Maybe you feel forced to stay in an unhealthy relationship, unhappy marriage, boring job or broken home. Maybe you can’t leave because you don’t have money, support, strength or willpower. Maybe you feel too guilty to leave, or you’re responsible to take care of your family.
What do you do when you feel forced to stay in a relationship? It depends on many different thing, but the bottom line is the same for everyone. You’ll see what I mean in the article below — but first, I want to share what a 22 year old woman said about being forced to stay in a family relationship for years.
“I know it’s difficult when you depend on your family to survive,” says Patty on 9 Ways to Survive Abusive Parents When You Can’t Leave Home. “My traumatic childhood made me male phobic. I can’t bear to touched by a guy, no matter what! I am trying to get over it. People tell me to talk about it but sharing hasn’t helped. When I was young I didn’t know what to do because I felt forced to stay with my family. I learned that you have to help yourself. Nobody is coming to rescue you. You have to get healthy and free. Stop seeking the approval of others. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you are forced to stay in a relationship that isn’t good for you. I learned this too late, but it’s okay. Late is better than never.”
Patty is still working through the grief of growing up in a dysfunctional home. She didn’t just feel forced to stay in a relationship; she actually had no choice. She couldn’t leave because she was still in school, had nowhere to go, no money to support herself, no other family or friends to help her.
Look back, Patty now knows what she’d do differently. She wouldn’t allow herself to feel or be forced to stay in a relationship.
Maybe you’re in the same type of situation: you’re forced to stay in a broken or unhealthy home. Maybe you’re the youngest daughter, or the oldest sister. Maybe you’re an unhappy wife trying to figure out if you should stay together for the children’s sake. Maybe your boyfriend doesn’t have time for you, or is abusing you.
Whatever your situation, these tips will change how you see yourself. If you take time to apply these suggestions to your life and relationships, you’ll see that you may not be as trapped as you feel.
Take heart, and don’t give up hope. You are lighter and more free than you realize.
What to Do When You Feel Forced to Stay
This article is part of my She Blossoms Through the Bible project, and it’s inspired by Genesis 30. Talk about being forced to stay in a bad relationship with a bad man! Jacob is the dubious hero of this chapter; Laban tried to force him to stay with the family…but Jacob found a way to break free.
All Jacob wanted was to love and be loved. He was so focused on getting the love he wanted, he found himself trapped in a toxic relationship with his father-in-law.
1. Ask for what you want and need
Jacob asked Laban to let him go. “Send me on my way so that I can return to my homeland. Give me my wives and my children that I have worked for, and let me go. You know how hard I have worked for you.” – Genesis 30:25-26 (CSB). Alas, it wasn’t that easy! Laban didn’t let him go without a fight. Jacob didn’t just feel forced to stay in that relationship out of loyalty or responsibility. Jacob was forced to stay because Laban refused to let him go. Laban knew Jacob was the reason for all the wealth and blessing they were enjoying as a family.
Who have you asked for help, support, and guidance? It takes a lot of courage to ask for what you need — especially when you feel forced to stay in an unhealthy relationship. It takes humility to admit you feel trapped with someone who isn’t treating you right. You may have been lying about the relationship for years, covering up the abuse. Maybe you made excuses for addictive or abusive behavior, deflected inquiries or investigations from police or social services. Or, maybe you’re “just” in an unhappy relationship with a guy who is distant or unloving. Now is the time to ask for what you want and need. Pray for guidance and wisdom; ask God to bring the right people into your life. Ask Him to open your eyes and show you who you can trust.
2. Work to gain your freedom
Jacob wanted to go home. He asked Laban to release him…and Laban refused. So Jacob had to find ways to work for his freedom. He explored different ways to breed his sheep. He used weird arrays of poplar, almond, and plane wood branches to separate them. I don’t know exactly what Jacob did to breed his sheep and increase his wealth, but it worked! After six years, Jacob wasn’t just financially independent, he was a very rich man. And he was a free man, no longer forced to stay in a relationship with a man he didn’t love, respect, or even like.
Start taking action. Asking for help is a great start…but you have to take action. You may feel forced to stay in a relationship, but nobody is forcing your brain to stop firing. Nobody is forcing your spirit to shut down, your soul to shrivel and die. You may feel suffocated — indeed, you may be oppressed — but you have control over your brain. Your thoughts. Your mood, attitude, and decisions. A huge step is to learn how other people broke free from toxic relationships. Find women who felt forced to stay in a relationship. How did they cope, leave, heal and move on? What resources, ideas, strategies, tips or plans can you apply to your own life?
3. Stay focused
Genesis 30 tells us that Jacob dealt with jealousy and competition among his wives, twelve children, multiple servants, flocks and camels. He had a lot to deal with, and he knew he had to make his way home to the Promised Land. He was living with strangers in a strange land — they were his mother Rebekah’s family. But Jacob knew he had to fulfill God’s covenant, to return home and continue the lineage his father Isaac and his great grandfather Abraham started. So Jacob worked for six years, building his flocks and increasing his wealth. He may have felt forced to stay in a relationship with his father-in-law…but he stayed focused and worked toward his freedom.
What do you need to focus on? Maybe you’re like Patty was when she was young; you’re forced to stay with your family because you can’t support yourself yet. Maybe you’re like my friend Michelle and you feel forced to stay in a relationship because your ill husband needs you. Maybe you’re not actually forced to stay where you are at all! Maybe you’re just telling yourself you’re trapped, stuck, helpless and hopeless because you’re scared of the unknown.
Patty was right: nobody is coming to rescue you. But if you humble yourself and ask God for the help and hope you need, you won’t need a man to give you freedom. You’ll find all the power, strength, courage and resources you need in Jesus. Focus on strengthening yourself spiritually and emotionally, and you will know what to do about this relationship you feel forced into.
Your thoughts are welcome below. Write about how you feel forced to stay in this relationship. Who is involved, how did you find yourself here, where do you want to go? Telling your story — here or privately in your journal — will help you see things differently.
With His love,
P.S. Are you struggling to make a decision or find the right path in your life? Read an Easy Way to Stop Overthinking God’s Will for Your Life.