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

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

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

Sometimes Loving Means Leaving

by | Apr 20, 2020 | Articles, Divorce, Rebuilding | 18 comments

When she said “I do,” it was for life. She was all in, body and soul. Making a man happy and raising his children was all she had ever dreamed of, even when dreaming dreams like that one became unfashionable. She was going to pour her entire life into this marriage and this home and this family. And she did. She loved him for twenty five years.

How did she love him?

She listened to him. She had sex with him. She cooked for him. She bore seven children for him. She did his laundry and kept his home clean. She protected his reputation at church and in the neighborhood. She was careful not to hurt his ego with a different opinion or feedback that might cause him to get upset. She managed their budget. She did odd jobs on the side to help make ends meet. She stayed home so he could go out. She encouraged him. She believed in him. She absorbed his criticism and anger. She prayed for him. She overlooked a million scratch marks on her heart and forgave 70 times 700. And still counting.

She loved him in the only way she knew how.

But in loving him that way, she refused to love someone else who was also a human being worthy of love.

In loving him that way, she sacrificed another person’s ability to think clearly, her health, her ideas, her freedom, her reputation, her education, and her very essence. She sacrificed herself on the altar of this god, her husband.

And he sucked it all in like a insatiable black hole.

This story repeats itself over and over again. Why? What are we believing that causes Christian culture to think that some human beings are worthy of love and respect while others are not?

I mean, we don’t SAY that, but we really do believe it. We show we believe it by our actions. The question is, can we care about a black hole while also caring about ourselves? Or do we have to choose one or the other?

I think we can love both. I’ve seen women love both. Do you know how they love both? They give both what they both need. Not what they both want. And this sometimes means they file for divorce. And it’s sad. And they grieve. Deeply.

Sometimes Loving Means Leaving

It takes strong love to divorce an abuser. Strong love for yourself – the only person on this earth God has given you full responsibility for – and strong love for your abusive partner who wants to live life without ever confronting and slaying the monster inside.

If you were given responsibility to take care of a starving child, would you give them Almond Joy candy bars? Or would you give them something that would nourish their bodies? We might enjoy watching a child munch on a candy bar. And they would love us for giving it to them. But that’s not what they need. I’m talking about real love. Not manipulative love that helps us feel better about ourselves and makes us look good to everyone around us.

What Does it Mean to Love?

I believe to love means to strongly desire what is best for the beloved.

So what IS best for those we love? Safety. Acceptance. Honor. Freedom to succeed. Freedom to fail. The space to learn and grow. The space to be wholly and completely oneself in full color without shame. Isn’t this how we love our children?

How does this look, practically speaking?

This looks like taking responsibility for ourselves so others don’t have to. Showing compassion. Listening well. Respecting different perspectives. Grieving with those who grieve. Being happy with those who are happy. Sharing our resources generously. Setting people free. Healing. Giving life.

And it also means letting go of our control of others and their choices to believe or to live differently from us.

Letting go of our control and trusting God. This is love.

(And by the way, religious people will tell us to “let go and trust God” – but what they are really saying is “let go and trust ME. Do what I say. I’m in control.” So know the difference between trusting God and trusting people. I had to learn this the hard way. Maybe we all do.)

This is how God loves us through Christ. And this is what He calls us to as His daughters.

What Does it Mean to Have a Relationship with Someone?

There are three kinds of relationships in our lives.

  1. Our relationship with ourselves.
  2. Our relationship with our Creator.
  3. Our relationships with other humans.

Our Relationship with Ourselves

Many of us were taught that our relationship with ourselves was a ridiculous idea while the other two relationships were the priorities. But I’d like to argue that you can’t have healthy faith or healthy relationships with others if your relationship with yourself is unhealthy.

Because you do have a relationship with yourself, and if you don’t know how that’s going, it’s probably not a very healthy one. Self-awareness is critical for healthy relationships with others. You may have noticed that, in general, people who have a hard time with relationships also have a hard time being self-aware.

So what does this mean for you? If you’re having issues in your relationships, it means you’ve got some opportunities to grow in self-awareness, whether you are a survivor or an abuser. Survivors will take these opportunities seriously while abusers will usually scoff at the notion of being self-aware. This is why survivors morph into a Phoenix Rising while the lives of abusers tend to shrink and shrivel as they move into old age.

Sisters, if you want amazing relationships with people, it starts with your relationship with yourself. And before anyone gets triggered and thinks “But I WORK SO HARD ON MYSELF! I’m trying to stop taking all the responsibility for all the things!” – let me clarify.

If you have a strong relationship with yourself – a relationship where you are faithful to yourself, honest with yourself, compassionate with yourself, patient with yourself, your own best cheerleader and advocate, basically all the things you try so hard to be for EVERYONE ELSE…then you will no longer attract people who want to manipulate and use you for their purposes.

Parasites are looking for easy hosts. Women who have great relationships with themselves are not easy hosts.

I’m not talking about becoming an angry, freaked out, ranting, raving spitfire on social media. Do they have great relationships with themselves? Are they at peace within themselves? When you see people trying to control all the things and all the people, whether it is for good or for evil, you see people who are still searching for something. Something they will only find inside themselves. Not something they will find when everyone does everything their way.

Sisters, when our relationship with ourselves is abusive toward ourselves, we are unable to heal. Period. Abuse is power and control. So for our own sake and for the sake of our own healing and our own power in this world, we need to give ourselves freedom to let go of the abuse dynamic in our own life as well. This means letting other people be who they are – even if they are assholes. And it means becoming FULLY and WHOLLY who we are. In full color. Engaged and showing up on the stage of LIFE.

Okay? So this is love for yourself. You need to love yourself, Sister. You will love others to the degree you love yourself.

Our Relationship with Our Creator

This is where our faith comes into play as well. In fact, our relationship with the One Who created us and our relationship with ourselves are woven together in myriads of mysterious ways.

If we believe God is abusive, we will abuse ourselves. And we will excuse and put up with abuse in others. If we believe God is vindictive and requires hoop jumping and sacrifices and regulation-keeping in order to experience His love, we will behave that way toward others. We will be judgmental and angry and require hoop jumping and sacrifices and regulation-keeping.

Our relationships with others tell them Who (or who) we worship.

So does our relationship with ourselves.

If you’re reading this and you struggle with feeling shame and guilt and self-hatred and despair, that gives you some information about what you believe about God. And no wonder. If people who say they represent God treat you in a certain way or shame you – you’ve maybe just always believed that’s also who God is.

Maybe it’s time to ditch that faith. Time to ditch that god. He’s not real. He’s just a golden calf.

But what if your Creator was totally in love with you, no matter what? What if you were completely and utterly safe with Him regardless of whether or not you were single or married or divorced? What if you knew you could rest in His love instead of always worrying about whether or not it would be there to catch you?

I believe that when we finally find the True Creator God, we will finally find ourselves. We are in Him! He is in us! We are safe, sisters. You are safe. You are safe to love. To live. To breathe. To make decisions. To make mistakes. To choose something that everyone on Facebook will hate you for…or to choose something that everyone on Twitter will hate you for. And you’re still so, so, so safe. Because people are just people. And they get to make their own choices. They get to rest and be free, too.

If we all just rested in Jesus, think about the peace we’d have. We wouldn’t have to control all the people and what they do. We wouldn’t have to be afraid that if they didn’t do what we wanted them to do that we would no longer be safe. Because we’re safe.

We’re safe.

We’re safe because this isn’t the end of the story. And that brings us back to faith.

Our Relationships with Other People

Aaaaaaaaand….then there’s our relationships with other people.

The best adult relationships are the ones where you get to be you and the other person gets to be them, and both of you are fine with all of that. For the most part, you take care of your needs, they take care of their needs, and you both come together and enjoy one another. When there are special needs, you help one another out. But most of the time, it is give and take based on ability, skill, desire, and other factors.

I think that is the essence of love.

The trouble comes in when someone wants something from the other person, and the other person doesn’t want to – or can’t – give it to them. Enter control, anger, fighting, manipulation, lying, and a just a whole lotta crap.

Do you see how having a good relationship with yourself will help you navigate relationships with others?

Here’s the thing. We get to choose our relationships. We get to decide if a relationship is helping us grow and giving us life or if a relationship is tearing us down. And we get to decide what to do with that information.

We get to decide how we will show up in love in those relationships. How will we love and honor ourselves as precious human beings to our Creator? How will we love them as precious human beings to their Creator?

What do each of those people need?

Sometimes, we will decide that what we need is to leave. And what they need is to be left.

When Loving Means Leaving

Sisters, real love gives freedom. It gives freedom to others to be who they are. To make their own choices. And others will not always choose what we want them to choose.

We want our husbands to choose love. To choose life. To choose healing. To choose kindness and respect. We want them to choose that so we can have a good marriage and enjoy intimacy and mutual love. We want them to choose that for us, for them, and for our children.

But they don’t have to choose that. And they may not. They may choose lies and manipulation. They may choose entitlement and disrespect and ownership and power-over others.

And they may want you to sacrifice another human on their altar. Yourself.

And you get to choose how your love will show up in that situation. How your love will show up for the woman (you) and how your love will show up for the man (him).

Do you believe the Creator enjoys looking on abusive marriages and homes? Does He experience pleasure in seeing His beloved sons hurting His beloved daughters?

An abusive god might – and an abusive god’s followers might – but not the Creator God. And if we are followers of the Creator God, we will follow in His footsteps. He loves. And His love doesn’t want His sons to shrink and shrivel into tiny monsters. And His love doesn’t want His daughters to hide in corners.

But as long as we excuse and enable abusive behavior, we will be hating on both the sons and the daughters of God.

I loved my ex husband. I loved him with all my heart. I wanted so badly for us to stay together. When I separated from him, the song Say Something nearly broke my heart in two. I decided I needed to lean into the pain of losing what I wanted most. And I did. I cried for two years straight. And then I went to a hotel room and read through twenty two years of journals. And then I filed for divorce.

I filed because I made the choice to love a girl who hadn’t been loved by anyone. Who had been thrown under the bus by so many human beings. Who had been lied to and betrayed too many times to count. A girl who had never been allowed to be herself without repercussions. I decided I hadn’t loved her well, and she was my one main God-given responsibility. I needed to change that. So I filed.

And I never looked back. I found love. I found love for myself. And I found a better love for my children. And eventually I found a man who has seen and known and loved me well for over three years now.

I feel sad for my ex. Yes, sometimes I feel angry toward him because of his ongoing behaviors, but mostly I feel sad for him. I feel sad that he hasn’t experienced love and freedom for himself or others. I feel sad that his god is abusive, and that’s all he has. His world is small and constrained. I loved him. I loved the little boy he was. I loved the man he could have been. I will always wish things could have been different for HIS sake.

But we must give people freedom to live their lives the way they want to live them. To make their own choices. This is going to really REALLY hurt sometimes. But this is respect. This is love. And we show this same respect and love to the person who lives inside our own body.

So can we love someone and leave them? Absolutely. People do it all the time.

Sometimes loving means grieving.

Sometimes loving means leaving.

Say Something Lyrics

Say something, I’m giving up on you
I’ll be the one, if you want me to
Anywhere, I would’ve 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
And anywhere, I would have followed you
Oh, oh, oh, oh say something, I’m giving up on you

Say something, I’m giving up on you
Say something

18 Comments

  1. Regina

    I am struggling with it all….was given a prescription today that I am terrified to begin venlafaxne 75 mg for effexor, has it really come to this, pray for me.

    Reply
  2. Stephen Charity

    Thank you for sharing this, Natalie. I feel that your writings are helpful to men too. I have found that to be so.

    Reply
  3. Janna

    Thank you, I needed to read this today.

    Reply
  4. Susan Cooke

    “compassionate with yourself,” I am hearing this quite a bit lately. I had a conversation with someone who does not know me well. I know I had many emotions during that call and I was shocked when at the end of the call I was told that my sweetness and compassion came through over the phone. Actually I am still shocked that came through. Much easier to give it to others than myself.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      It is easier – but I think that’s because of the lies we’ve been told about taking care of ourselves. But we are just as valuable in God’s creation as anyone else is. Anytime the enemy can destroy us, he will. And this is one of his more clever ways of destroying us. Through ourselves.

      Reply
      • Susan Cooke

        “Destroying us through ourselves” …never thought of it that way before.

        I am battling the enemy hard with thoughts lately because I can see myself heading towards more self destruction if I am not careful.

        Reply
  5. Cindy J McKnight

    I’ve always had a hard time with the idea that we need to love ourselves…focus on it even! I was taught that when the scripture tells us to love another as we love ourselves, it is assuming we already love ourselves! In fact, it says that we nourish and cherish ourselves as proof of this! So, I never could get myself to look in that mirror and tell myself I was great or beautiful or any other thing! I know my shortcomings and sins! I’m not going to fool myself into thinking I am someone I am not.
    But while reading this the Lord spoke to me and said, “But you don’t need to abuse yourself either!” And I thought of how the nuns would self-flagellate for their sins, and do all sorts of abusive things to themselves when they realized an imperfection! And I don’t approve of that in any way. But the Lord showed me I was doing the same thing… in my mind!
    First of all, I believed the horrible things said to me about myself…. that, at first, I knew were wrong and false accusations, but eventually began to believe must be true after all! And why did I believe them? Because I had made an idol out of the main one telling me these things…. he was my god and I believed him. He was the most godly man I knew… so I believed him!
    The Lord brought me to repentance concerning the idolatry of my husband years ago, but I have retained the thinking he wanted me to have, and I need to repent of THAT as well! After all, I would not have believed his lies against me, if I had not made him my idol! Now I see I must make an effort to clear this wrong thinking out of my life.
    Secondly, I’ve been thinking I just need to accept who I am and be happy with that. But I haven’t been able to do that… not even close. I’ve tried, but it hurts, and I have not been able to understand that… so I’ve quit trying. But I see now (when God spoke to me above) that these are LIES I’ve been believing! Others have told me stuff about me that I COULD NOT accept and so dismissed it immediately! In fact, I was AFRAID of these opinions about myself!
    Natalie spoke of how we cannot love others if we don’t love ourselves, and now I get it. Have I not said a thousand times, that I don’t think I love anyone? I mean, not really, not deeply, not self-sacrificially! I didn’t even have normal affection for others! This was driven into me daily. But one of the things others have said about me is that they see that I DO love others! Putting it all together, I realize that Natalie is right. I must learn to love myself, to believe the truth about myself (learn what that is also) and quit abusing myself.
    I feel lost here…. don’t know how to start. I don’t know how to NOT believe what I’ve believed so long. But God will help me, since He’s shown me this is important.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Yes. It takes time to reprogram our brains. ❤️❤️ But you’ve made a really nice start!!

      Reply
  6. Deb

    This is me. I sacrificed everything for 21 years to my husband who took everything I gave and handed me back lies and control and anger and infidelity. I filed for divorce two months ago. He refuses to leave the house to go be with his girlfriend, preferring instead to torture me by asserting his power at home while maintaining his relationship with her. The shelter in place order has been extended and though we are both able to work, we work together at the small business I helped him start. There is no peace for me. I have been googling ways to kill myself although I know how selfish that is, given what it will do to my three kids. I emailed my pastor in desperation last week and he responded to my pain with indifference. Everyone thinks I am just being dramatic but I truly feel as though I am in a dark hole with no way out. I pray but a stern, disapproving God is all I know. I do not love myself, I hate my husband and I do not trust God. What t a complete trainwreck.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Oh Deb. I see you. It’s a trainwreck right now, but this is not the end of your story. I wanted to kill myself too. You need to stay here not only for your kids, but because you have a future. The stage between caterpillar and butterfly is chrysalis. In the chrysalis the caterpillar turns into a bunch of nondescript goo. It’s hard to imagine that it could ever turn into something that can fly – but it does! I see you are on the waiting list for Flying Free. I think your experience in that group will be life-giving and life-changing. We will be there to support you through your chrysalis stage. Hugs.

      Reply
      • Deb

        I pray that you are right. My sweet kids deserve so much more than a mom who is shattered… or not here at all

        Reply
    • Teresa Strey

      Deb I would say step one tell God everything you feel. No holds bar. Be completely honest. He already knows. See what he shows you!

      Reply
      • Deb

        I know you are right

        Reply
    • JESSICA

      Deb, I see you too… You story could be my own. I have been searching for a couple of years now , how to fix my marriage, how to keep him away from Her, how to be a better wife. Searching for help and for relief for myself and our four kids. God has kept pressing into me that he cares more about me than our marriage. I feel for so many people during this crisis but like you I have already been in crisis for so long, I’m almost numb. Like you ending it seems so much better, but my kids deserve to see this all play out with God’s will for our lives. This marriage is not God’s will. I long for love that has no strings, no lies, no betrayal, no broken promises. A love that doesn’t require constant forgiveness with no change. Hang in there sweet sister… I sense we both have found a place to rest.

      Reply
      • Deb

        Jessica, thank you for sharing your story here with me. It takes a brave woman to tell the truth and to be willing to make a change. God alone knows whether or not you should legally leave the covenant that is already broken but it sounds to me like He is already speaking to you, telling you it’s ok to stop trying to save the marriage and start trying to save yourself. I pray that we both find the help and relief that we desperately need. I pray that there will be a path that is clear that leads us out into safety and hope. I will hang in there if you will.
        Blessings.
        Deb

        Reply
  7. Denise

    This article is exactly what I needed right now! I can relate even to the 25 years and 7 children later. I am now having to discern this same thing for my two college students who have been living with me during this stay at home time. One is 23 and the other is 20. They are number 3 and 4 in the lineup. They are causing me extreme anxiety, are disrespectful, uncompromising, and want complete freedom to do what they want here. The problem is that I am working from home and homeschooling 3 due to corona. The younger ones are witnessing all of this and it is terrible!! The college kids are angry, demeaning, refuse to help, and respect no boundaries. People tell me, “oh that is just a phase for this age group”. This phase is way different…they are trying to sabotage my schedule, and pull the younger ones in so that I have no allies. It is affecting my younger 3 kids greatly. I am not a screamer, but patient and kind and try to figure out a way to make this temporary living situation work. It is looking like I will need to ask them to go and not come back as I am losing myself from the pain. The only thing is that all their siblings will be told lies and therefore I will become the mean one. I am so sad that they have adopted many of his qualities and are unwilling to even talk or listen, or even get help for themselves? I am in a four and a half year divorce with an extreme covert, emotionally/psychologically, abusive man who is also a predator, an extremely good manipulator and mind mapper, with an incredible religious facade. He is getting to my kids and using them. I have told the older two that if they are not happy here, they will need to go back and stay in their homes at school. Of course, they turn it on me and say I am kicking them out. Any suggestions on dealing with kids who are abusers as well?

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      You aren’t “kicking them out” mama. You are letting them know the house rules. If they want to live in your home, they agree to follow the house rules. If not – they GET to leave. They have the privilege of leaving. You refuse to control their choices. THEY get to decide if they want to stay or go. Your job is simply to enforce the simple and basic house rules. You can totally love and accept them exactly the way they are whether they choose to stay or leave. Pretty simple and straightforward. And if other people make that mean that you are a bad mom – then they are probably living with a different model for their lives than you are. And that’s okay. You live YOUR life. You are an adult. (And I believe you’re a good mom.)

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.