It’s Normal to Be Sad When Losing an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

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Aren’t you glad it’s over?” someone asks.

How do you answer that?

Because, I mean, you ARE glad you no longer have to live under the same roof with someone who treats you like roadkill. Yes. You’re not going to miss the criticism, gaslighting, and subtle jabs. You’re relieved to be able to be yourself, make your own decisions, and heal in a safe space. Sure.

But are you glad the marriage is over? Are you glad to say goodbye to the man you loved? The man you believed could grow into his potential? The man who could be amazing at times?

No. You’re not glad about that. In fact, you’re sad. Even devastated.

And it feels horrible.

I remember at one point toward the end of my former marriage, shortly after my husband and I had gone through a private two-day marriage intensive, we took a drive through the city of Minneapolis to get some ice cream and talk. We stopped at one of our favorite ice-cream shops, a small hole in the wall on Cedar Avenue near Lake Nokomis Park, where we made our selections and sat on a bench to eat.

I remember feeling overwhelmed with hope and love and the distinct belief that this moment was special. It was going to mark the beginning of the next chapter of our lives. The chapter I had been praying for and dreaming of for twenty years. I struggled to keep back the flood of joyous tears. And because I was so present in that moment—so connected—that moment was seared in my memory.

Less than a year later I realized that moment had meaning, for sure. Just not the meaning I had imagined. It wasn’t the beginning of a new beginning. It was the beginning of the end.

Say Something

Say something, I’m giving up on you

I’ll be the one if you want me to

Anywhere, I would have followed you

Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I am feeling so small

It was over my head, I know nothing at all

And I will stumble and fall

I’m still learning to love, just starting to crawl

Say something I’m giving up on you

I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you

Anywhere I would’ve followed you

Say something I’m giving up on you.

And I will swallow my pride

You’re the one that I love, and I’m saying goodbye

Say something I’m giving up on you

And I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you

Anywhere I would have followed you

Oh-oh, say something I’m giving up on you

Say something I’m giving up on you

Say something

Musixmatch Songwriters: Campbell Mike / Axel Ian / Campbelle Mike

My husband moved out that fall at my request, shortly after our oldest son got married. During this period of time, I was in emotional freefall, and I didn’t know if I could survive the onslaught of fear and wild grief that seized my body almost daily.

I was on my own. Nobody likes a girl who asks her husband to leave, and I felt disdain from every direction. My kids were confused and sad. My church was shocked and annoyed. My family of origin was disappointed and judgmental.

I felt like I had chosen a path that led me straight into the desert to die a slow, desolate death. Alone.

We were separated almost two years before I pulled the final plug and filed for divorce. During those two years, I entered into the full experience of grief. I allowed myself to howl raging sadness into my pillow at night after putting the kids to bed. I let the grief shake and pound through my body, searing pain in every cell.

I thought “Here’s the part where I will just have to be a receptacle for pure pain.” And I decided to be all in on that pain because I knew what was on the other side. I could not see or feel what was on the other side during those two years. I just believed that God, who had helped me so many other times in my life, would bring me out to a spacious place one day. I chose to trust Him and allow the pain to be my teacher for as long as it took.

“You who have shown me many troubles and distresses Will revive me again, And will bring me up again from the depths of the earth.”

Psalm 71:20

I loved my first husband. Fiercely. I still do. I mean, I hate the choices he continues to make. I hate his behavior. I hate the way he still treats me sometimes. But I know that man like the back of my hand, and I know who he is, deep inside, behind the thick wall of defense he hides behind, hurting himself and everyone around him in the process of ensuring the wall stays put.

I love that person in there. But I couldn’t reach him. And I decided there was someone else I loved. Someone who needed me to love her. Desperately. Someone nobody else wanted. Someone who was just as deserving of love and respect, just as deserving to be known and understood – as my husband was.

And that person was Natalie.

During those two years of floundering in a tsunami of sorrow, I came face to face with a little girl named Natalie who had been mistreated, ignored, misunderstood and gaslighted her entire life. And she was precious. At first, I didn’t think so. But I worked on it, and I grew to love her.

And one day I looked in the mirror and said, “Natalie, you don’t ever have to worry that nobody has your back ever again – because I’VE GOT YOUR BACK NOW. And I promise, I always will. I’m going to take care of you from now on. I’m going to learn how to love you just the way you are. I’m going to give you what you need to heal and grow and thrive.”

I have kept my promise to myself.

It’s Okay to Be Sad

Are you facing the end of a long-term, emotionally abusive marriage? Or maybe you’ve already filed for divorce, and you’re experiencing the lonely fallout.

Don’t fight the feelings. They are there for a reason, and they are part of your transformation process.

It hurts to work out, but when you do, your muscles and bones get strong.

It hurts to be pregnant and give birth, but when you do, you bring new life into the world.

It’s uncomfortable to start a new job, go back to school, meet new people, and start over, but when you do, you change and enter into a new chapter of your life.

Let the feelings come.

“This is the part where I feel afraid.”

“This is the part where I feel sorrow.”

“This is the part where I feel anxious.”

“This is the part where I feel angry.

Feelings can’t kill you, so let them come. When we fight and resist them, we make them more powerful. More painful.

What if we could just make friends with the sadness and accept that she is going to walk with us for a while?

If you would like to walk with other women who are experiencing what you’re going through…

If you need help clearing up all the confusion you feel…

If you wish you could love yourself as much as you love your husband and kids and friends (but you believe deep down inside there is something wrong with you…)

Then you would fit right in with me and hundreds of other Christian women inside Flying Free.

Because I believe this is not the end of you. This is the beginning.

Fly Free,

Natalie Hoffman

21 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This is what I call perfect timing…After being in separate rooms for 12 months and 6 month in-house separated and in the divorce process, I finally have the opportunity to leave the house within the next month. This article has prepared me somewhat for what is lying ahead after ending a 26 years marriage relationship. Thank You Natalie for sharing your own personal experience…

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    This article was just what I needed! I have struggled with ‘why do I feel so sad or guilty’ about initiating the divorce from an emotionally and spiritually abusive spouse who was also a serial adulterer. I love that you said, “Don’t fight the feelings. They are there for a reason, and they are part of your transformation process”!!! My ex’s favorite line was ‘feelings come and feelings go’. He never validated my feelings so I became very accustomed to dismissing them also!
    I am now a part of the Flying Higher group and so very glad I found this ministry and a group of women who understand what I have gone through and what I am feeling! Thank you so much Natalie for being brave and vulnerable enough to share your story and begin this ministry! My life is transforming because of it!

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    Your book and your story has helped me so much to help me realize that I am not crazy! Sometimes when you write these things, I think you’ve been inside my head and heart and reading my feelings.
    May God bless you as you help us through this journey.

    Reply
  4. Avatar

    I haven’t seen my estranged husband for over a year now, and yet I still feel somehow responsible for his happiness and welfare. I was doing better before he texted me almost two months ago to wish me a happy birthday. It was bizarre because I was so surprised and I didn’t know if I should respond. My nature tends to be kind, so I felt I should acknowledge his good wishes. But then, coupled with alcohol, which I hadn’t been drinking before, I texted him too much–my anger flowed. Of course, it appeared to not affect him, but it did put me into a tailspin. I had been going to counseling and thought I was on top of my feelings and emotions about the abusive relationship I was in. Instead, I feel great sadness now and trying to reconcile my lingering feelings for him. I realize the counseling gave me head knowledge and insight into my marriage, but healing is ongoing. I do pray nightly that God will protect him. But as for myself, I am still seeking peace with my new circumstances. I’m grateful to be out away from him, but I was happier before I had contact with him again. Still on the path. . .

    Thank you for this posting as it encourages me that others have and are experiencing conflicted feelings, like sadness. God bless your ministry!

    Reply
  5. Avatar

    I just wanted to say thank you again Natalie. Your information in your book and program saved me. I finally felt understood and validated with my experience with my confusing and abusive “Christian” marriage. We had our last lawyer meeting yesterday and we are signing the divorce agreement next week. This post hits so incredibly close to home. I’ve changed, matured and have grown so much this past 18 months. So thank you for your help and guidance. I’m now free!!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Congratulations, Carla! It’s very encouraging to hear this!

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    Grateful for these thoughts…. I hope to someday have the courage for this. My spouse refuses to move out so I will be the one that has to leave.

    Reply
  7. Avatar

    I am not a psych major, but I have a daughter with OCD. I have learned a ton about mental health to help her with her anxiety and compulsions loops. What you said about not resisting the unpleasant emotions like sadness or anger but to sit with them until they ease, is so in keeping with good practices for folks with chronic pain, panic attacks, and anxiety disorders like OCD. I am absolutely not saying you can wish a mental disorder away with positive thinking!! But I do know that you can make it BIGGER and have more power over your life by getting tense and anxious when the unpleasant emotion(s) show up.
    Thank you for your ministry!

    Reply
  8. Avatar

    This is exactly where I am at today. Thank you so much. The grief is tangible. Just last night I was sitting in my bed writing in my journal, writing about how I’ve never felt so alone in my life. The grief makes me nauseous and the worry for my children is absolutely overwhelming. Thank you so much for this post. I needed it.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Kristen, I’m with you. I have one podcast episode in which I share some of my own journal entries during that time. I bet they will sound very similar to yours. I just want you to know you’re not alone. https://www.flyingfreenow.com/53-2/

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    This came through today after spending the last two days in deep and immense sadness. It has left me praising God for being the voice of hope and through your words, being to express what is in my heart, knowing it is ok to feel the feelings. It does not mean I am making a mistake in growing and taking care of me, it is just part of the journey, because like you said, we know the real person behind the wall. Others may only see what he want them to see, but we know.

    And I know that I am loved and cared for by a Father that knows the perfect timing to bring a message of hope, that will fill my heart with peace. Showing me that continuing on with Him and looking forward is better than looking back. ❤️

    Reply
  10. Avatar

    This was validating and clarifying for me. So much of this is what I feel. Thank you for the words you put to the feelings.

    Reply
  11. Avatar

    I want to say something…I am in an emotionally abusive marriage. The abuse began on my wedding day. I was afraid and have clung to hope that things would change. Many, many changes happened…some, like the birth of my two precious children, brought me sustainable joy and happiness…other changes, perpetuated on separate choices both my husband and I made each for ourselves, resulted in destruction and pain. Fortunately, the relationship I forged with Jesus Christ always undergirded every single mistake I made and it has always been his love, peace, comfort, care and acceptance that is at the core of my will to survive despite life’s many difficulties and pain. I have rarely felt truly loved “romantically” in my life, and certainly never was loved that way within my marriage. I have experienced other “loves” and through Christ’s unconditional love I can honestly say that I do indeed “ love myself”. After 41 years of marriage, my husband finally agreed to go to see a therapist. Miraculous. Will I ever have romantic love within my marriage? I honestly do not know. I really am working on living my life in each present moment, thankful for the blessings AND the miracles.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      It’s very rare for a human to be emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy while living in close proximity with an abuser. (See the book of Proverbs for an extensive exposé on how destructive this is to human life and relationships). But it sounds like you have been able to detach enough emotionally to find stability. My only caution would be that many survivors put a spiritual spin on things as part of their strategy to survive. It’s a form of denial that feels good. Christian survivors, in particular, tend to adopt this strategy. This was my strategy of choice for 20 years. But I was breaking down physically and emotionally, so something had to give. It sounds like you are thriving, so keep doing what you’re doing! ❤️❤️

      Reply
      • Avatar

        Can you explain spiritual spin? Can I find more about that in FF. Thank you

        Reply
        • Natalie Hoffman

          To spin something means to take a hard truth about something and reframe it to make it more palatable. Spiritual spin would be to take a hard truth and use the Bible or God or religion to make it more palatable. People do this with abuse all the time. Another example would be “You are glorifying God by submitting to abuse and suffering.” These kinds of ideas keep people in oppressive environments where they are controlled and manipulated rather than being allowed to be who they were created to be and make their own decisions as adults. Another word for this is spiritual abuse.

          Reply
          • Avatar

            I appreciate your breaking that down. Very Helpful

            Reply
          • Avatar

            I did exactly this is my marriage. The loneliness and confusion I faced was unbearable at times and I told myself that my marriage was my ministry. That I was loving my husband and was serving God as I should. I had no idea how much denial I was in and how that was how I dealt with the immense pain deep inside of me until I told a dear sister in Christ of my marriage being my ministry. She responded with a firm “no it is NOT”. That was seven years ago and after that day I spiraled and had months of grief and terrible fear of what to do. It took all that time until this moment to get where I am. Much counseling, going back to work, and struggles to push myself out of the situation I was in. I listened to Natalie’s book in August of 2020 and I finally found the last bit of strength I needed to hire a lawyer and ask for a separation. It took another year before he would move out and then months before he would sign the separation papers. So much painful resistance. The realization that his resistance is not mine to own or fix and letting God have that to take care of for me has been life changing. I am now trying to get used to sharing our children and developing a new family with them. I am grieving the loss of our togetherness even though I was hurting and spiritually dying in my marriage. I loved my husband and he is a great father to our children , however he resisted me and could not allow me to thrive as a grown adult woman. I was shamed, blamed, and dismissed until I didn’t know myself anymore. If this is you please know you are strong and there is a better life waiting for you.

            Reply
  12. Avatar

    This put all of my innermost thoughts and battles into words. I feel wrong to feel the way I feel at times. Like loving me is wrong. That given up on those I love is wrong because so many people have given up on them previously. But who is fighting and standing for me? I have to learn to love me and that is a scary and uncharted territory.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Love is never wrong. And there is plenty of love for everyone, including ourselves. Sometimes the best way to love someone is to set that personal boundary and walk away from their chronically destructive behavior. (((Hugs))) ❤️❤️

      Reply
      • Avatar

        This is exactly where I am at! I am still reading Natalie‘s book and just realize that I was played because of the type of personality that I have and I played right into it! I’ve come to the realization that everything I worked so hard for and hoped for is over!
        And I am not only filled with sadness but also grief. This post helped me and I am so thankful for it!

        Reply

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