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By Reverend Renee Pittelli
As Christians, some of us feel hopelessly trapped in abusive relationships. We think the Lord wants us to be endlessly patient and tolerant of the sins of others against us. We believe that it is sinful to protect ourselves, and we believe that it is sinful to leave a family relationship. We think that once we are born into a family, through no fault of our own, we are stuck with them, no matter what they do to us. Some of us feel that once we start ANY relationship, family or otherwise, with someone who then turns out to be not the person we thought they were, it would be “un-Christian” for us to leave. For some reason, we are under the misconception that we would not be good Christians if we did not stick it out and continue tolerating just about anything the other person says or does.
Non-Christians, and some fellow Christians as well, fuel this belief, telling us we must always be forgiving even though the Bible never tells us to forgive unrepentant people. Abusers and their enablers pull out all the stops in trying to make us feel guilty for removing ourselves from their destructive sphere of influence. People who have never experienced abuse just don’t understand how a family relationship could be so toxic that we might have no choice but to leave. Even those who have been abused themselves may criticize us for saying, “Enough!”. But that is their problem, usually driven by feeling threatened or envious of our growth and increasing strength and independence. Sometimes the old saying “misery loves company” is true.
Even if we have forgiven our abuser, the Bible does not instruct us to continue on in an abusive relationship. We may want to give it a try if our abuser has truly repented and changed his ways, but many will be surprised to learn that even the most Godly and righteous Christians don’t have to keep going back for more. Apparently this rocks some people’s worlds to the point where they resist accepting it. But no one has the right to expect us to live our lives with abuse, or to judge us for leaving.
BUT CHRISTIANS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE ENDLESSLY PATIENT WITH EVERYONE!
My birth-father’s enabler (my mother) loved repeating the old saying “Patience is a virtue” as if it was an exact Biblical quote, the implication being that we should all be endlessly patient while her husband got away with saying and doing anything he wanted to. While patience is listed as a “gift of the Holy Spirit” in the Bible, and considered a trait of a righteous person, when taken out of context as my mother used to do, it has a completely different meaning from the way it is presented in Scripture.
When “patience” is spoken of in the Bible, it most often refers to not losing our faith in God when we are going through hard times, being patient in waiting for the Lord to rescue us from our trials, and persevering in our faith until we reach our reward in heaven. It does NOT refer to being patient in waiting for evil people to change their ways. This is a total misrepresentation of the Word of God. Biblical “patience” NEVER refers to being patient with wickedness, hurtfulness, abuse, or offensive behavior. The Bible does not tell us to continue in relationships with people who have damaged us, or are still damaging us. In fact, the Scriptures are full of teachings instructing us to leave relationships with wicked or evil people, to be separate from them, to shun, outcast, and purge them from our midst.
The number one mission of our ministry is to lead God’s children to Him. We want to teach you about your Father’s unfailing love for you and encourage you to lean on him for all your needs: FOR YOUR FATHER KNOWS WHAT YOU NEED BEFORE YOU ASK HIM….Matthew 6:8. Even if the unthinkable happened, and your entire birth-family abandoned or betrayed you, you must know that you are never alone: THOUGH MY FATHER AND MOTHER FORSAKE ME, THE LORD WILL RECEIVE ME…Psalm 27:10. Our Abba Father will never leave nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5, Psalm 37:25, Hebrews 13:5). The Lord sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6) and his grace is always sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9). God closes one door and opens another: NAKED CAME I OUT OF MY MOTHER’S WOMB, AND NAKED SHALL I RETURN THITHER. THE LORD GAVE, AND THE LORD HATH TAKEN AWAY; BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD….Job 1: 21. He will replace every relationship that has caused you sorrow and pain with a healthy, loving relationship- often in the most unexpected ways and from the most unexpected places:
AT MY FIRST DEFENSE, NO ONE CAME TO MY SUPPORT, BUT EVERYONE DESERTED ME. MAY IT NOT BE HELD AGAINST THEM. BUT THE LORD STOOD AT MY SIDE AND GAVE ME STRENGTH, SO THAT THROUGH ME THE MESSAGE MIGHT BE FULLY PROCLAIMED AND ALL THE GENTILES MIGHT HEAR IT. AND I WAS DELIVERED FROM THE LION”S MOUTH. THE LORD WILL RESCUE ME FROM EVERY EVIL ATTACK AND WILL BRING ME SAFELY TO HIS HEAVENLY KINGDOM. TO HIM BE GLORY FOREVER AND EVER. AMEN….2 Timothy 3: 16-18NIV. Glory to God! Thank you, Father!
DOES THE BIBLE REALLY TELL US TO LEAVE EVIL PEOPLE?
The next most important purpose of our ministry is to give victims of abuse permission to protect themselves. The Lord does not want us to remain in bondage to evil people, he wants us to be free of them. And he will free us if we let him: THEY HAVE GREATLY OPPRESSED ME FROM MY YOUTH, BUT THEY HAVE NOT GAINED THE VICTORY OVER ME. PLOWMEN HAVE PLOWED MY BACK AND MADE THEIR FURROWS LONG, BUT THE LORD IS RIGHTEOUS; HE HAS CUT ME FREE FROM THE CORDS OF THE WICKED….Psalm 129:2-4. Because of the wrongful teachings of men and indoctrination since childhood, many may find it hard to believe, but we can protect ourselves while still adhering to Biblical teachings. Sometimes the only way to do that is to walk away. The Bible is full of Scriptures instructing us, and in some cases, ORDERING us, to do just that, but they don’t seem to be very well known. So before we continue our discussion on knowing when it’s time to get out, I will give you just some of these Scriptures for your prayerful consideration:
MEN OF PERVERSE HEART SHALL BE FAR FROM ME; I WILL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH EVIL. WHOEVER SLANDERS HIS NEIGHBOR IN SECRET, HIM WILL I PUT TO SILENCE; WHOEVER HAS HAUGHTY EYES AND A PROUD HEART, HIM WILL I NOT ENDURE…..NO ONE WHO PRACTICES DECEIT WILL DWELL IN MY HOUSE; NO ONE WHO SPEAKS FALSELY WILL STAND IN MY PRESENCE. EVERY MORNING I WILL PUT TO SILENCE ALL THE WICKED IN THE LAND; I WILL CUT OFF EVERY EVILDOER FROM THE CITY OF THE LORD….Psalms 101:4-5,7-8
DO NOT BE YOKED TOGETHER WITH UNBELIEVERS. FOR WHAT DO RIGHTEOUSNESS AND WICKEDNESS HAVE IN COMMON? OR WHAT FELLOWSHIP CAN LIGHT HAVE WITH DARKNESS? WHAT HARMONY IS THERE BETWEEN CHRIST AND BELIAL?….”THEREFORE COME OUT FROM THEM AND BE SEPARATE,”SAYS THE LORD. “TOUCH NO UNCLEAN THING, AND I WILL RECEIVE YOU. I WILL BE A FATHER TO YOU AND YOU WILL BE MY SONS AND DAUGHTERS,” SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY….2 Corinthians 6:14-15, 17-18
PEOPLE WILL BE LOVERS OF THEMSELVES, LOVERS OF MONEY, BOASTFUL, PROUD, ABUSIVE, DISOBEDIENT TO THEIR PARENTS, UNGRATEFUL, UNHOLY, WITHOUT LOVE, UNFORGIVING, SLANDEROUS, WITHOUT SELF-CONTROL, BRUTAL, NOT LOVERS OF THE GOOD, TREACHEROUS, RASH, CONCEITED, LOVERS OF PLEASURE RATHER THAN LOVERS OF GOD- HAVING A FORM OF GODLINESS BUT DENYING ITS POWER. HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM…..2 Timothy 3:2-5
WARN A DIVISIVE PERSON ONCE, AND THEN WARN HIM A SECOND TIME. AFTER THAT, HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM. YOU MAY BE SURE THAT SUCH A MAN IS WARPED AND SINFUL; HE IS SELF-CONDEMNED…Titus 3:10-11
DO NOT BE MISLED: “BAD COMPANY CORRUPTS GOOD CHARACTER.”…1 Corinthians 15:33
HE WHO WALKS WITH THE WISE GROWS WISE, BUT A COMPANION OF FOOLS SUFFERS HARM…Proverbs 13:20
DRIVE OUT THE MOCKER, AND OUT GOES STRIFE; QUARRELS AND INSULTS ARE ENDED…Proverbs 22:10
DO NOT MAKE FRIENDS WITH A HOT-TEMPERED MAN, DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH ONE EASILY ANGERED, OR YOU MAY LEARN HIS WAYS AND GET YOURSELF ENSNARED….Proverbs 22:24-25
DO NOT SPEAK TO A FOOL, FOR HE WILL SCORN THE WISDOM OF YOUR WORDS…Proverbs 23:9
BETTER A DRY CRUST WITH PEACE AND QUIET THAN A HOUSE FULL OF FEASTING, WITH STRIFE….Proverbs 17:1
HE WHO BRINGS TROUBLE ON HIS FAMILY WILL INHERIT ONLY WIND…Proverbs 11:29
THE MEMORY OF THE RIGHTEOUS WILL BE A BLESSING, BUT THE NAME OF THE WICKED WILL ROT…Proverbs 10:7
A HOT-TEMPERED MAN MUST PAY THE PENALTY; IF YOU RESCUE HIM, YOU WILL HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN….Proverbs 19:19
ACQUITTING THE GUILTY AND CONDEMNING THE INNOCENT- THE LORD DETESTS THEM BOTH…..Proverbs 17:15
GOD WILL JUDGE THOSE OUTSIDE. “EXPEL THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOU”…1 Corinthians 5:13
THE HANDS OF THE WITNESSES MUST BE FIRST IN PUTTING HIM TO DEATH, AND THEN THE HANDS OF ALL THE PEOPLE. YOU MUST PURGE THE EVIL FROM AMONG YOU…Deuteronomy 17:7
AND YOU ARE PROUD! SHOULDN’T YOU RATHER HAVE BEEN FILLED WITH GRIEF AND HAVE PUT OUT OF YOUR FELLOWSHIP THE MAN WHO DID THIS?….WHEN YOU ARE ASSEMBLED IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS AND I AM WITH YOU IN SPIRIT, AND THE POWER OF OUR LORD JESUS IS PRESENT, HAND THIS MAN OVER TO SATAN, SO THAT THE SINFUL NATURE MAY BE DESTROYED AND HIS SPIRIT SAVED ON THE DAY OF THE LORD….1 Corinthians 5: 2, 4-5
BUT I AM NOW WRITING YOU THAT YOU MUST NOT ASSOCIATE WITH ANYONE WHO CALLS HIMSELF A BROTHER BUT IS SEXUALLY IMMORAL OR GREEDY, AN IDOLATER OR A SLANNDERER, A DRUNKARD OR A SWINDLER. WITH SUCH A MAN DO NOT EVEN EAT….1 Corinthians 5: 11
Again, these are just some of the many Scriptures instructing us to stay away from evildoers, to shun them, and to purge them from our midst. I pray that you will find others as you read the Word of God.
Walking away from a relationship is never easy. It will probably be the most difficult decision any of us will ever have to make. It is a tremendous heartache and extremely painful. Often, we still love our abuser even after many years of mistreatment. We know that we will miss them and that it will hurt to let them go (see the article Getting Over A Lost Relationship in the Claiming the Victory section on our website). It is so difficult to admit that we can love someone but not be able to have them in our lives. Many of us struggle and suffer for years, or even for our entire lives, desperately trying every possible alternative to make leaving unnecessary. Some of us wait until our mental and physical health is failing from the stress, or our own children are being adversely affected by our wicked relative, and it literally becomes a matter of survival. Eventually we will have no choice, it will be either them or us.
Some of us get to the point where we finally find ourselves running screaming for the hills instead of closing the door calmly and moving on with dignity. And then we find ourselves facing disapproval from assorted other relatives and acquaintances who never said a word in our defense all the years we were being abused, but come out of the woodwork when we finally take a stand to protect ourselves- just to criticize us for not continuing to tolerate even more abuse! In my own case, I had been driven to the point with my birth-father that it didn’t matter who else judged me, or who else I lost, as a result of ending my relationship with him. As long as he was finally out of my life, the other “casualties of war” were more than worth it. After 47 years of bondage, freedom never tasted so sweet!
Deciding when a relationship is never going to be healthy for you and understanding when you are never going to be treated with love or respect is the key to getting out before things become so extreme. Counseling is very helpful, and so is the support of good friends and loved ones. We need others to bounce our feelings and thoughts off of. We need people who truly care about us and want what’s best for us to give us their feedback and advice. We need objective third parties to point out to us that which is so often obvious to outsiders, but which we ourselves cannot see because we are too close to the situation, or because we still have feelings for our abuser. We need to have a loving support system in place so we know we will not be alone when we end our destructive relationship .
BUT I WAS ALWAYS TAUGHT THAT YOU CAN CATCH MORE FLIES WITH HONEY….
To which I would have to say, think back and remember who taught you that. Was it one of your abuser’s Silent Partners? Or your abuser himself? Many of us suffer under the completely erroneous idea that if we just treat our abuser with love and keep being nice to him, someday he will start loving us and being nice to us in return. But the truth is that abusers and bullies do not respond to love and kindness like normal people do. Many Scriptures address this fact, especially in Proverbs. Just one of these, Proverbs 17:13, says, “IF A MAN PAYS BACK EVIL FOR GOOD, EVIL WILL NEVER LEAVE HIS HOUSE.” Even an animal will eventually show love for you if you treat it with love, but not an abuser. Abusers use our feelings for them against us, take advantage of our kindness, and see our patience with their offensiveness as a weakness to be exploited. Our love for them makes us vulnerable in their eyes. They are like predators, looking for the weak spot. They know just how to manipulate our love to feed their own hunger for power and control. No matter how much love we are willing to give to an abuser, he will never feel love for us in return. Abusers don’t love anyone but themselves.
It hurts to accept the fact that someone we love does not love us, and will never love us, but only wants to use, exploit, dominate, or control us. Coming to that understanding and grieving the loss of the relationship we always wanted and tried so hard to have, but could never have, because the other person did not want what we wanted and made it impossible, is essential for our mental health and emotional growth. Sometimes, we need to accept reality- that no matter what we are willing to do, it just isn’t going to work out- because the other person isn’t willing. This is the most difficult part of deciding to leave a toxic relationship, but it is also the first step to living a healthy life. If we trust in Our Father, he will heal our hearts (Psalm 34:18, 147:3), and replace our sorrow with his peace and joy (Galatians 5:22), just as he did for Joseph, who was betrayed, abandoned and sold into slavery by his jealous brothers: JOSEPH NAMED HIS FIRSTBORN MANASSEH AND SAID, “IT IS BECAUSE GOD HAS MADE ME FORGET ALL MY TROUBLE AND ALL MY FATHER’S HOUSEHOLD…Genesis 41:51.
How do we know when a relationship is hopeless? How do we know when things will never change? How can we tell when the time has come to Get Out of Dodge? In deciding if it’s time to give up and move on, each of us needs to prayerfully ask ourselves some difficult questions, be brutally honest with ourselves, and think carefully about the truth, which will be revealed in the answers. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of all Truth (John 16:13) . He will reveal the truth to us and give us the gifts of knowledge, discernment, understanding and wisdom (1 Corinthians 12: 8-10), if we ask him. He will comfort us as we come to terms with the truth, and counsel us about what to do next, because he is our Comforter and Counselor (John 14:26, 16:7-8) .
ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS TO FIND THE ANSWERS WE SEEK
In order to decide whether to stay or walk away, it is important to analyze exactly what the chances are that our relationship will ever be the loving relationship we deserve. To help us find a clue to our future with our abusive or controlling relative, we need to objectively analyze the past and the present with this person. Experience is a great teacher. If we refuse to learn from past experience, then we need to seek counseling and find out why we are so resistant to the truth. Here are some questions we need to consider when analyzing our relationship:
Concerning the relationship itself:
Am I benefiting from this relationship, or is it a one-way street? It is mutually beneficial, or am I doing all the giving? What exactly is the other person bringing to the party?
Am I enjoying this relationship?
Is it mutually respectful?
Do I look forward to being with this person, or do I dread it?
How does this relationship impact my quality-of-life? Is it enhancing my life or detracting from it? What am I getting out of this?
Is this relationship good for me? Do I feel good about it? Do I receive love, care and nurturing when I need it?
Does it make me feel good about myself, or does it make me feel as if I have no self-respect because I put up with such poor treatment?
Is this relationship affecting my health?
Is it affecting my ability to concentrate, or my job?
Is it affecting my relationship with the Lord? Is it causing me to sin in reaction to the other person?
Have I ever lost sleep over this relationship?
Is it affecting my enjoyment of my own life, my children or my time with them?
Are holidays, birthdays, and other family events often ruined for me?
Is having this person in my life causing problems in my marriage?
Is having this person in my life causing my children to be upset, confused or affected in any way?
Am I setting a good or bad example for my children by having contact with this person? Is having this person in my life sending a message to my children that we accept and tolerate offensive behavior, betrayal, abuse, disloyalty, dishonesty, etc? Is this person a good influence on my children, or a bad influence?
Is this a generally positive or mostly negative relationship?
Am I the only one interested in working on and improving our relationship?
Is my relative just as interested in keeping our relationship together as I am? Is she willing to do whatever it takes to have a positive relationship with me? Is she just not interested in putting anything into our relationship? Or does she go to the opposite extreme, becoming angry, or threatening to disown me or stop speaking to me if I complain?
If I were to be totally honest with myself, do I really believe that this person is ever going to change? Do I really feel that this relationship will ever be any different, or is that just wishful thinking on my part?
Assuming nothing ever changes, do I see myself going on like this for the rest of my life?
Concerning your relative:
Do I feel happy in this person’s presence?
Can I relax, enjoy myself, and be myself around this person, or do I always have to be on guard?
Is she critical, belligerent, manipulative, or malicious, or is she pleasant to be around?
Do I trust this person?
Is this person honorable?
Is this person Godly and righteous?
Is this person kind or cruel?
Is this person an addict? Does she have an alcohol, drug, or gambling problem? Is she willing to get help, or not?
Is this person a control-freak or power-crazy? Does she play well with others? Does she have problems in her other relationships?
Am I afraid of this person? Am I afraid to anger this person? Am I afraid to speak my mind or share my thoughts around this person?
Do I find myself clamming up around this person because it seems that no matter what I say, it starts an argument?
Does this person try to degrade, humiliate, or sabotage me?
Does she undermine my self-esteem or self-confidence?
Does this person ever criticize my weight, appearance, personality, or intelligence? Does she ever call me names?
Does this person expect me to obey her even though I am an adult?
Does she raise her voice to me, or does she address me respectfully?
Does this person demand time or attention on a regular basis, or does she understand that I have another life?
Does this person show any gratitude or appreciation for what I do, or does she believe I owe it to her?
Does this person disrespect me, degrade me, pick fights with me, or criticize me in public or in front of my children or other relatives?
If this person has a problem with me, does she bring it up with respect and goodwill, and in private, or does she bring it up in front of an audience so she can embarrass me?
Do I feel that this person truly loves me, or is only using me? Is this person willing to do for me everything that I am willing to do for her?
Does this person think she is entitled to special treatment? Does she think that her needs, wants, thoughts, or feelings are more important than anyone else’s?
Does she always manage to be the center of attention? Is she a drama-queen? Is every conversation about her? Does she LISTEN as much as she talks?
When I am in this person’s presence, when I am anticipating being with this person, or after I have been with this person, do I feel joyful, relaxed, and at peace, or do I feel upset, anxious, nervous, stressed, irritable, depressed, aggravated, or confused?
Do I avoid or dread answering the phone when I think it might be this person calling?
Does this person cause me to be angry or to lose my temper?
Do I have to watch everything I say around this person?
Before, after, or during the time I spend with this person, do I have any physical symptoms, such as headaches, back or neck pain, upset stomach, trouble sleeping? Do I feel my blood pressure going up and my stomach in a knot every time I have to be in her presence?
Has this person ever admitted she was wrong?
Is this a reasonable or unreasonable person?
Is this a rational person who can have a normal discussion, or are her responses nonsensical and irrational?
Does this person take responsibility for her behavior, or does she deny, lie, cover-up, or blame other people?
Has this person ever apologized for anything? Was the apology sincere or meaningless? (see our article on Meaningful Vs. Meaningless Apologies)
Is this person a troublemaker? Does she cause problems and instigate fights between other people?
Is this person a bully? Is she hostile, belligerent, nasty, and always looking for a fight?
Does this person normally show any concern for the feelings of others, or is she often rude, insulting, offensive, and obnoxious?
Is this person selfish and self-centered? Is it always all about her? Or is she usually generous and concerned about others? Does she have empathy for other people?
Is she a giver or a taker? Does she use or exploit others? Does she serve others? If she serves, does she serve joyfully or grudgingly?
Is this person humble, or is she prideful, arrogant, or boastful?
Is this person jealous or envious?
Does this person put on a phony front? Is she insincere? Does she worry about what outsiders will think while not caring what her family thinks?
Is she a gossip? Did she ever badmouth me or lie about me?
Has she ever tried to turn other people against me?
Has she ever betrayed me?
Has she ever stolen from me?
Can I believe this person, or is she a pathological liar?
Is this person rigid and inflexible, or is she open to change and new ideas?
Is this person’s unacceptable behavior just an occasional fluke, or a firmly entrenched pattern?
Looking back, has this person ever acted in my best interests? Or does she only act in her own best interests, with no regard for what is best for me?
Does this person have a truly loving heart, or is she really unloving? Do I realize that while she may SAY she loves me, she doesn’t ACT like she loves me?
Concerning my efforts to resolve our differences:
Have I rebuked this person, and what was her reaction?
Did she take responsibility? Was she genuinely accountable?
Did she apologize and make an effort to change her ways, or did she become defensive, deny, lie, cover-up, or blame me or someone else for her behavior?
If I have not rebuked her, why not? Am I too afraid of her reaction to speak my mind?
Have I set any limits with this person yet? Again, if I haven’t, why not?
Do I avoid confronting this person and speaking the truth in love because deep down I don’t really believe anything will change, she will only become angry and insulted, and I will be involved in a big argument for nothing? If so, am I willing to spend the rest of my life silently enduring this person’s abuse?
Is this person willing to hear me out and listen to what I have to say?
Is this person willing to admit her part in our problems, or is she stubborn as a mule?
Is she willing to acknowledge that at least half of our difficulties are her fault, or does she refuse to accept any responsibility at all and just blame me for everything?
When I try to discuss our problems, does she change the subject, overreact, confuse the issue, pout, cry, pretend that I offended her, or do anything else to get me off the track or to force me to give up without actually resolving anything?
Has she respected my limits or completely ignored them?
Does she refuse to take me seriously? Does she tell me I’m too sensitive or I take everything the wrong way? Does she disregard my feelings or anything I say?
Is this person willing to make any changes in her behavior? Has she actually done so, or is she just stringing me along and telling me what she thinks I want to hear?
Has she reacted with anger to having limits set on her behavior?
Has she stopped, continued, or even escalated her unacceptable behavior after being rebuked? Is she doing it more than ever?
If I try to pull back a bit and limit my time with this person rather than just ending the entire relationship, does this person respect my limits and try to modify her hurtful behavior, or does she escalate and become more demanding than ever- as if she was purposefully trying to drive me away?
Have I found that trying to enforce boundaries with this person, no matter how respectful and calm I try to be, only results in her behavior becoming more outrageous than ever?
Rather than try and cooperate to resolve our problems, does this person make a mountain out of a molehill, turning a polite request for a change in behavior into a huge argument, threatening to disown me, etc.?
Does this person operate under the idea that the best defense is a good offense?
Does this person take offense at my efforts to limit her hurtful behavior? Does she become insulted, angry, or try and turn it around and make me feel guilty for even trying to talk it over with her?
Does this person seem remorseful and interested in making amends? (see ‘The 3Rs Of Accountability: Repentance, Restitution, & Personal Responsibility‘) Has she at least made a sincere effort to change her offensive behavior? Or is her attitude more like “ Hey, this is how I am- take it or leave it”? (In which case you may have to leave it)
Has this person made any attempts to undo the damage she might have done to me? Has she tried to make it right?
Am I willing to accept that if I stay in this relationship, I will never be treated with dignity and respect and nothing will ever change?
Is there anything else I can do, or that I am willing to do, to have a relationship with this person (one that includes treating me with dignity and respect), or have I pretty much run out of ideas?
Now that I have confronted this person and heard her reaction, do I still feel it is possible to salvage this relationship, or am I just wasting my time? (DO NOT SPEAK TO A FOOL, FOR HE WILL SCORN THE WISDOM OF YOUR WORDS…Proverbs 23:9)
The answers to these questions will point out patterns of behavior and allow us to see just how firmly entrenched, and therefore unlikely to change, they may be. Some of these questions concern the magnitude and seriousness of the abusive behavior. Others indicate a total disregard for you or for trying to have a loving and peaceful relationship. Still others allow us to assess the person’s maturity and willingness to be accountable for their actions, accept responsibility and make some changes.
Sometimes we stay because we think there is a chance things will change. We need to ask ourselves what exactly are the chances this person will change? It may be possible, but is it likely? It might happen, and it might not. For that matter, our relative may come to her senses AFTER we’ve left and change her ways- nothing is stopping her from doing that, either.
Probably the only way of judging whether there actually is a realistic possibility of our relative changing her ways is to think back on our past experience with this person. We need to ask ourselves four important basic questions:
Does this person EVER admit it when she is wrong?
Does this person EVER apologize (SINCERELY apologize)?
Have I EVER seen this person change her behavior after being told it was hurtful or upsetting to others?
Has this person EVER showed true remorse or tried to make amends for anything she’s done?
If our relative has never done any of these things, she is not likely to start now. And if she very rarely or grudgingly does one of these things, she is also unlikely to make a sincere effort to modify her behavior.
IF YOU WANT TO LIVE IN PEACE, YOU WILL HAVE TO BE THE ONE TO MAKE THE CHANGES
Although hope springs eternal, experience tells us that certain people are not going to change-not ever! That is reality, and we need to deal with it. The Bible very clearly tells us that evil people do not change: CAN THE ETHIOPIAN CHANGE HIS SKIN OR THE LEOPARD ITS SPOTS? NEITHER CAN YOU DO GOOD WHO ARE ACCUSTOMED TO DOING EVIL….Jeremiah 13:23.
These are Jesus’ instructions to us for rebuking a brother: IF YOUR BROTHER SINS AGAINST YOU, GO AND SHOW HIM HIS FAULT, JUST BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU. IF HE LISTENS TO YOU, YOU HAVE WON YOUR BROTHER OVER. BUT IF HE WILL NOT LISTEN, TAKE ONE OR TWO OTHERS ALONG, SO THAT EVERY MATTER MAY BE ESTABLISHED BY THE TESTIMONY OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES. IF HE REFUSES TO LISTEN TO THEM, TELL IT TO THE CHURCH; AND IF HE REFUSES TO LISTEN EVEN TO THE CHURCH, TREAT HIM AS YOU WOULD A PAGAN OR A TAX COLLECTOR…Matthew 18:15-17. In other words, shun him and have nothing to do with him.
Jesus also tells us: AND IF ANY PLACE WILL NOT WELCOME YOU OR LISTEN TO YOU, SHAKE THE DUST OFF YOUR FEET WHEN YOU LEAVE, AS A TESTIMONY AGAINST THEM…Mark 6:11
One of my favorite Scriptures is Matthew 7:6, which is also Jesus himself speaking to us:
GIVE NOT THAT WHICH IS HOLY UNTO THE DOGS. NEITHER CAST YE YOUR PEARLS BEFORE SWINE, LEST THEY TRAMPLE THEM UNDER THEIR FEET, AND TURN AGAIN AND REND YOU….Matthew 7:6KJV. Abusers take our love for them and use it against us. The Lord instructs us not to give our best to those who don’t appreciate it and will only turn on us instead of loving us in return.
Sometimes when a victim leaves a relationship, it serves as a wake-up call for the abuser, who might then sincerely apologize and change her behavior, enabling the relationship to be restored. One such story is told in the two books by Beverly Engel, “Divorcing A Parent” and “The Power Of Apology” . The author wrote these books about her relationship with her own mother. She writes about her own decision to divorce her mother, her mother’s genuine remorse, their successful reconciliation and progression into a new relationship of mutual respect. So sometimes the painful decision to get out leads to a positive conclusion in which everybody can be happy.
Unfortunately this is not always the case. Many people, myself included, choose to limit their time with their abusive relative rather than cut off all contact. Some people decide to take a “vacation” of several months from their relatives to see if they can reconcile the relationship down the road from a fresh perspective. This also helps the victim to wean herself away from the abuser gradually, and to learn that she can indeed, live just fine without him. It can increase her self-esteem, independence, and growth. But abusers do not usually go silently off into the night. Most abusers, when they realize that their victim is pulling away to protect herself, become even more demanding and outrageous in their behavior. They will escalate the disagreement into a full-blown battle, and their abusive behavior will continue and get worse. It is almost as if they are challenging or daring you to get out. This is what my parents did with me.
Because I still loved my parents when this happened, I still did not break off all contact with them, but I did curtail my time with them even further, because they made it necessary. At that point, my mother saved me the trouble of breaking off our relationship and stopped speaking to me instead. This is often a control-freak’s last ditch attempt to stay in control of the relationship- they want to be the one to end the relationship just to prove that they are still calling the shots. They would rather dump you than have you dump them- it’s a matter of pride! As they see it, this is the only choice, because actually changing their behavior in order to keep you in their life is never an option in their minds.
One word of warning- don’t be surprised if your relative then lies to others about what happened and tells the rest of the family that you stopped speaking to her! This is also what my mother did. You will need to be prepared for the disapproval others think they have the right to show you. For articles on this, please see our website section The Silent Partner & The Silent Majority.
In my case, when my mother disowned me, I made the decision to leave well enough alone and simply do nothing further. BUT IF THE UNBELIEVER LEAVES, LET HIM DO SO. A BELIEVING MAN OR WOMAN IS NOT BOUND IN SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES; GOD HAS CALLED US TO LIVE IN PEACE….1 Corinthians 7:15. I felt very strongly that the Lord had removed me from a very toxic situation that he no longer wanted me to be a part of. So I did not call her or make any attempts to get back together. I figured that she had been the one to end our relationship- if she had a change of heart, then she needed to be the one to restore it. I was heartbroken at first, but eventually I became at peace with it. And after a while, I felt relief, joy, and profound gratitude. I understood that my Father was protecting me, and that he loved me so much that he had taken this burden from me. This testimony helped me write the three-part article “Who’s Your Daddy?” in the Our Real Father section on our site.
In Romans 12:18, we are told, “IF IT IS POSSIBLE, AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU, LIVE AT PEACE WITH EVERYONE.” Unfortunately, there are some people with whom it is NOT POSSIBLE to live in peace. God recognizes that there are times when it is NOT possible, and Romans 12:18 is his teaching to us when we find ourselves in that situation. There are some cases in which we do everything that is in our control to live in peace, but it DOES NOT DEPEND SOLELY ON US. It takes two to tango. A peaceful, loving, healthy relationship is NOT POSSIBLE if only ONE person is interested in making it happen and willing to do what it takes. Romans 12:18 frees us from the bondage of thinking that we must stay in a relationship, no matter what the other person does to us. Once we have done what we could to live in peace, we are free to walk away. We are only responsible for doing our part, but if the other person is not doing their part, it is time for us to move on and live the life of peace, joy, and freedom in Christ that God intended for us as his children.
SEE TO IT THAT NO ONE TAKES YOU CAPTIVE THROUGH HOLLOW AND DECEPTIVE PHILOSOPHY, WHICH DEPENDS ON HUMAN TRADITION AND THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF THIS WORLD RATHER THAN ON CHRIST. FOR IN CHRIST ALL THE FULLNESS OF THE DEITY LIVES IN BODILY FORM, AND YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN FULLNESS IN CHRIST, WHO IS THE HEAD OVER EVERY POWER AND AUTHORITY….Colossians 2:8-10NIV
THE SPIRIT OF THE SOVEREIGN LORD IS ON ME, BECAUSE THE LORD HAS ANOINTED ME TO PREACH GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO BIND UP THE BROKENHEARTED, TO PROCLAIM FREEDOM FOR THE CAPTIVES AND RELEASE FROM DARKNESS FOR THE PRISONERS….Isaiah 61: 1
****For a discussion on a topic that touches many of us, don’t miss our related article Should I Let My Estranged Relatives Have Contact With My Children?
****Need a brush-up on limit setting? Check out the articles in the section Setting & Enforcing Limits & Boundaries.
***Be prepared for the abuser’s reaction when you start distancing yourself- Read Desperate Measures- When They Sense They’re Losing Their Grip On You- 5 Surprise Ways Of Keeping You Attached.
****Still feeling guilty about claiming your freedom? See Reaping What They Sow- The Natural Consequences Of Bad Behavior , My Holiday Deliverance, Getting Over A Lost Relationship, and My Name Is Renee…But It Used To Be Linda!
****Now that you have walked away, do you think it’s really over? Be warned, it might not be over just yet. See Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Put Up The Christmas Tree- The Strange Phenomena Of The Surprise Pre-Holiday Contact, Selective Amnesia- I Have No Idea What I Did Wrong!, and Some Things Never Change- How My Birth Father Called Me After 10 Years Of No Contact And Then Took Less Than 5 Minutes To Have His Usual Meltdown And The Story Of The Christmas Presents From The Devil.