BECKY: Last February, a guy from church whom Jeff barely knew called him up on the phone out of the blue and asked, "What would you say if I told you that 80% of the male population has struggled with sexual sin at some point in their lives?"
Jeff replied without missing a beat, "I'd say the other 20% are lying."
Jeff is witty. I like Jeff.
Jeff is also right. Sexual sin is every man's struggle, and it also affects nearly 50% of women. Especially these days. A person used to have to go looking for it, but now, it comes right into our homes. In our family, we call it The Predator, and our boys know exactly what the predator is and what to do when it attacks.
Since his early teens, Jeff has struggled. I have struggled since college. I knew of his struggle when we got married, and he knew of mine. Jeff and I both thought, very naively, that getting married would fix our struggles. We were dead wrong.
Throughout our eleven years of marriage, we have both tried, at various times and in various ways, to fight back against the predator, and we are glad to say that by the grace of God, we have both had success in certain areas. But despite our progress, we have remained in various forms of bondage.
In December 2010, God brought me to a breaking point and propelled me to begin seeking freedom, not just from action issues, but from my thought issues as well. I made sure that Jeff and my college sister were both completely aware of everything I struggled with, and I began taking coursework to help me get free.
I asked Jeff to join me in the coursework, but he said it wasn't the right kind of material for the way his brain works. I let it go, because I was under the impression that he had been walking in victory and restoration for a number of years anyway, and I figured he probably didn't need it.
So when the guy from church called him out of the blue in February 2011, I was on board with Jeff joining the support group, because I figured he could be an encouragement to other men who were still in a place he had moved out of, and it would probably be beneficial in terms of victory maintenance or something.
I remember saying to Jeff at one point in March or early April, "I think it's great that you're in that support group, but I'm not really sure how much you need it, because you're pretty much out of the woods."
I'll never forget Jeff's response. He stood up quickly from his chair, palms out in sort of a cautionary, pleading gesture, and said, "I'm not as healed as you think I am."
I didn't know what he was referring to, but his statement, and the way he said it, like someone reaching through the bars of a prison, really haunted me. Thankfully, I didn't have to wait very long to find out what he meant. On April 18, 2011, a day which will live in infamy, we had what we now fondly refer to as The Big Reveal.
The Big Reveal was the day Jeff came clean to me about his struggles with the predator. That day, I learned that in addition to the struggles I knew about, Jeff had some deeper struggles I had been totally unaware of, and that one of them was lying to me. At first, he only lied about his deeper struggles, but over time, he discovered that lying to me was so much easier in the short term that he began lying about other things as well. Eventually, the Jeff I knew was so far removed from Real Jeff that he felt he was leading two lives.
JEFF: The feeling of being a captive was very real. I didn't know how to stop, and I remember feeling hopeless about being able to break free in any lasting way. When Becky started her coursework for freedom, I felt the need to do something as well, but I didn't really have any options that I could see or pursue. I was feeling convicted, but without knowing where to go or how to find help.
So when my friend from church called and told me they were starting a group, I knew that accountability was one of the key factors that I had been missing all along in regards to healing, so I said yes. It wasn't the first time I'd been involved in a Bible study focused on pursuing purity and holiness, but there were some unique differences. Within a couple of months, my mind and heart began to change, and so did my behavior.
The Big Reveal in April came about because I was excited about the changes taking place within my heart, and I wanted to share them with Becky. At the time, I didn't think it was a "big reveal" because for some reason, I thought she was more aware of my struggles than she actually was. I knew that I had some secrets from her regarding the depth of my struggles, but I thought she was aware of the frequency of my struggles.
As I said, I was excited to be growing, so I was a little surprised that Becky responded by being hurt instead of excited with me, and the reason I was surprised was because I was totally and completely focused on myself, and I wasn't really even aware that what I had been doing had been hurting her. I joined the group not for the purpose of "us" but for me, and to a large degree, I had really not connected Becky to my struggle because it had been present for so many years before I met her.
I'm glad that I told Becky, but I wish I would have known what it meant for her before I did. I was completely insensitive to the pain that my sharing would cause her.
BECKY: I had experienced the grief process the previous year when my dad died, so I recognized it immediately. The world turned dark, I couldn't function or think, I felt alone, abandoned, betrayed, lost. I was in shock for a few days, in denial for several more, and after that, I began to manifest obvious symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
It's true that Jeff's struggle was not new information to me, but the depth of the struggle was a big surprise, and learning about some of his past behaviors made me feel like I had no idea at all who he was. However, most of the grief and loss I experienced were the result of finding out that he had lied to me for seven years. The only man I had ever really trusted turned out not to be trustworthy. I felt my entire marriage had been a sham, and I thought I was the biggest idiot in the world for not realizing that. I felt worthless and ashamed.
One of the hardest parts was that, as Jeff mentioned, when he came clean, it was all about him, and therefore, it had to be a secret. I was not free to process my grief openly, and my pain was totally invalidated. Jeff let me be sad for about ten days, but after that, he said, basically, "Why aren't you over this yet?"
At that point, something clicked inside me, and God set me free from the codependent behavior of trying to stay on Jeff's good side. I realized he wasn't on my good side, and that was very empowering.
But that feeling of empowerment had one fatal flaw: it was godless. I shook my fist in God's face, demanded of Him, "How could you let this happen to me?!" and turned my back. I told Him we weren't friends anymore. And then I proceeded to make sure Jeff knew exactly how much he had failed me and exactly how angry and hurt I felt. It was not pretty.
JEFF: I believed that Becky knew I struggled, and that my not sharing the depth was protecting her, not lying to her. I was ashamed that I was not victorious over my struggles. So while I hadn't told her everything, there were times where it felt like not telling her was the right thing to do. But it just built up over time. I had the expectation that Becky would be excited for me and encouraging, and that she would receive what I had to say. I thought she would have my back. So I was shocked and surprised and hurt to be met with righteous anger, mistrust, and...
BECKY: ...the unholy wrath of a woman scorned.
JEFF: Right. As spring progressed and we began to relate to each other in more hostile ways, we quickly discovered that we needed help. We were both hurting, and we both wanted resolution, but we didn't know how to get it. So we sought help from our pastor. We met with him over the summer, and he helped us work on establishing healthy patterns of conflict resolution. He taught us the difference between passive, aggressive, and assertive behavior.
BECKY: Something else I took away from marriage counseling was the importance of expressing and validating feelings. I also learned the difference between expressing feelings and making accusations. I had spent my life attempting to express my feelings by telling the other person what I thought they did wrong, and then hoping they would guess how their actions made me feel. Shockingly, that approach did not work. I thought I was saying, "I feel hurt," but what actually came out of my mouth was, "I condemn you." Our pastor taught me, basically, that you can catch more flies with honey.
Despite our marriage counseling and steps toward healthier conflict resolution, I still had a huge amount of clogged emotion regarding The Big Reveal that I didn't know what to do with. The real turning point for me came in September, when the wife of the man who led Jeff's support group began a support group for the wives of sex addicts. After six months of being sworn to secrecy, I finally had a community of women who knew how I felt, understood my grief, validated my feelings, and still loved and respected their husbands. That's when real healing began to take place in my heart.
In October, after a month or so of seeing God's love through the women of my support group, I sat on my front porch one morning and said to God, "Okay. We can be friends again." Nothing had changed outwardly, but my heart was beginning to understand and embrace my new reality.. the one where my husband was a human being instead of a mythical superhero of my own creation. The one where he needed me to see who he really was, warts and all, and love him honestly. The one where God was showing me that my old reality had to be ripped away to make room for the healthier, truer marriage He wanted me to have. The one He planned, He orchestrated, He joined together.
Also in October, I began getting private counseling that focused primarily on behavioral changes. For me personally, that has had the biggest impact in terms of figuring out who I am, how I relate to the world, what choices I have, what my responsibilities are, and what's outside my circle.
JEFF: Becky's not the only one to benefit from her counseling sessions. She has brought back to the home the different things she is learning. One of the most important things for our family has been learning how to identify and express emotion, whether positive or negative, in an appropriate way. That in itself has forever altered how we as a family relate to and support each other.
In my support group, I have been learning that how I interact with the world is less about my circumstances and more about my perception of God. We call it restoration. Restoration, as stated in our support group workbook, is "accepting life on God's terms, with trust, grace, mercy, vulnerability and gratitude by living your life based on your trust of God."
Getting to the point of being able to express our pain without accusation, and understanding that we can trust God for our circumstances, has been instrumental in healing our relationship.
BECKY: As our relationship began to heal, God put the desire in me to commit to my "new" marriage, and to make some promises to Jeff that I felt I had never really made in the first place. I didn't know it, but God had put the same desire in Jeff as well. He had brought us through such a ripping away of the old and such a grafting of the new that we wanted to do something ceremonial to commemorate the process. To make it official that we were moving forward in unity, eyes wide open, me respecting Real Jeff and Jeff loving Real Becky.
JEFF: On Christmas morning, just after we woke up, we spent some time talking about how we wanted to move forward. We had hope for our future together. We talked about our failures and how we hadn't really been aware of what we were getting into when we got married. We agreed that while it had been rough, we still would have done it.
I've always thought that at some point, we would renew our vows, maybe on our 25th anniversary or something, but with what we had gone through over the previous year, we felt the time to renew our vows had come.
We decided we would celebrate the vow renewal anniversary each year rather than our actual anniversary. We chose Valentine's Day for our vow renewal, and we decided to call it The Grace Wedding.
BECKY: Yep. And it was gorgeous and meaningful and poignant. And now that it has been accomplished, I am looking forward to blogging all about it.
God did all this. He reached down and rescued us from ourselves. All glory to Him.
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay,
And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God;
Many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD.
If you struggle with the predator, please visit puredesire.org.