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Question: My husband has been emotionally, mentally, and financially abusing me for 22 years. He is a master at appearing like a great guy in public. Everyone at church thinks he's wonderful.
I have gone to my church leadership twice now for help and both times they brought us both in to talk to us but I don't feel safe telling the whole story with him there. Their solution for us was for us to pray together every day. How do I pray with someone I don't trust and how do I get the church to actually confront him about his sinful behavior?
He gets to keep fellowshipping with no consequences while I'm told to suffer in silence for the sake of Christ to win him over. I feel so trapped and like no one believes me. I don't know what to do.
Answer: Your question breaks my heart. I’m so sorry you have not been taken seriously by your church leadership. This happens way too often. A charmer seduces others in public, but at home, he is quite different.
I’m a little confused though. if your church leadership has advised you to “suffer in silence”, do they acknowledge that his behavior has caused you to suffer? Their advice is terrible, but in some way are they agreeing with you that your husband’s behavior is destructive and harmful?
Let’s begin to work through your problem. You say, “I feel trapped. No one believes me.” You don’t know what to do next.
Let me ask you a few questions. You said that you haven’t felt safe enough with your husband present to disclose everything to your church leaders. Have you told them that? Have you privately asked your church leaders to talk separately? Have you given them any documentation of financial abuse? Or specific examples or incidents describing what you consider emotional and mental abuse?
For example, one of my clients recorded her husband in a road rage incident on her cell phone. The recording documented her pleading with her husband to slow down, him cursing her out and their kids crying in the back seat, fearing they would crash. She played it for her pastor, and he agreed this was a dangerous and abusive situation. He understood what she was living with.
You say they don’t believe you and therefore are not taking appropriate actions. But pastors and church leaders are human beings. They can’t read your mind and if you aren’t clear about what’s going on and what you need from them, they can’t best help you with your next steps.
On the other hand, perhaps they believe what you’ve told them, but from the information you’ve supplied, they don’t agree that it’s that bad or serious enough for church discipline.
Where do you go from here? You do have choices. Here are a few. You can go back to the leadership and ask for a private and confidential conversation about what’s going on at home. Tell them you are not safe to disclose what you need to in front of your husband because you aren’t sure what will happen when you go home. If they refuse, now you know they are unwilling and incapable of being any help to you.
If they agree to meet privately, then gather as much “proof” or documentation as you can to show them what you mean. Things like financial records, credit card statements, screenshots of financial abuse. Photos of a hole in the wall, or recordings of yelling. If you don’t have those things, at the minimum, describe in as much detail as you can what you mean by financial abuse. Mental and emotional abuse. Avoid using labels. Instead, tell them the specific words he’s used or ways that he’s been cruel and abusive towards you and/or the children. Describe behaviors, incidents, actions, and attitudes that are harmful.
But at the end of the day, they still may not believe you. Then what? Does that mean you cannot move forward or help yourself? Not at all. My next question to you is twofold. First, do you believe you? And second, do you NEED your church to believe you in order for you to know what you need to do next?
There are plenty of other resources that can help you with your next steps. The DV organization can help you develop a safety plan. Their # is 1-800-799-SAFE. You can get a legal consultation (sometimes for free) or you may have to pay a set fee. Prepare questions to ask to know what your next steps are to protect yourself financially as well as understand what your legal rights are in your state. This will help you make a plan to move forward towards greater safety for you and your children if they’re still in the home.
I know many women have this idea that if ONLY their church leaders would talk to their husband, then he would repent and change. That may happen, but it’s rare. Jesus talked to Judas, and he didn’t change.
He values your safety and your sanity. He’s not asking you to lie and pretend you can trust an untrustworthy person or feel safe with someone who has harmed you.
You may not know all your next steps forward, but please take the next right step you know to do now. Psalm 32:8
Friend, what were the next right steps that you took when people didn’t help you or believe you?