Addiction–and Our Marriage’s Happily Even After: Bob and Dannah Gresh
Bob and Dannah Gresh's marriage has traveled dark roads of addiction. But they decided to participate in God's redemption story. Together, they discovered something better than romance: a love that endures, and happily even after.
It’s so much easier to pretend everything is okay and to just keep going through the motions. That’s not okay. What that is, is us avoiding pain. Pain is not a problem. It is a gift from God. When you feel the pain, that’s God’s friendly messenger saying, “There’s something that together we can fix if you’re willing to be brave enough and feel the pain.” --Dannah Gresh
About the Guest
- Connect with Bob and Dannah Gresh at dannahgresh.com/ or on Instagram @dannah_gresh
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- Listen to Bob and Dannah's podcast, "Happily Even After", where they talk through the redemption and healing from addiction that they've experienced in their marriage.
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Bob and Dannah Gresh’s marriage has traveled dark roads of addiction. Together, they discovered a love that endures, and happily even after.
Addiction–and Our Marriage’s Happily Even After: Bob and Dannah Gresh
Shelby: Hey, Shelby Abbott here. Just want to give a heads up before you listen to this next program. Today’s conversation on FamilyLife Today covers some sensitive but important subjects that might not be suitable for younger ears. So please use discretion when listening to this next broadcast. Alright, now let’s jump into it.
Dannah: I didn’t know if it was workaholism, I didn’t know if it was stress from work, I didn’t know if it was the porn resurfacing, but partly I didn’t want to know.
Dannah: It’s so much easier to pretend everything is okay and to just keep going through the motions. That’s not okay. What that is, is us avoiding pain. Pain is not a problem. It is a gift from God. When you feel the pain, that’s God’s friendly messenger saying, “There’s something that together we can fix if you’re willing to be brave enough and feel the pain.”
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: There’s a little secret, I think, in the church. I literally last night looked up a stat to see, “Okay, is my secret confirmed?” 68 percent of men, church men; 50 percent of pastors, look at porn. I don’t know if those numbers are accurate right now, but that’s what I saw last night.
Ann: That’s a big secret.
Dave: Yes, I mean it’s like people are talking about it a little bit, but it’s still in marriages, it’s in spouses. I guarantee there are some spouses listening right now who are thinking, “My wife doesn’t know.”
Dave: Or, “My husband doesn’t know—"
Dave: “–that I struggle with this” either. It’s almost like an addiction—daily or weekly; or “It’s been three months, and I sort of splurge and purge, but it’s something I am struggling with, and it’s a secret.”
Ann: Not only that, Dave, but I feel we’re in epidemic kind of proportions because it’s taking men, and women now, out of the game spiritually, because they’re hiding in the dark. They don’t know what to do with it.
Dave: Yes, and some people right now don’t even like us talking about it. And because it was my secret, and to be a FamilyLife co-host of a show and a pastor and saying that out loud, is something that isn’t easily done. I don’t want to say it even right now. I’d just like to pretend that was never a part of my story, but it is, and I’ve just got to prepare you. Get ready because we’re going there today. [Laughter]
Dave: It’s going to be a great couple of days (if not more), because we have Bob and Dannah Gresh in the studio, and they’re looking at us like they know exactly what we’re talking about.
Dannah: We do know what you’re talking about, and the secret is that it’s not really a secret inside of a marriage. Everybody always knows, even if they don’t know and they’re not talking about it.
Ann: You have been married how many years?
Dannah: 34 years. He’s in charge of the number. I don’t know.
Dave: 34, with how many kids?
Dannah: Three wonderful kids; four grandbabies.
Dave: Wow, so you’re empty nesters?
Dannah: We are.
Bob: We’re living the good life right now. It’s an interesting window to be in. We thought we—we were empty nesters for a little bit and had all this freedom, and now we have grandkids and we’re like—
Bob: –now there are four birthdays a year where we’re kind of tied to a calendar and loving it.
Dannah: We love it!
Ann: We are, too.
Dannah: Love it!
Dave: Yes. Now, I don’t know if you’ve written—have you written a book together before?
Dannah: Well, we didn’t write this one together. But it’s a book for women.
Bob: I provide all the drama and the bad stuff. [Laughter] In the first couple books she wrote, I was a real hero. That’s when we were dating and things like that. I did a pretty good job!
Bob: Since then, we’ve shared stories that aren’t–I’m not quite the hero I was, but we’re redeeming—
Ann: It’s okay.
Dannah: You are.
Bob: It’s a redemption story.
Ann: –because Jesus is the hero—
Bob: –that’s right.
Ann: –and we’re just broken, and we’re depending upon Him.
Dannah: That’s right, that’s it right there.
Bob: That’s such a good answer [Laughter]
Dave: That is. That’s why I married her, Bob.
Bob: I’m going to use that one. I stepped right into that one and set her up. [Laughter]
Dave: She got it. Well, the book is called Happily Even After, and I already told you what a great title!
Dave: Let God Redeem Your Marriage. So, I’m just going to let you go. Tell us what this means; what's this story?
Dannah: Where the book starts is many years into our marriage, I thought something was wrong. I didn’t know what. I didn’t really want to know what, but I was experiencing a lot of unwellness. I didn’t know if I was crazy or depressed or what was wrong. I got back in touch with my Christian therapist of almost 30 years and said, “Hey, like I’m going through a thing. I need to talk. I don’t know what’s up.” And her first question to me was, “Dannah, has Bob relapsed?”
Bob: Was I using porn again or going down that road.?
Dave: She immediately went there?
Dannah: She went there.
Bob: You know, it’s interesting being in a marriage where you know you’re sabotaging yourself. You’re doing things against your principles, insane things. Why do I do things that are against my interests? And that’s what addiction is, you know? You do things that are sabotaging your own self-interests.
Ann: Sounds like something Paul said.
Bob: That’s right.
Ann: “Why do I do the things?” yes.
Bob: That’s right, Romans 7. I think about that and for me, I’ve always told Dannah when I was struggling. But I will say there was an event coming up. There was something happening where I knew if I told her, it was going to wreck the next six months. It was going to be, you know--
Ann: You’re thinking of the timing?
Bob: —I’m thinking of the timing
Ann: Like, “Is this a good time?”
Dave: Which is also rationale.
Bob: It’s also total rationale. I don’t want to hurt her. It would be better for her not to know. And at some point, mine was starting to escalate because it always escalates when you’re into lust and porn. There was a day I had to sit her down. We have these two red chairs, comfortable chairs in the living room of our home, and there was a time when I had to sit her down. I actually snuck a picture of her before that—
Dave: What do you mean snuck? You just literally took your phone and—
Bob: Yes, and I thought, “I want a picture of her before I tell her this, because she’ll never look at me the same way again probably,” or I’ll never feel that way.
Bob: That’s a really sad thing, but I sat her down and—I don’t remember this, but—what I said was, “I think the only way for me to get back to God is probably going to break your heart,” and I did. I broke her heart.
Ann: What happened when he said those words to you, Dannah? Did your heart start racing?
Dannah: Well, yes and no. For 18 months, I had been praying that God would work in his heart, that whatever it was–I had sat down with Tippy, and I had said, “I can ask him if he’d relapsed.”
Ann: Tippy is your counselor?
Dannah: Tippy is my counselor, right. I said, “I can ask him if he’s relapsed, but he’s always been forthcoming, so I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t be again.” But we began to pray from the Word. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths,” and if you keep reading that, it says, “And it will be healing to your flesh and strength to your bones.”
I was really unwell. I was sick. I had joint and muscle pain. I had headaches. I had fatigue that didn’t make any sense. I’d been from doctor to doctor to doctor, and they couldn’t really diagnose anything. I was experiencing what many women do when there’s been the cycle that keeps repeating itself, and eventually that cycle can turn into—about 70 percent of wives of men who cyclically use pornography exhibit symptoms of PTSD. Now, that doesn’t mean they have a diagnosis of PTSD, and it also doesn’t mean that if you have joint and muscle pains, or you have headaches, or you’re tired, that your husband’s using pornography.
But they may not be disconnected. It could be they have something to do with each other, and that’s because our bodies are trying to get our attention. I look back now, and I realize, “Oh, he wasn’t making eye contact with me during that time.” I didn’t really want to face that. I didn’t really want to admit that.
Ann: It seems like Bob would have the physical symptoms, and yet you as the wife are having physical symptoms.
Dannah: That’s what the research bears out.
Bob: I started to see that. I thought, “This is ridiculous.” But I started to see times when I could kind of pinpoint my acting out and her exact—
Bob: –same time getting sick or whatever. Again, we found out since then, there’s research that can happen with stress and stuff like that. It pushed me over the edge. “I’m doing this. She doesn’t know why, but I think I’m—”
Ann: –I’m the cause.
Dannah: And you know there could be very much a spiritual element to it. I believe we don’t even come close to understanding what’s happening in the spiritual realm. But behavioral science has acknowledged there’s something called limbic resonance, and that’s when your brain—you can walk into a room, and you kind of get a read on the room, and you realize there was just a fight in here, or there’s a lot of joy in here.
Now, there might not be anybody laughing. There might not be anybody fighting, but you read it. The person that shared this with us compared it to when you walk into a room where someone was smoking recently, and you don’t see a cigarette, you don’t see an ashtray; but you’re aware that something was going on in this room recently. And we, in our marriages, have a heightened awareness of limbic resonance. When your spouse’s spirit isn’t flourishing, you read it; but sometimes you don’t want to, so you stuff what you’re reading, and your body keeps saying, “No, no, no. I need you to pay attention to this. I’m sending you these signals so that you will do something to fix what’s wrong.” And when you stuff it, and you ignore it, and you don’t bring it up, that’s when sometimes your body starts to really tell the tale.
Ann: I do think that was very true of us. I could—
Dave: Hey! Could we make this about them? [Laughter] I don’t want to—
Ann: But no, I could tell Dave and I were struggling a little bit, and I kept saying, “Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong between us.”
Dave: And I would lie because I knew—
Ann: I think that God gives us that as a spouse to know, “We’re not right. We’re not vibing the way we used to. What’s going on?” I do think you’re right, and I’m even thinking, Dave: I had some health issues years ago. I had some heart issues—
Ann: –some palpitations—
Ann: –and I was living—I don’t know how you felt, but I was living—in this dread and fear, and I know that affects us physically.
Dannah: Yes, sure it does; and it’s God’s grace. You know, one of the things that we’ve learned as we’ve walked through this journey—a man who helped us greatly is a Christian counselor, Pete Kuiper. We just love him. He has been a lifeline from Jesus for us. And you know when you’re stuffing the pain, I didn’t confront Bob, partly because I was waiting on the Lord, and I wanted him to confess whatever was going on. But I didn’t know if it was workaholism. I didn’t know if it was stress from work. I didn’t know if it was the porn resurfacing. But partly, I didn’t want to know.
Dannah: It’s so much easier to pretend everything is okay and to just keep going through the motions. That’s not okay. What that is, is us avoiding pain. This great therapist taught us that pain is not a problem. It’s a gift from God. When you feel the pain, that's God’s friendly messenger saying, “There’s something that together we can fix if you’re willing to be brave enough and feel the pain.”
Bob: Now, Dave, you were talking about anger and the electrical cord, the extension cord—
Dave: You listen to everything.
Dannah: He’s a fanatic!
Bob: —and I love that; I love that example, because that’s exactly what we’re talking about with—
Dave: –it’s plugged in—
Bob: That’s right. It’s going someplace else.
Dave: You’ve got to trace it back, yes.
Bob: It’s a 10 reaction to a 2 problem.
Ann and Dave: Yes.
Bob: And that happens, by the way, a lot when we’re on vacation, I’m just driving around, [Laughter] There a lot of—I just have to say, “This is a two. It’s just a two.”
Ann: That’s good.
Bob: But yes, it was a difficult time, and I was down and depressed and distant.
Dave: What got you to the point where you said, “I have to tell her?” I mean, because obviously I know, you put it off. You put it off. I mean every day, at least for me it was, “I’ve got to confess.”
Dave: And then you did. Why?
Bob: It was wrecking my health, too; my ability to get up in the morning. I was doing things, and everything was against my self-interest you know. I’m running a ministry, so for the past year, I would tell the people running it with me—I’d say, “You know, I’m having a down thing here. You can’t trust what I say about what God is saying right now.” Even though I’m the leader, I would take communion in our church, go in one door and go out the other and throw the communion away, because I didn’t want to take communion. I know how important communion is, so I know all these things and—
Bob: –it was conviction.
Dannah: It was conviction.
Dave: And yet, Dannah didn’t know.
Ann: And she really didn’t want to know. She did kind of.
Dannah: Yes, I mean, Tippy and I had talked about it—my therapist and I had talked about it—and I said, “He’s just been so forthcoming. I don’t know why he would not be forthcoming now.” But looking back, I think that was me avoiding it.
Bob: There were good times. This wasn’t—
Dave: Oh, yes.
Bob: The cycle would end, and I—
Dave: You’d be good.
Bob: I’d pay penance, and I’d think, “This is better.”
Dave: “I’m never going to do this again.”
Bob: Right. “Never, never would do this again.”
Bob: Never going to do this again. You know, it’s insanity.
Ann: And I’m sure you guys think, “This is my problem. This is my pain. Why do I want to give to my wife?—
Bob: It’s just going to hurt.
Ann: It’s going to hurt her, and now she has to carry it.
Bob: Right. That’s such a great equivocation there to say, “I don’t want to hurt her. I’m already doing this, and she has nothing to do with it. It’s not about her. It’s not about our sex life. It’s not about her being pretty. She won’t understand it.” You can kind of live in that for a while. You know it’s a lie. You know it’s a lie, but—
Dannah: We know now, the research bears out, if there’s a porn problem in your house, there’s a loneliness problem in your house. Surveys reveal that it’s not just men struggling with pornography today. There’s a growing number of women in the church also struggling; about 30 percent of women. And almost across the board, they’ll tell you they’re deeply lonely. And so, when your spouse doesn’t know, that only increases the loneliness, because the question you ask—well, what’s the question you ask in your head? “If she really knew—"
Bob: “If she really knew what I was doing, she wouldn’t—”
Bob: “She wouldn’t love me like this.”
Dannah: That loneliness just builds when you don’t tell the story, and you don’t feel the pain together. Pete taught us (our counselor taught us) that emotions are an essential ingredient in intimacy. When he’s over there feeling lonely and not telling me because he doesn't want to crush my heart, and I’m over here feeling trauma, that’s me feeling fear. That’s me feeling sadness, and all those things; but we’re not talking about those emotions; we are not intimate. When we started to talk about them, and we started to cry, we started to fight, not always in a healthy way—at least on my side. That’s my confession because I threw things at him—
Bob: She threw a candy jar once. It was a little square candy jar about four by four.
Ann: Was it glass?
Bob: It was glass, but it was so hard, it stuck in the wall.
Bob: It stuck in the drywall.
Dannah: The hole is still there in the wall.
Dave: Is it really? Is it like a—
Bob: We patched it up again—
Dannah: –but it’s not well patched. It’s still there.
Dave: I mean, here’s what I think when I hear that story; I think, “I’ve been there,”
Dave: I mean, it isn’t really that–oh no, we were there!
Dannah: Yes, here’s the one thing about me throwing stuff that I look back on; hindsight is so valuable, right? The research that we’ve done in the years since this happened [has helped us] understand some of what we went through a little bit better, but my brain wasn’t working in the way that it normally does. Our brains are—for example, a woman’s brain is created to do math, be teachers, be politicians, take care of a home, all of that stuff. We do that in a relatively stable state all day long. But our brains were also created to give birth. We are not in a stable state when we give birth. [Laughter] Our brain is very different!
Bob: No comment.
Dannah: At that moment, right?
Dave: Hey, we’re going to be quiet over here.
Dannah: But we’re able to do it, right? You might slap your husband, you might yell at the nurse. [Laughter] You might use words that you don’t normally use. I don’t know. That wasn’t one of my particular things, but—
Bob: –you have no idea what you said. [Laughter] You have no memory of the actual words you said, but I think they were good.
Dannah: My brain when we were in the middle of sorting through this wasn’t functioning in that same stable way, and that’s because it was confused; it was traumatized; it was processing the pain. It was trying to make sense of puzzle pieces that were starting to fit together. I wasn’t thinking rationally, and on the other side of the brain, there’s incredible evidence that pornography is terribly damaging to the brain physiologically.
I mean, if you take a functional scan of a man or a woman who’s addicted, using pornography, and lay that brain next to a normal brain, they’re going to look very different. But lay that next to a heroin addict’s brain, and they look almost the same. They look like Swiss cheese; there are all these craters and holes from dopamine overload. Those hits of dopamine, hitting the brain, doing damage in much the way heroin produces chemicals in the brain and produces damage.
His brain isn’t working well, right? My brain is not working well. We need help. That’s the point we came to. Two Christian leaders, capable of helping all kinds of other marriages, [but] we couldn’t help our own, and we needed to tell someone.
Ann: If I were a listener, I’d be listening, [and] I would be on the edge of my seat; because if your husband or wife isn’t struggling, you might have kids or know someone that is struggling. I think we’re all desperate, especially in the United States, in our culture, as I said before, we’re at epidemic levels. So, help us. What can we do? As listeners at this point, what are your recommendations?
Bob: Well, I had to move from, let’s say, being accountable every week or every month, to every day. To be in that community of believers, and that helped me a great deal. I went to 12 step groups. I dug in, and I think that there’s different levels of people’s addiction to this. I was—I have a pretty addictive personality.
Ann: And Bob, let me add this: you had said a relapse, so this had happened before in your marriage?
Bob: This was the kind of thing that would rear its ugly head, maybe not for a couple of years, and then it would. You know, there was a time I had to go to my board—I had two boards, ministry boards: one for the school I created, and one for us—and say, “I’m not qualified right now to lead this ministry. I’ve fallen below the qualifications of a leader, and I need a break. They worked with me on that so, fortunately, I always confessed before I was caught. That helps trust a little bit, but I needed to be really open. “I need to be working on my spiritual life and disciplines.”
Dannah: Bob’s telling someone every day. He was, you know, in a men’s Christian small group from our church one day a week. He was in a 12-step program one day a week. He’s with his therapist another day a week. At the beginning of our journey, that’s how persistent he was in getting the help he needed. But I find that there are a lot of women married to men who don’t tell.
Ann: Me, too.
Dannah: And they’re sitting over there lonely and—
Ann: And bruised and broken.
Dannah: —and they’re not even responding well, because they’re so broken. But one of two reasons keeps them from telling: one might be their pride, and they’re doing image management for their family—
Dannah: –and for themselves. And sometimes, they believe the lie that, “If I tell someone, they will be disrespectful to my husband.” But listen, if it’s something that will make you a better wife, and it’s something that’s going to get your marriage the help it needs, that’s not disrespecting your husband. That’s loving your husband.
So, I just beg any woman who says, “Yes, my husband’s been in this battle, in this cycle, I know what you’re talking about, but I’ve never told anyone.” You need to text someone right now, because you’ll chicken out. Just say, “Hey”—your pastor’s wife, or your best friend who’s godly and a prayer warrior for you, or maybe your therapist, your Christian therapist that you’ve never told—“I have a secret that I’ve never told anyone, and this is my accountability text. You need to ask me what it is.” Just do that. Take that first step, and you’re going to find it’s the beginning of walking in freedom.
Dave: Yes, and I would just add, do what Dannah just said. I know some of you just pulled your phone out, and then you got scared. And I know there are guys like Bob and myself. It’s in the dark, it’s your secret. We started today [with] “There’s a secret in the church.” Do not let it be a secret any longer! I think the reason you’re listening today [is] God put this program on your phone, on the radio, or wherever it is, because He’s saying, “Today is the first step toward freedom and healing.” And you don’t get there unless you take that scary first step.
Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Bob and Dannah Gresh on FamilyLife Today. You know, Dannah has written a book called Happily Even After: Let God Redeem Your Marriage. This book unpacks how to forgive, how to live with joy, and [how to] celebrate as you participate in your husband’s redemption story. You can pick up a copy of that book at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. That’s 800, ‘F’ as in family, ‘L’ as in life and then the word ‘TODAY.’
Well, we know you’ve heard us talk about Weekend to Remember® a lot, and how transformative it can be for your marriages. But really, even though we plan out so much of it, Weekend to Remember can be what you make of it. Now, whether you go with hopes to redeem your marriage, or maintain, or even just a weekend away together, the conversations between you and your spouse can change everything about your weekend and your marriage for years to come.
And that’s why we’re so excited to let you know that now through September 18th, registrations for the Weekend to Remember are half off. This is a chance to get together with your spouse and intentionally focus on your marriage, so don’t wait. Head on over to WeekendtoRemember.com now and register for your getaway. Again, that’s WeekendtoRemember.com.
If you feel the deep need for community, discipleship, and support when dealing with your struggles, join us tomorrow as Dave and Ann Wilson talk again with Bob and Dannah Gresh to help us see that sin in marriage can’t be isolated. We need community to draw it out. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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