We’re getting better at our house, not 100% yet, but better. Thanks for your prayers.
Last week’s question was about getting unhooked from other people’s toxic words and false accusations. This week’s question is about detaching from needing to control the outcome.
Today’s Question: I know I need more support from outside in my marriage. It is a great burden on me. However, I do not know how to get that support. I read your blog and have read your others books on abuse, and those things have been lifelines for me. I really feel the need to have a trusted friend to talk to about my difficulties, but I am not sure how to find one.
I have considered joining one of your online groups, but that doesn't seem possible. My husband is a cleric. I homeschool. He works from home. He would be livid at me if he knew I was joining a support group for women in abusive relationships. I would likely not be allowed to continue and if I were it would be at great cost as he would make it difficult for me. I don't know how to do it on the sly either. He is at home, I am at home, the children are at home. Not always, but there aren't regular times when I am alone.
All my friends go to our church – where he is the leader. If I were to talk to one of them, it would put a huge burden on them since he is their leader. Plus they might feel the need to deal with it at a church level, which would also come back to me. To find a friend outside of church seems tricky as well. I am very busy and the burden I carry is heavy. My time is often spent trying to recover and heal from emotional pain, so just the time involved in finding a friend is daunting, never mind trying to get together without his oversight.
As I write this, I realize that perhaps I need to try to not homeschool in order to have more independence. However, I am concerned that some of my children might follow the wrong crowd at school. I am committed to bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Besides that, I would have to work and currently I struggle with my health. I think that is partly due to the years of this marriage as well as the burden I so often feel that he shouldn't be in ministry.
Answer: I feel for you. I hear you hurting inside. Your burden is heavy and you are experiencing great pressure and pain. You know you need to make a change because maintaining the status quo is making you ill. Yet your fear of making a change keeps you spinning in circles and staying stuck right where you are, to your own peril.
I wonder if you noticed that every good solution you came up with to help yourself came with an obstacle that stopped you from moving forward and taking action. From what you have communicated I believe you are extremely capable of coming up with good solutions for yourself. Therefore, I’m not going to give you any more solutions. Instead, I want to address your resistance to taking action on your own behalf (which I believe is a very common problem for good Christian women in your situation).
First, you are living by certain fundamental beliefs that may not be true. I know they “feel’ true because you’ve always lived by them but trust me, they are not true. It seems to me that you are living with a belief that “it’s up to you to keep everything going.” Your kids, their future selves, your church’s well-being, and your husband’s ministry. If you rock the boat in the slightest way by doing something different (like taking care of yourself or by seeking a friend or getting outside support) and other people have a negative reaction or a problem results, it will be your all fault. You made a bad choice. You are the selfish one for causing this problem. You are bad.
For example, you fear if you put your kids in public school to give yourself more time, or an opportunity to be employed or to develop a support system, that maybe your kids will go off the rails and not follow God. That would be all your fault. It would mean you are a bad mother.
You fear if you develop an honest friendship with a woman from your church and you disclose what’s going on at home and she tells other church leaders, it will be your fault if negative consequences fall upon your husband for his emotional abuse towards you. You are a bad wife. You did something wrong.
You say if you join CONQUER and your spouse finds out that you’ve joined a support group and doesn’t like it, he gets to decide for you, what you are allowed to join or not join. What you need and don’t need. His anger or disapproval is intolerable to you. It means you did something wrong and you have no other choice except to cave under his demands that you quit.
But I would ask you to think again. These beliefs are false beliefs.
But here is where your anxiety flares. And, here’s where you must face the reality that what you’ve been believing is not true. If the next right step for you does result in pushback or negative consequences from others, does that mean it was not the next right step for you to take?
No. Not at all! Jesus often took steps that his own disciples disagreed with but he took them knowing that was his next right step God wanted him to take. In the Old Testament, Queen Esther took a brave next step, walking into the King's presence not knowing whether he would receive her or kill her. Moses’ mother took the next right step and hid her baby boy from Pharaoh’s henchmen. When she could hide him no longer she made a basket and put him in the river. She had no way of knowing the outcome. She just knew she must move forward in faith.
It seems to me that you are continually living in fear. Fear of what your husband will do or think. Fear of what others will do or think. Fear of what your children will do or think. I get this. I lived this way for half of my adult life. I still sometimes wrestle with these worries. No judgment here. I’m just being honest with where we are as Christian wives and moms. We believe by sacrificing ourselves things will change for the better. We get frozen and stuck and sicker and sicker.
Friend, I think God wants something new and different for you. He wants you to live by faith, not fear. To trust him. And to stop putting the responsibility to manage everyone else’s life on your shoulders. Just hearing this – how do you feel? Can you imagine how freeing it would feel?
For example, how would you feel if you believed you were not responsible for how your husband managed his feelings when you told him the truth about how you feel in your relationship or your decision to get outside support? How would you feel if you believed that you were not responsible for all your children’s choices as they navigate into adulthood? And, how would you feel if you believed you were not 100% responsible for the outcome of your marriage or your husband’s reputation or ministry as a pastor if you stopped pretending and started walking in truth? WHEW! Can you feel the relief already?
Yes, it’s true. Your new healthy choices may result in some negative experiences. Your husband may be angry or disappointed with you. People may not believe you. Your children may struggle with the reality of their own faith journey. He may be confronted by church leaders on his treatment of you. We’re not naïve to those possibilities. But can God not use those same seemingly negative situations to help your husband, congregation and children learn to grow into more mature, godly people? YES. That is also a healing/growth opportunity for everyone in this situation.
For you to continue to lie and pretend, to get sick, or sacrifice yourself to cover over wrong-doing for the false image of marriage and family or preservation of “ministry” is a false god. We have seen too many recent examples of flawed ministry leaders from Bill Hybels, to James McDonald, to Ravi Zacharias for us to continue to believe we do ministry or leadership any good by keeping reputations intact while they continue unchallenged to damage the sheep under their care.
So let me close by asking you to ask yourself a question: If you were to make the next right decision from the place of love instead of fear.
What’s best for you right now?
What’s best for your kids right now?
What’s best for your husband right now?
What’s best for your church right now?
Not what “feels” best (for their comfort) but for their long-term well-being, their long-term maturity? For yours?
I hope you don’t continue to abdicate decision-making power over your own well-being because you’re afraid your husband won’t like it. Most likely he won’t like it if he’s used to you caving into him. This is your opportunity to let him know that you are an adult person capable of deciding what you need and what’s good for you.
It’s time for you to care for you. Get the support you need. That is not selfish, but stewardship of your one precious body and life.
Friend, how have you gotten free enough to make good decisions for yourself, especially when you fear negative consequences if you let go of all the reigns of everyone else’s life.