had a strange relationship with my mother all my life. What you describe in your 6 stages it seems could be applied to our relationship, not just a marriage. Is that right? I am hurting but I have read Boundaries by Dr’s. Cloud and Townsend. Please assure me that your list of blogs and videos are useful for my case. Thank you for all you do to help in this area.
        Lauri Jones

        • Natalie

          Absolutely. The things you’ll learn here will help victims of any type of narcissistic abuse.

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    Like many of the other commenters I would say I am between stages 3 and 4. I actually signed up for the flying free group that is starting in a couple of weeks and am very excited. I guess I just have a question, if you have the time…
    My husband and I are in counseling right now with our pastor. He admits that he has been self-centered and controlling, but all he keeps talking about is what he’s going to do to change things for the better. Still always talking about himself and what he wants to change and what he can do better. He says things like “i’m sorry I hurt you” and “I’m sorry for not treating you the way you deserve to be treated.” he says he “feels convicted” about the fact that he hadn’t based our marriage and his leadership in God but in himself… but I just dont feel like I’m seeing real contrition, if that makes sense…
    I’ve only been married 7 years, but I don’t want to be one of the women that posts on here “after 30 years of marriage I finally left…”
    My spirit is tired.
    Thank you for all your helpful posts

    • Natalie

      Real repentance doesn’t happen when someone is “caught.” It comes from inside. It is inner transformation brought about by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Not the conviction of man. It’s not just verbal apologies. If he is truly repentant, he will not blame you, shame you, minimize or justify his abuse, etc.. Change will last for the rest of your lives (because it is real). Not just for a season while he is being watched by church elders.

      One of the best indicators of repentance is how they respond when you implement healthy personal boundaries and no longer tolerate their abuse. Men who have really repented respond beautifully to your boundaries, encouraging them. Men who haven’t chaff and even rage at boundaries. When you say “no” how does he respond? Healthy people are respectful. Unhealthy people get angry and feel entitled to whatever it is they want.

      You will get some good help in Flying Free. I look forward to meeting you over there in a couple of weeks.

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    What if the emotional abuse comes from your family from birth? Not a person we chose, but people who were chosen with no consent from us.

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    I’ve recently ended two emotionally abusive relationships, with other women, one was lifelong (53 years). This kind of thing can be in any relationship, not just romantic ones. I’m so grateful to Father (God), for opening my eyes, to see the truth. The past 6 months, He’s had me studying personality disorders, and the mind, so Ii could see that I needed to end those relationships. I’m in a stage where there is immense calmness at times, especially when I’m at home alone, sitting still with Father, talking to Him about it all, and allowing Him to heal me. I’m starting to feel ALIVE, in a way I’ve never experienced before. I’m also being judged by some Pharisees, who call themselves Christians, for not having contact with those women anymore. Several days ago, I was just telling a Sista, that i felt like a caterpillar, who is turning into a butterfly. It was a breath of fresh air, finding this page today. Many blessings to you, as you continue to heal, and help others see the beauty in being transformed from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Isaiah 40:31 (NLT) But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. I will visit often and continue to pray for others on this page. BIG HUGS to yall 🙂

    • Natalie

      You too!! So glad you found this site!

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    What a wonderful article with great resources! Absolutely love the analogy! It is so true. I’m wanting to buy one of the books you mentioned. There are, however, many men who deal with this abuse as well. They struggle to leave their wives each loved and dreamed about having a life long relationship with. As women describe their abuse, many mention the mother of their abuser is just like them. Respectfully I would say, “He/She” might be a better way to describe the analogy of the butterfly. Keep up your great work!!!

    • Natalie

      I’m so glad this article has helped you. There are many narcissistic women who are emotionally abusive to their husbands. Male victims do tend to get more validation and help from the religious community. Regardless, the pain of living with a personality disordered individual is horrific and long lasting. This blog is written for women, hence the “she” pronoun. But there are resources out there for men, but I’m not sure if any are faith based. The Christian community is largely ignorant when it comes to ambiant abuse. Everything here would apply to relationships of all types. Best wishes.

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    Thank you Natalie. I am excited to talk to you on our calls. I am in the Midst of Stages 3, 4, 5. I am not sure if that is possible. I have been married for 33 years and have been involved in ministry at my church with women. I have been able to help many, but not myself. Thank you and love to hear from you.

    • Natalie

      Looking forward to talking with you! 🙂

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    Thank you so much for sharing the stages of grief in abusive marriages. I’m in between stages 3 & 4. I’ve been married for 29 years and while there were some good times, the emotional abuse casts a cloud over all of them. More than ten years ago I tried to talk to my pastor about some of the problems. I really admired this guy. He told me I should pray more and just obey my husband. If this pastor had helped me instead of making me feel guilty, I might have gotten on the road to recovery much sooner. The church has blinders on a lot of the time. It repeats the “No divorce” mantra to thousands of suffering women and ends up adding to the already damaged psyche of these abused women, filling them up with guilt & shame over something which they cannot change or control.
    I quit going to church. I quit praying. I still firmly believe in God, but right now I’m in a spiritual desert. It dawned on me today-how can I find God when I’m just now starting to find myself? It encourages me to know that restoration of my relationship with Him will come in time. Thank you for telling me this. I am getting counseling and have told my husband that he has been abusive throughout our marriage. At first he was defensive and tried to turn the tables on me. I gave this man over half my life, devoted myself to making him happy, tried to build him up with praise, love & encouragement. In return, I have been destroyed. I am very angry about it sometimes. Other times I am so very sad. Now he admits the abuse and claims he understands why I must leave. I hope he’s sincere, but because of the years of emotional torment, I just can’t trust him. I too, often hoped I’d wake up to find him dead, so that I could finally be free. I often contemplated suicide as the only solution. I am becoming empowered now, with help from my therapist and all that I am learning about abuse. I think part of the problem in recognizing the abuse is that society generally only defines it as physical mistreatment. That was certainly my understanding of the term for many years. I have only one friend and she doesn’t get it. She thinks I bear some responsibility for the abuse and keeps telling me I should admit that. I love her dearly, but she isn’t giving me the support I really need. I’m disabled and can’t work, so I don’t know where to go to find new, supportive friends. It’s very lonely much of the time. However, I am determined to regain control over my life and move on toward a better tomorrow. Thank you again for your much needed advice.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      Alison, I’m so sorry you have not received the love of Christ through the Church community. Unfortunately, this is too common. I hope you’ll sign up for my free mini course on self-awareness. Toward the end of that course I will tell you how you can get involved in an online community of women just like you. We will also be doing a lot of work on healing spiritually because much of the damage done is spiritual as well as emotional.
      The sign up for this free course ends tomorrow. Go here:

  63. Avatar

    Natalie, I am SO thankful to have found your blog/articles!! I didn’t come across ANY info like this (what I was really searching for ) in my first 3 Google searches. It’s desperately needed in the church world! Been in emotionally/verbally/spiritually abusive relationships in one form or another my entire life. I am 4 years divorced from an emotionally abusive man and 1 year free of ANY dysfunctional relationships, minus a 1 month hiccup w/ a friend/family member (hence the second guessing of my [suspected] healthy confrontation which has resulted in a pending lack of repentance on their part). I’m in stage 5 or 6 of my journey overall! I HIGHLY value your common sense, no-nonsense, sarcastic, non-religious approach 😉 !!! Again, sorely needed in the church world. I will be using your website as a resource to help friends and family stuck in dysfunction and to help educate those who can’t relate and “don’t get it”. Thank you again, and much love to you as you recover as well♡♡

    • Natalie Anne

      Thank you for your enthusiastic endorsement! Wowza! I’m so glad this site has been helpful to you! ((hugs))

  64. Avatar

    Our road is so similar and this article is so helpful. Done grieving a long time ago but heavy doses of fear are still a trigger for complacency but I know that doesn’t help either me or my husband. Wish I had met you at Conquer last October.

    Thank you, Natalie! Your article gives me a resource to articulate to my counselor exactly where I’m at as well as a nudge (or boot) to move ahead from here and to get the support I need to do so.

  65. Avatar

    From most appearances I’m in stage 6, but I’m really in 5.

    My abuse (church environment) was so… invisible? Insidious? I’m not even convinced I was ever in denial (is it possible to be in denial about denial? Nevermind. I know the answer’s yes. I just don’t think I am…)

    I was continually extending grace and honestly assuming good-motive. I still wonder about most of the people who contributed to my hurt– if they every really knew what they were doing to me. (I don’t ask that question about them all.) This lack of a clear antagonist/personification of my source of pain makes things harder for me sometimes.

    Anyway, I was in such a hurry to get to the end of the process (getting back to normal was my term) that I feel like I missed out on the things that needed to happen in the other stages.

    Not knowing how to get support w/o putting myself out there, I don’t feel like I’ve fully grieved or really rested.

    Considering how “functional” I am right now (which is way better than my lowest, and good things *are* happening) I don’t want to “regress” but I am trying to sort out how to fill in the holes without dislodging the new-born relationships that I am currently growing.

    Two issues I’m looking at, it seems– How to use information about abusers when I don’t have one individual to look at, and what I do about missing/incomplete stages.

    What do you suggest?

    • Natalie Anne

      I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Every situation is different, and the stages aren’t linear anyway. When you hit a wall with something, that’s what you work on until you push through. Churches are notorious for being abusive, and the key to dealing with abusive communities is healthy boundaries – same as with individual abusers. ((hugs))

  66. Avatar

    I have been in a emotional and verbal abusive marriage for 40 yrs. I just realized this 3or4yrs.. ago.. We have 11children, 2are still at home-16 & 17yr olds. Half of my children want me to get out, but the others including the 2at home would be very upset with me. It is the 2at home that concern me. There is evidence that my husband is now on fb with several women and is telling them they are beautiful. He doesn’t know I k ow this. My Pastor and most of my church family would be behind me.. Most people do not care for my husband because he is a veryarrogant man. Please pray for me. I so appreciate your words of wisdom.

    • Natalie Anne

      Praying for you right now. Thank you for reaching out.

    • Avatar

      I prayed that God will comfort and heal you and will give you wisdom, strength and courage. Also that you will know his will in this situation and will have all the support you need.

      • Avatar

        Thank you for caring and praying.

  67. Avatar

    Thank you for your article on healing from abuse and the butterfly comparison. I work with many women who are in this cycle, and as you say it is a long road out. I ran across an article from CCEF recently that has helped open the eyes of several women I have been working with. The article is by Darby Strickland and is in CCEF Now vol.17 She uses the word oppression, siting it’s use in scripture as a description of abuse. The word oppression seems to make sense to the women I am counseling, and it has given them both hope and words to put to their suffering. This is an epidemic in the church and I am thankful to be in a church where the leaders are willing to recognize this problem and support me as I walk with these women.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      Oppression is the perfect word to describe the experience. Thank you for understanding and helping women who are being oppressed in this way. I pray that God continues to open eyes and set women free.

  68. Avatar

    I have been married 35+ years. One year ago, Feb 9, I found out he was looking at online porn. After working through the lies and blaming me, I found out through good old Google History it had gone on for 6 years, and I’m sure before Google, he had other forms of inappropriate entertainment. The discovery of porn explains the bad communication, lack of intimacy and empathy, and gaslamping even through years of marriage counseling. That is my version of emotional abuse. We are trying to work things out, but that just loops us in his shame and my pain, and it’s hard to move through to my butterfly stage.

    We are now separated, and I don’t know where this will lead. I raise monarch butterflies, and I love the analogy. I am still a caterpillar eating every piece of information I can find, yet I am becoming stronger because of the amazing support group I found. He has a support circle (Sex Addict Christian-based groups, accountability partners) and receives empathy without question, while I am I am questioned and judged (even by pastors).

    I love Patrick Doyle. His videos have brought me clarity and helped me grow stronger. I appreciate the other books you referenced. For others with sexual betrayal issues, Worthy of Her Trust, Your Sexually Addicted Spouse are good books. Redemptive Living, Affair Recovery, and Patrick Doyle’s websites have phenomenal resources.

    My wish is for a restored marriage, but that is not my choice. God is walking me through the pain while I read my way through the Psalms. Thank you for your article.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      Praying for you now. For wisdom and truth.

  69. Avatar

    Spot on, sweet friend! Keep on sharing the words God is giving you to help us all.

  70. Avatar

    Wow, amazing, exactly my journey.

    I entered stage 5 on Jan. 1 of this year! The next day I woke up and for the first time in five years I felt real emotional sunshine. I’m still taking it easy, resting my wings, but I was shocked (in a good way!) that this first week of the year, I vaccuumed and mopped my floors, began cooking again, and just generally feeling like I had motivation to live (beyond living for the sake of my precious children!). The Lord truly did a miracle in my life when I finally realized that I don’t NEED my husband’s guidance (we’ve already been separated for over a month, but even so I still clung to this idea that “soon he’ll change and then I’ll have that guidance I so desperately need”). God opened my eyes to my childhood wounds in this area and how my identity was wrapped around needing to be guided, particularly in the husband-wife dynamic. And though I long ago stopped expecting him to be a leader, I still believed I NEEDED him to be my leader. Or if not him, SOMEONE.

    All I need is Christ is in me! Finally my identity is simply Christ, and although it was excruciating–the process of dying to all those things I worked so hard to be because I THOUGHT that’s who God wanted me to be–I am so, so grateful that Jesus set me free!

    I love how you used the butterfly illustration, and one thing that has made me smile is this- I “look” at myself and ask in wonder, “Who are you?” Which makes sense when you think of a caterpillar seeing a butterfly in the place of her old self and thinking “whoa, this is NOT the me that I’ve known my whole life!”

    Because it’s not me, it’s Christ in me! And Christ doesn’t need anyone to guide Him. He DOES the guiding! And He makes me to fly!

    And you were the person He used to help me embark on my butterfly journey. I’m so glad I’m not alone!

  71. Avatar

    Thank you for writing so clearly and honestly about the grieving and healing process. I am 3 1/2 years out of a 19 year abusive marriage. Denial was my life, I didn’t begin to realize the depth of what I had been through until I was away from him and then God in His mercy, led me gently into discovery. It has been excruciating. I have done extensive counseling and fought through PTSD and panic attacks, depression, anxiety, etc. I am so thankful I have my children, because I continued to get up and fight everyday because of them. I was very broken.

    I was also fortunate that this time, when I reached out for help, a dear friend brought me to Celebrate Recovery and my Pastor believed me & helped me find a safe place for my kids and myself to escape to. My church also helped me move a state away to be with my parents & our church here has loved & supported us, no judgement.

    I call what I went through in that relationship, psychological warfare. I choose now to walk in the truth, and I remind myself regularly not to go back to denial. I am mostly in the last stage now. I am in grad school pursuing a new career and doing well, despite all my fears! My kids are amazing and we are stabilized. I have had the opportunity to share my story a couple of times and it has helped me tremendously to move forward and past fear. People tell me I’m brave and strong, but I’m not. I just have held onto Jesus with all my strength and He has carried me through.

    I also struggled with the idea that God led me to this path of divorce, but I know without a doubt that He did. I had been praying intensely for the truth in my marriage, of what was happening. One day, I heard a quiet voice in my head say: “—- is not going to change, he doesn’t want to change. I release you.” That is when I began to plan my get-away. God has made a way for us, where there was no way. The day I received the divorce decree in the mail, I laughed and sobbed simultaneously out of pure joy and relief. Finally, I was free! I laid face down on the floor singing and praising God (the cat thought I was nuts).

    There is so much to say, but most of all, I am so grateful to have peace and to be healing and becoming who God meant me to be.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      That is awesome! I think a lot of us wished our spouse would initiate the legal part of a divorce. For many, they only initiated the real part – the vow breaking part – and then wanted to control us by keeping us as their “rightful property.”

      I love your story and so many of the things you shared. Thank you. I wish you joy as you move into your new adventures!

  72. Avatar

    Wow! Thank you! It’s amazing how I can read this and know EXACTLY what stage I’m in! I began step 2 in 2008 when I began attending Christian 12-step and codependency support groups. They were my ONLY safe place for 2 years! Long story short, now I’m in a combination of stages 4 and 5. I separated from my wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing husband 16 months ago after almost 20 years of “marriage” (I mean slavery). I have 3 children: 2 in high school, and one in kindergarten. The last year has been a roller coaster but has stabilized at this point. God provided a Christian mediator who volunteered to help us for FREE! That has helped us stay out of nasty court proceedings and actually make some sane financial decisions.

    Question: During the resting stage, is it okay to take a sabbatical from attending church? I just don’t want to go to my usual church, where the “marriage” ceremony was held and where I have attended for 22 years. Even though a few key people and one pastor in my church did (finally after years of crying out for help) support me and not the wolf, I still feel myself pulling away. Part of it is that the triteness of over-used Christianese phrases disgusts me right now, likely because I”m healing from all the years of spiritual abuse. Another part of it is that it’s SO nice to stay home Sunday morning and have coffee (rest, like you said), and be encouraged by great blog posts like this one! But then I feel this twinge of guilt . . . trying to discern if it is of God or not. Thoughts?

    I am taking anti-depressants as well. They help me not just ugly cry all day long, and they help me get my kids to their schools and myself to work, but I’m still bouncing back-and-forth between grieving stages like a rousing game of Whack-A-Mole.

    I did just begin attending a Divorce Care class at a different church on Wednesday evenings. They also have the corresponding class for my little one. Hooray! I think I want to try that church on Sunday mornings as well, but I’m not sure yet. Thoughts?

    • Natalie Klejwa

      I took a break from church for a while. Like you, I was turned off by the cliche’s and the trite treatment of real issues, as if they were easily fixed in a moment by following a couple of simple steps. I also felt deceived by several Christian leaders, and I just needed to listen to Jesus for a while and clear the cobwebs from my heart. It was extremely healing, and I eventually found my way back to a different church. EMDR therapy was helpful in processing the spiritual abuse I lived through for so many years from my prior church. It was after going through that therapy that I was able to go to a new church without the numbness that was covering up a lot of fear and pain. I can now worship fully again. Give yourself compassion and time. That guilt you feel isn’t from God. It’s from the old voices in your head. God will get you ready for the next step, and one day you will be able to fellowship and worship with other (healthy) Christians again.

  73. Avatar

    Hi Natalie, great post! I think I am in stage 4 with intervals of stage 3. It’s very helpful to read your story, and I really sympathise with you. I also think your church’s behaviour is beyond appalling.

    Like you, I have been married around 20 years, have had a covert-aggressive emotionally abusive husband, and have had to leave my church. My pastor refused for three years to believe my husband was abusive, then (after the associate pastor disagreed with him) said he accepted that my husband was abusive, but it didn’t change his opinion that I was far more manipulative than my husband. He said I was banned from all ministry in the church unless I acknowledged that and sought help for myself. He said he recognised me on every page of ‘Why Does He Do That?’ This was in spite of the fact that my husband had acknowledged that he was emotionally abusive, had gone through an abuser program, and told the pastor that he didn’t recognise me in Lundy Bancroft’s book at all. (And our kids, other family and close friends, the abuser program professionals who worked with us, and my husband’s counsellor did not share the pastor’s view.)

    I guess the pastor didn’t like admitting he was wrong. I have learnt to be cautious who I talk to about emotional abuse: most people don’t seem to know about it (I didn’t). He only read Lundy Bancroft years after forming his initial view – before that he knew very little.

    I didn’t set out to talk to our pastor about the abuse. My husband went to him for prayer about his irrational anger and fear problem (before we knew what he did was abuse), and the pastor decided to intervene in our marriage. Though, as you said, he had no idea what was really going on. To be fair, my husband did mislead him while trying to manipulate for pity. But no way was he going to change his mind after that as to who was more manipulative, no matter what anyone said.

    I never knew this sort of thing could happen in the church. Thank God for A Cry for Justice and Leslie Vernick, who showed me I was not alone. Thank God that resources on the subject of emotional abuse have multiplied. I think your blog will be another good resource, and will help to set the captives free. All the best with your work.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      Wowser. That pastor is not a true shepherd, and sadly, there are many false shepherds taking care of Christ’s sheep. Your voice sounds strong – and I praise God for the work He is doing in your life. God be with you, Sister!

      • Avatar

        Thank you, Natalie 🙂

  74. Avatar

    Six years after discovering my husbands emotional affair…and waking up to the emotional abuse I’d been living with for over 25 yrs…and what a wakeup that was!?!?
    I’m now in Stage 3, close to entering Stage 4.
    So far, everything you’ve written here has been my experience. Everything.
    I’m now praying for God to send me a friend to walk beside me, someone who understands just what I’m going through, because I know my friends dont…and they are slowly drifting away…and it hurts. I don’t blame them…I know it’s part of this process…but it’s also a lonely place to be….
    BUT God has revealed himself to me in so many ways, and I know He will continue to do so, so I’m looking forward to the other stages of this process…as painful and scary as I know it’s going to be.

    Thank you Natalie for another well written article…I think it’s now time to read Necessary Endings…as I prepare for my new future.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      You will love that book. I’m sorry you are walking alone right now. Know that you are never really alone. There are thousands of women just like you, and Jesus promises never to leave or forsake us. I will pray right now that God will send you someone who will demonstrate the love of Christ to you.

  75. Avatar

    Natalie, I read this last night and found myself nodding, crying and smiling. It describes so perfectly what I experienced. I believe I am in stage 5 now…..I have left my abuser and am making a new home and life for my children and me, but I am in a resting phase. It’s taken a lot out of me to get here, emotionally and physically. Some friendships are being winnowed because they are supportive of my abuser or believe the lie that it is also partly my fault (serial adultery is NEVER the innocent party’s fault). I am praying for new community but I am tired and don’t have time to pursue much outside of work and making sure the kids and I have what we need for the week. My life feels mundane. I wish I had courage to be brave and speak out like you and many others. I know in my heart, mind and soul that what he did was horrendous but gathering the words to speak up and speak out for myself is daunting.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      Thank you for your transparency. Give yourself time. Also, I don’t think we need to manufacture opportunities to speak out. God will give us opportunities here and there in the quietness of our life and with those we touch naturally. You just continue to rest and recover. The stages don’t have a time frame. They are different for each of us. God has you. There is no burden or pressure with Him.

    • Avatar

      Finding DivorceMinister’s blog helped me as I tried to unlearn the “shared responsibility” lie. Thought I’d share in case it helps.

  76. Avatar

    What a perfect analogy! Thankfully I was married only 4 years before I realized the “communication problems” we were experiencing was actually emotional abuse. Imagine being so miserable in your abusive “Christian” marriage that you would hope to wake up to find your husband had passed in his sleep because you thought it was the only way out – and the guilt that would bring. Reading several of the books you mentioned, learning everything I could about spiritual abuse and narcissism as well as a few months of therapy brought me to the realization. You’ve described the process accurately. Two years out and I’m a different person – the scars will fade in time but I love who I’ve become! The struggle to break free is so very worth it and God is faithful!

    • Natalie Klejwa

      Thank you for writing this! It will give others who are further back in the process HOPE.

    • Avatar

      Sherry, I feel you. I have begged God to “take” my non-husband SO many times over the years.

      • Natalie Klejwa

        That is something I’ve heard from MANY women in these kinds of relationships. Because they feel it is the only way out of the pain. That, or their own deaths. Divorce is a better option. 🙂

  77. Avatar

    Thank you Natalie, I am walking this path right now… and aside from an occasional frustration and tears, I (with Jesus) am healing! Bless you!

    • Natalie Klejwa

      I’m so glad to hear this! Thank you for commenting and giving other readers hope. You hang in there!! (((Hugs)))

  78. Avatar

    Thank you so much for writing this. I cannot believe how you seem to have looked inside my life and my heart and put my experiences into words. It seems that most people around me do not believe that you could progress beyond Stage 3 and still be a good Christian woman who loves God. Although I had no theological argument to present to my critics, I felt in my heart that somehow God was in the midst of the changes that were happening in me. I dared not to say out loud that I actually thought that God was not only OK with my divorce, but actually gently leading me in that direction. That would be too scandalous. But at the same time I knew I had to stop perpetuating the farcical lie that was my abusive marriage. Thank you for validating my spiritual struggles, and my attempts to reconcile what I was learning about abuse and what I thought the Bible said on the topic of marriage and divorce. People around me think that deciding to separate means abandoning Christianity. Somebody asked me why I thought that the sovereignty of God was not sufficient for my situation. My pastor actually told me I had no biblical grounds for divorce and it haunted me for 2 years as I wrestled with the fear of disobeying a God who loved me. It is so encouraging to read that our faith comes out stronger in the end. Thank you thank you thank you.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      Thank you for sharing a bit of your story. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt now that God led me toward divorce. I have no fear of standing before Him. And His Word is all that counts. So your feeling that this can be true is absolutely right. God Himself is divorced and remarried. And He was murdered by religious people. You are in good company.



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