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Trusting God to Redeem Your Broken Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

Trusting God to Redeem Your Broken Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

Dave and Kirsten Samuel describe how God's grace and healing helped saved their marriage which was nearly destroyed by his pornography addiction and her struggles with PTSD, anxiety, and suicidal depression. (Part 1 of 2)
Original Air Date: November 4, 2020

John Fuller: Well, today on Focus on the Family, we’re going to hear from a husband and wife who appeared to have a perfect marriage and they raised a loving, Christian family. They were active in their church, involved in ministry. But there were hidden sins below the surface that really threaten to tear this family apart. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. And our topics today are probably not going to be appropriate for young children.

Jim Daly: John, I appreciate that subtle warning. And, you know, at times we need to get into some nitty gritty discussions. I think as the Christian church, we often don’t do that and therefore we suffer because, you know, I always believe things up on the table are far better than under the table. And the Lord can deal with that with us when we’re open and honest. And today’s topic is associated to pornography, pornography addictions. And, you know, some of the research that I’ve read, 60 to 70% of men in the church struggle with this issue. So, this is of paramount importance for us to address. Um, let me give you a quote from someone we know well, a theologian, Russell Moore. And he said this, “The most dangerous sins to our Christian life are the ones we think are anonymous.” And that’s not only profound, but deeply accurate. Um, I know that you might be thinking of some hidden sins that you’re struggling with. Here’s the reality. God knows that. And it’s always better, as I said, to get it up on the table and talk about it. Today and next time you’re going to hear a story from a couple who did just that, which took a lot of courage and a lot of grit.

John: Yeah, this is really a remarkable story. Dave and Kirsten Samuel are with us in the studio. And Dave is a former colleague who worked here for 20 some years. And today he provides audio services and equipment and training to a number of corporate and ministry clients. And on the side, he also makes these great, wooden, handmade pens.

Jim: That’s amazing. I like that idea.

John: It’s pretty good. Um, Kirsten is an author and blogger. She does some spiritual coaching for wives who’ve been wounded by pornography and has written a book that’s going to be really the basis for our conversation today. It’s called Choosing a Way Out: When the Bottom Isn’t the Bottom. And we, of course, have copies of that at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: And let me add, Kirsten, you also worked here Focus…

Mrs. Kirsten Samuel: Yes, I did.

Jim: …In the legal department…

Kirsten: Yes, I did.

Jim: …And we’re grateful for the time you were here as well.

Kirsten: Thank you.

Jim: Let me say welcome to both of you.

Kirsten: Thank you.

David Samuel: Thanks, Jim.

Kirsten: Great to be here.

David: Good to be here.

Jim: All right. Um, we’re going to dive right into the story because there’s so much to this and the content is going to be powerful. I know it. You get – you can get that feeling right, John?

John: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Jim: It begins with that image of a perfect marriage. I put that in air quotes. That was really shattered by the revelation of a hidden addiction to pornography, Dave, that you were struggling with. First, describe your relationship up to that point. What was your marriage like? What was going on? And, you know, I’m assuming you were happily married for like 25 years, three grown children. Um, where were you at, at that point? Twenty five years and you didn’t really know each other?

Kirsten: No. (Laughter)

Jim: Yeah.

Kirsten: That that’s the crazy part. Um – we were – we were just launching into being empty – empty nesters because our youngest was – had just gone to school overseas.

Jim: Right.

Kirsten: And, um, I thought we had an absolutely fabulous marriage. And we did, to – to some degree we did…

David: Mm-hmm.

Kirsten: …Um, because we never fought. We always got along.

David: Yeah. And it was one of those things where we did have love for each other. I mean, we did love each other. We were committed to each other. But the sin that was niggling at me, that was underneath the skin – had been for years – you know, just kept raising its ugly head during – during these times. But the introduction to the real struggle was when the Internet came around.

Jim: Yeah.

David: And how easy it was to gain access to information and stuff that you shouldn’t be…

Jim: Yeah.

David: …Getting into.

Jim: We’re going to delve into that. And I think before that, though, really to grab, I think, a lot of wives. And you know what? This is not gender specific any longer. A growing number of women are trapped in that addiction to pornography. We hear more and more of that here at Focus. But, um, you had that news, Kirsten …

Kirsten: Yes.

Jim: I mean, I want to take you back to that day. So, you’re married 25 years. Your kids are all about to be out on their own. I mean, you’re thinking, okay, this is cruise time now…

Kirsten: (Laughter).

Jim: …Cruise control is around the corner.

David: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: And then, boom, you get this call or this – Dave comes home. What happened when this hit you?

Kirsten: Well, I got home from work and I was making dinner. Um, our oldest son was home getting ready to head back to college. And like I said, we had – our youngest son was already at college. And, um, I was making dinner and Dave came in and he just – he was really quiet. Not normally quiet.

Jim: Yeah.

Kirsten: Um, and we had dinner and he hardly ate anything which was really odd because he’s got a big appetite.

Jim: So, you were noticing. Man.

Kirsten: Yeah. I’m thinking something’s not, you know. And so, I thought, well, maybe he ate his lunch late because I knew he’d had a busy day at work and, you know, there was several things going on. And, um – and then after dinner, he went and – he went into our room and didn’t come out. And I was like… So, I cleaned up, went in the room and I looked at him and he’s laying on the bed and I – I said – I still remember I had a dishtowel in my hands. Why I remember that? But I do. Um, and I said, “What’s – what’s the matter?” And the next thing I heard come out of his mouth was, “Well, it’s very likely I won’t have a job tomorrow.”

John: Hm.

Kirsten: And I just – I – I – I was just shocked and, um – and I said, “Why?” You know, the only question I could come up with (laughter) was why. And he said, “Because of a moral failure.” And my knees gave way.

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: And I – you know, I hit the bed. And he then – he proceeded to tell me what had – had happened just a few hours earlier

Jim: Dave, let’s get you in here. I mean, maybe you can describe, as you started to a moment ago – just describe what you were dealing with, why it caught you and carried you away. And then, you know, to connect with the guys particularly that are listening – that double life. I mean, we’re all susceptible to this. So, it’s not – you know, you made it. And I’m proud of both of you for getting there, for choosing the right path of reconciliation and rehabilitation and we’re gonna get to all that. But in this moment, this is the moment that the offender fears the most…

David: Right.

Jim: That you’re found out. You’re discovered. The ugly side of this. Just help us understand that – that emotion of that and what you felt like and even telling Kirsten what that felt like. Give us an idea.

David: All I can say is just there was a range of emotions from panic to humiliation to shame. It was, you know, that – that flood of, you know, oh, no. I – I have been found out. And, you know, for years I had tried to do it myself, you know, to take care of things myself and okay, I’m – I’m going to be good and…

Jim: Keep it under control or eliminate it.

David: Yeah. Keep it under control or eliminate it. And, you know, two, three months would go by, be fine and then something would trigger, and it would – it would come back. So, there had been that cycle of wanting to get rid of this for years. And so, I confessed it there and that started the snowball.

Jim: Yeah. Let me – let me make sure – again, I’m trying to sit in that place of someone listening that may be in that spot and they’re saying to themselves, “I can manage this.” They’re where you were back before you were found out. And they’re saying, “Okay, episodically, you know, there’s times when I – you know, I slip and, you know, but I shake it off and, you know, I’m ready to go.” Speak to the adjectives of addiction. How would a person know they’re addicted?

David: Well, there’s that cycle of what we call is a cycle of shame where you’re great, you know, everything’s – everything’s going well and then something triggers and you fall into sin and then you feel the shame and the guilt of that. And then you say, “Okay, I’m not going to do it anymore.” And then you start feeling better and then you’re at the top of the cycle where you’re feeling great. And then something else triggers it.

Jim: But it just keeps working, that wheel

David: And it just keeps going round and round. Right. And you cannot do it by yourself because it’s just there’s – it’s too difficult to do that. You need others. You know, there’s a reason why James talks about confessing your sins to one another and praying for each other that you may be healed. There is healing and there is strength in numbers. You know, you look in the animal kingdom and it’s the wolves that get the one animal off away from the herd…

Jim: Yeah, they pick it off.

Kirsten: Mm-hmm.

David: Right. And – and that’s the lie that many that are in addiction, whatever it is. (Unintelligible).

Jim: Yeah. All right, so we have this tension. We’re feeling it listening to your story, I mean, you’re coming home. You’ve been married 25 years. You’re almost empty nesters. And Dave comes home with this news that he may get fired because he’s addicted to pornography and the workplace found out. What were your first steps in dealing with this besides that emotion that we just heard from both of you? I mean, your weak kneed collapse…

Kirsten: Mm-hmm.

Jim: …Which every spouse would have, I think. That’s reasonable. It’s a broken heart all of a sudden. And I would say, Kirsten, I want to hear your – your response to that sense of betrayal. I mean, what went through your mind in those next few hours about the man you’ve been married to for 25 years that you really didn’t know?

Kirsten: I went – you know, I describe it as when I think back, and it was a nanosecond where I went through this huge range of emotions. First of all, was disbelief. Second was, how dare you? Followed by anger. Then followed by, you couldn’t have stuck a knife into my heart any harder…

Jim: Yeah.

Kirsten: …Than that to know that he exchanged me for pornography. And, um – and then- like I said, then anger. And, you know, I look back on it and I think, you know, the Holy Spirit was – was very present with me at that point because the first thing I said was, “We need help.” You know, and I said, “And you have to tell the kids.” I said, “I’m not telling them. You have to tell them. This is your mess.”

Jim: Right. This is the moment of truth and everything, right?

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, this – it’s palpable. I can feel it. I mean, that tension. You have to talk about this. How did that go? Telling your young adults

David: It was rough.

Kirsten: (Laughter).

David: I mean, I have loved being a dad.

Jim: Sure.

David: And so, to bring them in and to say, “guys, I have failed big time” was really humbling and not – I really didn’t know how they were gonna react. And – and that was the big thing of, okay, are they going to disown me and – and go into an anger cycle or – or what? Like Kirsten said, our – our youngest son was – was at college, so he was actually out of the country. So, we weren’t able to talk to him right away. But, uh, we did call our daughter and son-in-law and – and to our son and, um, it was totally different than what I expected. They – they showed grace. They showed love. They showed forgiveness. And that was huge because I thought for sure we were gonna lose the kids. And I just didn’t want that.

Jim: The, um – the moment again, Kirsten – were you feeling that forgiveness or…

Kirsten: (Laughter) Oh no!

Jim: You’re in that angry mode.

Kirsten: Oh, I was – I was totally – I was – I was in shock. And then I was angry…

Jim: Right.

Kirsten: …And I went between shock and anger and in – you know, in feeling like I don’t – who is this guy? This is not who I thought I married.

Jim: Right. And I – I think – I just want to explore that a little because of the spouse that this may have happened to or it will happen to.

Kirsten: Mm-hmm.

Jim: It’s completely natural.

Kirsten: Yes.

Jim: It’s normal to feel those things and they shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling that.

Kirsten: Right.

Jim: The question is, where do we go?

Kirsten: Right.

Jim: And what do we do and how do we honor God in all of this mess that you have created? I can hear it.

Kirsten: (Laughter).

Jim: I could feel it.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: And – and so, those are big mountains to climb for the offended one. Speak to that. Did you have that resentment? What was – where did that roll over the next few days? Few weeks? Few months?

Kirsten: Um, the first thing that I did was – and again, you know, God tells us in His word that “before you have asked, I have answered” – in Daniel He says that. And as I’m sitting here processing this, and he went down to talk to our son. I said, “We need help.” And – and immediately a couple came to mind and it was a coworker of mine and her husband who are counselors. And I thought we need help. We need help now. And I don’t know where to turn, but I’m going to start there. And so, I mentioned it – you know, I mentioned to Dave. I said, “We need help.” And I called Kathy and I just said, “We need help.” She heard me and she heard the tears in my – and by this point I’m crying.

Jim: Sure.

Kirsten: And, um, she heard the tears in my voice, and she said, “We’ll meet you in 20 minutes.” And so, when he got done talking to our son and then the phone rang. Um, and I grabbed it and it was our – our son-in-law. We had called to talk to our daughter and son-in-law and, um – newly married. They had been married less than two months.

Jim: Oh, my goodness.

Kirsten: And, um – and said, “Well, you know-” And they said, “What’s going on?” And I said, “Well, you need to talk to Dad.” And I took the phone down and I said, “You know, it’s the kids.” And I handed it…

David: She tossed it to me. (Laughter)

Kirsten: …And I tossed it to him.

David: At me.

Kirsten: I – I really was not very nice at this point. Um, I really was going – swinging between that anger and shock and disbelief and resentment and how dare you? You know…

Jim: Right:

Kirsten: …This – this whole thing of I don’t want to be around you. I don’t know you. And when he got off the phone, then I said, you know, “Rick – Rick and Kathy were – would meet us and we need to leave in about five minutes.” That was the longest car ride I’ve been in in a long time.

Jim: Oh, I can imagine.

Kirsten: Because I couldn’t say a word. Couldn’t say a word.

Jim: Well, and in part, that was one of the things you formulated, it seems, and agreed to a rigorous recovery plan, which included regular meetings with what you called a restoration team in the book. About 18 months. So, I – I love the definitive nature of that so that other couples that are struggling get an idea of, you know, how do we get through the woods on this, you know? And it’s different for everybody.

Kirsten: Yeah.

David: Right.

Jim: But it’s not short. It’s not like next week. It’s all better.

Kirsten: No.

Jim: You have to really dig in and work. And Dave, one of the common fallacies about pornography is that it’s a victimless crime.

David: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Um, you’ve obviously, have – have learned that it’s not. It affects certainly your spouse and the rest of your family and others, too – your employer and all those things. Um, what was your perspective before and then after when you did the counseling?

David: The question that was posed to me that really stuck me because, you know, like you said, it is a lengthy process. And as men, we just want to – okay, we’re going to get in, we’re going to take care of this and we’re going to be done with it. And I remember my counselor saying to me, “What is it worth to you for your wife to be healed?” And that really hit me.

Jim: Wow, what a question.

Kirsten: Yeah.

David: Yeah. It hit me – it made me think, okay, I have perpetrated this sin against my wife and also against myself, but – and others. The relationships were severed and there was always that taintedness. But what was – what was I willing to do to make – to allow my wife to heal?

Jim: Was that an instant kind of heart response that you had? I’ll do anything? Or did it take you a moment or a little while to think about that?

David: Well, I’ve always been a sensitive guy, okay. I’ve always – I always had that sensitive nature. And that’s kind of what played into this whole thing from the beginning. Um, but so right away I had that pang in my heart of I have – I have really messed this up.

John: Well, this is Focus on the family with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. And our guests today are Dave and Kirsten Samuel. Kirsten has a book called Choosing a Way Out: When the Bottom Isn’t the Bottom. And we do have copies of that. Get in touch if you’d like one. Also, we have counseling services. If, uh – if this is touching an area of your life that has yet to be really explored or healed, call and talk to one of our counselors. We can set up a time for you. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY and online we’re at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Kirsten, let me ask you – again, exploring the feelings that a spouse will have. You’re in this anger, tumult. Your heart is raging in so many directions. Trust has been broken, that sense of betrayal. I think I’m painting the picture pretty well. But then you began to deal with your own guilt and shame. Um, explain that. As a man, I’m not sure that would be my response in a week or two. I would probably get hung up on the “you betrayed me” for a while. So, help me understand how you turned that inwardly to say, “Okay, I’m feeling guilt and shame now.” Was it about what just Dave had done or was it more personal to you?

Kirsten: Um, it was – it was both of those, Jim, honestly. Um, what opened up in me when Dave revealed this was my sense – the wounds that I had that I had been hiding for many, many years, um, and they went back to my own abuse situation where I had never dealt with what had happened to me as a 9-year-old child.

Jim: Hm.

Kirsten: And so what that did was it said, “See, you don’t have any value. You’re not worth anything. You’re unseen. You’re unlovable.” You know, and it – so it opened up all of this – this can of worms, this Pandora’s box really.

Jim: Yeah. Well, when you said a while ago “the knife could not have gone any deeper into your heart”, I think we all understand that better now.

Kirsten: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Jim: I mean, that – that’s why.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: Certainly one of the big reasons.

Kirsten: Mm-hmm.

Jim: It was confirming something you had held in your heart for so long.

Kirsten: Yes.

Jim: “I’m not worthy. I’m not good enough.”

Kirsten: Yeah, I’m not  – yeah, I’m not – I’m not pretty enough. I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not – I’m not lovable.

Jim: Yeah.

Kirsten: And I don’t matter is what it came to me. And when – when Dave came home and – and told me what the counselor had asked him and then he said, “Is that how you feel?” ‘Cause the counselor had also said, “You have wounded her to the core of her being.” And when he came home and said that to me and he said, “Is this how you feel?” It was the first time I was able to say, “That’s it. That’s it. You have traded me and, therefore, I don’t matter.”

Jim: Hmm.

Kirsten: And that’s where the knife just went in and it just dug around.

Jim: Yeah. As you started that restoration process, did you believe that there was hope for your marriage? I’ll ask both of you. Dave, let’s start with you.

David: I want to – I want to say yes. I wanted to believe at the time that there was hope for the marriage. I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to keep the marriage together and to show Kirsten “Yes, I mean business. And I am going to rebuild trust and I am going to – to take care of this.” Now, I can’t say for Kirsten. I don’t know …

Jim: Yeah. I mean, you’re…

David: …That’s a good one.

Jim: …You’re the offender. And so, I get that. And people are screaming that right back at us right now. And I get that, too.

David: Mm-hmm.

Kirsten: Mm-hmm.

Jim: But how did you then respond in terms of hope for your marriage? Did you feel it, or did you want out?

Kirsten: There was a part of me that absolutely abhors the idea of divorce and I did not want to be a statistic. So, there was this pride thing that came into place for me. And I’m stubborn enough (laughter) that that came into play. But there was also this I don’t know who you are. I’m disgusted by you. I don’t want to be around you. And, yeah, I was ready to run.

Jim: Yeah. What kept you in?

Kirsten: Seeing his face after he came back from the counselor. Because at that point, I knew he was serious. I – because I could read it. I’d – okay, we’d been married for 25 years. I could read him pretty well by this point. I mean, obviously not that great because I didn’t know about the pornography, but… (laughter)

Jim: Right. But, uh, you know, he kept that from you.

Kirsten Right. But – but there was at this point – there was something in his demeanor. There was something in his manner that said he’s serious this time. This is this is going to happen. And that was an inkling of hope. The other one was when we – the very first day within two hours of when he made this revelation, Rick and Kathy said to us, “This does not have to be fatal.” And that was an anchor for me to hold on to.

Jim: Isn’t that so interesting?

Kirsten: Yes.

Jim: Just that comment…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Jim: …Gave you enough of a line of sight to the future.

Kirsten: Yeah. Yeah

Jim: That’s amazing. Kirsten, I do want to ask you, uh, how God confronted you about your – your wedding vows. I mean, that sounds odd at this point. People are going, “What?!” How did God use your wedding vows to bring that back to you and say, “Wait a minute”?

Kirsten: Well, to – the little preface to that was we told you that our son was overseas in school. And so, we had to leave a message for him, and he called, um – he called and talked with us. And Dave told him what had happened. And he said, “Well, I forgive you, Dad.” And he was – again, he was very gracious. But about two or three weeks later, I got a phone call and it was our son from overseas, which was where – you know, weird. And he’s talking and – and I’m – and then all of a sudden, he said, “Mom, do you love my dad?” (emotional) And that started God taking me through my vows, because when he asked me that question, we had – we had met with our restoration team and God had begun His work in me, long enough, that I could see the hope. And I could tell my son, honestly, “I love your dad because love is an act of the will. It’s not an emotion, because right now I can’t stand him. I don’t like him at all. But I love him because I made him a commitment.” And then God took me through my wedding vows line by line. And these were the traditional vows. And as we worked through, as God took me through that, you know, I had to say, “Okay. Yes, Dave has kept…” You know, forsaking all others – well, no, he didn’t keep that one, you know. And I – I got really upset about that, but God said, “Neither have you.” And I love reading. I’m a reader. You know, I love story. And God reminded me of some books that I had read where there was just enough titillation in them that my thoughts were not toward my husband. And Scripture tells us if you think it in your mind, you have committed it. I was guilty. So, I couldn’t throw a dart at him because I was just as guilty. And as we worked through those vows, and as we got to the end of it, the – the question that came – that God kept saying to me was, “Am I big enough to heal your marriage?”

Jim: Huh.

Kirsten: Now, either I believed God was big enough and I believed He was who He said He was and said He is, or he’s not. And so, that’s a spiritual crisis right there.

Jim: Oh. Man, I think we’ve painted the picture and we’re going to come back next time and talk more about your story. And I think the twist of this, Kirsten – and we’re certainly not ignoring you, Dave. I mean, you – you play a significant role here, but it’s how God begin to work on your heart specifically. And it’s a beautiful story of really the older brother in the prodigal…

Kirsten: It is.

Jim: …Son story. His hard heart toward his sinner brother. And I do want to pick that up because it’s so restorative. And, you know, there were two prodigals in that story. That’s the irony.

Kirsten: Yeah.

David: Yeah. And you have walked that out. Dave, obviously the younger brother in that context. But you had the older brother tendencies, and we’re going to cover that next time.

Man, if you’re in any spot where something has become an idol in your marriage, it may be an addiction to pornography, it may be something else. The concepts in this book, Choosing a Way Out: When the Bottom Isn’t the Bottom is for you. And, you know, if you can make a donation of any amount, we’ll get the book to you. If you can’t afford to do so, let us know. We’ll send it to you in faith, trusting others will take care of the cost of that. We want to help you. You’re seeing living proof with Dave and Kirsten that with hope your marriage can be redeemed. Guess what? God is big enough.

John: Mm. Yeah, He is. And we do hope you’ll contact us to get a copy of that book, Choosing a Way Out or if you need to, to talk with one of our counselors. While we have you on the phone, let us tell you about resources like Hope Restored which is a terrific marriage intensive program. Thousands of couples have gone through this and they’ve found hope for their broken marriages on the brink of divorce. It’s an incredible program and Hope Restored might be for you. We also have a No Porn podcast series by Dr. Greg Smalley that goes more in depth about the impact of pornography and how couples can find healing. All of this and more when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Dave and Kirsten, thank you for being with us today. I am really looking forward to tomorrow.

Kirsten: Thank you.

David: Thank you.

John: And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we continue the conversation and once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.

Today's Guests

Cover image of the book "Choosing a Way Out"

Choosing a Way Out

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