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The Hard Work Of Recovery With Lynn Cherry

We are re-broadcasting this important conversation with Lynn Cherry. Lynn did the hard work of recovery after walking through the difficulty of a pornography addiction. She talks about the different seasons in their marriage, how she did the hard work and how you can find freedom, healing and restoration if you are in this place.

Interview Links:


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Julie Lyles Carr: You’re listening to the AllMomDoes does podcast where we are celebrating our fifth season. I’m your host Julie Lyles Carr. We over the last couple of weeks have been pulling forward some interviews that maybe you’ve heard from the early days of the podcast if you’ve been with me all this time, maybe you’re a new listener and you weren’t aware of some of these interviews.

So this episode today is a conversation that I had with a friend of mine named Lynn Cherry. She is in ministry here in the Austin, Texas area where I am, and she and I have had the opportunity to speak from the same stage and to be at the same events from time to time. She and her husband underwent a really significant betrayal in their marriage several years ago.

And this conversation, I think really has so much value because it is their path back to being a couple, getting past so many hurts. So many things that were challenging and a little bit of a side note. There are some mature marriage conversation pieces to this interview. So just make sure that you’ve got those headphones handy if you need them. You’re going to love Lynn. I’m so excited to pull this episode for you forward into our fifth season. So take a listen to Lynn Cherry.

So I’m so delighted to welcome you today Lynn. 

Lynn Cherry: Thank you Julie. It’s great to be with you today. 

Julie Lyles Carr: So tell us a little bit about yourself, where you live and what you do and your kiddos, all the things. 

Lynn Cherry: Yeah, for sure. So I grew up in North Dakota, but I love that little bumper sticker that says I got to Texas as soon as I could.

So we live in Texas now in the Austin area and I love it. I do not miss the cold or the snow at all and love being a Southern girl. I think I was meant to be a Southern girl. I just, I love the hospitality and the friendliness and the sunshine. 

Julie Lyles Carr: So what brought you to Austin? What got you from North Dakota to Austin?

Lynn Cherry: Well, I met my husband. We both went to two different schools in Oklahoma, and so we met in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and you know, it just, wasn’t an option for him to move up north. So we came to Texas after we got married and his family is from here and lives here currently. So that’s how we made it here. We’ve been married for 27 years.

Julie Lyles Carr: Congratulations. 

Lynn Cherry: Thank you. 

Julie Lyles Carr: And tell us about your kiddos. 

Lynn Cherry: Yeah, we have two boys who actually, I should say we have two men. They do not look like children anymore.

Julie Lyles Carr: You got some men in your house. 

Lynn Cherry: I officially have two adult children. 

Julie Lyles Carr: There it is. Now in your book, Keep Walking: 40 days to hope and freedom after betrayal, you take readers on a journey of the experience that you and your husband had in your marriage when things went real sideways.

So what was the experience that you write about in that book? 

Lynn Cherry: Yeah. Well, I discovered, you know, it had a feeling early on in our marriage that something wasn’t quite right. And I like to say we, we both brought baggage into our marriage. I think every couple does, but ours was just a matching set. You know, my husband at seven years old was exposed to pornography and it just grabbed a hold of his heart and mind at such a young age. So he brought pornography baggage into our marriage, and I brought a lifetime of coping with denial. And so our life luggage just coordinated in the most broken way, because there was this issue in his life and I was willing to pretend it didn’t exist.

Julie Lyles Carr: That’s such a gorgeous way of saying it’s such a hard thing to talk about, but such a really profound way to say it was at your baggage coordinated in a really broken way. That’s, that’s very powerful. And so what was your denial? You said that you knew early on something was up. What were some of the clues to you that you decided to stuff?

Lynn Cherry: Well, I think I really began to get that feeling, that strong feeling. The year I was pregnant with our first son, our home was wired for this, a brand new thing called the internet. And I, I realized my husband was spending more and more time in our home office. And I remember waking up at night, go to the bathroom and realizing he wasn’t in our bedroom and walking by the home office and the door was closed. And just having that sinking feeling that something’s not right, something’s happening in there that’s probably not helpful. And so that was my first clue. It was a little bit down the road that we actually had a couple of conversations about pornography. And, you know, he shared that that was something that had been a part of his life in the past.

And, you know, we didn’t really approach it. Like this is an issue in my life right now, but I had a few conversations about porn and then in 2000, right the week after we brought our second little one home from the hospital, I walked in on my husband and I saw pornography on the computer screen. And you know, at that moment, this thing that’s not quite right is right in front of my eyes. And yet still, you know, I had a newborn, had my three-year-old in his big boy bed. My mom was sleeping on the sofa bed in the living room. I just couldn’t go there. I really could not face that at that moment. And so again, I fell back on my trusty habit of denial, but I look back at that night and I just think that was the beginning of the death of me.

Like something in my soul died in that moment. And I really slipped into survival mode. 

Julie Lyles Carr: How long did survival mode last? Because you’ve got these two little bitties and you’ve made this discovery. So how long was that season? 

Lynn Cherry: Yeah, well, apparently I’m pretty good at survival. Yeah. That lasted about four years. So in 2004, I honestly, I, I became just an angry woman and I remember feeling like I don’t like who I’m becoming, like, I just lived with this low level of irritation that could flare up at any moment and everything I had stuffed in for all those years just started slipping out sideways.

Uh, I love that you used that word because that’s how it felt. And I started swearing. I had never sworn in my life. Like I grew up in church, we were on staff at a church, like I’m a professional Christian to be a Christian, you know, and dealing with all of this emotion and, and really the trauma of it.

And that’s how it came out in my life was through this anger. But I look back and I think that was God’s gift to me. That anger because I was okay being sad and lonely for so long, but the anger scared me and I, I knew I needed to get help. 

Julie Lyles Carr: And it became an indicator for you. So was there a watershed moment where all the sudden it was like, BAM! The flood gates open and you go, I’ve got to deal with this or was it just a buildup of noticing these things that were happening in your own heart and in your own behavior?

Lynn Cherry: You know, there were several, several factors. One was, I had a friend who was willing to tell me about an emotional attachment that had developed in her marriage with her husband. And I remember talking to her, getting coffee at Starbucks and thinking she’s on the other side of the pain I’m drowning in.

So her very brave decision to share what was happening in her home. Just, it gave me hope. And I remember thinking if, if they can get help and they can move through this, then there’s gotta be help for us too. And then, um, another thing that happened in that season was there was a women’s conference and, you know, it was one of those times where it just felt like everything was made for me, the speakers, the messages, the worship, they also did these skits. Of course, this was many years ago. So I know you’re all rolling your eyes at that idea, but we did princess skits and it was so funny because there was Sleeping Beauty was one of the princesses and every time something stressful happened, she would just collapse and fall to the stage and sleep through the rest of the scene.

And I remember like the fourth session at that conference thinking I have to wake up. I can’t sleep walk through my life any more. There’s too much at stake here. I have two boys. And I don’t want my boys growing up in a home with pornography or with, with, uh, an addict, you know, with someone who’s compulsively using pornography.

And so that really was a wake up call for me and a little boost of courage from my friend that ultimately helped me face it. 

Julie Lyles Carr: So you wake up, you decide you have to face it. What was step one after the awakening? 

Lynn Cherry: Step one is I came home from that conference just with a lot of courage that had been planted in my heart. And I remember laying on the bed in our room, my husband was standing at the foot of the bed and I just told him, I was like, I can’t live like this. We need help. I need help. You need help. I’ve got the number to a counselor and I’m going to make an appointment and I want you to come with me. But whether or not you come with me, I have to go.

And so that really was step one and we need help. Like, we can’t be alone in this anymore. It’s not working. And thankfully my husband agreed to, to come with me to that appointment and we started a journey of oh, 48 weeks of therapy. Over two years. 

Julie Lyles Carr: And, you know, I love that you were willing to go ahead and get the help you needed, whether he was going to or not. I will encounter couples, particularly if they, if someone feels like they’re the wronged party and they want to see the other person get engaged with the therapist or go to the group or whatever, and they stay kind of frozen until the other person is willing to do that. I love that you, you modeled, uh, you know, this, this example of saying, and even if not, I’m going to go get the help that I need.

That’s amazing. What are some of the current statistics in the U S and more specifically in faith circles regarding marriage, regarding porn within marriage, emotional affairs, all that. 

Lynn Cherry: Yeah. So I looked up the 2014 Barna Research Report that tells us 70% of single men said they had looked and looked at porn in the past 30 days, 55% of married men. And then 16% of single women, 25% of married women. So that’s actually a little bit higher. The statistics are not much different for christian men, 64% and Christian women, 15%. 

And again, you know, this is 2014, like so much has happened in the digital space and the past four years. I just would imagine those percentages are not going down.

Julie Lyles Carr: Right. I’ve seen some recently, I think maybe by Pew Research that showed those to be even higher. And particularly on the, on the female side, women, women of faith who, um, according to this research, and I think it was between 35 and 40% are now viewing porn on a very consistent basis. So clearly this is something that if you feel, listener, that you are all alone in this, either in your own addiction process, or maybe in your spouse’s, actually, there are a lot of folks out there who are going through this and who are experiencing it. 

Now, Lynn, some people might think that it would be unhealthy or unforgiving for you to write “Keep Walking,” that it’s bringing up, you know, the past in your marriage.

So how have you tried to present this journey with honor? And what does your husband think about you dragging all this laundry out into the front yard and hanging it up for everybody to see. 

Lynn Cherry: Well, you know, it was actually my husband early in our recovery. I remember him telling me someday, we’re going to share our story and it’s going to help other people.

And I’m like, how dare you even suggest that? Like, no, but we both, I think we both knew early on that we would share our story. And part of the reason we knew that is because no one was talking about it back when we were facing this. And so we felt so alone and isolated and, and added to that, like just so much shame that this was happening in our home.

And so we knew that we, that God was calling us to speak the truth of our story and to break the shame that was, that had held us for so long that we knew was holding so many other couples. And so we both share our story. My husband’s been so supportive, which I am grateful for. I think one of the reasons how it can be honoring is that we’re doing it from a place of wholeness.

Like we have done the hard work of recovery. And so we are not the broken people we were at the beginning of this journey. God’s done a lot of healing. Not that we’re perfect, or we have it all figured out, but we have a lot of tools. We have a lot of wisdom. We have, we’ve done a lot of work and there’s been a lot of growth in our relationship.

So we’re able to share in a way that celebrates the freedom and the healing and the restoration that God has brought. 

Julie Lyles Carr: And, you know, I think you bring up something that’s so important. We often, I think try to rush the recovery process on something that has taken a lifetime to lead up to, and, and we know God can heal in an instant, but there’s also something so powerful to the process.

I remember when cardboard testimonies were a big thing. Do you remember whenever every church was doing cardboard testimonies and I feel that at times we made a mistake rushing people up onto that stage with a cardboard testimony of how God had healed an addiction process or healed infidelity in their marriage or, or whatever the thing was when it had only been a handful of weeks or a few months.

So talk about what you noticed in terms of the, the length of time that things took. Was there a period of time that you thought, are we doing this wrong, that it’s taking so long? Or were you getting good counsel saying this is going to take some time? What did that look like? 

Lynn Cherry: Yeah, we did. We, we were able to get excellent help from the get go.

And I hear so many stories of couples that there’s a problem in their marriage, or there’s a betrayal and they go to a marriage counselor and, you know, you really need help from someone who understands sexual addiction and betrayal. And so we were able to get expert help from the beginning. And I remember them telling us, like, give us two years. And we’re like, “WHAT?”

But when you think about it, there is a lifetime of brokenness leading up to that, the discovery of what had happened and you can’t reprogram your brain in a couple of weeks, you know, that takes time and it is a process and it was a roller coaster ride. Like there were good days. There were awful days. There were times where I thought we’re not going to make it through this together.

There were times when my husband thought, I don’t think I can be married to her anymore. You know, it was just such a hailstorm to have to walk through, but having support along the way and really doing group therapy. Oh my gosh. I am so grateful for the women who were in my groups with other women and for the couples who are in our groups, because just being able to move forward with other people was so encouraging.

I mean, then you’re like, okay, they did their homework this week. We’re going to keep doing our homework. And we’re just going to keep plowing through this hard ground. 

Julie Lyles Carr: So tell us about, I know there are people in my world, people of faith who wouldn’t necessarily consider porn to be betrayal or adultery, they wouldn’t consider an emotional affair to necessarily be the big scarlet letter “A” adultery.

So how do you navigate that as well? Because there are people within our communities and our friends, our neighbors who might not understand what the big deal is. 

Lynn Cherry: Yeah, I get that. I think we would have never called it an affair either. My husband would have just said, this is the thing in my life that only affects me.

So it was through couples therapy that we realized the trauma that I was dealing with, the pain that I was feeling was just like, the pain of the women whose husband had had a physical affair or the pain of the man whose wife had had an affair. And I remember sitting in our groups and realizing, yeah, that’s how I feel.

I feel exactly like that. And I remember coming home from one session and my husband going, well, maybe you’re not crazy. Seeing that the things that I was feeling and dealing with were just like the couples who had faced an actual affair. Look at pornography right now and it is so devaluing to women. The vast majority of it is violent toward women.

And if you’re consuming that on a regular basis, it will alter the way that you view other human beings. 

Julie Lyles Carr: And so how did you make that jump? And it sounds like your husband began to accept that really for you, the way that this was experienced was as an affair. When you made that jump, did that change the tenor of your conversations with him? Did it make it worse for a period of time? Had you been kind of, again, as you say, being, being very proficient in the work of denial, had you sort of held it at arms length in that way? What did all that awaken when you really began to say, huh? This actually was by, by extension an affair. 

Lynn Cherry: No. I really survived fairly well in my years with denial. When we started therapy, is when things got really hard for me.

Oh my gosh. I’m a bar therapist talking about pretend normal and how, you know, there’s usually there’s a crisis that we deal with in a relationship. And we talk about it and we feel like, oh, we got it out. It’s out in the open and we’re good. And we really haven’t dealt with the issue, but we go to this place where we pretend things are normal.

I love pretend normal. Like I’m thinking, I think I could do pretend normal. Like, I’m pretty sure I could do it for the rest of my life. And that would be better than dealing with this issue. But I also knew if I wanted to live an authentic, real life, I had to be willing to face the reality. And so looking at the issue really owning it.

And owning the damage that it had caused in my soul and in our relationship. One of the things that brought it to light was I ended up dealing with anxiety and chest pain and insomnia, and I had to go to the doctor and have them check my heart. You know, my heart was fine. I remember the nurse going, is there anything stressful happening in your life right now, Mrs. Cherry? And like, yeah, there’s just a little bit of stress going on. But I couldn’t sleep and I would lay in bed and just feel like my heart is going to pound out of my chest. And I remember one night feeling this little impression, like I should ask David to pray for me. And I’m like, no, I am not asking him to pray for me.

I don’t want to need him. I don’t want to need anything from anyone. And it wouldn’t go away and I was desperate and there was no one else there. I remember turning to him and saying, I need you to pray for me. And that happened, you know, night after night and God, I look back and I think God really used those moments to turn our hearts back toward each other.

And I think it was a moment of awareness for David thinking, this really is taking a toll on her. 

Julie Lyles Carr: So, what did you do to begin to trust him again? Because I think that’s one of the really thorny things. You’ve faced what’s going on. You’ve faced what the behavior’s been. You uncover it just how deep the iceberg goes potentially.

 So all that gets exposed and that has its value. But how do you trust someone again? 

Lynn Cherry: Yes. Well, you know, I mean, it just takes one bad decision to destroy trust and a relationship. And it takes a lot of time to rebuild it. I think a way that it gets rebuilt is by watching behavior. I watched my husband change.

I watched very slowly and I really had to pay attention, but I watched the fruit of change, begin to blossom, tiny little blossoms and decisions, you know, knowing, knowing that where he would’ve made one decision in the past, now he’s making a different decision. And so I watched him change. And I think another thing along the way is I really learned how to trust God in a new way.

I just, I love the passage in numbers, 23, that God is not a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he would change his mind. He keeps his promises. And so I remember thinking while I’m not sure that I can trust my husband, I have to choose to trust God. And that God is going to make a way for us to get through this sketchy season.

Julie Lyles Carr: Now I have had a friend who was involved in extramarital affairs and her husband discovered this, this was many years ago and they put several different things in place that were supposed to provide accountability for her. And over time, she began to really resent some of those things they had put in place.

And it was very interesting watching the two of them trying to navigate this because in some ways I absolutely sympathized with him that he was trying to rebuild trust. And these were some simple measures to take that would create a level of accountability. I also understood the frustration that she had because it seemed to be a continuing conversation about if he could trust her or not. But it was also interesting because I thought, well, if you’re really doing and being where you say you’re going to be, then why would you even care if some of these measures were in place? So what kind of balance did you and David hit when it comes to these external accountability type of tools?

And then how far is too far? Because at the end of the day, it really is incumbent upon the person who has engaged in these betrayal behaviors. They’re going to be the ones who they’re going to know, and they’re going to be able to hide it if they want to. So how did you guys come to that balance? 

Lynn Cherry: Yeah, we definitely put some accountability tools in place.

Um, we have accountability software still to this day on all of our devices. You know, If my husband even wants to update an app, I enter the code. And so, I mean, we are many years down this journey, and yet that is something that he feels keeps him safe. And, and I think it really is all about safety. So when trust has been broken, you have to reestablish safety to that spouse that’s been traumatized.

And that has to be the number one goal is to try to do whatever we can put accountability in place. Put those safety measures in place so that they feel safe in the relationship. I think that that can feel shaming to the spouse that was unfaithful. But if their heart is really in whatever I have to do to make my marriage a safe place for my spouse, they know they have to surrender to that.

And I remember even asking David at one point, like, do we still really need this? Do we still really need this accountability software? And for him, that was a yes. Like, yes, I will use this for the rest of my life. And I remember feeling like a little bit concerned at that like, whoa, what does that mean?

And I think that strength is found in a relationship when you both recognize your weaknesses and embrace them. 

Julie Lyles Carr: So you’ve now been able to minister to a lot of people you’ve spoken into this space quite a bit. You get to speak a lot of different places and, and “Keep Walking: 40 days to hope and freedom after betrayal,” your book, your devotional has gotten into the hands of people that I’m so glad have been able to experience that journey and that walkthrough with you for hope, but are there some marriages that maybe shouldn’t reconcile after betrayal? And how do you know if you should take the chance? Because this is one of the key questions I get in ministry where there’s been a betrayal and you know, the spouse who is the one who has been wronged, if you will, is trying to evaluate, is this even anything I want to mess with anymore?

What are some things that you might want to consider? 

Lynn Cherry: Personally, I would challenge everyone to take the chance and I would just challenge them to get with God, pray about it, get a timeframe and just take the chance for that timeframe. And the reason I would do that is because whether or not the relationship makes it, at least you can exit that, knowing that you did everything you can.

I understand wanting to just wipe my hands and get away. I think that sounds like a great alternative, but I think if, if your spouse is willing to get help and if you can be willing to get help along with them, I say, give it, give it a chance, give it a shot. And if you don’t see any movement or forward progress or change from that unfaithful spouse, after the timeframe that you’ve established, I know that there are marriages that must end, and that it’s the best thing for those two people or particularly for the betrayed spouse that it ends. I love what Gary Thomas said in his article that if saving a marriage is destroying a woman the cost is too high and that God loves people more than he loves institutions.

So, you know, I understand that people get to a place where divorce is the most viable option and that’s the way for them to experience restoration. 

Julie Lyles Carr: So talk to the spouses out there, who are the ones who are engaged in the betrayal. They’re watching porn, they’re having the emotional fair. Maybe they’re having a physical one.

What is something you want those people to know when it comes to marriage and reconciliation? From your perspective, as someone who sat on the other side of that fence and experienced the betrayal. 

Lynn Cherry: I really think that there are very few people who set out to cheat on their loved one that, you know, I’m making a conscious decision to destroy this relationship and betray the trust of my spouse.

I don’t think very many people set out with that intention. I think people find themselves slowly over time slipping into one bad decision after another bad decision and then waking up and finding themselves in a place they thought they would never. So for that person, I would challenge them to face the truth of their story.

And to know that there is no freedom without acknowledging the truth. I think what keeps people in that place is the idea that I’m going to lose everything. My spouse couldn’t handle this. But if you want a real relationship with someone, the only way to have that is through the truth. And so I just, I just want to offer some hope to them that there really is a way to walk through the pain of the trial and to come out on the other side.

And if you would be willing to make a confession, a confession goes a long way. And if you’re not willing to make a confession at some point in time, you’ll probably get caught and that’s going to cause a lot more pain. 

Julie Lyles Carr: What are some rules to think about when confessing to a loved one to a spouse that behavior has not been all that it has appeared to be? Are there some good ideas, bad ideas? I mean, definitely getting caught seems like that would be far worse than just doing the hard thing and talking about what you’ve been struggling with. So what’s some wisdom surrounding the idea of going ahead and talking about what’s going on? 

Lynn Cherry: You know, uh, betrayal does cause trauma.

And so I think it’s, it’s definitely wise to get some help. So if you’re the spouse that’s being unfaithful, your first step might be to go see a therapist on your own and figure out the best possible way to let your spouse know what’s been happening in a way that would cause the least amount of trauma to them. Getting a professional in on that is a great idea.

I know some people who’ve had a confession from their spouse and it came from a place of just utter brokenness. Even though it was painful having that broken confession and knowing that they were truly repentant and sorry for what had happened and willing to do whatever needed to happen for there to be safety and trust restored.

That sets that couple off on a strong path toward healing. 

Julie Lyles Carr: And so what level of responsibility do you think the spouse who’s been betrayed, you know, bears because I know that some people say, well, you know, I never intended to cheat on my spouse, but our sex life had fallen apart and my spouse wasn’t willing to really deal with that. Or, you know, there was so much stress in the home or he, or she got so distracted by work or kids or whatever. I felt like I was left alone in the marriage. So how do you, in a way that is honest and noble and yet at the same time is not dodging responsibility, make sure that both partners responsibility in the thing is being addressed.

Again, without throwing bombs and without justifying poor choices, how do you do that? 

Lynn Cherry: You know, I think we come into marriage thinking, we found our soulmates and it’s just going to be easy and we’re good. We love this person. Of course, this is going to be easy and a bed of roses. And it’s just not, no marriage is so much work.

And I think it just takes intention over every single year. And, you know, knowing that every, every time something changes in your life, if you’re adding children to the relationship or there’s a career change, or maybe there’s a loss that takes place in one of your lives, you have to keep your marriage at the center and be intentional about investing in that relationship and not coasting. You know, things they don’t work their way out. Nothing works its way out in marriage. If you don’t do the work, those issues are going to stay and fester and cause problems. 

Julie Lyles Carr: So you recently have made a big change in your work life because you were ministering at a church for quite a while and getting to do some of this work there, but now you’ve changed things up a little bit. Talk to us about that. 

Lynn Cherry: The scary new season. Oh my gosh. You know, I just had an impression that I would be moving out of that position, which let me tell you, I loved my job. I love the consistency and the security and the beautiful people I got to work with every day. And the people I got to serve every week.

Loved it. And I’m, I’m a change resistor. Which probably goes along with denial a little bit. You can imagine that about me. So, uh, it was, it was a long journey and I remember thinking, okay, God, like I hear you that I’ll be moving out, but what am I moving into? Like, what’s next? And I, I, I’m thinking I’m still discovering that, honestly, it’s just, it’s a, it’s a big God adventure for me in this season.

Just being willing to take that leap of faith. No. Uh, I went to a conference in February and I’m really praying, like, okay, God, what’s my next step. Where am I going to? And one of the speakers shared a story that Henry Nowan had written about trapeze artists and that the star of the trapeze artist is not the flyer.

It’s the catcher. And all the flyer does is let go at the right time. And I remember thinking, okay, God, I hear you. Like you are asking, need to let go and just trust that you’re going to be there to catch me with what’s next. So I still feel a little bit like I’m in the air, Julie. 

Julie Lyles Carr: Well, what I hear is you had your “Sleeping Beauty” moment, which made you deal with the challenges in your marriage. And now you’ve had, like, “The Greatest Showman” kind of moment with a trapeze artist. And so, uh, yeah, I, I’ll be curious to see you fly. I know you can fly.

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