Intimate Deception" author Dr. Sheri Keffer reflects on her first marriage and her husband's repeated porn use. After nine months of marriage, he did seek counseling, but instead of feeling hope, she wondered why she wasn't enough. Keffer, now a relationship therapist, talks about the post-traumatic stress she and other women experience when their husbands confess sexual sin.
About the Guest
- The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS) for Partner Specialists that address the traumatic stress found in partners affected by sex addiction. https://www.apsats.org/
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Dr. Sheri Keffer reflects on her first husband’s repeated porn use. Keffer, now a relationship therapist, talks about the post-traumatic stress she and other women experience when their husbands confess sexual sin.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 24th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson, and I’m Bob Lepine. Sheri Keffer says that opening up about the secrets in her marriage; and then fighting for her marriage, once those secrets were known, was the hardest thing she’s ever had to do in her life. We’ll hear more of her story today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You guys have been transparent and honest about the fact that, Dave, there was a season in your marriage when porn was an issue.
Bob: Ann, do you remember how you became aware porn was an issue?
Ann: When Dave and I were first married, I knew that he had struggles with his eyes. He would just watch beautiful women when I was standing right in front of him, which was concerning. We had a conversation about that because it brought up all of my insecurities; but then, later, I felt a rift in our relationship. I just—I kept saying, “I feel like we’re not as close. I feel like something is separating us. What’s going on?” He would say, “We’re fine. I don’t even know what you’re talking about”; but I had this sense of disconnection.
Then he had told me that when he was traveling with the Detroit Lions as their chaplain, he had just kind of browsed—just for a few seconds even.
Dave: Yes; I mean—so, first of all, I lied to her.
Dave: So, I would come home from a trip of looking at 20/30 seconds—because back then there were no digital phones.
Dave: There was a TV box. It was so interesting to think—
Ann: In a hotel room.
Dave: —about if I went—if you went beyond five minutes, then, you bought the movie.
Dave: So, I played this rationale in my head: “I can watch 20 seconds.” I’ve got to get up and then preach to the Detroit Lion players. There was this turmoil going on in my soul about—“I’m a hypocrite”—but it was just a struggle. So, I lied for a while. Then, when I finally told her, that’s when we started recovery—
Dave: —when I was finally honest about it.
Ann: No one was talking about this back then.
Dave: No one.
Ann: I went crazy.
Bob: You felt betrayed?
Ann: Felt betrayed. I felt lied to. I felt like I couldn’t trust him. It really did trigger all of my old abuse. All of the sudden, that resurfaced. My insecurities resurfaced. My thoughts of—“It must be me” / “Something is wrong with me”—all resurfaced, and we were both a mess. We really didn’t have anywhere to turn or anyone to talk to. I wish this book would have been written back then.
Dave: No one was talking about it.
Bob: The book you are talking about is Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexually Betrayal. The author of the book is our guest this week, Dr. Sheri Keffer. Sheri, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Sheri: Thanks. It’s great to be back with you. It’s funny. I—when you said his looking brought up your insecurities, the thought that went through my mind as a person who also experienced a husband that would look at different women—is how do you know that him looking didn’t cause your insecurities? Think about it; right?
Sheri: I mean, because when we’re married and we think things are going good—
Sheri: —we can feel comfortable. It doesn’t mean we don’t insecurities from our past, but we feel secure in that relationship; but when you’re looking at somebody else, all of the sudden, I feel unsafe.
Ann: Well, it’s interesting because when Dave and I had written our book, Vertical Marriage, Fox News picked up some pieces from our book; and they were putting them on the website every week. So, this story of Dave’s neck problem came across the website; and man, this one guy, personally, messaged us telling me—“This is your problem! You’re insecure! This is what a guy does.” I’m telling you this guy was hot, and he wanted to publicly debate me.
Dave: He wanted to debate her on TV. He said—
Ann: And be paid for it.
Dave: —“I’m going to go on TV and debate you.” [Laughter] Pretty interesting.
Sheri: Girl, let’s show up for that show. [Laughter]
Ann: I could bring you with me.
Bob: Sheri, this is what your clinical practice as a therapist—this is your focus—is helping people deal with the wounds that come from betrayal, sexual betrayal in a marriage relationship. Part of the reason it is your professional practice is because it’s your personal story. You shared that you met your husband when you were in Bible college. He was a pastor. You had a long-distance relationship. You eventually were married.
There was, maybe, one clue before you got married that there might be something going on. He had called a 900 number, and he told you about that. Then six months into the marriage, you started to sense something getting in the way of your relational connectedness.
Bob: The same kind of thing that Dave and Ann were talking about.
Sheri: Very similar.
Bob: When was the first time you put the pieces together and thought, “He’s doing more than calling 900 numbers here?”
Sheri: Yes; so, it was probably eight or nine months into our marriage. He said he was in burnout—okay—because he was not feeling himself. He got into counseling and then started going to these groups. I didn’t know what kind of groups they were; but eventually, before our first anniversary, he shared that he was going to these groups to take a look at his issue with porn. I was absolutely broadsided—like sucker punched. I had no idea that he was looking at porn. It was so hidden. It’s not like I found it on anything or looked—saw it on his phone.
Back then, it was different than it is now; but you know what’s crazy? It takes me back to a story on our honeymoon night. Before we made love, I ended up doing something that I dreamt of doing—is I had gotten a basin with some beautiful smelling soap and a towel; and I decided to wash his feet before we consummated our relationship because inside his wedding ring, I had engraved to serve one another. So, that was just this thing that I was going to do annually—a memento of my love for him and his love for me.
This all came out right before our first anniversary; and I remember—my heartache when I looked in the cupboard and saw that basin up there and those towels. It’s like every year on my anniversary, my heart ached because I realized how far we were from that moment / how far our marriage was from being able to share deeply.
Bob: If a wife came to me and said, “My husband just confessed to me that he has an issue with porn,” part of me would be hopeful and encouraged because he confessed it. It’s the wife who discovers it, and the husband has been trying to keep it hidden—I’m more concerned about that than I am about the man who, at some point, feels burdened enough to have to come and confess it.
Did that confession bring any hope to you? Did you think, “Okay; he’s wrestling with this; but he’s being honest with it. He’s getting help. There’s a path forward for us”?
Sheri: Maybe, this is because I’m a female, and I was on the other side of betrayal; but I didn’t feel hope. I felt hit. I felt sucker punched. I felt shocked. It immediately went to—“Why is he going elsewhere? What’s wrong with my body? Why am I not enough? How long has this been happening? Who did I marry? Are you kidding me?”
Ann: And you’re petrified for the future.
Sheri: Yes—scared out of my mind. It was a moment of tremendous heartache. If you ask any woman where they were when they first were told about it or discovered it, they can tell you where they were at, they can tell you what they were wearing. I mean you probably have your own story; right? It’s that poignant. It’s a trauma event.
Ann: Why is that? Like, what happens to us? What is it that rocks our world?
Sheri: You know trauma comes out of situations that are out of our control—something that we didn’t see. Post-traumatic stress comes with things that feel like we’re going to lose our life / our livelihood / our safety. So, it’s fear based, and it comes out of not knowing where to go. Like, if I was doing something—and I don’t know, with you, Dave—with you acting out and knowing about it, your story talks about shame—right?—to have to get up and preach. You knew what you were doing. You were making / doing these internal games—right?—of denial in your own mind.
Sheri: But you still acted knowingly. Those that are acting out know they are acting out. It’s not like you go into some la-la land and then do it, and it’s out of your control. You know it. So, that’s different; but when there is not consent / when I’m not consenting / when you haven’t come to me and said, “Hey, I’m going to look at porn” / “Hey, I’m going to have an affair with somebody at work,” we didn’t know about it. So, it comes to us by surprise. That’s why it becomes a trauma event for us.
Bob: It’s not just about betrayal; but now, trust—do we have trust in our relationship? What other things don’t I know about?
Ann: I think that’s it. I don’t even know you. That’s the feeling.
Sheri: I don’t know you.
Then, when you think you know—so, Conner and I—painfully, we went through losing the church platform because of it which was interesting. I kept a secret for four years until, actually, got depressed. It led to a clinical depression for me.
We were at a camp. It was a family camp, actually, that we would go to every year; and I remember staying in my room because I just couldn’t fake it one more time. A young gal came up to me and knocked on the door because she wanted me to go to dinner with her. She said, “Hey, Sheri, would you like to join me for dinner?” I kind of cracked the door open. She was just darling.
I said, “Honey, I’m not feeling good. So, I’m going to go ahead and stay in my room. Maybe, tomorrow.” She looked—put her head down and said, “Okay,” and as she was walking away, she turned around and looked at me and said, “Mrs. Sheri, I hope when I grow up someday I marry someone just like Conner.”
You could have hit me with a two by four. I mean I wanted to say, “No; run”; you know? But nobody knew my secret. So, that was the weekend where I decided to tell. I told one of the pastors on staff, and it was like dominos beginning to fall—dum, dum, dum—one right on another. It landed us in the pastor’s office. There was somewhat of an intervention.
Ann: Sheri, had this continued? He hadn’t found any recovery? Hadn’t found any success?
Sheri: No recovery.
Ann: Was it getting worse?
Sheri: Yes. The porn was continuing on even though I had pleaded with him—“Stop. Don’t do it. This hurts me”; but it was continuing on. So, we went into treatment. We were there a couple of months, and it was a treatment center for pastors’ wives with issues. We came out of that, and things continued on. We got into therapy. We were in therapy for about four years going two to three times a week as a couple / as individuals. What I didn’t know is that during that time he had had multiple affairs.
So, even while we were going through that, he continued to act out / was under the cover about it. My therapist didn’t know. I think there are some reasons that we ended up down that road.
One, there was one therapist who was trying to hold all pieces—doing the couples worth, meeting with him, how can he be honest with somebody when he feels like that person is going to tell my wife. There needs to be some space around that. Somebody who is actually—I now believe—certified in sex addiction therapy. They are called C-SATs. They have spent a ton of training on how to work with this because it’s like a slippery bar of soap when you want someone to know what’s going on.
So, I think it’s important that people know where to go and how to get there; but I think not knowing and then finding out there were affairs / there were prostitutes—all of that—was such a heartache for me because I was in it to win it. I was pressing on / pressing through. I was willing to put everything down on the table. I don’t think I’ve ever fought so hard for any human being in my life because I really wanted God to have victory in this marriage.
Bob: Were you seeing any indication from him of brokenness / of—
Bob: When he’d get caught, did he mourn the fact that he had been involved in these kinds of things?
Sheri: So, I have a memory that is really tender of him, not only mourning, but snot-nose crying in one of the rooms of our house where he was so caught up in the pain of all of this that he was heartbroken over it. That had been—you know, we had been fighting this for a number of years; but at that point, my heart had grown cold because he was continuing to act out. I didn’t know about the affairs yet; but I could see that he was sad, but still acting out.
He didn’t go to the 12 step group. He didn’t get into recovery that way. He said, “It’s not that bad. I’m not that bad.” Dave, you probably hear that from so many guys. It’s like they have a problem with porn, and they’ll say, “It’s not that bad”; but him believing that—his own denial over the problem only took him deeper into the pain of it all and deeper into deception.
Dave: What I have discovered—I’m sure you see it a lot more than I do, and Bob, you probably as well—is when the guy comes in to talk to me; and it’s interesting. In my church, they want to talk to me because I’ve said it from the stage that I had—
Ann: That you had struggled years ago.
Dave: —struggled, and I know the struggle. So, they’ll set up an appointment. It got to the point where it almost became laughable because the guy will be stumbling around. I’ll say, “Okay; I know why you are here. Let’s talk about your porn problem.” It’s like—one guy looked at me and said, “No; I just want to grow with Jesus. What are you talking about? My porn problem?” I’m like—“Oh, that’s good to hear”; but what I’ve discovered—two things.
One, usually what they tell me is half, maybe, of how bad it is.
Sheri: That’s true.
Dave: You know if they say, “I looked at porn once this week,” I just in my head, probably, ten times. It’s—again—
Sheri: It’s so true.
Dave: —I’m being a little pessimistic with that.
Then, number two is you can start to see the real signs of repentance. Again, it’s not whether they cry or not. It’s whether they own it, like—“This is a problem,” “I’ve got a problem,” “I need to take the next step”—which it sounds like your husband didn’t quite get there—
Dave: —if ever.
Bob: Yes. Let me just point out here because this is tied to exactly what you’re saying when David in Psalm 51 confesses his sexual sin, he says to God—“against You and You only have I sinned.” I think guys who think, “I can manage this”—
Bob: —think, “Well, yes, I know I’ve sinned against my wife. I know I’ve sinned against other people—my kids”—or even they might get to the point where they say, “I realize this is sinning against the picture I’ve been looking at. The young woman who is in that picture—I’m sinning against her.”
But when you pull back and go—“I’m sinning against God / I’m rebelling against Him / I’m shaking my fist at Him and saying, ‘Your standards / Your ways are wrong, and I’m going to take control of my own life sexually and violate Your standards’”—until you get to the point where you go—“Oh, this is rebellion against a holy God / the Jesus who died for me; I’m telling Him, ‘I don’t care; I’m going to do what I want to do,’”—you kind of have to get to that point before you go—“This is a bigger deal.”
I remember somebody I was talking to who was struggling with this issue, and he said, “Finally, a guy took me to aside”; and he said, “So, what you’re telling me is you really love your sin.” The guy, for the first time, was like—“I guess I do.” You love your sin more than you love Jesus. It sounds like your husband felt worldly sorrow; but maybe, never got to the point where he said, “I’m sinning against a holy God who gave His Son for me.”
Ann: Even desperate enough to, not only fall before God on your face in repentance, but to take that next step of really getting help / of really seeking it and being consistent. It never came.
Sheri: It didn’t come. It didn’t come. I think—you know part of that—and I’m not making excuses for anything right here; but when you understand the brain and how it works, you’re looking at porn like that as long as you do, the brain changes. This is internal chemicals in your brain—like adrenaline—oxytocin which is the bonding chemical. It’s the same chemical that’s used when moms are breastfeeding their kids; right? It’s a bonding chemical.
There are these chemicals that are released in your brain which bond you to this act. So, I do think because his addiction—I feel like it went into an addictive form, and he wasn’t being honest and addressing it, being willing to go through the steps that are needed. It wasn’t something he could pray away. God knows he tried; but it was something that was going to take some hard work and rolling up his sleeves and accountability. It’s not easy to break out of it.
And I’m not saying that there aren’t guys who say, “I stopped, and I stopped.” I’m not—it’s possible; but for many, many, it takes a lot of hard work and honesty and transparency.
There is something called teshuva which owning and atoning; and there is a series of steps in the teshuva that I love. The first one is recognize which is recognizing it’s a problem. The second one is revealing it. It’s revealing it to others in light of that. It’s regretting what you’re doing and moving into remorse. Then it’s resolving to not do it again / to get the community around you to do the hard work to see what’s underneath it.
A lot of these guys have trauma histories. They’ve grown up with dads that hit them / beat them; or there were sexual situations; or maybe, they weren’t seen in a family. There are traumas of omission. I talk about, in my book, traumas of commission and traumas of omission. There were things they didn’t get when they were growing up. So, they are looking for love in all the wrong places. Whatever it is that’s got to be treated as well, oftentimes.
Then repairing the relationship—being willing to do whatever it takes to rebuild the trust like you mentioned earlier, Bob, and repair that relationship. Then there is restoration, and that process is shalam. It means restoring that person to new—taking you back, restoring safety in your relationship, making sure that you have dealt with your sacred trust past, and you’re rebuilding the relationship.
So, I love that owing and atoning. It’s not just one thing. It’s a series of things that helps you get to the other side of this.
Dave: First of all, way to go. That sounds like a preacher. They are all “R”s. That could be a nice sermon; you know?
Sheri: Well, I wish I would have thought of the idea. I wish it was mine, but it’s not; but it is something we can use; right?
Dave: I mean—
Sheri: Isn’t that beautiful?
Dave: I hear that, and I don’t know what Ann is thinking; but I’m like—“I took that journey.”
Dave: I really did. It was that. Those first couple of steps are huge. Recognize—we’ve talked about that today—but reveal is a biggie. It isn’t just your spouse—although that is critical.
Ann: Or Jesus. It’s not just God.
Dave: It really is God first, your spouse, then I had to have a guy; and I actually had several men that I said, “This is a problem. I need help. Will you walk this journey with me?” The ones that get to recovery and get to restoration are the ones that will go take that journey.
So, I mean at the end of this program, it’s like—“Who are you right now? Where are you right now? Are you willing to take a scary step that will be”—here is the thing I never knew. This is legacy. What was at stake was not just my recovery; but my legacy. It’s that big. The decisions you are making today are so big you’ve got to take the scary step to tell someone and start that journey.
Ann: I’m going to add too that there are so many more women now that are engaging in porn; and there is shame factor in that sometimes now because—“Wait, I’m a woman, and I’m struggling with this. This is kind of weird.” I think they can have that attitude; but I think all those same steps are really important and necessary.
Bob: And for folks who are struggling, we’ve got resources on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. Sheri, your book is really for those who are recovering from the betrayal that has occurred and dealing with their own sense of shame; and they’ve been betrayed: “How do I get my life together when this has traumatized me the way it has?”
We’ve got copies of Sheri’s book, Intimate Deception, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go on FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Our phone number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. As I mentioned, in addition to Sheri’s book, Intimate Deception, we have other articles, podcasts, other resources available.
If you find yourself in a situation where sexual sin has become a part of your marriage and you’re looking for help for yourself or to know how to deal with a spouse who is caught up in this, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, for information about resources we have available here.
Now, we want to be careful not to rush the holiday season here at FamilyLife; but we’re also aware that a lot of people head into this time of year with a sense of anxiety or even dread because there are family relationships that are strained or fractured.
Here at FamilyLife we’ve put together a free e-book that we’re calling The Holiday Survival Guide. It’s designed to give you help and insight on how you can be spiritually prepared for what may be ahead as you meet with extended family members during the holidays—insights on handling conflict with extended family members, ways to bond with sons-in-law or daughters-in-law, and tips on dealing with awkward family situations during the holidays.
Again, it’s a free e-book. You can download it when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; and we hope you find it helpful as the holidays approach.
We also hope you can join us back again tomorrow. Sheri Keffer will be here to talk about the journey God has taken her on to bring about healing to the wounds of sexual betrayal she has experienced.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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