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Secrets in Marriage: Phil and Priscilla Fretwell

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
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March 22, 2023 5:15 am

Secrets in Marriage: Phil and Priscilla Fretwell

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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March 22, 2023 5:15 am

Secrets in marriage nearly capsized Phil and Priscilla Fretwell's marriage, as his sexual betrayal morphed to addiction. But it didn't get the last word. On FamilyLife Today, join Dave and Ann Wilson to hear the Fretwells' all-too-real story of hitting bottom--and a God who had plans for more.

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Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

Hey, Shelby Abbott here. Just want to give a heads up before you listen to this next program. Today's conversation on Family Life 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. You know, it's hard to think you're going to never do it again because it's such an addiction, right? It really is. It's like, I got to try to minimize this. I feel terrible about it. But to say, do you think you can ever get to a place you will never do this again? It was almost beyond my reach, right? Beyond the hope of that. Beyond the hope, yeah.

You kind of lose all hope on that because of the history. So you have to get to a place where you're just absolutely disgusted in your life that you no longer want to live like this and ask God to come in and change you. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Ann Wilson, and I'm Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. Okay, I got a question for you. We're going to go a little deep. If I was going to reveal a secret—in fact, why don't I? Today— Okay, you're going to reveal a secret. That I know is going to hurt you, and I've been hiding it for over a decade.

I want to know, before I tell you what it is, what do you feel hearing that as my wife? Well— You think you know everything about me, but you really don't. But see, I feel like I do know everything about you. That's the thing.

You don't. But just for you to say, I have a secret, puts this pit in my stomach because it flashes me back to years ago when you did have a secret, and so then it puts this fear in my heart and anxiety. Like it could be— And anger. Even before I know what it is, I'm already defensive. Okay, so now I'm not going to tell you because I don't want to upset you, especially on the air. No, it's scary when you hear something like that. Yeah, the secret is I've never been a Detroit Lions fan all those years I worked for them.

Okay, I'm kidding. But I set that up because we're going to talk about secrets today with a couple who had one in their marriage for more than a decade. And I'm really excited to talk about it with Phil and Priscilla Fretwell in the studio, wrote a book called Savage Marriage, and a lot of your book is about a secret. But first of all, let me just say thanks for being here. Welcome to family life. Yeah, welcome. We're glad to be here. And you only had to drive a few miles. You live right down here in Orlando. It's terrific.

Yeah, about 25 minutes from here. Yeah, so when you hear us talk about this secret, obviously, you know, when we picked up your book, I couldn't put it down. I mean, I kept telling Anne, I go, you've got to read this book. You got to read it now.

It's gripping because I feel like we are walking beside you in this journey where this thing called a secret comes out. But before we get there, tell us a little bit about yourselves. You've got kids.

Well, we do. We've got five kids, three that are adults and married and two grandkids. And we still have two kids, believe it or not, at home that are 14 and 16. So we were figuring out the other day when these kids all get out of our house, we will have parented, what was it, Priscilla, for 40 years.

40 years. And you'd like to think we got it down by now, but we're still learning. Yes. And even last night, our daughter called our attention to something that we do. So, you know, we're learning. That's always fun, isn't it? We're getting all your attention. It's never-ending.

It's never-ending. Thank God for adult kids, right? Yeah. You forgot to talk about Cooper and Peanut and Rugger. We have three dogs.

Cooper, Peanut and what? Rugger. Really? Yes.

They seem to like to run away. So all of our neighbors know our dogs. Really? Yes.

You got to get a thing called electric fence? Oh. Well, it's a bit of an issue. Five acres. Okay, forget that.

It's a big lot and it's hard to get them corralled in. Forget that. Yeah. Yeah, we got that and I tried it on myself and it works.

It works. It's really, really scary. But, you know, we started talking about a secret.

Yes. Let's walk through the story because your book starts at the beginning of your story and takes us on a journey. So I want to take our listeners sort of on the journey we've been and hopefully they'll pick up your book and read it as well.

And I'm telling you, you need to pick up this book and read it and share it with a lot of people. But Priscilla, it started out with a phone call from a video store. So it dates a little bit back. How long ago was that? How long had you been married at that point? We had been married 10 years.

Take us back to that day. Well, you know, I was just running around the house doing what you do and the phone rang and I went to it and the young lady asked, you know, hey, you didn't turn in your videos. And I was like, videos?

I didn't rent any videos this weekend. So I asked her what movies they were and she gave the titles and I couldn't recognize any of them. So I said, let me ask Phil. And I called him at work and I just immediately asked him, hey, did you check out some videos this past weekend?

So that's how it all started. And by the title of the movies, did you have any inclination of the type of movie he had rented? Well, I asked. After she told me the time, I said, what are they rated? And she told me they were X rated. And I go, huh, we don't rent those. And so then that's when I called them right after that.

And in your gut, did you think, oh, this is a mistake? Yes. You did. There's no way.

Yes. That's why I called him. I go, if I call him and he's going to say, no, I didn't rent anything. I could immediately call them back and say, hey, I don't know what you guys are doing, but something's not right with this.

But that's not what he said. He immediately said, I'm going to be home in five minutes. So when he didn't say it wasn't me and he said, I'll be home, what went through your mind and heart?

That he was guilty. What'd you feel? I felt a panic come on, like your heart is beating really fast. And I just knew in my gut something wasn't right. And anger, anger had always been my defense.

And there was anger there. So Phil, you walk in the door. Go back to the phone call. When you realize your wife has just sort of found out your secret.

Well, it's like every guy's worst nightmare that's involved in watching porn, right? Because you're constantly living a life to make sure nobody finds out your secret. And now she's found out. And so I leave and I don't know what to tell her on the phone, but I think I need a little time to figure out how I can cover this up, make it better.

And so we only lived about 15 minutes from work. And so on the way home, I walked in the door and I could tell that this was going to be a tough conversation. Instead of trying to spin it, I had to tell her I did watch those movies. You just came out and said, it's me. I did. I did.

And it was terrible. I mean, her reaction was bad, but we very quickly got to a point that we were going to, I needed to get it fixed. Well, you told me I needed to get it fixed. You get this fixed.

I'm not going to live like this. So I kind of did what every, I think, Christian guy did. I went out and hired a counselor and we agreed that we were not going to tell anybody else. We were going to work on it because, I mean, we were well known at church. We were well known in the community and we just weren't going to bring this out and share it with everybody. So we both agreed that we were just going to kind of keep it under wraps and I was going to get fixed.

And, you know, we were going to hopefully move on with life like so many guys do. There was really no one to turn to. This was 1998, 1997. Yeah, we know by video store. Some of our listeners are like, what are you talking about?

You know, like when you rent a digital movie and you pay for it, we actually had to drive down, get a VHS and return them within two days. But you were feeling like there's nowhere to turn. There was nowhere to turn. I mean, who do you go talk to about that in 1998?

And he was right. It's like, let's just call up a counselor because they fix things like this. And it was very like, you know, just empty in the sense of there's no help. There's no hope. And you're stuck with yourself. And so the only thing you know how to do is hide.

If we can't fix it, let's hide. So Priscilla, were you feeling like, okay, Phil, this is your problem. Go fix it. Did you feel that part?

I did feel that part. I did not know what to do with this and it needed to be fixed. I had been exposed to porn and I was like, I don't want this. And so that was my, that's why I was so adamant in telling him this is not going to be a part of our life.

But, you know, even in us looking back on this, there was some distance of Phil, you go fix this. But as we have now figured out decades later, some of her porn stuff was, boy, I don't want to ask him a lot of questions because. Then I'm going to have to tell him about my stuff.

Expose your own. Yeah. So we were both struggling. It's just my struggle was the one on the table right there. And it's not that you were struggling with porn.

No, no. I mean, that was history for you. Right. But it was still something you didn't want to disclose.

Right. And I still had those images in my mind. I mean, it was 10 years into our marriage and they would come up in my mind too. So it's not like they were gone, gone.

They weren't. And did you feel shame about that? Oh, yes.

Big shame. I mean, here you are, you know, a pastor's daughter and missionary kid and Christian home and, you know, you have the secret. And it happened when I was in high school.

So, you know, going to go babysit at someone's house and they have sex books and Playboy. And you're just looking at it. So it marked you. Yeah. So as you walk out of that, you know, conversation, Phil, did you think, okay, I'm going to fix this. We're going to beat this.

I'm going to get the counselor and it's just going to be a matter of time, but I'm going to win this thing. Yeah, I did. I mean, I approached it very much like I would approach a client or a business problem. I'm going to fix it. And here's the path. And she agreed with the path. And so I go find the best counselor I can absolutely find in town and start setting up appointments. And I was super forthright with them.

Looking back on it, I wasn't 100 percent honest, but I did kind of work the plan through that and went to them for five and a half years. Five and a half years. Yep.

And did you beat it? Well. Priscilla just left. Yeah. Well, you know. I guess that's the answer. Five and a half years into this, I'm at his office and I said, hey, let me ask you a question.

What did guys do that's got this problem? Do we just go to a counselor the rest of our life? And he said, well, he said, frankly, Phil, most guys, they get their sin down to a level they think they can manage and then they just stop. And I said, well, you know, I think I'm there.

I think I've got it down to a pretty low level and I can just manage it. And he goes, all right. And so I stopped going and I told Priscilla, I said, you know, I think I'm done with this and we're moving on. And she didn't know much about what was happening at the counselor's office.

She really didn't. She wanted to ask questions. But I said, hey, if you keep asking me all these questions, I'm not going to be honest with him if I think I got to tell you everything I'm telling him.

So I kind of shut her down and created my own little secret world here with a counselor that she really didn't know much about. You guys, is that pretty typical, do you think, of someone struggling with porn? And it could be men, it could be women, but there is this thought that I'm just going to get it to a manageable kind of it's not that bad, but they're still playing with that. Is that pretty typical, do you think?

I think so. Yeah, I've heard people refer to everybody deals with a normal level of lust. And so you just have to manage it as a guy. And that had been my experience going to accountability groups that you walk around the table and everybody's got the problem. And so, you know, you just kind of manage it.

You get through life and everybody else is doing it and it'll be okay. Yeah, I would agree with the guys I've met with over 30 years, 40 years really, in ministry. It's that story.

It's like if you have a men's group, and I don't know about women's groups, I know there's issues there as well. But I know for men, it would be go around the table, who looked at something this week, three of the 10 did, the other seven were good. The next week, the other seven did and these three didn't. So it was like a week or monthly thing, but it wasn't completely gone thing.

And it was sort of like, okay, we'll pray for you, quit it, and we'll see you next week. Am I right? Is that sort of what you experienced? Yeah, and we don't press in. And the reason we don't press in is I don't want you to press into me. What do you mean by press in, asking deeper questions?

Yeah, like they said, okay. So, you know, I struggled a little bit last week and everybody goes, okay, yeah, we struggled. And then suddenly I said, what happened? He said, well, you know, I looked at some porn on site. I was missing my computer. So nobody says, what were you looking at specifically?

What was the genre? What was the trigger that took you to there? How is that playing out in your marriage now?

Is that what you looked at? Is that showing up in your sex life with your wife now? So we never press in deeply.

And the reason we don't is we don't want anybody to ask us the questions. Yeah, and I also found that, you know, because, you know, we've talked about this a little bit, but when I admitted to my church early when we started a church that I had struggled with porn, this is 1990, I had guys want to meet with me. And that was their struggle. So they felt like, oh, I can talk to Dave about this. And I learned over hundreds of meetings and I never told a guy this, but when I listened to their story the first time they met with me, I told Ann, I would never tell her any details, but I say I met with a guy and I just started counseling other guys. If somebody comes to you confess their porn struggle, you can multiply it by 10 or 100. Whatever they're telling you, multiply it times 50, because they're not going to tell you what's really happening. They're going to say, I struggle with porn this week. And nobody asks, well, what's that mean? Well, that's depressing. That's scary. I'm thinking like as a spouse, like as a wife, I'm hearing like, oh, what they told you, there's more, it's deeper, there's probably more stuff going on. I'm guessing that's true about any sin, but definitely in this area.

It is. It's releasing the pressure, like a valve, just enough so that you feel better that I confess something. And then you shut it and then you continue on. And rarely do you get to the root. Right.

Why are you doing this? That's what you mean by pressing in. You deal with the symptoms, you deal with the behavior, like even sounds like you did with your counselor a little bit, but do you ever dig in there and say, what's going on here? Well, I think we've even soft-pedaled the whole term. And it seems like the Christian culture has gotten to a place that says we're comfortable with saying we have a porn problem, because everybody deals with a normal level of lust.

That's what people think, right? And since porn is mainstream now, and lots and lots of people watch it with no guilt whatsoever, they feel safer in saying that. And as Phil was sharing that, Priscilla, I was thinking when Dave revealed to me that he had a secret that he'd been struggling with porn, I had my own amount of shame and my own amount of self-doubt, my own amount of, well, of course, because I'm not enough. Did you deal with any of that?

Yes, yes. I mean, see, when he confessed to me that he had this problem with porn, immediately it's because I wasn't enough for him. And I already had low self-esteem with my sexuality, of going into marriage, not being really prepared in that area. And now someone tells me that, hey, I'm going somewhere else because, and I had no idea what his problems were, right?

The root. So for me, it was all about me. I was not good enough.

Me too. I didn't have enough experience. And so therefore, I have to go find somebody else. And that's hard.

And who do you go to with that as a woman, you know, to share, oh, my husband's having this issue. And I feel like that there weren't a lot of places back then to talk about that. And so you stuff that down. You stuff all of those feelings of inadequacy, anger, fear, and you actually live in denial for years. And that's what basically I did for 17 years. So 17 years after the video incident.

Right. What happened then? Well, for 17 years, unbeknownst to her, I convinced her all my porn problems were gone, right? We didn't talk about it.

You just never talked about it. Yeah, and he's done with counseling, so therefore it's okay. And okay, we'll just live like that. So we'll just bury it and kind of keep going. Well, what happened as porn is something that is insidious because it's never satisfied. It's like a drug and you're looking for the next high. And so that keeps going to different levels of pornography. But sooner or later, it showed up in my life was I was traveling.

I went to a massage parlor at a name brand hotel and had a massage that turned into more than a massage. And it became sexual in nature. And I was extremely ashamed of it.

I was hurt. You know, I went and prayed. I repented and everything else, but then it kept happening. And I got to a place where it had gone beyond just the pornography and images of my mind to a real person.

It crossed a line. I said, well, I do this, but I'm never, ever going to have a real person involved. And it went there and it became something as part of my life, not every day or every week or even every month, but it was a periodic cycle that lasted for about seven years.

And Phil, after like you would fall into this, you would fall into sin, I'm guessing you said you would repent or feel bad. Did you think I'll never do it again? You know, it's hard to think you're going to never do it again because it's such an addiction, right?

It really is. It's like, I got to try to minimize this. I feel terrible about it. But to say, do you think you can ever get to a place you will never do this again? It was almost beyond my reach. Beyond the hope of that. Beyond the hope, yeah. You kind of lose all hope on that because of the history.

So you have to get to a place where you're just absolutely disgusted in your life that you no longer want to live like this and ask God to come in and change you. I mean, Priscilla, did you have any idea? You know, I did not.

None. I was completely blindsided by his admission. I was just floored that he could do something like that. Something that I had really thought we had gotten over, but that he could, it's not that there's a difference.

I still believe that watching porn is an infidelity of sorts because you're not thinking of your wife, you're thinking of someone else. But for him to say that he crossed that line to go to the massage parlor, that is a person. So to me, it was even deeper. This was a betrayal of the utmost.

It was a person. And I was a basket case after that with how I felt about him and what was going on. I mean, you've kept this secret for quite a while. Why did you finally tell Priscilla?

What happened? Well, I got to a place that I was super disgusted with my life. I felt, I don't think I was ever suicidal, but you kind of get to the place that you say, you know, this life really isn't that much interesting. I remember telling you one time, Priscilla, that if something happened to me, you guys would probably be better off.

I mean, you know, you could live here with the kids. You got a life planned out. My life is just kind of humdrum, you know. But were you successful in your field and career? I was, yeah.

I was really successful in all that. But it's this peace on constantly this cycle of feeling terrible and needing to repent, never feeling like you're going to get past it. They just really had me in a place of despair. And I cried out to God and I asked him, I need a rescue out of this. And I don't know how to get out of this. I've tried everything. I've been to counselors.

I've had apps on my phone. I've done you name it. If I asked you, how do you get free from this?

I will have done the top nine things on your list of 10 probably. And I just couldn't get free. But what I wanted was like an instantaneous healing, you know. Like I go to the church, two cities over, you know, maybe I respond to an altar call. I go down and somebody, maybe they hit me on the head and I fall down.

I don't know what happens, right? But I am instantaneous. You want it quick, yeah. I wanted it quick. And that's just not what God had for me.

And he did have a healing, but it wasn't quick and it wasn't instantaneous. So I'd gone on a trip and I came back from it. And I thought I noticed some symptoms that led me to believe I contracted an STD. And it scared me to death. The terror that gripped my heart because I knew, I mean, I've put her through all sorts of stuff emotionally, but I knew I couldn't hurt her physically. So I knew I would have to tell her.

And it turned out that it wasn't an STD, but I thought it was. That was enough to push me. Were you petrified, decelerated? I was. I was absolutely terrified. I thought I could lose my marriage. I thought I could lose my job. I thought I could maybe lose all my kids. I was chairman of the elders at my church. I mean, I was just, lots of leadership roles and recognition in the community. And I just, it absolutely terrified me. Well, the fact that Priscilla is sitting here with you now means we got to hear the rest of the story.

Yes. We're out of time. So I'm telling you, if you're listening, you're like, whoa, wait, you got to wait till tomorrow because we're going to go into part two tomorrow. You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Phil and Priscilla Fretwell on Family Life Today. If you want to hear all the intense details of the Fretwell story, they wrote a book called Savage Marriage, Triumph Over Betrayal and Sexual Addiction. You can pick up a copy at to hear how God redeemed their story.

So speaking of secrets, you might have told a few to your young ones who might be questioning the birds and the bees. Well, if this is you, we have something special to offer you as a way to help. When you give any amount this week, we want to ship you a copy of Justin and Lindsay Holcomb's book, God Made Babies, Helping Parents Answer the Baby Question. It's our way of saying thanks when you give any amount this week. You can partner online with us at or by calling 800-358-6329.

That could be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift. Again, the number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. And feel free to snail mail us and drop something in the mail to Family Life, 100 Lakehart Drive, Orlando, Florida, 32832. So now, the once perfect life that Phil and Priscilla had is about to take another hard turn. Tomorrow, Dave and Ann are joined again by the Fretwells as Phil is now forced to go into the details with Priscilla about the possible STD he might have. Their story continues tomorrow. On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-22 06:25:05 / 2023-03-22 06:36:29 / 11

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