TURNING POINT 1:
Fear: I Escaped and Never Came Back
In this interview, a Christian woman tells her story of being married to a serial adulterer. Today, after a 30-year marriage, now divorced, she finally has a peaceful life filled with integrity and joy. She tells her story and gives her tips on flourishing after divorce.
I met my husband at a concert when we were 12-years old. It was our 8th grade Christmas concert. I thought he was the greatest thing. I thought he was sweet and cute. We started dating at 15, and our relationship had a lot of ups and downs, but we married when I was 20. My idea of the perfect life was to be married for life: to be a wife, mom, nurse, and have lots of kids.
Looking back, it’s plain as day, but at the time, I didn’t know it was abuse. I didn’t know I was experiencing emotional abuse.
He always looked for women’s affirmation. He was abused as a little boy. I felt sorry for him, and I used that to excuse his behavior.
He started cheating with other women right out of the gate. I told myself, “Oh, no! He would never do that to me.” It’s interesting how we project our values on others. We had our first child, and my doctor discovered I had a sexually transmitted disease. I still didn’t believe he cheated on me.
After our second child’s birth, I had another STD. I still didn’t believe he cheated on me, but the doctor said we both needed to be treated. My husband accused me and said, “Really? Are you cheating on me?” I don’t know, I just thought well maybe he had something from before because I knew he had been with other people and maybe-- I just excused everything away. I just did. Every red flag there was, I just made up an excuse for it. It's mind boggling now.
He got into heavy drinking at that time. He worked hard and was unavailable. There were two of him: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He was charming and funny, very charismatic. But he had a dark side. Temper tantrums. Flying off the handle.
I told myself, “Oh he’s a wounded person,” and I gave him a pass.
I was not brought up in a Christian home. But after our 3rd child was born with severe birth defects, in full cardiac arrest, requiring a tracheotomy, and hooked up to machines, I turned to the Lord. It was immediate and miraculous. My husband went the opposite way: He said our daughter’s condition was a punishment for all he’d done in his life. But I didn’t understand what he was talking about.
For me, I gave my life to Christ there in the hospital and was saved. It was a very powerful experience. I have shivers just talking about it today.
At first, my husband would mock me and called me Mother Theresa. But eventually my husband got saved too. We went to church together. We raised our kids in the church. We volunteered a lot. But I didn’t see him hunger after the Lord. It was something in my gut. I felt like he was just kind of going along because it's what I did.
Becoming Church Leaders
We ended up getting involved in our church community. We were both lay ministry leaders. We were baptized in the Holy Spirit. And during that time, I woke up. I started understanding that something was off.
We were doing marriage mentoring for years at church. We were elders in this church, we were like pillars—everyone looked up to us. I mean, we were like the family. We were the couple. Everybody just thought we had it all together. From the outside we looked perfect. It’s all about image, right?
The image my husband projected in the world was so godly. This man knows how to put on a show. At home he was really fun sometimes, I mean he really was very, very fun sometimes, but then he was also emotionally absent. He was emotionally unavailable, unless he wanted sex, which was often and then all of the sudden he had eyes for me.
God Leads Her to a Skilled Therapist
This new awakening drove me to want improvement in our relationship. I asked if he would go to marriage counseling. He said no.
So I requested referrals from my friends, and found a good therapist. I started seeing her by myself. After meeting with her several times, she said, “You know, your husband sounds like an addict. I think he’s a sex addict.” Her practice was dealing with partners of sex addicts. I am so grateful to the Lord he sent me to her. God had my back. I had no clue.
I had always protected myself in our marriage by disassociating. I was afraid of him. I never brought up conflict. We never fought. It took six months for me to ask if he was involved with pornography or cheating or anything like that. I could not confront him because I feared his anger so much. My therapist prepared me for the conversation. I finally got the courage to ask. My therapist has warned me he might deny everything, but this exercise was to practice getting your voice. When I finally got the courage to speak up, he said no, and denied having any problems. But by then, having seen a pattern, along with the sexually transmitted diseases, I knew he was lying.
I asked just once, and I couldn’t do again. I told myself, “I can’t do this. I’m going to pretend like nothing is happening.” By this time, we’d been married more than 30 years. I stopped therapy.
I think because of my therapy and having challenged him at that time, he started coming home at a normal time, he started taking me out on walks and things, he started paying attention to me so I think he was doing that whole thing that abusers do to try to keep you hooked.
A Miracle or Not?
Our church sent us to a Christian conference designed to train us to be better leaders. There was one session that gave us the opportunity to have our own one-on-one inner-healing ministry time for confession and prayer. He went to his. I went to mine. Afterwards, I walked back to the main conference area and waited. I saw my husband bounding down the stairs, happy, joyful, and giggly. He claimed to have had a miraculous cure. He was set free! He said, “Honey, I was delivered from three demons today.”
I was so excited, I said, “You’ll have to tell me about it.” I was filled with hope. Perhaps this was the genuine miracle I’d prayed for.
We put off the conversation until we could be alone without interruption. We took a long drive to another state to see a relative, and started talking. My husband told me about the other women. “How many women?” I asked. “Lots. Lots,” he replied. There was silence in the car.
“Okay, when was the last woman?” I asked. “Oh, I broke up with her last month,” he said. And just the way he phrased it: I broke up with her shocked me. Suddenly reality hit me. I was quiet for a minute and then I said, “This is your last chance. I'm going to give you one opportunity to come clean. Did you sleep with any of these women?” And he said, two of them.
I thought I was going to vomit right in the car. First, I knew he was not telling the truth. Sexual and emotional affairs had been going on throughout the marriage, but he thought if he could toss me a bone, with a little bit of information, he would throw me off track. He thought that would appease me. Second, he proceeded to tell me about all these emotional affairs that he was having all along. Oh, I hate the word affair. It's infidelity—all that emotional infidelity all along— and he was very stunned to find out that I was more upset about the emotional infidelity than I was about the sex. He said, “Wow, I thought you'd be more upset about the sex,” and I said, “Honey, you give your heart away and that's much more painful to me than you having a one-night stand.”
Despair, Anguish, and God’s Protection
All of a sudden, I was sitting there in the car, next to this man, and I realized I had no clue whom I was married to. And that was frightening, very frightening. I realized I did not know who this man was. So we drove on to the relative’s house and had to pretend like absolutely nothing was happening. It was another example of God's protection that we were there because that night I lost it. I completely lost it.
That night all I could think of was committing suicide. I had medication that I take regularly, and I got up to see if I had enough to overdose. There wasn’t enough, and I was so angry. I was furious that I wasn't home so that I could just take every ounce of medication in the house and just end it.
That was God's care for me. God knew I was just not thinking clearly.
During that visit we pretended our red eyes were from allergies and we faked our way through the weekend. When we got home, I was just out of my mind. I was so shocked and so overwhelmed.
Fear: Running for Her Life
I gingerly recommended we should separate. I knew nothing about abuse… nothing about how abusive men behave. And all of a sudden, he realized what I was saying.
He said, “Wait a minute. Separate? Are you talking about separating?”
“Oh, just temporarily, so we can sort things out.”
“Absolutely not! We are not separating!”
To make a long story short, I watched this man—he got a blank stare in his eyes. A switch went off with him. All night I did mental gymnastics and tried to figure out how to survive the night. He just snapped. It was the scariest thing I have ever experienced in my life. We had guns in the house. I really thought it would be a murder-suicide situation.
He went to work in the morning, and I ran out the door and left—with only the clothes on my back. I even left my dog, whom I loved to pieces. I was just so scared I left, and never came back.
Narcissistic sociopaths are all about image. I was going to blow his carefully set-up image. And that’s what upset him. It wasn’t about losing me at all, in my opinion—it was about his image being threatened—the image he had worked so hard to set up. And that's what upset him. It wasn't about losing me at all, it was about his pious image being shattered. So that was super scary.
I never went back to our home. I went to live with our daughter. This was a key step to getting out.
But I did have second thoughts and gave it one more try, because despite it all, I still loved him.
Good Counselors Care About Your Safety and Place the Responsibility on the Correct Person
I insisted we see my therapist who was a trained sexual addictions specialist (CSAT = certified sexual addiction therapist). But my husband said “The demons are gone, I'm fine. The demons are gone. I'm not going to do it again. The demons are gone. The demons made me do it.” And I said, “No, if you really want this marriage you need to get help.”
The therapist explained the protocol for sex addicts. They develop a disclosure statement with their own therapist. Every three months for the first year, the sex addict and a trained therapist meet, without the wife. And each disclosure statement is sent through a polygraph test because like drug addicts need drug tests, sex addicts need polygraph because everything they speak is a lie. It's standard of care. My therapist also explained to me privately that I was a trauma survivor, not a co-addict. When you’re married to a sex addict there is so much deception and gaslighting going on that therapists don't put the label “co-addict” or “codependent” on partners anymore.
Bad Counselors Don’t Care About Your Safety and Wellbeing. They place the Responsibility on the Godly Spouse.
My husband and I also decided we would go to the pastors at church for help. What a mistake! The pastor sat us down and said, “Yeh, those secular counselors will give you all this mumbo-jumbo about brain connections and all this stuff and it's going to cause you guys a bunch of confusion. The Lord can fix this. This is a spiritual battle. It has nothing to do with your brain and there is no need for polygraph tests.”
The pastor flat out told us not to see any therapists, to only see him. And he convinced my husband, who had gone to several therapy appointments already—to meet instead with another pastor in the church every Tuesday. I was not happy. But I was trying to submit to the church leaders.
Bad Counselors Care about Your Marital Status More than They Care About You. They consider a divorce worse than any sin inflicted on you, even murder.
And then the pastor forced me right on the spot, to make a decision: “Do you want this marriage or not?” And I said, “I can't tell you that. I don't know.” He demanded, “You have to know. You're either gonna make this marriage work or you're not.” And I said, “But I don't know what his actions are going to be. If he's not going to repent, if he's not going to do the work, if he's just going to keep on sinning, no, I'm not. No, I'm not going to do this. He has to prove himself trustworthy over a long period of time for me to get back in the game but it's on him right now.”
Well, you know, then the pastor did this whole lecture, saying I'm the godly one of the two, so I need to suffer like Christ suffered. It was my job to save the marriage. During that meeting with the pastor, my husband was acting humble and wonderful. Very attentive.
In these situations, they put on a big show for the pastors. Looking back, it’s so classic. And then when we were driving home, the real personality came out. It was full-blown abuse, right? He was just so abusive in the car.
From then on, I refused to go to these Monday night meetings with the pastor. Oh, by the way, because I'd continued meeting with my counselor, even though the pastor told me not to, I was branded as rebellious. I was getting heat for it. Finally, the pastor got in my face: “Will you at least do a phone conference one last time, tonight?” And I said, sure, I'll do a phone conference.
So I got on the phone with the pastor and his wife, and my husband; and the pastor just ripped on me and told me if I don't continue meeting it'll be the demise of my marriage. So clearly the whole thing was about saving my marriage. It wasn't about my wellbeing or my husband’s need for true repentance and change. It was about holding together the marriage at all costs no matter who gets trampled on in the process.
So afterwards I just felt like I was going to get under church discipline for not obeying him or continuing meeting with him, so I ended up leaving the church.
My husband said he would continue meeting with another pastor every Tuesday night. (That pastor ended up being kicked out of the church because he was also cheating on his wife while he was counseling my husband.)
I called my therapist and said, “I can't do the disclosure statement." I said, "If I hear anything more that my husband has done to me, it will crush my soul. I can't, I can't read it, I can’t listen to it, and I'm filing for a divorce.” That was the end.
A Good Church Cares About You and Your Safety
I love the Lord with all my heart and I actually found a church immediately afterwards that completely the opposite of my former one. Some churches are very emotionally and spiritually abusive and believe that they speak for God. They claim they can see into your life and have words about you and what you must do. And then there are other churches that empower you to hear what the Lord is saying to you through the Holy Spirit who lives inside you.
For nine months, I didn't tell my new pastor or anybody in the new church about my divorce. They started wanting me to take on leadership roles and speak in front of the church, but I said, we need to meet because there's some things going in my life that you should know about.
I met with the pastor and his wife and I started telling them some of the stories, and he asked, “Oh, is he slandering you yet?” Yes! The pastor knew. He understood adultery! I mean, it was wonderful. Wonderful and healing to find a pastor who believed me. Since then, my life has been so meaningful. I now lead a lay support ministry for other wives of serial adulterers.
My advice is:
- Trust your gut. It's the Holy Spirit guiding you.
- You can flourish after divorce. Never give up. On your darkest days when you feel like life will never be good again, that's a lie. It's a lie. I used to think life would never be good again. And people told me it would be and I didn't believe it. It's true. It's true. You have to go after it with intentionality though. It doesn't happen by osmosis. You have to go after it. Even if you don't feel like it. You have to go after it.
This story is taken from the book The Life-Saving DIvorce, p. 176.
Story of a Christian woman whose husband cheated on her, read: Adultery, Prayer and the Bible. Find out how the Lord set her free.
Audio interview: Shirley Fessel, author of Redemption from Biblical Battering tells her story of finding peace after divorcing an abusive husband HERE.
What is a Life-Saving Divorce?
Kids and Divorce: About 8 in 10 kids turn out fine after divorce despite what you've been told.
Will submitting more automatically make a husband love his wife more? No. Read THIS.
Will being sexually available all the time keep a husband from cheating or watching porn or molesting children? No. Read THIS.
About me. This page also includes me reading aloud the introduction of the book.
Is divorce a sin? The Bible gives multiple reasons for divorce (infidelity, sexual immorality, physical, emotional, verbal, financial abuse, and severe addictions). See this overview of Bible verses online. For a chapter on all the key passages in the Bible on divorce, as well as the Jewish and Biblical background, see Chapter 6 in the Life-Saving Divorce book.
Does God hate divorce? No, that's mistranslation from Hebrew to English. The Hebrew does not say that. Here's evidence at the bottom of this post.
5 types of abuse see HERE.
150 examples of types of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, financial, and neglect) and explaining the term "gaslighting," along with many first-person stories, read Chapter 4 in the Life-Saving Divorce.
For a diagram of the Duluth Wheel of Power and Control and The Abuse Cycle, read Chapter 4.
Definition of life-saving divorces, read What is a Life-Saving Divorce?