“‘You accept the love you think you deserve,’ said the church funded therapist as I was leaving her oﬃce. I smiled politely and walked towards the door. I wasn’t thrilled about seeing her. I mean I wasn’t really thrilled about anything at the moment. I was 22, with an 18-month-old, contemplating divorce. Not exactly what I had planned for my life in the first place, and now it was all falling apart. ‘How did I get here?,’ I questioned.
I remember right around 13 years old, I used to watch teenage soap operas like One Tree Hill, or The OC. They’d have leading girls that would be cheerleaders, or that hung out with the ‘cool kids.’ Then of course they weren’t complete until they had the boyfriend. They were always chasing boys. Never focused on just their goals, or what they wanted to achieve. It was as though their worth came from the boyfriend they had, and the status of popularity they held. I had adapted this same thought process. In order to be accepted or loved, I needed to hold a certain social status and I needed to have a boyfriend. Early on I developed this belief and it stuck.
A couple years later, around age 15 I was out with a friend who introduced me to a group of guys. These guys were already in high school and I remembered one of them quite clearly had attended Jr. High with me the year before. I had had a crush on him, but never really had a chance to talk to him. I remember him leaving, and my friend sold me out to the rest of the group. ‘Kierstyn, has always liked [so-and-so].’ Immediately, one of the boys sat down next to me. ‘You wouldn’t be interested in him, he is addicted to porn.’ I was shocked, but believed the boy. Later I found out he was only saying that because he was interested in me, and this would be the first of many lies my first boyfriend would tell. He would be the one that set the stage for my ‘dating career.’ He was the first boy who really showed interest in me. At first he was charming, at least for a 16 year old. He’d play songs and say, ‘This song reminds me of you.’ We’d ride around with the group of friends, and make out in the back of cars. I don’t think we ever went out on a real date. Just did what teenagers did. He had appeased my belief I had formed, ‘I have worth because I have a boyfriend, and a status.’
As time went on things escalated. Soon making out wasn’t all he wanted to do. I was totally inexperienced in this arena. I just was happy to have a boyfriend, and I didn’t want to lose him. My mind swirled. We lived in a highly Christian community and being sexually active wasn’t just frowned upon. You were pretty much a leper. At least that’s how I interpreted it. My parents weren’t members of this faith, but I had joined in hopes to belong. It wasn’t until years later that I would truly understand what any of it meant. All I knew, was it was part of my status which made me belong. Which in turn meant I was loved. So now, the two things that brought me value were being challenged. My status and having a boyfriend. One would have to win out. And one did.
I chose the boyfriend. We went on to date for 2 years. Later I learned he lied about being a virgin, and just about everything. He started belittling me. Calling me names, and purposely treating me badly. In fact, one time he had made a bet with his friends that he could do just about anything and I would stay. He bet them that he could go into my car, throw eggs literally on my head and face, and I would stay. I’m ashamed to say he acted on his plan. I’m more ashamed to say he won the bet, and I stayed with him for some time after that. Eventually we did finally break up. I don’t really remember how or why. I just remember I had an opportunity to get out, and I took it. It just ended.
However, my choice in guys and dating didn’t. I just kept choosing the same relationship over and over again. Never quite to that extreme, but I’d have a nicer guy come along, and I would sabotage it. I’d end up dating the one that didn’t treat me with respect, or at least not as much respect as I deserved. I valued myself very little, and assumed that my initial dating circumstance was somewhat of the norm. I also believed I was damaged after my first relationship. Right around that time, I had a routine surgery that went wrong. I was left blind in one eye, and very sick. I remember thinking I was being punished by God for my choices. That I was indeed damaged.
In 2007, I met my ex-husband. I had been trying to get back in line with the church. Although my understanding of repentance and forgiveness was still very skewed. I didn’t understand that repenting meant you were made whole again. I just assumed it meant I was okay as far as status, but you still weren’t as good as those that had never sinned before. My ex-husband had a similar past to mine. He had made some mistakes and had returned to church. I literally remember thinking, ‘He’s as damaged as me.’
We dated for about 11 months before getting married. For the most part we had a relatively normal courtship. We had a couple major blow up fights. Both of which were his self-sacrificing saying, ‘that we shouldn’t be together.’ The only other drama we had was an ex-girlfriend telling me that they were still sleeping together during our engagement. I confronted him, and of course he denied it.
So I graduated from high school in May of 2008 and married him by September of the same year. We had chosen to be sealed for time and all eternity in our church’s temple. By doing this, you’ve agreed that you are worthy to partake in the blessing of eternal marriage. You keep the word of wisdom (no drinking, drugs, coﬀee, etc.), you obey the law of chastity, and more. It was a lot to promise considering I didn’t really know what any of it truly meant at the time. I just knew it gave me both my status of a good standing member, and a partner. So I went on with it.
Three months into our marriage things started to go downhill quickly. I had an expectation of what marriage would look like. This was not it. I found pornography on his phone, our fights began to escalate ending with his fist in walls, screaming and more. I’d catch him in lies constantly. Then he lost his job. I was the sole provider for our household at 18 making $14 an hour. Ultimately, we had to move into my parent’s house. He didn’t really try to find a job, and I started to resent him. I would spend time with friends instead of him. We just avoided each other. Then after 11 months he finally got a job. We started spending more time together. Things seemed to be getting better, or so I thought.
We moved out of my parent’s, and into a basement apartment. Things seemed to improve quickly. It was like we silently decided to try to do better. We figured out how to make it work. He said he needed some time with friends here and there. I said I needed him to be more even headed, and keep his temper under control. Soon after that we found out we were going to have a baby. I remember when I found out I was pregnant I had mixed emotions. One of which was knowing that this made us even more tied together. As if, being sealed for time and all eternity hadn’t already done that.
About halfway through my pregnancy we were with another couple that had been our friends for quite some time, and the husband had gotten my husband the job that seemed to turn our marriage around. They were talking about work when he said, ‘Did you tell Kierstyn about the drama at work?’ I noticed my husband get uncomfortable, but I wasn’t sure why. Without asking, our friend went on to tell me about it. ‘Yeah, at work there is a rumor that your husband is sleeping with a girl that works with us.’ He laughed, because just like me, he thought that would never happen. I laughed as well, but there was a part of me that wanted to know why someone would ever say this.
The week after bringing my son home I couldn’t get a hold of my husband. I remember thinking this was odd considering we had just had a baby. I don’t know if it was the hormones or just instinct, but I immediately had the urge to check his Facebook. There they were. Messages between him and a girl he had went to high school with. The time with friends he had needed was time with her. He would tell her where to pick him up, where to meet, and more. Most the times were in the middle of the night when I had laid pregnant and asleep. Tears filled my eyes. My mom was there, and told me she would take the baby if I wanted to talk to him alone. I told her I’d be fine. I paced and paced. I suddenly remembered the rumor about him and the other woman at work. Was that true? Was he having an aﬀair with these women? I just continued to spiral with thoughts until he finally came home. He walked in nonchalantly and I couldn’t play it oﬀ. I quickly spouted out, ‘Are you having an aﬀair? If you are just let me go. I’ll let you see our son, but please just let me go.’ I should have known he was lying because of how calm he was. He was never calm. ‘Of course not! I love you. Where is this coming from?’ I showed him the messages. ‘We are just friends, and I don’t even talk to her anymore.’ I have no clue why for some reason I was happy with that. Maybe because I just had a baby? Maybe the thought of being a single mom at age 21 sounded worse than being cheated on? So I just dropped it. I accepted his answer, and decided to move on. Looking back I want to slap myself silly and say, ‘HE WAS LYING TO YOU! And even if nothing sexual happened he was hiding an emotional relationship with another woman. HELLO!’
The next 18 months our son grew, and we seemed to slowly get worse. He decided he didn’t want to live within the church’s guidelines. Which was hard for me to accept.
We had made these promises to each other and to God. But I surrendered to it. Our fights continued to escalate with name calling, a wall would be punched here and there, an item thrown, and more demeaning behavior. Until finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back happened.
It was December, we were driving home in the snow. Our son was in the back seat, and I was driving. I was upset that a friend of his had been teasing me. Thinking he would be supportive and stick up for me, I looked to him for comfort. Instead he began to scream at me, ‘The problem is you. You need to change. You’re too sensitive!’ He began to punch the dashboard, and I felt the fear I’d felt so many times before, but this time it wasn’t for just me. It was for my son. I saw his car seat in the backseat and I looked over at my husband throwing his red knuckles into the dashboard. Right there, I promised myself I would NEVER let my son grow up thinking this was love.
A few days later I had told a friend of ours what happened, and how I was pretty sure I was done, but didn’t know if it was grounds for divorce. He told me to come for dinner with him and his wife while my husband was out of town for work. While at dinner they told me how they had always disagreed with the way my husband treated me, but never felt like they should interfere. However, since I had come to them, they felt they could speak up. My friend went on to tell me how one night he and my husband had gone for a ride. He told me how the whole time he complained about my parents, the same parents that took us in when he didn’t have a job. He then told me my silver bullet. He told me he had been exchanging sexual photos with the Facebook girl. In that moment, I finally felt vindicated. I felt like I could walk away from this marriage and save my son. I didn’t value myself at the time. Just him.
After he returned home from being away for work, I tried to wait to say something. We were so close to Christmas, and I didn’t know if I wanted to tear my family apart during the holidays. Unfortunately, I don’t hide my emotions well and he could tell something was oﬀ. One day he went to kiss me, and I would barely let him graze my lips. ‘What’s going on?,’ he said. I told him I knew about the photos, and I told him I was leaving. He told me it was years ago, and that it didn’t matter now. ‘I was going to tell you, but I never could figure out how.’ He didn’t see I wasn’t leaving just because of the photos. Although the photos were my ‘get out jail free card.’ He didn’t fight me. Things are never black and white. I’m not saying I played no fault in my marriage ending. However, I do feel like sometimes in marriage there are things you can work on and some things you can’t. Abusive behaviors, and infidelity are things I personally can’t.
So I packed up, moved home, and contacted the local church for support. Almost immediately after I left, he began to date the girl he was ‘rumored’ to be having an aﬀair with at his work. I started to heal, and get the help I needed. I gained a testimony of the church I had belonged to for some time, but never truly understood. More than that, I learned what it truly was to use Christ’s Atonement. I also was directed to emotional support. Which led me to the therapist who said, ‘You accept the love you think you deserve.’
Although at the time when she said it, I didn’t think too much of it. But after the divorce was final in 2013 it came back to my mind. ‘You accept the love you think you deserve.’ I ultimately knew I didn’t want to accept a love like this again. I had accepted this kind of love since I was 15, and I needed to stop the cycle.
So I set on a journey to change my habits, and I discovered my beliefs. I didn’t consciously know it, but I was trying to appease my two beliefs of worth and love. Keep status and have a partner. No matter what. I didn’t look too hard at the signs around me. Like that I was possibly entering into a marriage too young, or marrying someone who wasn’t going to treat me with love and respect, or marrying someone who still didn’t know who he was and what he wanted in life. Because I had my value based on another human, I didn’t value myself. I didn’t realize that our value and love has to come from within first.
I didn’t love myself enough to watch for signs in relationships, or remove myself from these abusive circumstances. I didn’t know I needed to. I didn’t know what to look for. I didn’t know I had to build a foundation of love for myself first. Once I started on this journey for myself, I quickly realized I wasn’t the only one that didn’t know this. That this was a common trend for others who had been in less than acceptable relationships. So that’s why my business partner, Tiﬀany Denny and I joined forces to start The Relationship Recovery in 2016.
Tiﬀany was passionate about helping people immediately after a divorce or a relationship had ended from abuse. I was passionate about helping them figure out how they ended up in the relationship, and how to prevent them from ending up in the same relationship with a diﬀerent partner again. Helping them find the love they needed for themselves first. We now oﬀer coaching, events, online communities and more to help people change their story just like we changed ours.
I’m happy to report I did not end up in the same relationship again. I married an incredible man named TJ. We were sealed for time and all eternity, but this time I knew the promises I was making, and I knew who I was making them with. He has been an amazing role model for my son Luke who is now 8, and we have a son of our own named Grey. We are both entrepreneurs and work hard to make the best life we can for our family.
As for my ex-husband, Luke’s father, we do our best to co-parent. He is now remarried, and seems to be doing his best to better himself as well.
Ultimately, out of this trial, the greatest lessons I learned were:
1-‘You accept the love you think you deserve.’ You have to first hold yourself in great regard, and love yourself in order to receive that love from someone else.
2-Your worth doesn’t come from an outside source. Your worth was determined before you even got to this earth. We have infinite worth. All of us.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kierstyn Franklin, Co-Founder of The Relationship Recovery. You can follow her journey on Instagram here and here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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