I Feel Trapped and I Don’t Know What To Do

Hello LV&Co Friends! I pray you are well! The end of the year is quickly approaching. Time moves speedily in adulthood, does it not? Soon we will be thinking about goals for the new year. How are you doing with those goals you set for yourself 9+ months ago? I have been training toward being more diligent in my life. With God’s help, I have gotten better and yet I still have a ways to go. With some intention and good support, we can be stronger than we realize.

Today’s Question: I am married to an emotionally abusive man who is afflicted with the sin of alcoholism. Early in our marriage I contributed my own fair share to the destructiveness of our marriage and became filled with bitterness, anxiety, and depression. I was blinded by my own sin of workaholism, shame, and blame. I believed that our marriage no matter how broken was consecrated by God and should not be put asunder. I began to believe that it was noble and Christlike to suffer and forebear in my marriage. I became increasingly isolated as I believed that I should not talk about marital problems outside of the marriage. Couples counseling was a disaster. I left each session with new tools to better myself and do my part only to find I was the only one changing or doing any of the work on our marriage. Additionally, the vulnerabilities I shared in those sessions were weaponized against me in later arguments at home. After many years of prayer, personal therapy, a religious conversion (I am a recovering Catholic), and a long road to reawaken my CORE, I asked my husband and God for forgiveness and began to accept responsibility for my own actions. I also began the work to accept God's healing. As I start to lovingly speak the Truth and set firm boundaries for myself the chaos in our home and the cruelty of his communication has intensified. I am becoming overwhelmed again. I kept going in this relationship because we have 3 teenage children (2 still at home and 1 in college) but I can no longer stay well in the relationship. I asked for a therapeutic separation. He refused and told me I must leave. I do not want to abandon my children. I feel trapped and I don't know what to do. I continue to pray for strength and understanding of the next right step. I am hopeful that God can speak to me through this forum as He has in the past.

Susan’s Response: This is a story similar to many I have heard over the years. You are not alone. I appreciate your willingness to do the work to get healthier and grow in strength. Deciding the next right step can be challenging, but you do seem clear that you can no longer stay well in the relationship as it is. Let’s look at some of the things that may be keeping you from moving forward.

Many women believe it is Christlike to suffer and forbear in marriage. Therefore, let's talk about suffering and its place in the life of a believer. It is noble to suffer for good. 1 Peter 2:19-21 says, “For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 

The scriptures often get used to pressure women into staying in destructive marriages for the sake of being like Jesus and suffering for others as He did. We know Jesus suffered once and for all. (1 Peter 3:18) Christ going to the cross for the salvation of all who believe was undoubtedly good. Only He holds the position as the Savior from sin. Should a woman’s suffering for her husband’s sin be considered good when Christ already accomplished that perfectly? I question, is it good to continue to suffer for someone else’s destructiveness when some suffering could be prevented? Does this not just enable wickedness? To willingly suffer at the hands of someone who has no desire to change seems either self-righteous or foolish since only Jesus can save. Being “conscious of God”, as the scripture reads, means leaning on Him in times of suffering and allowing Him to lead you on a path that fulfills your purpose. Friend, your purpose is not to save your husband or shield him from the consequences of his destructiveness. God has a different and amazing plan for you!

In your suffering, look to God for guidance. This is how we glorify God while we suffer. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:6) 

For the sake of our readers, I want to reiterate something that you have already noticed. Marriage counseling is contraindicated whenever there are active addictions, abuse, or affairs that have not been repented of. It was harmful to you rather than helpful and your vulnerabilities were weaponized against you. You did the brunt of the work to make changes and yet his cruelty still showed in his communication and he has continued to create chaos in the family. This has happened to so many women who are desperate for change. They are able to get their husbands to agree to couple’s counseling, but only as a way to appease and manage blame. It isn’t a safe space. The wife is left doing all of the work and oftentimes taking all of the blame. He supervises the counseling of his wife who he wants to change to become the wife he wants. When there is no safety and no sanity, joint counseling is ineffective and often dangerous. 

It is very common for women to begin to isolate themselves as destructive patterns intensify in the relationship. Many believe they should not talk about marital problems outside of the marriage. This adds to the feeling of being trapped and confused.

It appears you are trapped because you are seeing that you have only two seemingly impossible solutions. The option of either convincing your husband to agree to a therapeutic separation or abandoning your children and leaving as he demanded. I would challenge you; are those your only choices? Your husband may want you to believe that you are limited to one or the other, but that is not true. Might I suggest that you consult with an attorney to find out what other options you may have legally? Many women have found separation has helped them heal even if their husbands do not seek therapy for the growth or restoration of the relationship. Also, separation does not automatically mean that you will abandon your children. If you are currently a loving and secure mother to them, you can continue that pattern even if you are sharing time with their father. 

Fear can be paralyzing. Be conscious of God in your suffering; He is near. There are so many scripture verses to plant in your heart to remind you of His goodness. I will offer Isaiah 41:13: For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear, I will help you.

If you are in need of a supportive community to learn and grow with, consider joining Conquer, the Leslie Vernick and Company’s education and support membership community. Check out the details here.

Be well!

Beloved reader, when you feel trapped and don’t know what to do next, where do you turn for support and clarity?

12 Comments

  1. Sara Rapp on October 12, 2023 at 9:52 am

    For my support, I lean on Christ centered friends. The support from groups like this one & Conquer are life changing.. My daily time in prayer & God’s word is everything to me.

    • Susan King on October 14, 2023 at 9:45 am

      So glad you are gaining support through Conquer and Godly friends! Also knowing God’s heart through personal experience is invaluable!

  2. Katie Sanford on October 12, 2023 at 10:12 am

    I too was in a destructive alcoholic marriage with 2 children at home and pregnant. I attempted counseling and the counselor immediately said to my husband “sobriety” has to be established before we can address marital issues. He didn’t get sober. Things got WORSE.

    It came down to the kids or him. I chose divorce, this was an ongoing battle with alcoholism that only God can turn around (if my ex decides to surrender)
    Today, I’m slowly recovering and rebuilding a life without him. It was literally killing me the slowest spiritual death. I clung to God on my knees, lots of tears, hard decisions but I knew that my children and unborn son didn’t need that environment.
    God lead me back to Therapy, a good church body and to share my experience. I pray for you. I know what trapped is and it’s a lie. God will take care of you and your husband.

    Thoughts and prayers,

    Katie

    • Susan King on October 14, 2023 at 9:46 am

      Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom, Katie!

  3. Kathy on October 12, 2023 at 10:21 am

    Thank you so nuch for this info! I Pet 2 was pounded into my head thru the church’s wrong teaching and then my meditation on it. God eventually told me I wasn’t suffering for the cause of Christ but because of the sins of my abusive husband. It also was pounded into my head that we are CALLED to suffer; therefore I should just pray and act like Christ when He suffered so that I could receive a blessing. KJV reads “for conscience toward God” which I could never quite grasp. Your explanation is so good and now I understand what it means.

    • Susan King on October 14, 2023 at 9:52 am

      As believers, we will suffer for the cause of Christ. God does not call us to suffer needlessly. I am so glad He gave you that clarity. Thank you, Kathy, for being part of the discussion!

  4. JoAnn on October 12, 2023 at 12:05 pm

    Al-Anon can be a very helpful support group. This is for people who are affected by someone in their family who is an alcoholic. Hearing the experiences of others who are “in the same boat” can be so helpful. Also, in 2 Cor. 1:8-11, Paul describes his experience of being rescued by God when they could see no way out. He says, “Yet we believe now that we had this experience of coming to the end of our tether that we might learn to trust, not in ourselves, but in God who can raise the dead.” (Phillips translation.) I encourage you, as you are working your way through this challenge, to spend time daily in the Bible, New Testament, so that you can get to know God, and His wonderful plan for your life. You will find that the word of God is a great supply.

    • Susan King on October 14, 2023 at 9:53 am

      Such great advised, JoAnn! Thank you for your comment.

  5. Lynnette on October 12, 2023 at 12:05 pm

    Hello friend,
    I recently moved out of my home after 23 years in an emotionally destructive marriage. When I first mentioned a therapeutic separation a year ago, my husband threatened to file for divorce immediately if I left.
    So that kept me stuck in fearful for an entire year. But when he was out of town, I moved out. It’s only been three weeks and I can tell you a few things.

    First, I should’ve done this along time ago. I have so much clarity, much more so than I did at home. I feel so free, and I feel as if I have the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders. I am gradually moving out of the flight or fight, survival mode. My brain is waking up again.

    I have a counselor that I see weekly, and a weekly support group at church, these ladies also are walking through similar situations. Lesley Vernick’s online group has been amazing as well, and I highly suggest that is a resource.

    You don’t have to have your husbands permission to leave your house for a therapeutic separation for yourself. A wise friend gave me this advice after going through a very difficult, divorce herself. If staying in your home is affecting your mental, and or emotional health, or your relationship with God, it is time to leave.

    I realized that staying was not sustainable any longer. The physiological responses to my body and mind were great. I’m sure that it was shortening my life a lot.

    Pray for God to rescue you, ask him to make a Way, and then watch expectantly as he does. I’m so sorry for what you’re going through but I promise you a therapeutic separation will give you the clarity that you need to decide what to do next.

    Then, finally, a therapeutic separation doesn’t mean there has to be a divorce. But it will definitely give you the clarity that you need to help you take the next right step. I hope you find this helpful, Lynnette.🙏🙏

    • Grace M on October 14, 2023 at 8:54 am

      “Friend, your purpose is not to save your husband or shield him from the consequences of his destructiveness. God has a different and amazing plan for you!“
      That phrase crystallizes what I came to understand finally and that gave me the impetus to walk away from my husband in a time of chaos and led to my own healing and peace of mind. The chaos and difficulty has affected my now adult children, but they to have to come to the place where they make healing choices in their relationship with their father. I am very grateful for the community I had around me once the lightbulb went off about not being my husbands “Savior“ any longer. God was good to be compassionate and merciful to me in the way he allowed me to come to this understanding. The joy of the Lord is my strength. I am grateful for Jesus and the word of God and my community of church that God has given me.

      • Susan King on October 14, 2023 at 9:58 am

        God is so good to reveal truth to us! Thanks for commenting, Grace!

    • Susan King on October 14, 2023 at 9:57 am

      Thank. you for sharing your healing journey, Lynnette! So encouraging!

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