Staying In A Marriage After Betrayal
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne. Wow, I have Esther Hosea on today. She is a blogger at hisdearlyloveddaughter.com. We’ve been having technical difficulties.
Anne: Both Esther and I have been feeling a lot of—what do we call it—opposition to doing this podcast today. I’m just touched right now, and grateful to have her on the podcast. This woman is a woman of faith.
In 2016, Esther discovered that her husband of nearly 17 years, and the love of her life, had a serious sexual addiction and had been repeatedly unfaithful throughout her marriage. I’ll let her talk more about that. Esther, I want you to start with how would you have described your marriage before you found out about your husband’s infidelity?
Betrayal Trauma Can Feel Life-Shattering
Esther: Before I found out, I would have called our marriage an idyllic marriage. I would’ve said that we had pretty much a storybook relationship. We were best friends, we’re each other’s favorite person in the whole world. We’ve always enjoyed spending time together. All of our friends, all of our family, a lot of them looked to us as the example for marriage. It seemed really great.
Anne: What was it like to realize that everything you believed was a lie?
Esther: It was devastating. It shattered my whole world. I’ve described it to people like a puzzle. If our life is a puzzle and, before that day, I felt like my puzzle was all together, all the pieces fit. It was a really pretty puzzle. That day, when I found that out, it was if someone took that puzzle and just threw it. The pieces went everywhere. Maybe some of them even broke and went under pieces of furniture or something.
For the next however many months after that, it was this scramble, this panicky scramble to try and find all those pieces and get them to fit back together. Except now, I realize that they don’t fit. All those perfect pictures that I thought I had, it isn’t what I thought it was, and it doesn’t fit together like I thought it did.
How The Discovery Of Infidelity Causes Trauma
Anne: Yeah, I think that’s how all of us feel when that discovery happens. We’ve talked about D-day on the podcast before, which means discovery day, the day you find out that your reality that you’re living in is not actual reality, right?
Anne: It is mind-bending. How did you navigate the fog after D-day?
Esther: If I’m being honest, I would say that the first, at least, three months, maybe longer than that, after the first D-day, I didn’t navigate it. I went into this deep, deep, deep fog and I didn’t know which way was up. I didn’t even really try. I’d call it a zombie phase where you’re dead on your feet. You’re getting up and you’re going through the motions and you’re getting done the things that HAVE to get done.
Being Betrayed Causes Deep Despair
I have very few memories of that time. It was almost like I was just a robot, or something, going through that time. I don’t know, my brain was just off. I really, really struggled with my relationship with God during that time. I didn’t understand how he could let the happen. I had spent my whole life following him, praying for my husband and for our marriage.
It felt like God had betrayed me too. I was angry. I was really angry with him. I would pray and say terrible things to him. It was an awful time, but he pursued me through that time and was patient with me through my tantrums. After several months, I did eventually start to believe what he says in his word about me, about him. Eventually, I got through that fog by believing truth.
Anne: I want to quote you. You said that during that time, he “pursued me with reckless abandon.” I love that image of God pursuing us. I’ve felt a similar thing during the worst fog that I had, which was a nine-month period after my husband’s arrest. I couldn’t feel God at all, in spite of my prayers, in spite of my scripture study, in spite of everything that I was doing to try to obey the commandments and do the right things.
Trauma Causes Fog, Confusion, and Hopelessness
That was such a difficult time. Now, out of the fog, I can see him during that time. I’m just so grateful for his patience with us, because what we went through, that fog, is a classic trauma response where we are very wounded and can’t process things. He is there, even if we can’t feel him.
Esther: And he’s so patient. The scripture, especially the Psalms, and, also, Lamentations, helps me to be at peace, I think, with that time and to recognize that—I wouldn’t even say like God was just okay with it, I think he appreciated that I was coming to him with my raw honesty.
I wasn’t holding back and pretending that everything was fine when it wasn’t. I was screaming at him when I wanted to scream at him, and, I think, being real. I think he wants our authentic selves. He knows we’re broken. He knows we’re ugly and he just wants us to come to him as we are.
Anne: Either during this time, or after this time, talk to me about some of the “Ah-ha” moments that you experienced.
How Can We Honor Our Values In The Midst Of Trauma
Esther: For me, one of the first and biggest “Ah-ha” moments was when I got to the place where I had to be okay with the idea of my marriage ending. I was a child of divorce and I had vowed that I would never ever, ever get divorced. I clung to that. God brought me to a place where I recognized that I had made my marriage into an idol.
I had put this “I won’t get divorced” above God. I had decided that, almost, that if God asked me to leave my marriage, I wouldn’t. I would rather stay married than do what He was asking me to do. I had to get to a place where I said, “Okay, God, I’m going to follow you. I’m going to do what you want me to do, even if that means I’m going to be a divorced person,” which was this terrible thing in my mind.
Anne: This is where it gets really tricky, I think, for women of faith, because there’s these values and conflict. Also, this “idol.” I never thought of this until you said it, but worshipping our marriage over obedience and safety, knowing that what God wants for us, what God’s will is for us is to be in a safe, spiritual situation. It’s not to be in this dangerous situation with someone who’s being duplicitous.
Betrayal Trauma Is A Normal Response To An Abnormal Situation
Esther: A passage that struck me really hard recently is—I’m not going to remember the exact reference—but it’s in Malachi. It’s the passage where God talks about how he hates divorce. He’s talking to the men of Israel. They’re asking why isn’t He accepting their worship.
He says, “Because I saw the vows you made to your wives and I see that you’re being unfaithful to them.” He says, “I hate divorce,” but the message behind that is more than I hate divorce, I hate seeing my daughters abused. He demands their faithfulness. He says, “Come back, and be faithful to your wives.”
Anne: Absolutely. The reason why God made commandments was to keep people safe.
How To Find Healing And Hope After Trauma
Anne: If everyone in the world obeyed God’s commandments, the exploitation and the abuse and the harm done to other people, if everyone was honest, would disappear. That’s the point of the commandments. That is lost, I think, when you don’t obey the commandments, it actually harms someone else. It’s not just for your own like, “Oh, good, I’m going to go to heaven,”—
Esther: It’s for our safety, yeah.
Anne: I was reading my scriptures every day, and I kept thinking, “You need to create this plan that helps you study the scriptures using the 12 steps.” Because I do SALifeline, which is a 12-step program for betrayal trauma. I have a Master’s degree in curriculum instruction, so this type of thing of developing a study plan is in my skillset.
One of my podcasts, Luke 18, about the unjust judge. So many of my podcasts have come out of my scripture study and the way that I’ve been marking my scriptures since I started this. If you’re interested, it’s 12stepscriptures.org. I am so grateful for how he showed me about boundaries. This very dark purple pen, so that it would really pop out of each page. I was finding boundaries on almost every single page as I did my scripture study in the morning. It was amazing.
How Healing From Trauma Can Be Guided By Faith
I’m really grateful for His guidance through the scriptures. I think its sad, because so many women are so traumatized that picking up their scriptures just seems so overwhelming. It just seems like, “There’s no way. Why would I do that? I’m not getting any answers, I’m mad at God. God has abandoned me. He hasn’t kept his promise, because I’ve obeyed the commandments, and here I am in this awful situation.” That power that can come from the scriptures during this very difficult time is sometimes lost.
Anne: You mentioned that one of your “Ah-ha” moments was that you wanted to cover yourself in truth. What did that look like for you?
Esther: Before I talk about covering myself in truth, before that, he had asked me to start the blog. That was really terrifying to me, because I was still trying to live in the secrets. I didn’t want the whole world to know, so it was really scary to just put it all out there. But, in starting the blog, because I wanted it to completely point people towards Christ, everything that I wanted to write, I had to find out what the Bible had to say about it.
If I wanted to write about boundaries, I had to find out what the Bible has to say about that. If I wanted to write about telling the truth, everything that I wanted to write about, I had to go to scripture first, and find scripture to back up what I wanted to say. That became how I covered myself in truth, because I was studying and studying and studying, finding all these verses. Then, those would be in my head.
Finding Connection Is Essential In Trauma-Recovery
Every day for months, just scripture going through my head and going through my head and going through my head. That has massive effects on our life. I suddenly started seeing lies everywhere, and myself, not just my husband.
He would ask me a question, and I would give my normal “oh, I’m fine” answer, trying to minimize my pain, or trying to pretend like I was okay. That wasn’t truth. I learned through that time to just let everything that came out of my mouth—I mean as much as possible, because I’m still human—be saturated in truth. It changed everything.
Anne: The truth shall set you free.
Anne: There’s so much confidence that I gain knowing that this type of sin is wrong and that I am doing God’s will to set a very firm boundary around it.
How Faith Can Help In The Midst Of Trauma
Anne: I don’t know if I would have that really firm confidence if I didn’t know it was coming straight from God. Especially because my particular church leaders, at the time, weren’t really supportive of what I was doing, or they couldn’t really understand it.
They thought I was not being faithful. It just gave me the confidence that I needed to stand up to, I would say, just either my church culture or society, or people who don’t understand this, and it brought me a lot of peace.
Esther: I had talked earlier about making my marriage an idol. I believe that’s another thing I had made an idol of is the teachings of the church. Instead of following just scripture, I had allowed man’s interpretation of that to shape me. I became more dedicated to that than to the Word itself.
Like you said, there are so many churches that don’t get it all right, especially in this area. I don’t think it’s intentional. I think there’s a lack of understanding and a lack of education in this area, years and years and years, probably centuries of tradition has gotten in the way of what the Bible actually says about it.
How Can I Feel Peace After Being Traumatized By Betrayal?
Anne: Sexual sin is old.
Anne: We’re talking Sodom and Gomorrah.
Esther: Oh, absolutely.
Anne: It is the deepest sin that we have as humans. It is the most destructive.
Anne: Well, I guess aside from murder. It is so deep in our culture, and so ingrained in “what it means to be a man” and, also, “what it means to be a woman,” how we are supposed to interact, and all of those, we would say, roles, rather than the relationship that God wants us to have, and focusing on a peaceful, loving relationship. I think part of that is coming from centuries of sexual sin.
Connection Is An Important Part In Trauma-Recovery
Anne: You talked about how you started speaking the truth. That’s one way that you dealt with your anger and negative feelings toward your husband. Talk about other ways that you dealt with it, especially after you decided to stay.
Esther: For me, I had been so isolated for so long. This does kind of go along with the truth part of it. We decided that we were going to come out—I don’t know if that’s the right word, or the right way to say it. We weren’t going to hide anymore. My husband went in front of our church and confessed everything to them.
We told our children about it, they’re preteens through teenagers, so old enough to understand, and our friends. I found others. I found Facebook groups, and all kinds—to come alongside me. People that I knew in real life and people that I virtually know, just got help.
The Bible talks about as iron sharpens iron being with other believers. I think that was really important for me. Another way that I was able to get through was just to get support from other believers, and then also through my blog, to be that support.
How Does Faith Help With Recovery From Betrayal Trauma
One of my life verses has become 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, which says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”
I found that, as I walked in obedience with the blog, God just started bringing women into my life who were hurting. I was able to share what he had done for me with them. There was something about that that was healing for me, not them. Them, too, hopefully, but for me to share the comfort that God had given me with someone else, it somehow miraculously, also was healing for me.
Anne: My experience was similar. I was praying just so much after my ex’s arrest, and he was given a 14-month probation with a No Contact order from a judge. I knew I needed a separation, I knew I needed space, so as I prayed and said, “God, should I file for divorce, or should I amend the No Contact order? Should I allow him to talk to me?” I just kept getting this answer to, “Be still. Be still.”
One day, I told my mom, “Mom, I got an answer.” She was like, “You did, that’s awesome! Which one is it?” Because I was only praying about these two things, divorce or amend the No Contact order, those are the only two options. His answer was, “Start a podcast.” I told my mom, “I’m supposed to start a podcast.” She was like, “Okay,” so I started podcasting, and that’s all I did. A few months after that, my husband, at the time, he actually filed for divorce, and so I never had to make that decision.
Esther: Isn’t that just like God? I mean, to make it so you didn’t have to do it.
How Trauma Can Become A Part Of Our Strengths
Anne: No. Because I was committed to my marriage vows and my marriage covenants. I knew I couldn’t break them, and I had no desire to do that. I just was waiting on God to let me know what sort of man is he? Not God, what sort of man is my husband? Is he really a godly man, who can make the changes and repent, or is he not? I found out that he wasn’t. I was heartbroken about it, of course.
Esther: Isn’t it so like us to limit ourselves to A and B. I did that so much too. We’re going through and we say, “Okay, I can do this, or I can do this.” I’ve seen this all over the place as I speak with other women, too. “Well, it’s this or this.” “Well, it’s this or this.” I’m always saying, “Or it’s C. There’s a C. There’s a C, D, and E, actually.” I feel like that’s a huge part of betrayal trauma, is that we get stuck in A and B. “These are my two choices.” There’s almost always more choices.
Anne: Yeah. I think God was just waiting for me to be at the right place where he could show that other choice. Now it’s opened up this amazing world for me. You’ve experienced this same thing where there are so many women out there who are going through this. Had we not been able to tell the truth, had we not told the truth, we would never have found each other. There’s so much power in truth.
Healing From Trauma Requires Hope
Anne: After all the opposition that we’ve had in recording this podcast, I’m feeling right now that that’s what God wants for this particular podcast, is to encourage women to open their scriptures.
Esther: The beat of my heart is to see women turn to God through His word.
Anne: We’re having a board meeting tomorrow to vote on the mission and the vision of BTR, to build a worldwide army of women, empowered to create, set and hold boundaries, to stop the pornography epidemic. I see that army as an army of righteous women, an army of women confident because they read their scriptures, and because they have the spirit of God in their lives.
I think we can do it. I really do. I think that, if we each open our scriptures every day, we can stop this pornography epidemic. I don’t know how. I don’t know when. It seems like a crazy goal. I have to believe that it’s possible, right?
Esther: Absolutely, and with the God that we serve, shouldn’t we be setting crazy goals? I mean, he is the creator of heaven and earth. He holds everything together with His power. Why would we limit him to something that wasn’t crazy?
Anne: That’s a good point. It is pretty crazy, the things He’s done, when you think about him.
How Betrayal Trauma Influences Our Faith
Anne: Then I think about the parting of the Red Sea, right. It gets a little intense.
Esther: This is small compared to that.
Anne: It seems bigger to me. For some reason, stopping pornography seems harder than parting the Red Sea.
Esther: Also, don’t you think we know that God—He created the world, so, therefore, he’s in control of nature, right?
Esther: So parting the Red Sea, we’re comfortable with that falling within His realm of influence, or whatever. But this, this is people. This is the hearts of people. Our God is able. He’s sovereign. He’s in control of everything. While he does allow sin, he is able to conquer this.
Anne: Because so many women are praying and praying and praying and praying and praying for their husband’s hearts to change, and it’s not happening.
Setting Boundaries Is Important After Betrayal
Esther: For a lot of them, yes. We don’t know the end yet. Earlier I said that we had this idyllic marriage. Which was true, but I also did know about the pornography. I didn’t know about the infidelity, but I knew about the pornography long before all of this D-day, and all of that. I knew there was a struggle there.
I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed and, even though I would’ve said our marriage was idyllic, there were signs that I’d ignored. I spent many, many, many years crying out to God for my husband, that he would turn from that. For a long, long, long, long time it seemed like that prayer wasn’t being answered. It had to get really bad before it finally did change.
It had to get to the point where he was repeatedly unfaithful in really, really, really horrible ways, but he did, eventually, change. If someone would’ve told me 10 years ago, I would’ve said what you said, “My husband hasn’t changed.”
Anne: You just think like, “How bad would it have to get?” Like for my ex, it’s really bad, and he hasn’t changed yet. That is my hope for those of us whose husbands are not showing any signs of change. Then those boundaries are our only option. In my case, I really would love for him to change.
Emotional Abuse Causes A Traumatic Response
Actually, I would be open to him coming back and having our family be whole again, if he were capable of doing that, but I lost hope in him, while I have also increased my faith and hope in God. Which has been an interesting journey. Letting go of that idol of the marriage, or letting go of that idol of my husband, and putting it in God. God put me on this path.
I want to talk for just a second about the emotional abuse that pornography users frequently exhibit. Before you found out about your husband’s addiction, you perceived it as the ideal marriage with a few red flags that you discounted. Now, living with your husband in recovery, when you look back on his behaviors, do they look different now? Do they seem a lot worse than they did at the time?
Esther: Oh, my goodness, yes. Actually, I have a whole post on this. It’s called, “How to Know if Recovery is Real.” For all those years, he would tell me, “I did struggle with pornography, but I’ve quit.” Every time that he got caught, it was, “Okay, this is it. This is it. This is it.” I remember thinking, “How will I ever know if it really is real, because it’s just a matter of time before I find it again?”
Trauma From Infidelity Can Be Healed But It Takes Work
Now, now I know how I’ll know if it’s real, because everything changes. Everything changes. He is a totally different person. Yes, now I look back and see, like you said, abuse. It was an abusive relationship before. Even though I didn’t feel like it was, now, in hindsight, I can see that the manipulative ways that they communicate, and the lies, and then all the—I don’t know what the right word is, but the tactics, maybe, to deflect from those lies and to keep us where they want us.
It was downright abusive, but now I see the fruits of the Spirit. He’s loving. His love, it doesn’t just flow to me, it flows to everyone. He has started seeing people in a way he never did before. Just this past weekend, we had people over from his work for dinner, because he felt this call from God to have these people over for dinner.
So he did, and we sat there all evening talking with this couple. He wasn’t just looking for an opportunity to tell his next great story. He was listening to them. He was interested in them. It was love. Love flowed out of him. He’s at peace. That’s huge. Before, everything was so not peaceful.
Anne: Right, chaos.
What Does Recovery Look Like After Betrayal Trauma?
Esther: Now there’s peace. Yeah, chaos, exactly, chaotic. He, I think, looked for conspiracies everywhere. Always felt like everyone was out to get him. There was this—yeah, kind of craziness about him sometimes, where now there’s peace. He’s trusting God. When things happen at work that feel like, “Oh, do these people not like me? Are they out to get me?” he’s like, “You know what, God’s in control, so whatever happens, it’s going to be okay.”
He’s not obsessing about it, he’s just leaving it in God’s hands. That’s peace, and it wasn’t there before. Patient, kind, good—that’s a big one—faithful—don’t get me started on that one. Faithful is obviously a big one, but, yeah, he’s faithful in ways he never was before. Not just sexually faithful, but faithful in all ways. He’s gentle with me in ways he never was before.
He’s interested in what I’m doing. I’m not here just to serve him. He rushed home from work today to set all this up, so that I could sound professional on this podcast with all the right equipment and everything. He’s interested in me, he’s taking care of me, instead of me just being here to take care of him.
Betrayal Abuse Is A Form Of Relational Control
Anne: We’re looking for four things: accountability, honesty, humility, and a willingness to surrender to God’s will. Without those things, they cannot recover, or they are not in recovery without those things. Us too, recovering from betrayal trauma, even though its not our fault, we didn’t cause anything, is like recovering from a terrible accident. The way out is the same thing, honesty, and a willingness to surrender to God’s will.
God’s will is awesome. He wants us to be safe. He wants us to be loved. He wants us to have a wonderful, loving relationship. That is the purpose of marriage. It is not to be abused. I’m so interested in bringing this to light, of so many people who think their marriages are ideal, and then, later, when they look back, when they’re in recovery, realize, “Wow, no. It was an abusive situation.”
I was the same way. I was being abused for seven years. My husband was arrested for domestic violence. At the time he was arrested, it took me a few weeks to realize, “Wait a minute, he really is abusive.” For about three weeks after, I thought, “No, this is my wonderful, loving husband.” It’s so hard to wrap your head around abuse.
How Healing From Trauma Begins With Hope
That’s one of the things that I’m really trying to help people understand are the correlations between pornography use and abuse, because the world just thinks, “Wow, pornography. It doesn’t hurt anyone or anything.” If women know when someone’s using pornography, there’s always going to be some element of abuse. It might not seem extreme. It might be very subtle, but there’s always some element of abuse happening. I think it helps us have the confidence to set those boundaries that we need to set to be safe.
Esther: Right, definitely.
Anne: Esther, thank you so much for coming on today. Again, for those of you interested in hearing more about her story, or the “Ah-ha” moments that Esther has as she studies the scriptures, her blog is hisdearlyloveddaughter.com. You can find links to it from our site btr.org.
Esther: Thank you so much. I really appreciate you having me. Anne, it was awesome. Thank you, also, for what you do.
Why Does Trauma Feel So Isolating?
Anne: The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group and Individual Sessions help women find the support they need.