Can I Find Freedom and Healing While Navigating a Toxic Marriage with Grace?

Hello, my friends! Coach LeAnne here! I am so honored to share space here again this month as we delve into the transformative power of freedom. Freedom to be all God created us to be. In a world where we often find ourselves entangled in various forms of bondage, both externally and internally, the concept of freedom becomes a beacon of hope. Whether it's breaking free from toxic relationships, overcoming personal limitations, or liberating our minds from self-imposed limitations, we believe that true freedom is attainable. Join us as we explore the journey towards freedom, discovering the strength within, and embracing a life centered in Jesus Christ- He is the author and perfecter of our lives. 

Question: I thank God for you, your ministry, and all those in your organization, who serve and help us, the oppressed and weak! Since I was introduced to your materials about 5 years ago, my life of confusion and suffering has turned around to head toward the one of liberation, healing, and strength. I'm so thankful to God for you all! I've been doing my best to stay well in this marriage of 20 years with my emotionally destructive husband. It's been a difficult, disappointing, and destructive relationship. I homeschool 4 children of ours, the oldest being 17 and the youngest 10. 

Frankly speaking, none of us like him, and all of us are having a very hard time to persevere in loving him due to his narcissistic personality and his repeated choices of living in denial despite our communications and confrontations we have been having with him. Some time ago, I began to set clear boundaries and stopped compromising in taking care of my emotional and mental well-being by refusing to have intimacy with him. I also stopped allowing him to dictate our lives by controlling our decisions about which church or functions to attend, etc. As expected, he has not been pleased by that and attempts to manipulate us back into cultivating “relationships” with him; yet he continues to fail in keeping his promises, recovering trust, and repenting of his wrongs sincerely. 

At this point, I simply don't feel like I can keep trying anymore. The toxicity my children and I endure as long as he is involved in our daily life is getting unbearable, and it's exhausting to live this way. Yet, I somehow hesitate to initiate bringing our marital issue to a legal level. I've been praying and considering our legal separation, but it, for some reason, feels wrong for me to make that call. I have requested multiple times to let us have mediators since our conversations keep going parallel, not producing enough positive changes to bring solutions to our harmful problems. He just rejects the idea. At the end, he puts the blame on my unwillingness to work with him and my influence on our children, creating further gaps between him and them. I know it's blame-shifting and gaslighting tactics! He seems to be incapable of seeing his errors and shortcomings whatsoever. 

Whether it's fear of the unknown future and possible retaliation from my husband, or lack of preparedness (I haven't been able to find a way of making consistent income), courage, or faith, I desire to face them with Jesus and do what I'm supposed to do to obtain holistic health for me and our children. Meanwhile, I haven't been able to shake off this feeling of uncertainty and even a little bit of guilt-regarding proceeding to file a legal separation while he keeps expressing his desire to make our marriage work.

Besides prayers and getting strengthened through your equipping materials, what do you think I should do to move forward? Also, which Bible verse(s) would you share with me to stand on in order to make a decision with confidence that is aligned with God's will and heart for us in a situation like this? Thank you in advance for considering answering my question. 

Praying for you and those around you. I truly am grateful for all that you do.

Shalom Blessings!

LeAnne’s’ Response:

Dear Beloved Reader,

I want to express our deep gratitude for your kind words and the impact our materials have had on your life. It is a blessing to hear that you have found liberation, healing, and strength through your journey. We understand the challenges you face in your difficult and destructive marriage, and we want to offer support, a bit of guidance, and prayer as you step into your unique forward.

Dear sister, you are not alone in this journey. God's heart is for your well-being, healing, and restoration. Many others have faced similar challenges and have found healing and restoration. By sharing your story, seeking support, and embracing the resources available to you, you are taking important steps toward a healthier and more fulfilling life.

It's important to acknowledge that your husband's attempts to regain control and manipulate you are likely to intensify when faced with your new boundaries. This is a common pattern in toxic relationships. Remember, you are not responsible for his reactions or choices. You have the right to protect yourself and your children from the harm caused by ongoing toxicity.

When in a situation where there is ongoing emotional or physical danger, it's crucial to prioritize your safety and the safety of your children. Please develop a safety plan that outlines steps to take in case of an emergency. Reach out to local organizations or hotlines specializing in domestic violence for guidance and support in creating a comprehensive safety plan. The National Center for Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233. There are advocates available 24/7 and will help you create a safety plan that will support you and your children.

Regarding the decision to pursue a legal separation, it's natural to feel uncertain and experience a sense of guilt. However, remember that God desires holistic health and freedom for you and your children. Seeking legal counsel, and knowing your rights, responsibilities, and the risks of a legal separation should that option be a viable one in your state. This may be the only space you can create some financial safety for your future. Please give yourself permission to get clarity in this area. Family money can be hidden, misspent, or depleted if you do not take action here.

Connecting with others who have experienced similar challenges can provide a sense of validation and understanding. Learning to set healthy boundaries, walking the road to clarity, and letting go of guilt as you gain your God-given strength, is best done in community. 

Moving forward, mediation can be a valuable tool in facilitating healthy communication and working toward a resolution. Unfortunately, your husband is unwilling to participate in this process. From what you've said, your husband refuses mediation because he still wants to be in control. This informs you that despite his words stating that he wants the marriage to work, it's still on his terms and his way. He's not open to learning or being teachable. He's not open to hearing from you, let alone a mediator. So where do you go from here?

Lean into your faith and draw strength from your relationship with God. Engage in spiritual practices such as prayer, reading Scripture, and seeking guidance from trusted spiritual mentors. Allow God's Word to speak into your situation and guide your decision-making process. Remember, God is the ultimate healer and restorer, and He will walk alongside you every step of the way.

While making decisions aligned with God's will, I encourage you to consider the following Bible verses:

1. Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

This verse reminds us that God is near to those who are hurting and will deliver them from their troubles.

2. Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

This verse assures us that God is with us, providing strength and support as we navigate challenging situations.

3. Psalm 32:8 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. He will advise you and watch over you.”

Trusting in God's guidance and submitting to His will can bring clarity and direction in uncertain times.

You have taken some next right steps and God has shown you that your husband's heart remains hard. He is or he continues to be unwilling to learn, to listen, or to repent. What does that tell you? How does that information help you make your next steps forward in alignment with what God is showing you?

In situations like yours, where emotional destruction and narcissistic behavior persist, it is crucial to prioritize your emotional and mental well-being, as well as the well-being of your children. Setting clear boundaries and refusing to compromise on your personal health is a courageous step towards establishing a healthier relationship dynamic. Your heavenly father has given you a good mind and a heart to do his will. It is his will that you learn to listen to Him above all other voices, even your husband's voice. Learning to do that and taking godly care of your body, mind and spirit may feel wrong, your spouse may tell you it's wrong, but it is good stewardship of you and that can bring you peace. 

Shalom and heartfelt blessings to you!
Coach LeAnne

Beloved Readers:

What advice would you give to someone who is struggling in a destructive relationship but hesitates to take steps toward change?

28 Comments

  1. Missy on July 12, 2023 at 10:49 am

    I remember what it felt like to be the woman in this situation. One thing I longed for was peace, and I felt like the absence of peace (to separate) was indication to stay. I have learned that as a believer, the sense of peace wasn’t my guide but was a result. When living in my difficult marriage, it was essential that I learned to get connection, love, support and joy from relationships outside my marriage – family, friendships, church community and even in the workplace for my case. I had very young children and didn’t want them to bear the burden of needing to prop me up in the day to day, but obviously they brought great joy and purpose to my life. In creating what I needed to live well in that difficult marriage, I no longer gave my husband the ability to control when/where I went to church. I decided what worked for me, and I went bringing the little ones with me.

    When he began to rage at me, I told him I would stop him, then leave. I gave one warning, “If you continue to speak to me this way, I’m leaving.” Twice he continued and I was really annoyed and inconvenienced by having to leave right then, but I did. After that, he was able to control his rage and redirect it. I had hope that my boundaries were helping to protect me and to signal what behavior I would accept. I feel we made progress in this area and it could have continued to improve. Yes, it is exhausting sometimes to maintain boundaries, but I learned it did get easier with practice – have you found that to be true?

    My husband of the time chose to be unfaithful. I knew of several previous times when he had been unfaithful and one of my bottom-line boundaries was that if he ever became involved with a real woman (he had been involved with online porn) that I would file for divorce. When I discovered it, I didn’t want to divorce, be a single mom, learn to live alone, etc. But I had established a boundary. I knew that if I did not follow through, I could not respect myself nor would he believe I was serious about any of my boundaries. I did not feel peace when I asked him to leave, filed for divorce, had to work through parenting agreements, etc. I felt deep sadness, betrayal, anger and extreme grief.

    At the time, my husband claimed he did not want the marriage to end. He spread lies about why I asked him leave and filed for divorce. He charmed many into having sympathy for him. I chose trust God, trust my character (and his) would be revealed over time. It has.

    I trusted the boundaries that I had put in place with the help of counseling and what I had learned. I walked out the decision made when I wasn’t grieving and trusted that God would block the path, if He wanted something different for me. I knew God was asking me to TRUST HIM, not put my trust in a husband who was so broken that he couldn’t get healthy in our marriage.

    The peace did come. I learned to depend on God in a way I never had or would have otherwise. Once we removed the unpredictability and insecurity of living with a difficult man, the peace in our home was such a contrast to the anxiety I lived in for so long. My children felt it, though they couldn’t articulate it.

    Separation, divorce bring their own set of problems and it doesn’t magically “fix” things. When there are shared children, the man will forever be involved in your family through influence, rights, money negotiations, etc. For me, removing the daily drama, the feeling of walking on eggshells and the sense of being on edge was an enormous gift for us.

    • Hope on July 13, 2023 at 8:49 am

      Thank you, Missy, for all of that. As well as the lady who submitted her question! I feel as though we’re living almost the same life experiences. Homeschool mother of four (ages 9-18) My toss in would be that my husband is/was/still trying to be a pastor/leader. So many similarities, though. I feel that comment, Missy, that separation, divorce bring their own set of problems and don’t magically “fix” things. That’s the part I dread in dealing with his narcissistic ways. But I long for the removal of the daily drama that is keeping our children in a twister and myself run down and not knowing what’s coming next from him (though I’m afraid that part won’t go away, but possibly get worse in the separation process).
      Thank you, Leanne, for this guidance. This ministry and access to resources has been amazingly helpful and such a blessing. Thank you all so much for the time you pour into providing God fearing strategies and resources for this amazingly difficult journey. Some days it is extremely difficult to believe that what is happening is actually happening in our marriage. It’s extremely heartbreaking! So, thank you for the deep help.

      • LeAnne Parsons on July 13, 2023 at 8:59 am

        Dearest Hope,
        I see you, hear you and feel your heart. We are indeed stronger together. As we all
        Hold Fast to the Lord, our paths forward become clear. Thank you for sharing you heart and your encouragement. We appreciate you.
        Warmly,
        Coach LeAnne

      • Missy on July 13, 2023 at 10:28 am

        Dear Hope, when my then-husband and I first separated, he, too, was a pastor. I had lived for years in confusion and difficulty, protecting him along with his position and our income. When I learned he had actually become unfaithful, I insisted he resign immediately. The collapse of life as I knew it was sure challenging! Now I look at his unfaithfulness as God’s deliverance because it tore apart the veil and facade that I was living. The removal of daily drama is a gift! The narcissism is the prompt to continue our own growth, healing and steps forward. Things often escalate before improvement, and this doesn’t mean it is the wrong direction.

    • Pam Smith on July 13, 2023 at 8:51 am

      thank you for sharing.

      • LeAnne Parsons on July 13, 2023 at 9:00 am

        Thanks for joining us here sweet Pam.

    • LeAnne Parsons on July 13, 2023 at 8:56 am

      Dearest Missy,
      Thank You for sharing your story here. We can all be encouraged, challenged, and inspired by your words, your actions, your faith, and your brave.
      Warmly,
      Coach LeAnne

      • Kerry Brasher on July 13, 2023 at 10:31 am

        I’m not sure if I am commenting I the correct spot…but I’ve been a scrolling queen trying to find where to go…I’m going to park my question/prayer here.
        Opening my conquer email and seeing this question/story brought me to tears after reading the first sentence. The Lord knew I was too tired trying to figure my marriage out and search for answers so He brought me to it.
        Yesterday I attended marriage counseling after 2 months of separation. I am a professional “ninja eggshell” walker but it’s confusing because it’s not all the time….sometimes I actually can dance pretty good around my husband! Exhausting crazy cycle.
        Since being educated and validated by conquer, I have really grown in knowing how to protect myself emotionally/mentally. I am also trying to “save” this 19 year marriage as my husband does. Except I’m too tired to anymore 😬. Since this separation, I’ve had to get a taxing job,still be sane and stable for our teenage kids and live with a lot of insecurity financially. Though my husband loves and seeks Jesus and is a good dad to our kids, his hurt with me is pretty huge. All this anger came gushing out again in counseling about how I’ve been critical,blaming and never truly loved him for him. But he wants to save our marriage and loves me…however his heart cannot sustain humility. He won’t see that his controlling behavior and anger was what led to our separation. He sees it as me demonizing and punishing him. In a few days he may totally show repentance and want to really take ownership. Will time truly tell? Where is the line between giving grace and believing in miracles (because I too am a sinner) and then seeing reality and realizing the stats for real behavioral change are low?
        I’m thinking I’m going to curtail the marriage counseling and tell the counselor that my husband has more work to do on his own with his anger. It puts me through a very confusing emotional wringer after he emotionally spews everywhere. Thankfully the counselor was VERY fair and called him out (this is my husband’s counselor and he’s really spot on from what I can tell so far). I’ve lost the desire to fight for the marriage and fix….but where does that leave my faith in God restoring the covenant I took almost 20 years ago? Thank you so much for reading 👁👁

        • Kate on July 20, 2023 at 2:07 pm

          I am sorry that you are going through this. I have experienced similar feelings as well as the blame, etc. In my spiritual journey during the downward spiral of my marriage, I finally understood that God is reaching out to my husband all the time (as He does to all of us). I prayed for a ‘Saul to Paul’ moment that has not materialized. I realized that God honors our free will too much to ‘force’ a conversion. It is my husband who is choosing to remain hard-hearted (see also the story of Pharoh and Moses). In the presence of God’s warmth and love, our hearts can soften like wax (Paul) or become hard and brittle like clay (pharaoh). God is giving me my miracle- but it is not what I had expected- my miracle is finding freedom, health, and safety of my children and myself away from the destruction of one who abuses. I encourage you to continue in your Conquer journey and grow close to Jesus-He is your rescuer and healer!

    • Jean S. on July 13, 2023 at 9:07 am

      Wow, thank you for sharing, Missy. My situation is similar, as I have young children. My heart is in knots thinking about the trauma of a separation for them. I have set a boundary with my husband after he ab***d me. We are moving in our same town (horrible timing) and my kiddos are already stressed with that situation. My desire is to fully trust God with keeping my kids and I safe. He is trustworthy! Sometimes sticking to my boundaries, like insisting on separation, feels like it’s too much to bear because of my husband’s resistance. But I appreciate what you said about respecting yourself and showing you were serious about your boundaries. Please pray that God will provide a place for me to stay on the weekends when he is with the kids. I do not have enough money to pay to stay somewhere. I am praying that even today He will show me where I should stay. Wish I could learn more about your story. Thank you for sharing, you blessed me.

      • LeAnne Parsons on July 13, 2023 at 9:11 am

        Thanks for sharing Jean- your story matters. Your safety as well your children’s safety matters. I will join in prayer with you. May the Lord bring you a safe haven for your weekends. May He renew your strength and comfort your heart.
        Warmly,
        Coach LeAnne

      • Chari on July 13, 2023 at 10:12 am

        Hi Jean – as an idea that I am doing – I got myself a camper/trailer and put it in my local RV park. Me and kids have it as a safe spot to come to even though we are often home. It’s the cheapest option I could find. We are often home during the week when he works and then stay in the camper over weekends. It’s been a few months and caused it’s own stress but kids are getting used to it and just yesterday expressed wanting to stay in it more instead of be home because they don’t want to be with dad. The camper allowed me to do something with no obligation to a lease and the ability to fold and get back out easily. Flexible. Also – husband doesn’t know what the camper looks like (I bought it with hidden saved money and had the sellers put it straight into the rv park after I bought it), and he doesn’t know where it is. I haven’t done anything legal yet…. But I’m sure that will be coming as soon as I develop the strength and capacity to take another step. Each step is agonizing for me.

        • LeAnne Parsons on July 15, 2023 at 10:42 am

          Chari,
          Thank you for sharing. Your creativity and brave is an encouragement to many. I will pray that you and your kiddos remain in safety and enjoy your summer, your camper, and your breathing room.

      • Kay on July 13, 2023 at 10:48 pm

        I pray a friend, even N elderly person, might have a room for you

    • Heather on July 13, 2023 at 9:07 am

      i can so relate here. well said. thank you.

      • LeAnne Parsons on July 13, 2023 at 9:13 am

        Heather,
        So grateful to hear you feel seen and held in this space. Thanks for being here and for sharing.
        Warmly,
        Coach LeAnne

    • Kay on July 13, 2023 at 11:32 am

      Thanks you. So so much for sharing. You have great insight

  2. Mindy on July 13, 2023 at 11:27 am

    I can so relate to your situation. I did not want my marriage to end but I could no longer stay. It was taking a toll on me and my children physically and emotionally. I looked to 1 Cor. 7:10-11 which begins by saying a wife should not separate from her husband. But the next verse says, “…But if she does, she should remain unmarried or reconciled to her husband…”. I, like you, did not want to leave but this verse gave me comfort. God knew there would be times that separating would be necessary and I saw this as the Lord giving me permission to leave. Leslie’s teaching that God does not value the covenant of marriage over the safety and sanity of the individuals involved was also life changing for me. Stay well and never forget that the Lord is right beside you!

  3. Sally on July 13, 2023 at 4:18 pm

    This is similar to my story. My narcissistic (professionally diagnosed. but denies it), staff pastor (addictions and recovery) husband has been told he is slow to admit wrong, has placed his ministry and activities of the church before our marriage (35 yrs) and he is too familiar and friendly with women. I Hate it and feel stuck financially. We are separated (he left Aug. 2021 returned under false pretenses July 2022) under the same roof, I have experienced some rejection through the two top pastors even though I caught him viewing porn. I am angry and feel broken and am also seeking counsel on moving forward But I have Trouble feeling if I should.

  4. Rosanne on July 13, 2023 at 4:29 pm

    Thanks for all of you who shared. I feel your pain. I identify w your pain.
    A bit of my story…I was a homeschooling mom of 10. My husband got this bright idea that nudity was a biblical thing and wanted it for our family. Our 5 oldest were girls. Well, I left( not soon enough) he has a felony on his record but we got back together again. 3 more times we separated. Narcissism, eggshells, manipulation, gaslighting, control, telling me I need to submit – for 36 years. Now my youngest is 18 and I have finally quit trying to save our marriage. Next week I am moving out, into our RV, and having a new home built.
    I think there is so much con fusion about what scripture says, where that leaves us as women and our upbringing. I appreciated what one lady said that she hadn’t had much peace. I identify. But in my heart of hearts I know. I am doing this FOR our marriage, FOR him and FOR us. I continually ask the Lord to intervene in my next steps if it is not from HIM. He has not so I continue to move forward. Today the trusses are being placed on my new house. We had sold some property and had some money saved so obviously that has helped me in my situation.
    But his choices going forward is in his court. I pray daily that he would allow the Lord to bring him to the end of himself and see Christ waiting for him at the foot of the cross. He professes to know the Lord and I know he’s had a relationship w Him in the past but I can’t say he would be w the lord if he died now. Even more reason for me to leave, get out of the way and let the Lotd work. I am a crutch as long as I’m in the picture and even tho he says he wants our marriage to work he has not done anything to show that.
    If I happen to come to mind – pray for me in the coming weeks. I have a lot of emotional processing to do. I pray for those of you w children to take courage and just leave if you feel the Lord clears the way . I wished I had done that a long time ago as my children have many scars and pain from his emotional, physical, spiritual, sexual abuse. I need to rest in the fact that I am on a journey and I didn’t even feel clear to leave (for good) back then.

  5. Maria on July 13, 2023 at 6:27 pm

    I’ve noticed through my personal experience and those of others, that the ‘perpetrator’ (for lack of a better word) seems to prefer that the other spouse initiate the separation or divorce. They are happy with the status quo;it works for them!. In essence they want YOU to be the one to have to do all the work of figuring out how to legally separate or divorce. They want you to find the lawyer, figure out the logistics etc. I’m not sure of the motivation whether it’s laziness or the desire to blame shift , portray themselves as the victim in that YOU were the one who wanted the separation/divorce, rather than take responsibility for being in large part, the cause. I think they know that you really don’t want to have to go through with it either; but prefer to be passive, test your resolve, and push the limits until you’ve had enough and find the courage to follow through. Be courageous.2 Timothy 1:7

    • Missy on July 17, 2023 at 1:30 pm

      I find this to be true, as well. My former husband “wanted” to stay married – it made him look good. I am the one who brought truth to what had already happened by filing for divorce.

  6. Kay on July 14, 2023 at 9:00 am

    Maria, I think you’re right. It’s hard to hear. But sadly true.

  7. Terri Lisenbe on July 15, 2023 at 6:19 am

    This month marks 14 years ago that I moved out of my house and placed myself in a safe environment and stopped the daily cycle of abuse. Yes it is good to call it abuse. It was the hardest thing I had ever done but I can tell you it was the best thing. This decision literally helped save my life.

    The change did take courage, it did take trusting God and learning to trust myself again. It did take some planning and preparation, it did take receiving love and support by others. It did take a willingness to go through the pain to get to the joy. It did take some time establishing myself and my heart with God.

    Today I am healthy and strong, my now grown kids are married and in loving relationships, our relationships are stronger than ever and growing more.

    Sometimes I think back and how I lived for 20 years in that hard relationship and all that transpired and how today I would not allow that treatment and life for myself. How I wish I could have said No sooner to a number of things and how honestly I allowed it and participated in it. And yes how those decisions affected my children and yes they have had to overcome in their own ways.

    For me- I took a stand for righteousness and each person involved had their choice to step up and go in a good direction. The kids ultimately said yes- he said no. Because he refused to take responsibility and make any changes. There was no true Godly sorrow that leads to repentance and to life. To this day even 14 years later he is in the same place of belief and has not changed.

    For me, I praise God every day and am so thankful for my new life. I am expecting God’s best and looking forward to the future.

    I cried out to God, He heard my prayer, He answered me, He delivered me, He healed me, and He continues to restore my life.

    Sometimes you have to let go of the seemingly security and take hold of the future and your hope and newness of life. It is that one split second like on a trapeze, that when you do let go you get to go forward instead of be pulled back again.

    Sending you life and live!!!

    Leslie Vernick’s book- The Emotionally Destructive Relationship literally helped save my life. It was before I knew abut this platform. I bought the book off of a book stand in a rural grocery store. I am forever thankful!!!

    • LeAnne Parsons on July 15, 2023 at 10:46 am

      Thank you for sharing your journey here. The reminders that there is greater freedom and safety on the other side of hard is helpful for many. ! “I cried out to God, He heard my prayer, He answered me, He delivered me, He healed me, and He continues to restore my life.” Amen- we love a God who sees..

  8. Terri Lisenbe on July 15, 2023 at 6:34 am

    There is a P.S. Today I am married and now know the love of God more for me and of a husband . We will celebrate our 10 th Wedding Anniversary in three months. Knowing God’s love for me and now my husband’s love has changed the way I see and experience life in every respect.

    When I found out that God loved me and it was not okay with God for me to be treated that way and that for me the most important thing was not to stay married no matter what but instead that marriage was created to serve and bless each person. This helped me to move forward. The truth that we do know can free us from lies that can hold and deceive.

    There is hope and there is yur good future. .

  9. Karen on July 20, 2023 at 10:06 am

    I would recommend a legal therapeutic separation (hopefully, in her state there is such a thing as legal separations…as some states don’t have such a thing). During that time, maybe he will wake up and smell the coffee and see the seriousness of your complaints. Then, wait and see how he responds and make plans for your healing since the goal is “therapeutic” and ultimately, reunification. Time frame cannot be determined at first.

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