Our Savage Marriage: Phil and Priscilla Fretwell
Phil and Priscilla Fretwell, creators of Savage Marriage, continue their story of his sexual addiction, telling their kids—and the ways honesty transformed their family.
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Phil and Priscilla Fretwell, creators of Savage Marriage, continue their story of his sexual addiction, telling their kids — and the ways honesty transformed their family.
Our Savage Marriage: Phil and Priscilla Fretwell
Shelby: Hey Shelby Abbott here, just want 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.
Phil: Everybody tries to do something great for their kids, right? But the thing I think we’ve thought about is if we can model humility for them, that can be one of the greatest things we can do for them, because that will take them further in their relationships and life than almost anything else.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: We’ve got a third day with Phil and Priscilla Fretwell back in the studio. I thought we’d do one or two days with you guys, but we just can’t stop. We’ve got to keep it going.
Phil: We had so many problems [Laughter]
Ann: We have to hear the end of the movie. That’s what it is, like you have to hear the end, and we need help.
Dave: Yes, and I would just say if you’ve missed any of the last two days, go back-
Ann: mmm hmm
Dave: -start with day one, because this story which you guys recount in your book Savage Marriage, I don’t know how to recap this thing. I mean I'm trying to bring our listener up to speed but basically there was a secret in your marriage which involved a porn addiction which led to affairs that Priscilla didn’t know about. Phil’s living the life of being the perfect man. I mean I’m looking at you–you’re like the elder, you’ve got a business career, you’re a community man-
Dave: I am.
Ann: –you have five kids.
Dave: –am I exaggerating?
Phil: No, we looked great to everybody on the outside.
Dave: –the family, the house, everything, even three dogs?
Priscilla: Yes, three dogs.
Dave: I mean you’ve got the whole picture and yet there’s this secret lurking behind the veil that grabs your hearts so strong you cannot live this anymore. Again, I’m recapping the last two days, but you confessed your sin to Priscilla, she stays, which is a miracle in itself.
Ann: Because she has an encounter with God who really takes her on a journey that she’s willing to walk through with Jesus and the healing power He brings. And let me say this you guys, thank you for your honesty, your transparency, like you have been incredibly real
Ann: Thank you. Like it’s pretty astounding of the depth that you go in sharing, not only with us but with our listeners. But also, we stopped yesterday as we talked - you not only confessed to Priscilla your wife, but you felt the need to confess to your five kids, two of those were only nine and eleven at the time. And Priscilla, you are not–like what did you feel about that?
Priscilla: I just felt like that’s where we could not go. We cannot do this to our 11- and 9-year-old. This is too much.
Ann: Too much, what did you think it would do?
Priscilla: I just thought it would ruin their perception of their dad.
Priscilla: You know I could see the older kids kind of listening and saying okay we understand what happened, alright. But the two younger ones I was just like, “No, they’re too young to hear this.” I was just very adamant that this was not going to happen and Phil talked me off the ledge and said, “Okay, we’ll deal with that one when it comes,” you know.
Ann: Phil, were you general in your admission of what had happened, or you know, “I just had a porn problem,” or did you go into detail?
Phil: So, for the nine and the eleven-year-old specifically for them, we did not want them to ever come to a place, because sooner or later they’re going to know-
Dave: Sooner or later.
Phil: -when they’re fifteen or sixteen or whatever it is they’re going to know. We did not want them to ever think that they’d been living with a secret. Because see - the problem with the secrecy is the core; it was a backbone of my issues of not telling people. So as much as it was going to hurt, we wanted to just change the culture of our family. We were going to start there. So, we did not want them to ever think of a time where they didn’t know-
Phil: -and that they’d been kept in secrecy. So, we made it age appropriate-
Phil: -and we revisited it with them when they were like four years later. We went through it in more of the level of detail we had done with the older kids. They really appreciated it. They asked great questions.
Dave: I mean the thing is astonishing and it goes back to when you had the phone call on the airplane.
Phil: mmm hmm
Dave: And Paul Speed says, “This is about your pride.”
Dave: In this moment I’m like, “Okay, hold on until a little more pride,” [Laughter] because you know to tell your kids, and now the world knows. You know you write a book about it, but in that moment nobody knows about it except you two. You know it’s like this is true humility. There’s no more pride left-
Ann: –yes because they’re a part.
Dave: --because you confess this. It’s like, oh my goodness. I can confess some sin to people but to go to you know, the sin that you walk through, no it’s like, “I’m going to keep it that away.” Because it’s like I have some pride left. But you’re talking complete humbleness, right?
Phil: Yes, well I had to break the back of my pride for my life. I tell you going in front of your kids and in humility asking for their forgiveness for the way you’ve made them feel, and articulating how you made them feel, I mean it really brings out humility to have to let those words come out of your mouth like that.
Priscilla: But also looking at the fruit of what was planted and seeing what we planted five and a half years ago and there is fruit today is amazing. Our 16- and 14-year-old feel a lot of freedom to talk about sexuality with us, there’s freedom for them to ask questions.
Phil: They’ve asked us, I mean, super personal questions.
Ann: Because you’re so honest?
Ann: Are you, what you referred to in the book is, HOT, H-O-T.
Ann: Which stands for?
Phil: Honest, Open, and Transparent
Ann: So, with your kids you are honest, open, and transparent, as you are with one another.
Dave: I think a lot of parents would say, “Yes, I’m honest, open, and transparent.” What do you mean by that?
Phil: Honest is you ask me a question and I give you a truthful reply, okay. But if you haven’t asked the right question, I’m not open enough to tell you. So open is, this is what you are trying to get at. You should have asked this question and here’s what the answer would have been. But transparent takes you another step because transparency means I share with you what’s going on inside even when you ask no question. And see, that’s what we’re talking about in this relationship. I share things with Priscilla and my kids that they need to know about me even when they don’t ask a question, because we want to be intimate with one another.
Dave: Yes, that’s real intimacy. That’s more than flesh, physical, that’s emotional, spiritual, that’s–I mean you’re getting at, that’s everything. And we’ve actually got one of your older kids on the phone, we’ve got Sarah. She’s what number?
Priscilla: Number two.
Dave: Number two. Sarah, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Sarah: Hi, thanks for having me.
Dave: Yes, Sarah is walking around her kitchen in the Atlanta area with what a three year old and a one year old?
Sarah: Yeah, roughly. Yeah umm hmm. They’re napping currently.
Ann: Sarah, take us back to the day, where did your dad come to see you? How old were you?
Sarah: I think roughly like 25. My husband and I were down in Orlando actually for a wedding I believe. My parents had asked for us to have a conversation with them so we popped over to their house having no idea what this conversation would be about, at all. It was nowhere on our radar.
Ann: How long had you been married at that point, Sarah?
Sarah: I think like four or five years. And we had this conversation and there was just a lot of shock, crying, a lot of brokenness just clearly evident. Then, wow, what is, what is going on here? This is not what I thought we were having a conversation about, but yes.
Ann: Were you angry? Like what did you feel, besides being shocked if you went into your feelings?
Sarah: Yes,I think initially I felt very like blindsided and just kind of like, “Whoa my whole life is a lie.” And then I think later a lot of anger and cynicism towards - actually not towards my dad, but towards like every man or every person in the church.
Sarah: And just like, “Wow, you’re just all like hypocrites and liars. Look at my dad. He was an elder, he was in Bible studies. Look at how messed up he was. You all are messed up!” [Laughter] Not really knowing but, you know I might not be too far off. But like kind of seeing all of this mess made me realize, wow everyone has a mess, and the only way out is Jesus. But I wasn’t seeing that talked about. I wasn’t seeing the messes talked about or anything like that. So, it was just a very, very raw time.
It took me, I don’t know how long it took me, to come out of that. But it was a very powerful conversation, because my husband and I had been in very similar positions as my parents. If you rewound like 20 years or something. I was really steeped in religion at the time and my husband also dealt with pornography, so it was a very similar boat that we were in. Hearing my dad’s confession really was the catalyst for us being like, “Whoa, we need to be honest, open, and transparent with one another now and not 20 years from now.” And it really changed the trajectory of our married life, our spiritual lives, and even our connection with my parents.
Ann: How did you guys end that night, Phil? Okay you poured it all out, everything that has happened, you share it openly. Was it awkward at the end?
Phil: Do you remember Priscilla?
Priscilla: I don’t think of it as being awkward.
Phil: I’d like to think we held hands and prayed, but I don’t know. I felt so terrible about myself. I don’t know if I would have enough courage to do it right then, to tell you the truth.
Phil: I don’t know if you remember Sarah.
Sarah: I don’t remember. I remember I don’t know if this was wishful thinking or not, but I remember feeling more like forgiveness towards you, because your brokenness was so apparent.
I mean you see someone who’s prideful you want to knock them down. But when you see someone that’s a crumpled mess in front of you, it’s like, “I’m not going to stomp in your wound.” So anyways all that to say, I just remember that happening and I think my mom and I were driving to a bridal shower, and we pretty much cried the whole way there. It was an hour-long drive and we had two Japanese international students in the backseat [Laughter], they didn’t know what we were talking about, but we were just like crying the whole way to the bridal shower I’m pretty sure.
Ann: What did that feel like for you Priscilla? Like what did you say to Sarah?
Priscilla: Well, I don’t remember our conversation in that car. I just remember there being a lot of pain, you know just talking through it and what was going on in our thoughts. But I don’t really remember what was said.
Ann: Sarah, were you surprised that your mom stayed? What did you feel about that? Were you glad?
Sarah: That she stayed?
Sarah: I don’t think that I was surprised that she stayed. I was definitely glad that she stayed. I think it’s moments like this where it really tests your belief in the gospel. Do you actually believe that reconciliation is possible no matter the offense? Do you believe that forgiveness is possible no matter the offense? Because we have all been the worst person in the world. You know what I mean? At some degree we have and so it’s kind of like for us to stand here in judgment towards another person, when we ourselves have been in that same seat is hypocritical, but it tests your belief in the gospel. So, it’s kind of like, “Well, do I believe that this is forgivable and reconcilable and able to be restored by God?” And so, I think all that to say, I’m glad she stayed because not only did it test our belief in the gospel, but it proved the gospel to be true - that reconciliation and forgiveness and restoration is always possible with Jesus.
Dave: Sarah, if you think about your mom and dad never telling the truth, especially even to you guys, the kids, where would the Fretwells be? Where would the legacy be if they just kept hiding the truth?
Sarah: Wow, I honestly do not think any of the children would be where we are at. So many doors have been opened and so many–you think back to those verses of God opposing the prideful, it’s like if you’re wanting the grace of God to flow through your life, which it clearly has, you need to humble yourself.
I think if they had kept that secret to themselves that would have just been closing a door with pride. And like the favor of God, the grace of God would not be flowing through our family like it is today. And it’s generational, it has flown from my parents down to me and now my children are benefiting from it. Because I’m in a place right now where I never would have been if they hadn’t been open.
Ann: Wow! That’s remarkable. You’re right Sarah. What a great way to verbalize it. It is a picture of the gospel. And you are all changed as a result, Phil of your courage to lay it all out in front of everyone, regardless of how they viewed you.
Ann: Like that is a picture of the grace of Jesus.
Ann: And even Sarah like you were saying, we wouldn’t even be the same and our legacy wouldn’t be the same.
Ann: Yet I think that puts a fear in people’s hearts, you know like, “Do–should we do that with our kids? Should we expose the most wretched part of our hearts?” And yet as you did it, it sounds like it’s tearing down walls. In your book, every time you share parts of your story it allows people to confess their own sin and frailty and brokenness.
Phil: Yes, when we meet with couples for the first time in our house, we always, even if they’ve read our book, we share a synopsis of our story, because they not only need to read it but experience it with us like in real time. Then we say, “So where are you?” And it always, always if they go down deep, it’s kind of like we give them permission by sharing the depth of our issues and problems for them to share theirs. We don’t walk in shame anymore. Shame tells us to keep it quiet and we just do not bow our knee to shame anymore.
Dave: And you don’t bow your knee to pride anymore either. Because you know it’s like I’m sitting there looking at you guys and now listening to Sarah talk about your story and I’m thinking, “The thing you want people to know you for is not this.” [Laughter]
Dave: You know, isn't there a part of you that’s like, “Couldn’t there be something better than this?”
Phil: I know. [Laughter} I thought that one day I’d be on a stage telling men what–how to be a great leader.
Phil: You know [Laughter] and I never imagined this is what we’d be talking about.
Dave: And you know as you say that the truth is that’s what you’re doing now.
Dave: You are telling men how to be a great leader. You are telling women and couples how to be great. -
Phil: Well I-
Dave: –isn’t that amazing? That’s the gospel. -
Phil: –it is.
Dave: –being weak you’re made strong.
Phil: It is unbelievable, and we’ve thought for our children, I mean everybody tries to do something great for their kids, right? But the thing that I think we’ve thought about is, if we can model humility for them, that can be one of the greatest things we can do for them, because that will take them further in their relationships in life than almost anything else. So, it had to start here.
Ann: I keep thinking about couples that come to your house, where you share a synopsis of your story. But then you turn it and say, “How are you doing?”
Ann: I think some people are like, “Don’t go to the Fretwell’s [Laughter] they’re going to pour out everything,” and yet isn’t there a beauty to that?
Phil: There is. Well, when we saw that our marriage was coming together so that we could participate together in one another’s healing, that changed everything. And it got rid of the air of superiority that I’d had most of my life, and it put us on an equal playing field.
Priscilla: When people come to our home, they are at a place that they want someone to listen. And we all have a story, but we don’t listen to those stories. We actually shut people down. When they come to our home and we share our story and we want to hear their story, go ahead and share it all, this is a safe place. That’s what people are looking for, is to be able to have a safe place to share and not be judged by the things that they have walked through.
Dave: It’s interesting. That’s what our kids are looking for too.
Priscilla: That’s right.
Dave: I can tell from Sarah’s voice she feels safe. Sarah is there–one last moment for you, is there anything you would say to your mom and dad in this moment? I’m sure you’ve said it a thousand times, but is there anything that comes to your mind to say, “Mom and Dad, I just want to say this,”?
Sarah: Yes, sure. I would love to just bless them, just honor them. Thank you for glorying in the cross. Thank you for not building your own kingdom but looking to a kingdom whose architect is God. Thank you for receiving the grace and humbling yourself to receive the favor and the anointing and the call that is upon your life. I bless you and I honor you. I love you guys.
Priscilla: We love you too baby.
Phil: Thank you Sarah.
Sarah: You’re welcome.
Ann: What a sweet gift Sarah. Thank you for being with us.
Dave: Yeah. And thank you guys. Man, oh man, I think they’re some “hotness” [Laughter] that could take place in some homes, people being honest, open, and transparent.
Dave: It could change their marriage and their legacy, as we’ve been able to witness today.
Ann: You guys, will you end by praying just for couples that are struggling right now?
Priscilla: Father God, we lift up the couples that are struggling Father, wanting to change, wanting to see a resolution in their life, and You are the only one. Father, that they will call upon You, that they will look to You Father for their rescue, that they will look for You as their deliverer in this time of crisis, that they would hold onto You Lord Jesus and know that You have the answer for what is happening in their family and in their marriage. In Jesus name.
Phil: Yes, Father. And we do just pray for boldness and courage Father, for people to step out in humility, expose the lies in their life, the deepest, darkest secrets Father, to take that to a different spot, Father. We thank You that You are our rescuer. You rescue us out of the lowest pit Father. We praise You for that. Thank you for the work You want to do in the couples that are listening Lord and I pray that You will give them the boldness to take right now that thing that is hidden in the darkness and bring it out into the light Lord. In Jesus’ name.
Sarah: Lord God I also just send out just a prayer for the couples that are struggling right now in their marriage. I pray that You would draw them near with Your kindness God that they would see You as a Father who longs to be close to them. That You are not ashamed of the dirt and the mess and the rags that they hide underneath the rug. Instead, you want to lift up that rug for Your healing light to come in and penetrate the deepest parts of the soul that they don’t even know they need healing yet.
So, we just say yes to You Holy Spirit, that You would go ahead and flow, that You would flow in their lives, that they would start to see how You repair the broken road that led them to this spot. That they would see that all the years the locusts have eaten be restored in their lives. That there would be intimacy in the parents and the children and the spouses together, that they would see family restoration, that they would see generational blessing flow from the grace that You pour out of the doors of humility that get opened through each testimony, through each confession. It’s not an “Oh woe is me I’m a worm, but O look at Jesus, and O look at the cross, and look at His grace and Jesus being magnified and lifted high and glorified.” And families where fathers and mothers take their place, not to be perfect but to be open and to be beautifully broken as we see the Savior come and bind up each heart. In Jesus’ name.
Ann: And Father, we thank you-
Ann: –for the Fretwells, for the family, for their legacy, for their courage. We pray blessing over them God, protection, and Father I pray that their legacy from generation on until You return, will call upon Your name. Thank you for Sarah coming on. Thank you for her. She’s a preacher Jesus. -
Dave: She’s a warrior.
Ann: –a warrior for You. Thank you for this family, may Your angels go about protecting each one of them and protect this ministry and thank you for all they’re doing.
Dave: And Lord would you bless this ministry.
Phil: Yes, Lord
Dave: To help marriages come clean. The truth really does set us free. I pray for truth, for courage for couples to step in, to take what’s in the darkness into the light, and You would transform them and transform their legacy. That the world can be–that the gospel can be shared through our weakness. Use this to lead people to Jesus. In His name, Amen.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Phil and Priscilla Fretwell and their daughter Sarah on FamilyLife Today. I highly recommend picking up the Fretwell’s book called Savage Marriage: Triumph Over Betrayal and Sexual Addiction. You can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com to read more and see how God has redeemed their story.
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Well next week Dave and Ann Wilson will be joined by Jason and Torrie Benham to talk about how they transformed their marriage and started winning together.
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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