After going on three weeks of my husband being out of the house, and trying to toe the line with pastors and church leaders during this situation, I finally had to write this letter to all of them. It has become clear to me that there are two contradictory voices speaking into my situation – the one coming from the group of friends and pastors who have dealt with narcissism before, and the one coming from the group of friends and pastors and biblical counselors who have experience with marital counseling but not with narcissism. I realized I cannot keep subjecting myself to well-meaning advice that misses the mark by such a wide margin.
And as if my heart wasn’t broken enough, this breaks it even more. I’m praying that blowing the whistle on this in my situation will eventually help other people down the road, but it is probably the second scariest thing I’ve done in my life.
Which maybe speaks to growth, because that means I’ve done both of the scariest things I’ve ever done in the past couple of months.
At any rate, here’s the letter:
Dear pastors, counselors and friends:
I first want to express my appreciation for all of you for walking alongside me over these past few months. Through all of the time and effort you have poured into my family, I clearly see the love of God, and feel surrounded by the Body of Christ. I can never express my gratitude deeply enough or repay all of you for what you have done and continue to do!
I am feeling a point of frustration, however, and since I never seem to be able to communicate it clearly enough when I try face-to-face, I’m resorting back to writing. The point is that while I feel that you are all hearing what I am saying and applying the best of your knowledge and experience to the issue, you are missing the point slightly in that you are treating this situation as a marital misunderstanding or rough patch. That is not what the case is here.
I keep being asked if my heart is hardened. No. No it is not. It never has been. I am also being told that I have a problem trusting God. No, I do not. I even asked Him to point out to me where I have a problem with trust, since I was told by more than one person that this is a problem. After a week of going to Him in prayer about this, He has yet to show me anything. I can only conclude that the “lack of trust” issue is an assumption that is being made, along the lines of: “She is kicking her husband out of the house therefore she does not trust God to help her live through him staying there.”
You need to understand that I am one of the “good girls” that grew up in the church doing everything I was told was the right thing to do. I married a man who appeared to be a strong Christian, as he was a worship leader and faithful member of the church. I did everything I was told to do to make my marriage successful and godly. For years I submitted to my husband even when I was unsure that his ideas were right. If he told me I was doing something wrong, I repented of it and worked hard on myself to surrender that area to the Lord. When things in the marriage started going sideways, which was fairly early on, I simply doubled-down and kept submitting to him and praying for him and encouraging him and cajoling him and coming up with any number of creative ways to convince him to get help with the issues he wasn’t dealing with.
I’m not telling you all this in a bid to make myself seem untouchable. I am telling you this because, in the words of a friend who went through her own version of this ten years ago, what you are not understanding is that when “good girls” finally speak up it is because we have ALREADY BEEN trying desperately to save our marriages for YEARS. I have been trusting God, day to day, sometimes 15 minutes at a time, to help me live through my husband living with us. I have done everything humanly possible to rectify the situation, but the situation does not depend on just my actions, and he has proven time after time after time that he is not interested in wrestling with it himself.
When the kids started speaking up and I realized it was not just me that was suffering, I took action, but even then, I did not take action until I had spent extensive time fasting and praying. I got counsel. I got prayer. I poured my heart out to the Lord – well, I’ve BEEN pouring my heart out to the Lord daily for years. It’s how I have kept going as long as I have. I begged Him to rescue me and my children. And the answer I felt He gave me, over and over again, because I couldn’t believe it at first, was “you already have the power to do what needs to be done.”
I was expecting God to miraculously change my husband’s heart, or miraculously convince him to leave, and even, in my most desperate hours, to take him home. Think about that for a second. Sometimes the phone would ring and I actually hoped it was a hospital telling me my husband had died. That is how desperate I have been feeling.
But instead of the Lord swooping in and “rescuing” us, what I heard from Him over and over again was that I needed to stand up for myself and my children and take the action I didn’t want to take. He had to keep repeating it because I couldn’t accept it – it tweaked my theology and went against every scripture I’d ever heard quoted at me about divorce.
So when I finally realized I that I had to take that step and at least separate from my husband, I did it with fear and trembling. I did it because I had been backed into a corner and had no other way to go. And I have been trying to work it out under the auspices of the Church because I am not doing this in rebellion to the Lord. I am doing it in obedience to Him.
I keep being asked, or sometimes it is merely assumed, whether I want to reconcile with my husband and how soon I might want to pursue that. Let me ask you all this: if this was a case of physical abuse, would you be asking me the same questions? Would you be giving me a time frame of a few weeks and then expecting me to go to marital counseling with the man who had been beating me and my children up for years? Would you ask us to spend holidays with that person? Would you expect ME to convince my adult children, who are all as wounded and shell-shocked as I am, to CONFRONT their perpetrator as if it were merely an unpleasant task they were procrastinating? Would you keep asking us what our part was in the abuse, as if we had asked for it?
The fact that I am being asked these questions brings me to the inescapable conclusion that you truly do not understand the situation. This is not a marital hiccup. This is a case of 27 years of emotional abuse. This is a case of shades of abused-spouse syndrome and even Stockholm syndrome. This is a case of me faithfully applying the precepts I was taught by the church, expecting reconciliation to happen magically because I was throwing Jesus at it, and realizing how absolutely foolish I had been to let it continue as long as it did.
So while I understand that you don’t know what’s in my mind and my heart, and that you have to do due diligence and ask these questions, I’m telling you now that they are not helping. All this is doing is pushing me to the point of filing for divorce so that I can end this torture once and for all. If I have to leave the Church to protect my family from well-meaning but painful attempts to solve a problem we don’t have, then I will do that.
This, of course, is my worst fear coming true. There has been nothing in my heart or mind over the past few years of trying to navigate a place of safety for myself and my kids that wanted to do it in opposition to the Lord. I have never wanted to leave the church, and I still don’t. For that matter, I never wanted to leave my marriage. I never wanted my kids to be emotionally wounded. I don’t believe the Lord wanted any of this either. I do believe that He alone really understands the situation, so I have to go with His leading over the man-made list of steps one takes during normal marital difficulties.
It’s not that I don’t think there is wisdom in the usual course of action. I know it is Biblically based and has proven over the years to work well. I simply don’t think it applies in cases like mine – a narcissist is not simply a regular guy who is being selfish and needs to repent. It adds a whole different element to the equation. If the usual course of action was going to work, it would have worked years ago, in the countless sessions we have had with pastors, counselors and the marriage seminars we attended and books we read. The pastors and friends I confide with who have first-hand experience with narcissists back me up on this. You cannot handle a case with a narcissist without specific training in narcissism. It’s not the same playbook and it’s not the same playing field.
I don’t know where this leaves all of us. I do not want to reject the relationships I have with any of you. But I can’t keep having these conversations about what I need to do to fix my marriage. I cannot do anything to fix my marriage. If I could, it would be fixed already. The ball is in my husband’s court now, and it will take time – a lot of time – before I will ever be convinced that he has changed or that I can trust him again. I have poured myself into helping him with his stuff for 27 years. I am done with that now.
I simply want to help my children, and myself, heal, and move forward with our lives without my husband and his problems hanging over our heads and tripping us up and making us question everything we do.
If you want to walk alongside us as we navigate that path, of course I welcome you. If you feel you can’t do that because it doesn’t align with your theology, I totally understand that, but please simply let me know that’s what you have decided so that I know where we stand.
I love each and every one of you. And again, I cannot express deeply enough how much I appreciate you. You have all gone above and beyond for me and my family, and I will never forget that!