A survivor and I were talking about how her refusal to reconcile with her abuser might get her excommunicated from her beloved church. Her feelings reminded me of untangling from X and his parents. Here are some of the things I wrote to my friend:

Leaving X didn’t just cost me the marriage, the house, the promising financial future that we looked forward to. It cost many relationships, relationships that I had been in for decades. Our roots were all entangled. The untangling is so difficult, so confusing. I knew what I was risking when I exposed X’s issues. I knew that if he didn’t change, I’d lose all of that. But having us live in freedom from his wrath one way or another was worth the risk. We could not continue like we were. He didn’t surrender to Christ and I divorced him. We are still better off than we were when we were together and he was boiling over with rage and each day was filled with fear and dread.

I lost most of his family.

I thought X’s family was this wonderful sitcom family. His mom was my best friend. I had loved being around her since I was a teenager. I thought she loved me like a daughter. I thought she loved X enough to challenge him and hold him accountable; to insist that he get help. I thought she understood. I thought his dad was the quirky dad who parrots political pundits too much and gives away movie spoilers EVERY darn time. So cute. So endearing. We ate dinner with them a couple of times a week. I called her when I needed prayer. I told her my hopes, my fears, my dreams. All I wanted in life was to be happy with that family, to see them smile and laugh. I thought we were as good as it gets. I thought I was safe when I was with them. I wasn’t.

A friend pointed out that so much about that family is spurious. It’s a facade hiding mold (porn) and filth (abuse) and death (willful blindness to it all). When I saw what it was costing X, how it was harming his soul, and I demanded that they hold him accountable, they turned on me. I became the problem. I became the bad kid who ruined “our Sundays.” My refusal to be abused, to take it and make everyone think everything is my fault and my responsibility, exposed their cowardice; exposed the fact that this is all pretend, that no one is interested in bringing glory and honor to Christ. They are interested in looking good; in convincing themselves that they are all okay, maybe a little quirky, but just fine. And because I won’t go along with the charade anymore, they look bad. I must be bitter, crazy, conniving, thieving, unstable, dramatic, power hungry, overreacting, unreasonable, not willing to listen, listening to the “internet people” rather than X’s dad. I was called all of that to my face. Who knows what I was called when I wasn’t around.

When X’s adultery was exposed, I was blamed for the exposure even though his co-adulterer’s husband is the one who outed them. I am the scapegoat. I tried and tried to help them understand. I thought they loved me, that they loved him. Now I believe that they don’t, but they think they do. What they really love is the veneer they created. And now I have cost them what they loved. I really thought I could get them to see. I thought they would help my children, help X, help me. Listening to them put us all in danger. Trying to enlighten them was exhausting and made me physically ill.

I think this is a similar dynamic to what you are experiencing with your church. I think you love your church and you think they love you. They think they love you like X’s parents still think they love me but I am a bitter crazy person. X’s parents are willfully ignorant of what their son has done and the lifelong implications of it just as your church is ignoring your abuser’s sin and how it impacts your future together. X’s family thinks this could all be solved if I would just be reasonable and go to a marriage counselor and “work this out.” They are willfully ignorant of the fact that couples counseling for abuse situations is contraindicated. I believe this is the case with your church too. They will not see because it’ll cost them too much. Are they aware that CPS could take your children if you expose them to an abuser? Are they aware of the risks they are asking you to take with your kids? I don’t know how their legal department hasn’t thrown a flag on this play ages ago. You and your kids are at great risk. I don’t want y’all to be the sacrificial lambs that get hurt because of their willful ignorance and their idolatry of marriage. Your church staff thinks they are helping you. They are “for your marriage.” What marriage? That’s not a marriage! It’s a torture chamber. You, your children, and your husband/abuser are being harmed by their naivety. They are hurting everyone you love. They don’t mean to. But they are. I am praying that they will learn, but YOU don’t have to be the one to teach them or make them understand. Your job is to get out and get healthy. Your job is protect your kids and trust God to deal with this community that you love so much. He is faithful. I am praying for you. I am praying for your church. You can get safe and get away while God deals with their errors. And this is an error!

Here are some questions you can ask yourself or, if you are a friend helping someone untangle, you can ask your friend:

It seems to me that you believe your church loves you and cares about your safety. Is that what you believe? Why do you believe that?

What do you think might happen if you go back and he re-abuses you or your kids? What might be the consequences of that?

Since every time your church talks to you it exponentially increases your distress, what is holding you back from walking away from your church?

What if you brainstorm on paper a list of the pros and cons of going back to your abuser?

Dear readers, you can untangle. God will help you. I am thinking of the post To Fish or Cut Bait and thinking that the same scriptures that encouraged me there could apply as you untangle from your church. Trust God. He will make a way.

31 thoughts on “Untangling”

  1. “I thought they loved me, that they loved him. Now I believe that they don’t, but they think they do. What they really love is the veneer they created.”

    Very astute observation, Ellie!

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Very well said, Ellie.

    Two thoughts as I read this:

    “Are they aware that CPS could take your children if you expose them to an abuser?”
    And yet the courts grant these abusers regular, unsupervised visitation.

    “That’s not a marriage! It’s a torture chamber.”
    Amen! How many of us stayed in that torture chamber for years, or even decades?

    1. It is so awful to me that the civil (divorce courts) and the criminal courts (where CPS would be involved) can issue conflicting orders and the protective parent can be put in jail by either court so she’s darned if she does and darned if she doesn’t.

      But regarding this specific church (and I’m sure there are many who behave the same way), the way it has behaved toward this victim and her children is astounding. And their pressuring her to put her kids back into harm’s way while having no knowledge or regard for how the criminal courts could hold her liable is inexcusable.

      1. I think what needs to happen is that we need to get laws passed that allow abuse advocates to speak in the Courtroom and educate all involved. We need people who are willing to go the distance and get degrees or whatever is necessary, to be able to speak up on behalf of victims, in the Courtroom.

  3. Wow – this accurately describes how abuse, and abuse tolerance, is passes on to next generation and the next and the next, in families and the churches,…until someone is strong enough to end it. Thank you.

    1. That’s one of the many reasons that I am thankful to have found ACFJ. They see it. They expose it and stand against it. And it helps so much to know that we’re not alone and we’re not crazy!

    1. Spot on, Ellie, thanks for taking the time. I just found article on this by pastor Jeff, and am at peace. They love themselves, and can not be trusted to love or honor Jesus. They are wolves.

  4. Ellie, I have read most articles on this blog -thank you Barbara and pastor Jeff, what a blessing you are..- and I haven’t contributed with a comment yet..but I have been searching for validation about my in- laws, especially past few days. And thank you, Jesus, today I got it from your article….I have been married to my abuser for 10 years now, and from the beginning experienced all the red flags and types of abuse, including physical one…namely shoving, throwing objects at me, breaking things, driving recklessly with all of us in the car, and hitting. I didn’t share the physical abuse with his family. But they were very abusive from the beginning as they are of a different culture. Amazingly I thought that since they are Christians I have nothing to worry about, but they are religious hypocrites who pay lip service to Jesus on Sunday, perform religious acts and brag about that…but their true allegiance is to their cultural believes which are quite opposite to the heart of God. They love the ‘veneer’ they created to look good in front of their relatives and I became the troublemaker. They always looked down on me because I’m ‘white’ and I’m not as pious and religious as them and I won’t stay quiet. I went through hell with both my husband and them, raising 2 little ones just a year apart, then one with special needs. He lived off of us, chasing his dreams, not providing for us at all, never having a real job..we had so many soul eviscerating fights with all the manipulation tactics under the sun. I thought I was crazy, and I became also weaker and tired. I would never thing he could change me from clear minded healthy girl to this scared unsure shell I am today. It happens so slowly. More than once, we ended up evicted as he would take even the money for rent..I had an infant and he told me we can simply go on the street and he will just keep going into his job (fruitless pseudo-job)…. Finally when in seventh year of marriage he actually hit me twice in my face and hurt my jaw and bloodied my lip, I decided it is time to call police. I was very scared what this would mean, very confused…but I knew it was the right thing to do, as the abuse would escalate further if I don’t. His parents who always claimed they ‘loved me and accepted me’ but all of their actions proved otherwise, save gifts, did not even call me to see if I’m okay, they were not outraged upon finding out what he had been doing… they rushed to police station to quickly rescue him, as that is what they have been doing all his life. They think that is love.
    Then they took him in, the FIL put on pressure for me to produce a letter to the judge to minimize his consequences. I eventually did give a letter but with condition that he find a job and goes through the anger management classes. My anti-husband called me apologizing, promising to change, found a job for the first time…which by the way was making around $300 a month after gas expenditure… I was scared, confused and lonely…well, I took him back, despite his arresting officer urging me not to. He came happy, rested, 10 pounds heavier from mommy’s cooking…
    In laws kept hush hush, nobody acknowledged what happened, purposely avoiding words like abuse, crime..etc…and both parents especially mother blamed me. I thankfully found Dr. George Simon. I asked them with all possible gentleness to please read this and consider this so we all can help my abuser to get better but they accused me of being bad Christian for calling police, ruining their son’s name (!??),and she claimed ‘she is not much of a reader’. I spent hours at a time at night writing to them. They were done with me in 3 lines or ignored me completely. Husband within days of return abused me again claimed he faked it, that he needs not change, I am the abuser, and he will continue doing what he wants..I was stunned..I remember I could not draw breath. He said he would help me more but only for my benefit not because he should..and he doe’s help more, we have a little baby. But he is same selfish, cruel person as always. I keep ‘pleasant’ relationship with the in laws, they are happy I backed down and when I complained after 3 years now the FIL said he would contest me if i didn’t take him back, and told me I’m a name-sake Christian only. These people are devout ‘christians’ by all appearance and superficial behavior. I gave up fighting as I can’t separate, several kids, no money, no special skills. Husband laughs at me ‘that I would not survive without him. Just to note – when we met I emigrated to new country on my own, had full time job for 3 years then, 2 part time jobs, putting myself through school, my own place and excellent credit. He lived with parents, school drop out, no job for several months. Later told me he just wanted to get out of his dad’s house. As soon as we joined in marriage and financially, I supported him, stopped school no money left. I know I made my bed and made some terrible decisions. I came from alcoholic family, raised only by mother who was emotionally abusive. Father not present in his role but alcoholic presence. I thought I was smart, brave…but was actually sitting duck and not valuing myself enough to demand more from a partner. Do you think these people are saved??? I keep the charade as kids love them…but I’m so torn inside, feel like coward, hypocrite myself but have no strength to fight anymore, just living day to day, hanging onto Jesus, and you guys, you are my support and outreached hand keeping me sane. Thank you so much. Sorry about this long email, and for validation about in-laws. Please let me know what you think about them and how should I behave to keep my dignity and self-respect yet do the right thing. I wish them no harm, but need to somehow establish some integrity in the relationships. It’s tough. Thank you so much..

    1. Thank you Sansanka. I relate to so much of what you’ve written. You are not a coward. Only a brave person could keep going. You are not alone. Your abusers are not Christians. Their behavior is anti-Christ. I am so sorry that they have treated you this way. It is wrong. I am praying that you will be filled with wisdom as you seek Christ. He will show you what to do.

      1. Thank you so much, Ellie. Yes, I believe the Lord will guide me through this mess and as Romans says it will all be worked out for good in the end for me and my children. I am the Lord’s own and He will never leave me. Thank you for support and sharing, may the Lord bless you and keep you and your family safe.

        Pastor Jeff, may I ask you a question? This is the most confusing part. My abuser in laws and husband too have no compunction lying, manipulating, aggressing so viciously….but then apparently genuinely pray to God! They really look like they love Jesus….and they are convinced they are genuine Christians! I don’t think they are knowingly faking it…but they do live very hypocritical life and think it is okay!! They live like a natural man, callous, cunning, World smart, the Bible is not their authority at all…but they pray daily, and seek approval and praise for it, they give gifts and money yet throw you under the bus on weighty matters that are close to Jesus’ heart and are supposed to be close to their heart if exposed or challenged. They are NEVER interested in truth or justice if it challenges their family, culture or money. They can be so nice and pleasant! Are they in some kind of denial??? Is it possible they don’t know what they are doing? Is it possible they are saved after all and basically /good/ but deceived people?? I guess I’m just very scared to judge another as non believer even though inside I knew the very day I met them there is something very wrong and all the evidence of a decade not to mention the Word of God is so clear…why can’t I wrap my head around it. I would so appreciate your answer on this, pastor Jeff. Thank you..

      2. I am not Jeff, but I will hazard a guess that your in-laws are not true believers. I was reading 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John recently. Are they loving? Who are they loving? Are they loving Christ or themselves?

        You know the truth better than anyone. You know their true character. You know they aren’t to be trusted. But trying to prove it will cost you time and energy. If the laws in your state permit it, recording your interactions with your abusers might prove to be helpful to you one day.

        As my saga has continued, my X’s character and his allies’ true character has been exposed and I had no part in it. God is faithful. You can trust Him.

      3. I affirm that suggestion about recording the words of your abuser. Here is how I heard one survivor did it. She carried round her neck all the time a small camera that could take movies. She used it to take pics of the kids – the sweet, cute, smart things that kids do, which are nice to record for memory’s sake. So it didn’t seem weird that she was carrying a camera round and using it all the time to take family videos. So when her abuser went on a rant, she could surreptitiously hit ‘record’ and it would be recording the audio of what he was saying. That recording was VERY useful when, later on, she had to go to court for divorce matters.

        We have a link on our Resources page that takes you to what we hope is up to date advice for whether recording someone without their consent is legal in any given state of the USA. If you want to check the legalities in your own area and live outside the USA, you could contact a domestic violence service or a legal advices service or just ask the police what the law is in your area.

        Here is the link for the US site, to save you looking it up on our Resources section.
        Private Investigator Tips: Is it Legal to Record a Phone Call or Conversation? [Internet Archive link]

      4. Also agreeing with the recording idea, if it’s legal where you live. I have some things recorded, and it was helpful, but I wish I had done more. If you fear the audio files being found, as I was, hide them on your computer or give copies to a trusted friend or family member to hold for you.

    2. Dear Sasanka, my heart goes out to you. Thank you so much for your comment and there’s no need to apologize for its length. We understand. Pouring and venting is part of the journey. And especially when the pain is ongoing and seemingly inescapable.

      I shall pray that God will make a way, bit by tiny bit if necessary, to help you get free from this torture chamber of a marriage and in-laws who deprecate you and gang up against you.

      You asked “How should I behave to keep my dignity and self-respect yet do the right thing? I wish them no harm, but need to somehow establish some integrity in the relationships.”

      Ultimately with people like your in-laws and your husband, the best way to keep one’s dignity and self-respect is to leave/ escape/ get them to leave / block them out of your life in whatever way is possible. But as you say, you feel so weak, so depleted, and so without resources and the ability to support yourself financially that you feel trapped. And I’m not meaning to question your assessment of your situation there: you are the expert on your own situation!

      Regarding keeping one’s dignity and self respect in the face of unmitigated abuse, I think it helps to regularly affirm oneself for what one is ALREADY doing and has done. This helps to counteract the constant crushing that the abusers are trying to do to us. So, let me offer you some affirmations:

      You are a person of strong and upright character who works hard and holds herself to high standards of personal responsibility: On your own you emigrated to a new country, you had a full time job for 3 years ,then 2 part time jobs, you put yourself through school, got your own place and had excellent credit.

      You supported your husband when you married, as all folk are encouraged to do as ‘good’ and ‘loving’ spouses, and especially as honorable Christians who “bear one another’s burdens” yada yada.

      When you married your husband you thought — rightly — that you were smart and brave. You WERE. But you were also naive about the predatory and evil tactics of the wicked and the lazy . . And also, you were wounded and limping from your upbringing, without being fully aware of how much it was still affecting you. No fault of your own. And the church and its shallow/non-existent teaching on the tactics of the wicked is partly to blame for not preparing you to be more wise so you were less of a sitting duck. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It is enough (and shows great personal honesty) to recognize that you made some bad choices, but it is not fair to blame just yourself for them. Yes, we all make wrong choices sometimes. Those of us who choose the path of Character Growth face our wrong choices and then learn from them and manage the consequences of them as best we can, with God’s help.

      And you are doing just that! Look how much you are being honest, facing the hard truths that you ARE being abused by your husband and your in-laws! That shows courage, to face those facts! And your are carefully assessing your options and — for the moment — are deciding that you cannot leave for financial reasons. . . but you will no doubt keep on assessing your options, and thinking of ways out of the labyrinth… See how creative and strategic and honest and painstaking and thorough your problem-solving intelligence is? I commend you.

      And in all this, you are constantly mindful not just of your own needs but those of your kids. You are also trying to protect your kids from the horror of the worst of it, by ‘keeping the charade because the kids love them’ You are juggling many balls in the air while your in-laws and your husband are trying to bat the balls out of your grasp so that they fall to the ground and they can all stand around pointing the finger and laughing at you. How strong you are, to persist in that juggling and the mother-bear-fierce care for your kids that it represents!

      And yes, I know it is tough. A bed of nails. And often you may feel far from strong.

      You said you need to maintain some integrity in the relationships with your in-laws. I suggest to you that it is impossible to have “integrity in relationships” with people whose modus operandi is duplicity, false images and wickedness. With such people, one is wise to not expect them to have integrity, and therefore one is wise to put up a wall up against them. That wall can be effected by putting physical OR emotional and psychological distance between you and them. Whichever way you put up the wall, it is important to not accuse yourself or blame yourself for erecting it, for being secretive about your true thoughts and feelings, for playing a charade where necessary, or for any other walking-on-eggshells tactics that seem appropriate for you at the time. Tell yourself you are doing those things because the other people are so wicked that they are not safe to relate with openly and transparently. And then praise yourself for how creatively and intelligently you are walking on those darn eggshells!

      If you haven’t already, you might like to read this post which was published some time ago on our blog: The Wall.

      1. Dear Barbara, I just read, re-read and re-read some more your kind and ever so helpful response. Thank you so much for caring for a total stranger to put together such a thoughtful and detailed validation and priceless advice. I’m also thrilled to connect with you as I have been reading on this blog for a few months now …and what a lovely thing the Internet is…especially in our type of situation of physical isolation or isolation of heart. I’m so glad you are giving me ‘ a moral permission’ to erect that wall. I did in the past, both openly and secretly, but had a hard time maintaining it for number of reasons. You are absolutely right..and next time when I’m tempted to try reason with them just one more time…to take it personally just one more time…to send one more ever so respectful email because this time they will surely get it….
        I will remember your words. I will not expect integrity from a wolf. It’s like the in the worm experiment where worm keeps crawling to the corridor where it gets repeatedly shocked by electrical current, next time makes the same choice. It is time to truly not just intellectually understand but to ACCEPT the reality and let go.
        I will read the Wall post and the other comment now. And I can’t resist to share one more little funny thing..I googled ‘pictures’ of wolves bearing teeth, to get the image and ‘psych’ myself up a little to remember when I interact with them…and I came across a picture that read: WOLVES DON’T LOSE THEIR SLEEP OVER THE OPINIONS OF SHEEP! I thought it was brilliant. And if I could, I would plaster it above my desktop to remember and quit reasoning with the wolf when I’m clearly the lunch!!

        Thank you again, Barbara, I will keep reading, and may the Lord bless you richly and your family and protect you,

  5. I think one of the most deceptive things in the entire world, is the answer to the question, “what is love?” and how people think they love someone, but in truth they do not love them at all. There is so much twisted sickness in this thing called “love”. Only Christ can truly define what love is and anything less, is not love. Although we love imperfectly now, we can certainly differentiate between abuse and love, can’t we? Only those who have the love of Christ in them, can truly love others rightly. This is the reason we have so much confusion on the issue of love. We are mixed in with unbelievers who claim to be believers and do not have the ability to discern between what real (God) love is and what love is not.

    Abusers, whether spouse, friend or Church, (and the truth is that none of those people who hold those titles who abuse are really true spouses, friends or Churches) all see what they are doing as “love”. They are blind and do not wish for anyone to open their can of worms, because then they would have to actually deal with the fact that they are all sick and do not really love anyone. They seem to be content to remain in their own version of life and love. Just hang the “do not disturb” sign on the door and shut it.

  6. Sasanka, your post broke my heart. I know what it’s like to be in a bad place with no resources to enable you to leave and no one close to love and protect you. I want you to know that I have covered you with prayer for your safety, for material provision, for wisdom and discernment, and for joy in your relationship with Jesus. You are not alone and you have not been forgotten.

  7. Okay, dear pastor Jeff, as soon as I finished my question to you…I found your article on February 22,2012 titled More thoughts on Wolves hiding among the Flock!!!! And I got an excellent extensive answer, thank you. I had a hearty laugh too…regarding this bit – ‘He isn’t a wolf — he is a sheep with certain “wolfishness” still tarrying in his flesh and we must help him conquer it. This of course takes great patience and understanding. It requires us forgiving him as Christ has forgiven us. And we tell the victim, while she is still getting torn up by this sheep with fangs, that she needs to be longsuffering and loving toward him too. If she doesn’t, well, she isn’t much of a Christian.’ I almost lost my mind trying. But I got it finally, Pastor Jeff, and do i feel rather sheepish, lol! If it looks like a wolf, talks like a wolf and smells like a wolf, it is a wolf, not wolfy sheep. I will definitely teach this to my children in due time, they will need to understand this for their life.

  8. Thank you, Suzanne..and thank you for your prayer for us. I am so grateful that Jesus showed me this blog..this is amazing feeling that someone ‘seeeees and understands…what a medicine for the soul. Just reminds me to be grateful I’m a sheep too :)..at the end we are victorious because our Lion of Judah will destroy these measly wolves. Thanks so much.

  9. “Since every time your church talks to you it exponentially increases your distress, what is holding you back from walking away from your church?”

    Hmm…lets see, for one, I don’t want to have to shop around for another church. Better the devil you know. At least you have some longstanding friends in your church, but if you move, you have to start all over again. OK, so I don’t feel safe in my church, but I don’t feel safe anywhere anyway. I don’t fancy my chances of feeling safe in any evangelical church, so what’s the point of leaving?

  10. Ellie, what a great article. Sorry for all that you went through when you stood up for yourself. The costs were great, but you gained self-respect, freedom and integrity.

Leave a comment. It's ok to use a made up name (e.g Anon37). For safety tips read 'New Users Info' (top menu). Tick the box if you want to be notified of new comments.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

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