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

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Was it Really That Bad? And Maybe He’ll Change?

by | Jun 29, 2017 | Articles, Boundaries, Emotional Abuse, Learning, Waking Up | 26 comments

Yes, and probably not.

The end.

Okay, maybe we need to talk about this a little more, because these two questions are the plague of almost every abuse survivor’s mind. These two questions are why many women stay stuck.

Because you never know. God can do anything, right? And you want to trust God to work the miracles you need, right?

(Just think…God can make blue trees and turn mud pies into French Silk too!)

Here’s the thing. You do know. Don’t you? Deep down in your gut, you know. You also know if you pick up this dark Truth you’ve been living with for years and examine it up close, you might fall apart and never be able to put yourself back together again.

It’s easier to shove it down under and pretend it’s not really there. Or, okay, maybe it is, but way down in the abyss of your guts it’s not that big of a deal. I mean, you made it this far, right? And life hasn’t been all that bad. There were good times. Surely that’s a sign that things are pretty good underneath, and the bad stuff is just an anomaly that surfaces now and again?

Everyone has a bad day. (But not everyone spends their life seeing how many nice ways they can tear apart the people around them without being detected.)

So here’s another thing. Emotional abuse isn’t usually large and obvious and in your face. In fact, if victims have a hard time “getting it,” how do we expect outsiders who don’t have to live under its murky waters to see it?

So problem number one is you can’t see it.

It’s like carbon monoxide that way.

And here’s another, other thing. Emotional abuse kills you one nibble at a time. It’s not like physical abuse where a big shark comes up behind you and chomps off your leg. No, emotional abuse is more like a gnat bite. You can barely see the little bugger until you feel the bite. Just a tiny bite. No big deal.

But when you live, day in and day out, getting bitten numerous times with no end in sight, you begin to feel hopeless and crazy.

But then sometimes the gnat backs off and you have a good go of it for a while. It’s such a relief, and you feel so overwhelmed with gratitude and hope that your suffering may be over, that you let your guard down. You forget how awful all the tiny bites were.

You start to wonder if they were even real.

There is no evidence they happened. Just the subtle, nagging feeling of being on eggshells, worried the bites may begin again, but you don’t want to worry about it, because that’s uncomfortable, and you just want so badly to enjoy this peaceful moment.

Say hello to the cycle of abuse.

The cycle is a circle. It goes around and around and around. I used to sing that song, actually, when I was in the middle of a crazy moment with Mine. “Round and round and round we go, where we stop, nobody knows!” And then I’d cackle like a lunatic. Because that’s exactly how I felt.

Totally cray cray.

And by George, if that isn’t what Mine used to tell me, too! I’d get all wound up, pointing out the invisible elephant in our home, and he’d tsk tsk about how I was making stuff up in my head again. So I’d wave my hands and get louder and more animated, because, that always worked, right? Pretty soon I’d be swearing like a pirate on rum, and of course, that wasn’t very Christian of me.

Yeah, it was really that bad, back when I thought I had to make gold out of straw and just couldn’t do it.  In my desperation to be seen and heard and believed, I disrespected myself. I behaved like a child. And then I felt ashamed, and the cycle continued this way for over two decades.

When I began to read about emotional and spiritual abuse, everything was describing my home life. My default was to assume the problem must always be me. After all, my partner and the Good but Clueless Church Folks kept telling me I needed to do more. Be more. Save my husband without a word. Just make him happy. Trust and obey. Suffer for Jesus.

But I couldn’t hold it together when he went into gnat attack mode. The more I read and learned about the techniques abusers use to control their targets, the more I realized I was the target.

I learned through therapy that the outward actions I was exhibiting were actually complex-PTSD symptoms after two decades of covert abuse. (By the way, after getting away from the wacky environment I lived in and going through EMDR therapy, I’m back to who I was before I got married. I just couldn’t live in the smoke and breathe at the same time.)

The motivation behind your willingness to go berzerk is that you just really, really, really want to resolve an issue. REEEAAALY bad. And for some magical reason, you think that if you could just turn your words in exactly the right way, with a sprinkle of pink fairy dust at just the right moment, you might break through. There might be a meeting of the minds.

You might come to a peaceful resolution that leads to great sex and deeper intimacy on an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual level.

But that never happens. Ever.

But it might!” You say. “It might! Someday! If I keep trying!”

So it’s up to you to change him? Who said another person was your personal responsibility to change? To control?

Whose life did God give you, anyway?

He gave you one life. Just one. Yours. And THAT’S the life you get to change! Isn’t that good news?

So back to the original two questions.

First: is it really that bad? You tell me. Because you get to decide whether or not it’s really that bad. Maybe you could ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Do you sleep well at night, knowing you are safe emotionally, physically, and spiritually in your own home?
  2. When you and your partner have conflict, are you both able to bring it around to resolution so you can both move forward in peace?
  3. Do you live and move within your home in peace? No eggshells on the floor?
  4. Can you freely express your opinion, knowing you will not be belittled and demeaned for having one?
  5. Are your ideas and thoughts respected and valued in your relationship?
  6. Are you an active part of the decision making process in your relationship?
  7. Do you feel loved and cherished for who you are?
  8. Do you make choices for yourself without worrying about what your partner will think or say?

If you said no to most of those questions, then it’s really that bad.

The second question: maybe he’ll change? I read somewhere that the best predictor of the future is the past. So if things in your relationship have been consistently the same (that includes the cycle of seemingly good, then bad, then seemingly good, then bad), and it never changes, what can you predict about the future of your relationship?

When I first asked these questions, I had other abuse survivors tell me clearly that I would eventually discover what most abuse survivors discover.

Nothing’s gonna change.

And after I gave it a few more years, really pressing into my partner for some measurable action and change, setting up clear boundaries, and refusing to tolerate bad behavior, things only got worse. Which was actually helpful for me in the decision making process.

I waited, and I’m glad I did. I waited until I knew for sure, for sure, for SURE that I needed to be done. And then I filed for divorce and walked away forever. I was threatened by my former church, but I kept walking. Because they aren’t anything special or big or scary. They are not God. They are just broken human beings, like me.

I’m not the first woman to do this. To go through all of this. There are literally thousands and thousands of us all over the globe. That’s excellent news, because it means you are not alone, either.

An abuser CAN change. They just don’t want to. They don’t believe they need to. They’re fine. You’re the problem—remember?

I know women who have stayed into their 70’s with their abusive partner, hoping and praying that he’d change. He never did. And now they are old and full of regrets at having lived their entire lives in survival mode, sacrificing all that God created them to be in order to enable a wicked man in his sin.

No matter what anyone says, this is not what Christ died to give His daughters.

Fly Free,

Natalie Hoffman

P.S. Would you like to join hundreds of women just like yourself in a private education and support group that will rock your world? Read all about this life-changing resource HERE.

26 Comments

  1. onmyway

    What is there has been “some change” and some repentance. ..? I am confused to whether or not my husband has “actually” changed. My church leaders think maybe… some trusted friends say “no”

    I believe I am at the place where either way I feel that I just can’t return and take that risk. I am so broken down. And my husband has always had such a lovely image on the outside….

    How do I not feel guilty about walking away when there has been “some change”

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Almost every single abuser will have “some change” when their target sets up new boundaries. I call the “change” a worm on a hook. Looks good, but if you bite, you’ll be back on his hook again. He’s got the relgious folks on his hook, too. They’ve bought into his reality, but you don’t have to. You know better. If you were a fish deciding NOT to bite the worm on the hook, would you need to feel guilty? Nope. You don’t have to feel guilty. You can feel WISE, because that’s what you ARE. (((HUGS)))

      Reply
  2. Lara

    How are you in my head, knowing EXACTLY what I’m going through and EXACTLY what I’m thinking? So I am separated from my second husband, blindsided that he is an emotional abuser. But I think I’d rather walk away with some dignity knowing I did the right thing instead of forever living with him just so I am not seen as the shameful woman who divorced twice.

    Reply
  3. Carrie

    I am SO tired. I know I have too. To burn down my own house makes me cry. We just bought a new house on a lake, but he is sick. I can’t do this anymore. I’m exhausted. I know I am the only one who can light the match. Believe me he is waving it in front of my face like a gloating teenager who just got away with cheating on his big test! Light it, light it….I dare you…..Look at you. You won’t do it…I know you Carrie your WEAK oh Godly one! But I am going to light that dam match….And as I watch it burn to the ground I think I will turn up my Christian music and sip on a glass of wine and tell Satan he no longer has control over me! It’s finished. Done! And actually maybe I will play the song Burnin down the house…..Yes darling I am officially Cray cray but it’s so strange….I feel the FEAR but at the same time I just want to get it over with. My biggest fear besides the slander that will come is finding money for a lawyer. It’s been the thing that has kept me from acting….God knows…I need help…..Here is to PEACE and Freedom…..Loves Darling…Thank you for the push off the cliff…I needed it! God Bless you

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I gotta tell you, Carrie, I was smiling from ear to ear reading this. You’ve got a great sense of humor (most survivors do), and sometimes the anger and frustration is the only thing that actually gets us to make that final decision that we just can’t live like this anymore. I promise that God is waiting for you on the other side of this – and He will be in your face during every step in between. He’s never EVER going to abandon you or leave you on your own. Anyone who says differently is a lying fool. Hang in there!

      Reply
  4. Sue

    I really needed this. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Vanessa

    I can’t express how grateful I am that you have gone before me. You are like one of those mighty pioneering women who braved a life out on the open plain with savage Indians, cold and no air conditioning. Your truth you’ve learned is bold, broad, and filled with tons of the love to show us how much we are really loved and that we so precious to God not matter what our reality tells us-we are loved! You also believe the reality we speak of so you are like a cold glass of refreshing water to our souls. Thank you

    Reply
  6. Olivia

    Thank you so much for this… it is so helpful. Two years ago my husband admitted to being verbally abusive and got help. or so I thought… really what happened was he learned to still be manipulative and controlling without yelling or being mean. It makes the abuse even sneakier. Recently he told me that even though he took credit for everything 2 years ago, there is a lot that he resents me for because I didn’t take credit for my faults in the marriage and I really should be more respectful, loving, etc. I am tired… and weary… and just so done. Your blog has given me the strength i need to fight for my own independence and freedom.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      You are wise to recognize the manipulation. The fact that he resents you shows he is not able to take responsibility for his own problems and work on them. He’s projecting his own lack of “taking credit for faults” onto you. Classic narc behavior. Keep fighting. You don’t deserve to be treated abusively.

      Reply
      • Vanessa

        Wow, I am glad to hear your reply that his resentment is lack of taking responsibility for his stuff. H said I need to take responsibility and when I said he was right I got the silent treatment. Thought I was doing right by him and he would be happy. Always want to be checking my blind spots of where the Lord May need to do work.

        Reply
  7. Debby

    Sorry, I am NOT being very clear here. I reconciled with him in December. I did NOT feel pressured and he did NOT pressure me. It just felt comfortable and I was willing to give him a chance. 6 months later, I am in another room.

    Reply
  8. Debby

    I forgot to mention I have been married for 31 years. I try to look at how things are now from the perspective of one who DIDNt have to live through all the hell he put us through but the truth is, I DID live though that. I dont hate him. I know he is broken inside but my compassion and fear of taking such a big step is paralyzing me.

    Reply
  9. Debby

    Your article was SO helpful. I started pushing back 3 years ago when I finally typed in “domestic abuse” and got a PhD in the abuse cycle. I separated for 9 months a year go March. My h DID make a lot of changes, drastic, really ,as far as how he treats me on a day to day basis. HOwever, as I look back on my journal entries, I see the first 2 months were great, then slwosly by surely, some of the behaviros returned. They are not NEAR as explosive and destructive as they were (I am such a different person that he knows he cant get away with that) but there is still the crazy making and not taking accountability when he DOES do something unacceptable. I also notice that when I “resume fellowship” he does LESS as far as his personal healing journey (doesnt call counselor which he promised to do, doesnt read the Boundaries book, deosnt go see the psychologist who diagnosed him with OCPD which I had told him about 15 years ago and was “crazy” for even thinking that, etc) It all builds up. Here is my dilemma: Is it my oversensitivity to these behaviors that arent near as bad as they were, that keeps me from being able to enjoy and feel comfortable with the good parts? For example, would ANY healthy woman be able to feel intimate with this man where instead of 80% awful and 20% “good” is now 20% not so good and 80% of the time its good? I feel like I am maybe asking too much. I am back to being confused. I am in another room (again) and he is of course being SO kind and helpful and chats with me and wants to watch a movie together. I avoid him as much as possible. He KNOWS I dont feel close but he wants to “wait me out.” But I am 55 years old. My kids are grown. It is a little scary to think of being out there and being alone into my old age when I might need help. But I also know that God opens doors. I HATE feeling this way. But I am too afraid to take the plunge.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Thank you for your comment, Debby. One of the ways you can know someone has genuinely changed and is not just going through the motions is this – what do they do when you push back? Set boundaries? Do they respect that? Or do they get ornery? When you give him feedback, how does he respond?

      The other thing to look for is whether or not they are doing the work completely on their own – or only with prodding from the outside. Inner change doesn’t require prodding. It comes from conviction on the inside – and then spills out as changed behavior and changed attitude.

      If you still need to be “careful” and walk on eggshells, that’s a problem. I recommend going through this worksheet to help get some clarity: http://www.drmichaelbroder.com/can-your-relationship-be-saved-download/

      Reply
    • J

      Debby, I am in the same boat as you are. My husband has made a lot of behavioral changes. He is sooo much better than he was. Even today, he wrote me a long letter (which was probably just covering his butt) and asked me to let him know how to be a better person. But I had already told him that he needs counseling a few months ago. He scheduled, cancelled, rescheduled and cancelled again once he knew that I was planning on leaving anyway. So for him to tell me that he wants me to tell him how to be a better person…..I’m sorry. I did that months ago. He wants a checklist. That’s not how change works.

      Oh and I think he has OCPD and NPD combined. These guys don’t know how to change, but there is still a part of me that thinks that he might change. I wish that part would shut up.

      Reply
  10. Nicole

    Thanks for all your wonderful blog posts. You just really get it. I am in the middle of trying to decide if I’m done or not. I’m out of the house, finances separated and just waiting for peace to file. I’m not there yet. I’m finding standing back and watching the cycle from afar helps. It helps because I realize even when I do absolutely nothing to provoke, he still cycles.

    I pray for him to come to some realization on his own now that I’m far away and it’s harder to blame everything on me. I do see God working in his life a lot actually but then him having momentary conviction and then slipping back into denial.

    It’s hard, I remember growing up watching one of my mom’s friends get abused and I couldn’t understand why it took her forever to get away. Now I GET IT. It’s the hardest thing because we want to have hope but we need to deal with reality and the fact that with various interventions, nothing changes.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Yes, that’s exactly right. Let God lead you on your own path. You can trust Him. He knows the best timing – and He will equip you for each step. Consider signing up to be part of my Flying Free group. The group closes at midnight tonight and won’t be open again for three months. https://flyingfreenow.com/product/flying-free-membership-group/

      Reply
  11. Kirsten

    Hello,

    Thank you for this; I can definitely relate…especially to the part about flailing my arms trying to prove my point that I was not wrong, or to prove what I meant. I totally feel like a crazed woman! Once my husband thinks he is winning, or is the victim, that’s it…I can’t change it or prove anything else. Tables get turned and no matter how much I try to defend myself it makes it worse for me. I just remain silent, but that isn’t good either in all situations. Even silence irritates him and he gets angry because I am not fighting! I can’t win. It is such a cycle and we have been doing it for 25 years. There are good weeks or if I am lucky, months….then something will trigger it and the cycle starts over.

    You mentioned your husband wasn’t saved. Well, what do you do when the husband IS supposedly saved but still acts like he does? I have contemplated divorce oh so many times, but I never do it. I don’t know if I have the courage. I am always reading books to see how I can improve my situation and hope it works.

    Anyway, I love your insight. It really helps to know I am not alone.

    Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Natalie

      My husband says he is saved too. I married him believing he was. He is quite spiritual and goes to church faithfully, reads his Bible, knows all the right words to say, can wield a Bible verse just right, etc. Most Christian women married to emotional abusers are married to men like this. The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit does two things: convicts and comforts. Do you see this in the life of your spouse? I never did. Satan knows the Bible and the Truth. But he isn’t saved. I actually did a video about this on Facebook. You can check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/emotionalabusesurvivorblog/videos/1686878364943925/

      fly free!

      Reply
  12. Christy

    I am so thankful for you. Please keep writing and for the women who read these articles and are thinking about getting out the abusive relationships but aren’t sure.
    I was one of them. It was a gut wrenching experience to leave but I am so much better off now.
    We recently had a huge family get together (a graduation) where I and my new husband had dinner with my ex and his new wife. He hadn’t changed but his wife much tougher then me, so I hope she does better then I did. It was amazing to see how he acted in public vs. my husband. Being away from the abuse clears the fog from your eyes, there is no other way to say it. I am so thankful to God everyday for bringing me my husband who understands and is gentle & loving!!
    They don’t change.(At least not without God!)

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Wow, that is extremely encouraging. Thank you for giving the rest of us a glimpse of what a healthy future can hold if we can just let go of the sick past.

      Reply
  13. Joy Forrest

    Thank you! In our support groups, this is always a struggle for the ladies. Love this, and am sharing!

    Reply
  14. Rally

    Thank you so much Natalie… you are such a blessing to me and help wth clarity when I need it.

    My dream in life is to not be abused. If I could be in a marriage that modeled Christ and the church that would be wonderful. But either way, I’m not going to allow myself to be abused any longer.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      Good! You can be free to become all God made you to be. No longer under bondage due to the traditions of men and the lies of satan. You are a courageous, precious daughter of God.

      Reply

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