‘Yes, I was naive. I was married to a sex addict and had no idea. I felt like I was staring at a stranger.’: Wife realizes she isn’t ‘weak’ for staying in her marriage, husband has ‘completely owned his mistakes’

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“Seven years of marriage.

We had just celebrated our anniversary in August of 2016 feeling victorious. Close. And so hopeful for the future. Then in October we welcomed our first child after over three years of a tough battle with infertility; when she arrived in all of her glory, it was one of the most incredible moments of my life. We were thrilled to be parents to this perfect little girl we named Scarlett, and I was so excited to finally have the family I’d fought so hard for.

Karen Karki Photography

But as our little baby grew and her first Christmas came and went, life just still felt off. My husband, Cameron, seemed off. I thought it must just be because we were still adjusting to life as parents, but our daughter was a pretty easy baby and I was thoroughly enjoying my transition into motherhood. So could that really be it? He had his dream job on staff at our church and his dream baby girl, yet he seemed to be more depressed and out of sorts than ever. I didn’t understand.

Then February 9th, 2017 arrived.

Sarah Shields Photography

It was early in the afternoon, I was at home, and I was going to be putting Scarlett down for her nap soon. I got a text from Cameron that said, ‘Hey, I’m coming home right now because I need to tell you something. Cathy is going to be meeting me there.’ Cathy was a close friend and mentor to me. Why would she need to come also?

I remember sitting there. Stunned. Terrified. And yet it also felt like the calm before the storm. I sat there on my white couch looking out the window with my happy nearly 4-month-old girl on my lap and thinking, my life is about to change. I knew it was big. I felt it. I took Scarlett up to her bed, and then I waited. The longest 15 minutes of my life.

Fast forward about 45 minutes and I would be throwing up into the toilet. Then at some point I would be on the bathroom floor screaming into Cathy’s lap. I remember the floor was really cold in the bathroom. Cathy’s hands and voice were warm and so loving. I felt like I was dying. I didn’t know how to make it through another five seconds. All I could comprehend in that moment was, ‘My life is over. It’s over.’

My husband had come home to confess that when our daughter was only 4 weeks old, he had started an affair with a woman that he worked with. A woman who had been my small group leader for nearly 5 months up to that point. A woman who had initiated leading me through a marriage book and who had listened to me pour out my heart about my struggling relationship with my husband only one week before. A woman who I believed was a trusted friend to our family.

I was destroyed.

Sarah Shields Photography

My world was shattered. My soul felt like it was in a thousand pieces. I remember looking at Cameron’s hunched over sobbing body on the couch across from me and I felt like I was staring at a stranger. Who was this man I had been with for nearly 9 years? And how in the world did I make this big of a mistake choosing him as my lifelong partner and the father to my child?

That day he also confessed that his pornography addiction that I had naively believed had been long gone was back in full force. It had been a full-on addiction for the last 5 years and I had no idea. We had protection on our devices, and I brought it up and asked him about it frequently–how could he have lied to me for so long?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was immediately very hard on myself. I thought — I’m smarter than this. I’m a respectable woman. How did I just get played like this? Why am I such an idiot? I felt like a complete fool. I was so humiliated.

To make matters more complicated, he was on staff at our church. My husband was a worship leader, a pastor, a people-loving, sold-out teacher of Jesus. Which in my brain at the time automatically meant: he can’t fail this big. He just can’t. Pastors don’t do this. Leaders don’t do this. They’re the ones who lead the rest of us struggling humans! They don’t lie, cheat, and steal.

So yes, I was naive. I was married to a sex addict and I had no idea.

The anger was so all-encompassing I felt drunk. I went to stay with my parents for a little while and they were a huge help taking care of Scarlett many of those days, only bringing her to me to nurse when needed. They would keep encouraging me to eat even though I struggled to keep food down for weeks. I don’t know how I would have survived all of this without them.

Then, the nightmare just continued. The day he confessed everything was a Thursday, and on Sunday it was announced at both campuses of our church that Cameron and this woman would be leaving as a result of an inappropriate relationship. And as I laid in that chair in my parent’s living room in complete shock and trauma of what had just happened…..my phone started blowing up. Word was spreading fast. It usually does with this kind of thing. Nearly a thousand people knew about it as soon as it was announced, and within hours, friends from other cities who I hadn’t talked to in years were texting me to check in. I immediately deactivated all my social media and could hardly fathom the magnitude of what was happening.

Plans were soon being made to sell our car which had been a gift from this woman and her family a couple years prior. Our home now carried so much baggage and trauma to me that we had our realtor come get it ready to put on the market. We had long discussions about where I would live and which intensive therapy program Cameron would go to for help. I was notified when his last paycheck (this was our only source of income) would arrive, and after that, we had no idea what would happen. I knew I wouldn’t be stepping foot back in that church that had been a second home to me ever again, and so in just a matter of minutes—everything was gone. My marriage, my home, my church family, precious relationships, our family car, our entire income….all of it, just gone. It was just me, my daughter, and my dog.

So much loss. So quickly. And so publicly. The pain was unbearable.

Then there was God. I felt him begin to impress on me in those early weeks exactly what he had in mind, and it was this: ‘As long as Cameron moves forward in recovery, I want you to move forward also.’

To my surprise, hearing him say that didn’t feel insensitive. It didn’t make me feel hopeless. It didn’t sound harsh. His words felt gentle, convicting, and hopeful. And somewhere in the depths of my despair and crumbling resolve, I found just enough faith left to say, ‘Okay.

Help began to pour in with our counselors, friends, parents, and mentors. We began to have clarity and direction that God was leading us to an intensive in the mountains of North Carolina called His High Places (HHP). Cameron would go first on his own for two weeks, and then I would go for a week by myself.

My counselor was an amazing woman in her 70’s named Anita, and she could not have been a more perfect fit to guide me through this crazy process. Anita and her husband Sam had started this ministry in the 70s and they were some of the sweetest, wisest people I’ve ever met on this planet. They had just spent two weeks getting to know Cameron and they were quick to share encouragement about him with me. Sam said, ‘All we truly ask of people when they come is that they are open, humble, repentant, and ready to do the work. Cameron demonstrated each of those things during his time here. He did the hard work.’

I admit it gave me hope. But I still just wasn’t sure I could make it work on my side. Cameron could repent all day long to me, and I still felt completely lost as to how I could ever put the pieces back together in my own heart. 

Day after day, hour after hour that week Anita and I made our way through the really murky waters of my heart. My soul slowly began to feel like it could breathe again. That Wednesday we spent the whole day just focusing on forgiveness and what it truly meant. I had it all wrong.

Learning what forgiveness truly is and isn’t was a huge turning point for me.

I had the misconception that forgiveness meant that I was letting him off the hook, or condoning what he did. I also thought it meant that I had to ‘feel good’ while I did it. I thought I couldn’t forgive while also keeping boundaries to protect myself. I was wrong about all of this. Forgiveness is ultimately surrendering the need for justice to the only One who has the authority to judge. It allows us to break the hold our offender has on us. By the end of the day, all my defenses had broken down, and after writing out each offense that had been committed against me by everyone involved, Anita and I slowly and tearfully prayed our way through each one. Right there at that little table with this wonderful woman as my witness, I prayed out loud and forgave them for each offense. I think this process took several hours, my list was so long.

That week at His High Places changed everything for me. For us. It didn’t fix all of our issues in just a couple weeks, but it did become a very powerful place for us to start. And that’s exactly what we needed – a place to start.

Jessica Newton Photography

We also both joined recovery groups, one for men struggling with unwanted sexual behavior, and a support group for the partners of these men. I looked forward to my women’s group every single Tuesday night. It was hard work, but it was there that God began to free me of the shame that I felt so buried under. In the presence of these broken and hurting women, I began to feel ‘normal’ again. They weren’t judging me. They weren’t shocked by my story. They didn’t hate my husband. They all just hugged me through my tears and cheered me on, each painful step of the way.

We were also both in counseling almost weekly during this time. Financially we just about went broke from all of it, but I still don’t have regrets about that. The thousands of dollars we spent on counseling, retreats, conferences, and our time at His High Places was probably the best money we’ve ever spent on anything.

Jessica Newton Photography

I struggled for a long time with what people thought of me and my decisions regarding my marriage. The opinions of others made me second guess myself a lot. But eventually I began to realize that I wasn’t weak for staying in my marriage. Instead it actually required incredible strength to stay. Strength that God was slowly beginning to pour into me.

Lysa Terkeurst says that trust can only happen with time plus believable behavior—and that’s exactly what I’ve seen with Cameron consistently now for two and a half years. He has completely owned his mistakes, continues to do everything he can to make them right, and has shown his ability to make sacrifice after sacrifice for the sake of true change–many of them highly inconvenient and humiliating. All for the sake of making me feel safe again.

In my opinion, there’s nothing more manly than that.

Sarah Shields Photography

Yes, I had grounds for divorce. But God had so much more in mind for us than that. And I’ll never forget the morning about a year into our recovery that God so gently said to me, ‘Karissa, you’re not just fighting for your marriage. You’re fighting for Cameron.’ These words from the Lord broke me and empowered me all at the same time. God didn’t need me to save him or fix him, but Cameron needed to know he was worth fighting for.

What an honor it is to be trusted with such a precious mission.”

Jessica Newton Photography
Sarah Shields Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Karissa Sprinkle of Westfield, Indiana. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook and her blog. 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.

Read more stories of overcoming marriage issues:

‘I’m done talking. I’m turning off my phone for a few days. Bye.’ Josh had broken the covenant. I would wait it out.’: Wife says she and husband are ‘closer than we’ve ever been’ after his infidelity

‘I knew I was right.’ I blurted out. Rage burned within me.’: Woman discovers husband’s infidelity, is ‘leery’ of counseling but finally ‘develops a healthy relationship’

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