Childhood sexual abuse brought a ripple effect to Cheryl Tuggle’s marriage. Today, Cheryl and her husband, Brad, talk about the emotional baggage each spouse brings to a marriage, and how God can bring healing.
Childhood sexual abuse brought a ripple effect to Cheryl Tuggle’s marriage. Today, Cheryl and her husband, Brad, talk about the emotional baggage each spouse brings to a marriage, and how God can bring healing.
Bob: We're going to be dealing with an issue that is a sensitive issue, again, on FamilyLife Today. As a mom or a dad, you may want to have your younger children distracted or paying attention elsewhere. We're going to be talking about Cheryl Tuggle's experience being sexually abused when she was a child. Her husband, Brad, remembers the day that he realized her struggle had become their struggle.
Brad: We hadn't been married for very long, and I was in a playful mood one evening, and I think it was after dinner, and she had walked into the bedroom, and I surprised her. And I wasn't hiding or anything, but she didn't see me, and I just kind of surprised her. And when she turned around, the look on her face was of such shock and dismay in me – I thought, "My goodness, what did I do?"
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, October 10th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What can a husband do to help his wife if childhood sexual abuse is a part of her story? We'll talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. One of the things you and Barbara realized early in your marriage is that when a husband and wife get married, it's not just the two of them getting married, but they bring with them some suitcases. Some of them have …
Dennis: Some of them are trunks.
Bob: A little totebag, and others bring a whole set of luggage, don't they?
Dennis: We all have a context from which we come at life, and this couple who join us on the broadcast today are no different. Brad and Cheryl Tuggle join us. Brad, Cheryl, welcome back to the broadcast.
Cheryl: Thank you.
Brad: Thanks for having us.
Dennis: Brad, did you have any idea when you were getting married at the luggage you had coming into this relationship?
Brad: None whatsoever. The understanding of what Cheryl had gone through, even though she made me aware that there were family issues and even abuse issues, the unpacking of that took several years in our marriage. And not just the understanding of what happened but the ramifications of how that impacted us today were probably, for the first 8 or 10 years of our marriage, we kept tripping over it.
Dennis: You're a pastor today. You've heard a lot of stories, so you have a greater appreciation not only because of what you all experienced in your marriage, but you've now heard a lot of stories as a result of pastoring a church in San Antonio, Texas. You have a couple of teenage daughters, you've seen the impact of families upon their friends, and you now know that everybody does have a context at which they're coming at life.
Bob: Yeah, and everybody brings their – as I said, their own stuff into marriage. You brought your stuff in with you, so it wasn't like you came in baggage-free, and Cheryl brought the trunk. But what she brought with her was pretty profound. Cheryl, you had been sexually abused by your father from the time you were still a toddler – 3, 4 years old, and that continued and progressed and advanced into your teen years. That led to promiscuity in dating relationships and you also got involved in drugs. You got married early, the marriage was an abusive marriage, and when you met Brad at 26, you were freshly divorced, and did you figure dating and guys – you were pretty much done with that part of your life.
Cheryl: Oh, yes, I was done.
Dennis: Done with men in general?
Bob: You figured you'd be single for the rest of your life?
Cheryl: I didn't know. I just didn't have any faith in anything at that point.
Bob: Pretty broken and pretty …
Bob: Were you angry? Were you depressed? What were you?
Cheryl: All of those, all of those. I doubted that there was a God, I mean, even though I believed in some ways but there was just still, that how can there be, how can God let something like this happen?
Dennis: Brad, you – when you met her through happenstance, we'd look at it that way, meeting. Did you have any idea she was all of these things – angry, depressed, discouraged, distrustful of men? Or did you just kind of think what you see is what you get, and she's an attractive young lady.
Brad: She was very attractive and seemed completely well adjusted. I think she had lived with it for so long, like she said before, it had almost become normal. And so her adaptation skills had become so honed over all of those years that she seemed just as normal as anyone else.
Bob: So you guys get married, and you're thinking, "Well, that's a part of her past, but she's adjusted, she's doing fine," right?
Brad: Right, and we had no idea of the size of the ripples and the waves that it would cause later, and part of that was just my own minimization and cluelessness, really, about the impact of what she had gone through.
Dennis: You know, it's interesting, in your book, "A Healing Marriage," you call a person who has been sexually abused a survivor. That's really what Cheryl had become, and she had so masked it that you, as a young man, had no idea you were marrying this survivor, this young lady who had survived horrific evils against her, growing up.
Brad: Yeah, the term "survivor" in the book really is – it was descriptive of Cheryl when we first met but, really, our design was for it to be descriptive of the healing that comes through Christ, the healing that comes through the one who makes those scars have some sort of meaning; who can bring redemption to that kind of evil. And so many survivors describe themselves as a "victim," and there is no other vocabulary for that. And so we were careful to pick the word "survivor" for several reasons.
Dennis: So at that point, Cheryl wasn't a survivor, she was really in the grips of this thing, and it was clouding everything about her.
Brad: It was, because we had not yet plumbed the depths of it. She had not been in a relationship before where there was anyone that she could trust. Her ex-husband was not trustworthy. They had a very conflicted relationship, a physically abusive relationship, and so our relationship was the first place where she felt, I think, relieved and relaxed enough to unpack this, and as the unpacking occurred, the depth of the issues, the depth of the impact, started coming out, and that was when we started to navigate these very turbulent waters.
Bob: Do you remember the first time it kind of dawned on you, came into the back of your mind, you said, "There's something going on here. I'm not sure what it is, but there's some work we've got to do?"
Brad: Yeah, we hadn't been married for very long, and I don't even remember the circumstances, but I was in a playful mood one evening, and I think it was after dinner, and she had walked into the bedroom, and I surprise her. I wasn't hiding or anything, but she didn't see me, and I just kind of surprised her, and she didn't go ballistic, but it clearly took her back, and when she turned around, the look on her face was of such shock and dismay in me. I thought, "My goodness, what did I do? I'm just kind of playing here."
But I could tell there was something in her eyes that said my little efforts at playing and surprising her had not gone over well.
Dennis: Had she shared any of her story to this point with you?
Brad: She had shared some – that she was abused and that her father was sexually abusive. She had shared a lot about her first marriage. But, as I said, we had not explored the ramifications of that yet. The other area, of course, was in the area of intimacy, because as we attempted, as a married couple, to establish a strong intimate life, the hurdles that we had to overcome and the hidden barriers that were there were substantial. And, of course, you don't discover that until you try to begin that.
Bob: Right. And I think we need to unpack that a little bit, but let me go back to that playful moment of surprise. Do you remember the scene he's talking about?
Bob: What was going on? Why the look on your face?
Cheryl: I was transported back to my father just coming – you know, especially as teenage, and he would just show up and so I was just transported back to that place.
Bob: It just flipped the trigger in you.
Cheryl: Just in a blink of an eye.
Bob: Did you realize with Brad when he kind of pulled back, did you realize this has triggered that old memory?
Cheryl: Yeah, yeah, because I was, for the 30 seconds, I was back there, back as that little girl, I wasn't even me anymore. I was back with that little girl in that place. And then as I snapped out of it, I started asking the same questions, you know, where did that come from? And then, of course, I had to explain to him, because he was horrified that – you know, and he didn't mean to hurt me in that way. And so that kind of started the dialog of trying to help him navigate where I was at – what that was – what it felt like.
Dennis: This is, again, a delicate question, but I feel like I need to ask it. As a teenager in those situations with your father, did you feel like you were raped? I mean, I can't even imagine a young lady being surprised by her father with those intentions. That, to me, feels like rape.
Cheryl: Yeah, looking at it now, yeah. At the time, you know, like I said, when you're conditioned into this, it was just normal, it was, you know, I didn't like it. I just thought, you know, you just close your eyes and just hope it's over soon.
Dennis: And how often would it occur a week?
Cheryl: Probably at least three times a week.
Dennis: From the time you were in elementary school through pre-puberty, 13, 14, 15 years of age?
Dennis: When you got up to go to school the next day, I mean, did you feel like an alien at school a bit?
Cheryl: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. We moved around a lot. I never – there was probably only two years in my whole school years that I remember ever having the same class, the same teacher, because we moved around so much. So I always felt like the outsider, no matter where we were, you know, clothes, you know, you name it, I was always the outsider.
Dennis: Never risked telling a girlfriend?
Cheryl: School was an escape. I just didn't – you know, that was a place that was – I could just escape into. I didn't want any of that coming into what periods of good times that I had. So it just never occurred to me.
Dennis: Brad, even now hearing it, I mean, I know you and Cheryl have talked extensively, you've written about this in your book – how does it make you feel? I mean, the idea of a father raping his daughter repeatedly?
Brad: I still can't get my head around it. Now that our girls are 15 and 13, especially that God was gracious enough to give us girls, I think that was – had we had boys, I don't think I would have had nearly the sensitivity. But in watching our girls grow up and just from toddlers, watching them in their stage of life and knowing that that's when her abuse started, and then recalling a chapter of Cheryl's life when she was in third grade or when she was 13 and watching our girls get to that point, I am no less horrified now than when I first saw it. As a matter of fact, I'm probably even more horrified because I have my daughters' faces to put on that, and I just – I can't get my head around it.
Bob: When you and Cheryl started to unpack these reactions, this fright that she had when you surprised her, and other reactions that were showing up – was the resistance on her part to want to open this up and start talking about it? Or did both of you realize, if we're going to make our marriage what it needs to be, we've got to address this stuff.
Brad: We were not nearly that spiritual or purposeful as we began stumbling over it. We knew that we were committed to each other, and there was no question about that, but in terms of our spiritual formation and depth, I wouldn't say it was to the point where we said, "Well, we just know that we have to unpack this in order for our marriage to be spiritually – we were …
Dennis: You were how old?
Brad: Oh, we were 26 when we were married, and so this was our late 20s when we first found out. But, really, we started wrestling with this when we were both about 35, because that's when our daughters were born. And the presence of our daughters and Cheryl seeing them, especially because our oldest daughter looks a lot like Cheryl. So as we watched her grow up, it really caused Cheryl – and then both of us by extension – to grapple with what happened.
Bob: So in the nine years before your daughter was born, as you're starting a marriage, and you're starting your intimate life together, there are all kinds of issues showing up there as a result of a history of sexual abuse. As a husband, are you just thinking, "Oh, well, this is how it works out?"
Brad: Yeah, this is the circumstance that we have to deal with. You know, as a former businessman, it was – well, it is what it is. And so it wasn't a matter of resignation, it wasn't a matter of resentment, but we really did not have the tools, nor had there been enough life experiences to rekindle the emotions, the flashbacks that we had when our daughters were born. And so I would say we dealt with it for the first eight or nine years, but when our daughters came, it really took it to the next level.
Dennis: And I think that's kind of where I want to go. I want to read a verse to you all, because the key thing in this marriage that really, ultimately, saved it was the entrance of Jesus Christ into Cheryl's heart and, Brad, you had already been a believer and a follower of Christ.
Dennis: But I want to read a verse to you, and I want you both to comment on it, because I think it's going to be very clear what my question is even without asking it. It's in 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 17 – "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come." How does that apply in your marriage?
Cheryl: When he talked about the girls – right before I had found out I was pregnant, I think we both acknowledged that this was – and especially me – that it was holding and taking too much, and I had made a decision, and I think I just got sick of being sick. And once I was pregnant with my girls, I would just, with every ounce that I had left, that I was not going to let it hold me anymore. I was going to do whatever I had to for the security of my children, for them to be healthy. Everything that I read in Scripture that He didn't die for me to have this kind of life; that I had to do whatever I had to do, as painful as it was to look at, the stuff that I'd come through – that I was going to be that.
Brad: The newness of life that Cheryl experienced could only be attributed to the hospital. It had nothing to do with me and my ability to comprehend anything or my ability to not be what she had become accustomed to. The transformation that occurred within her was truly of the spirit, and her maturity in Christ, her – the change in her worldview that she just talked about in terms of not letting the enemy take one more square inch of real estate from her life – that resolved almost an anger at evil. It came about because of her courage, because of our kids, and their introduction into our lives but really because of how the spirit moved within her.
And I just watched that with amazement. It was awe-inspiring to watch that transformation take place. It was slow. It took quite a few years for her to get to that point to be so fed up, but the ability for her to do that without becoming venomous and bitter and mean-spirited toward her current family or toward me was just astounding, and only God could do that.
Bob: Describe for us how Cheryl is different today than she was when the two of you got married.
Brad: I guess I'd go back to the best word I think of it is "worldview." When things happen to us today, whether it's physical challenges or setbacks in parenting a couple of teenagers, challenges in the ministry – when things happen, her perspective now, the wisdom and maturity that she brings to issues and problems that we have, is of such gravity and such maturity that I just marvel at her and at the paradigm that she has to be able to see things for how they are.
Bob: Are you saying that 20 years ago, facing challenge and adversity and hard things, she might have shut down or retreated or pulled back, and now there is the courage to engage these things and to engage them with spiritual maturity and wisdom?
Brad: Yes, yes, there is no retreat, and that's – she drew that line in the sand, and that policy of no retreat is well and active in our marriage and in our family today largely because of what God has done in her life.
Bob: And, Cheryl, you're nodding your head at that. You are aware that the old Cheryl would have just kind of shut down.
Bob: You don't shut down anymore?
Cheryl: No. No, if anything, I run into it because I'm not – you know, once I learned about spiritual warfare and what Satan and how – the tactics he uses, you know, he may knock me down, but you better watch it when I get back up.
Dennis: You know, you all have said two things I want to underscore here – one, you just made the point of commitment – no retreat. Your commitment enabled you to create a safe place to ultimately unpack your bags. And if a marriage isn't safe, if there is the threat of leaving, it's not going to be safe to unpack the bags, it's not even going to be safe to bring them out of the closet.
The second thing you've said, just in your response to this passage in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." You kept mentioning the word "transformation." And I think one of the mistakes that Christians promote is that once you become a follower of Christ, you don't have any problems. You know, all that stuff of the past, it's all over and done with, we're forgiven, we're a child of God, we're perfect, we're just living happily ever after.
The Scriptures talk about that transformation. Yes, we are forgiven at a point in time, and the old things are passed away, and we have become a new creature, but there is a thing called "sanctification." It's a big word, it's another word for transformation. It's learning to follow Christ for a lifetime, walking by faith, and let Him renew us day by day and do what He's done in Cheryl, which is create a woman who has a godly perspective of circumstances in life and passes our wisdom to her husband, to her girls, to her friends and her church. That's the Christian life. It's not perfection. It is following Christ and letting Him do His work in us and through us.
Bob: Yeah, and it's taking the forgiveness that we've received from Christ for our own sin and being able to forgive others because we've been forgiven. In fact, we want to invite our listeners to go to our website, FamilyLife.com. We had a conversation with Brad and Cheryl about the subject of forgiveness and about what a wife or a husband can do in a situation like this to be able to extend forgiveness to an abuser.
And if folks would like to listen to that conversation, it's available on our website at FamilyLife.com. When you get to the home page, on the right side of the screen where it says "Today's Broadcast," click where it says "Learn More," and there is a link to the audio file there, and you can listen to the conversation on forgiveness with Brad and Cheryl.
And let me also encourage you, on the same subject, Dennis, you and I had a conversation with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, who has written a book called "Choosing Forgiveness." Today we'd like to send a copy of that CD to any listener who would contact us and request it. Maybe you have struggled with this issue of forgiveness because of past abuse in your own situation, and you want to hear what God's Word has to say about being forgiven and about forgiving others.
You can call 1-800-FLTODAY and request a copy of this CD. We'll send it to you at no cost – 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. Just mention that you'd like the CD we were talking about on FamilyLife Today, and we're happy to send it out to you. We appreciate you listening to FamilyLife Today, and we hope this CD will be helpful as you continue on your spiritual journey.
Let me also mention that we have copies of the book that Brad and Cheryl Tuggle have written called "A Healing Marriage." It's in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can get more information about the book online at FamilyLife.com or by calling 1-800-FLTODAY.
If you go to the website, when you get to the home page, again, click where it says "Today's Broadcast," and that will take you to the area of the site where you can find out more about the book, "A Healing Marriage." Dan Allender's very helpful book called "The Wounded Heart, Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse." Again, all the information is on our website at FamilyLife.com, and you can either order online or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, and if you do that, we'll make arrangements to have these resources sent out to you.
And, with that, we've got to wrap things up for today. I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can be back with us on Monday when we'll talk with Judy Starr about how she almost crossed the line in her marriage and went where she should not have gone with a man who was not her husband. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend, we'll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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