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I was heartsick and disgusted to learn about the conviction of Josh Duggar on child pornography charges in recent weeks. The harm of child sex abuse material on children is tragic and unconscionable, and any involvement with it is deserving of just punishment. In trying to grasp how this could happen, some have resorted to blaming Duggar’s wife Anna. Suffice it to say, I have some thoughts on this. 

When awful news like this breaks, we can sometimes forget about hidden victims in these situations—in particular the partner or spouse—typically the wife. I know this because ten years ago I found myself in a shocking situation not too unlike that of Anna Duggar.

Though my former spouse didn’t physically act out with other people or become convicted on charges of child pornography, he did battle a sexual addiction. I learned the extent of this seven months after we were married.

The discovery of my husband’s sexual addiction was devastating. I felt as if, in an instant, all the hopes and dreams I had for my life had been ripped away from me. For nearly three years after, we spent thousands of dollars on therapy, intensives, and every possible support group, to try to salvage our marriage. In the end, for us, these efforts weren’t bearing much fruit. (As an aside, they do help many couples; but, as with all interventions, success depends on a number of factors.) In our situation, I ultimately faced the fact that I was in a constant state of surviving and not thriving as a woman. My only remaining choice was to walk away from the relationship and begin to live a different life from the one I imagined.

It has been ten years since I got married. While those experiences were deeply painful, and ending our marriage brought its own pain, I can honestly say my life today is better, more whole, healed, and richer in ways I never imagined. While there are still unmet desires for my life, such as finding my life partner, I would not trade a moment of the journey I have been on these last ten years.

As I reflect on my experience, I have such compassion and even sadness for women like Anna Duggar. A friend recently shared an article titled, “Why Does Anna Duggar Stay?” written by author and abuse-recovery coach Sarah McDugal. McDugal writes:

Daily, I read harsh, judgmental comments about Anna Duggar, how she is insane to stay with Josh, how she should know better than to be endangering her children, and how could she possibly keep having his babies. "Doesn’t she know better?" people insist. "This is just common sense! Why would any woman stay with a monster?" . . . But those passing self-righteous condemnations fail to comprehend the tentacles of psychological and spiritual conditioning, the financial control, the emotional and sexual coercion—which are inextricably intertwined with the environment, sub-culture, and belief system of women like Anna.

Reading this left me reflecting on my story and that of Anna’s, seeing the similarities and differences in our experiences. And it provoked me to offer some important points to consider when looking at someone like Anna Duggar or someone in your life navigating a painful situation similar to this.

Betrayed women are often blindsided

Did Anna Duggar know the extent of her husband’s problems or not? Maybe she did. Or maybe she got an incomplete version of the story and had no idea the awful extent of his addictions. Regardless, women are still blindsided in these situations; that brings its own deep levels of trauma, anger, and betrayal.

As Jennifer Freyd, PhD shared with Verily in the past, “the basic idea in betrayal trauma theory is 'forgetting' can serve a function of someone who’s really stuck in a bad situation . . . [to] stay attached to a person who keeps you alive, for instance.” In these cases where your foundation is dependant on the person who betrayed you, “forgetting harms done to them serves a function. But it comes at a great cost.”

From my experience, I can say that the shock of learning something so awful about the person I committed my life to is one of the worst pains I have ever experienced.

The overwhelm of betrayal and infidelity can feel like too much to face

If I reflect back on my own experience, I am truly grateful I hadn’t had children with my former husband, because I imagine I would have felt more pressure or even internal guilt to stay in a toxic situation for the sake of my children (when it might not have even been good for them). I cannot imagine the heavy weight Anna carries for her children—trying to imagine what life would be like leaving or how she could provide for her seven young children.

The raw shock and pain a betrayed partner can be left to deal with can feel paralyzing. In the face of such overwhelm, it can feel insurmountable to begin to face because of how many aspects of one’s life it damages. No path is easy in these situations, and each woman is on a very unique and personal journey when it comes to these things. After going through what I did, I encourage others not to judge a woman for where she is in her process of recovery.

Never blame a woman for “not doing enough”

My experiences led me to never blame a woman in situations like these, for not doing enough, not being more sexually available, present to her husband, or anything related to ideas like these. It’s important to remember that it is never a woman’s fault for her husband’s sexual unfaithfulness or addictions. Those issues are about him, not about her.

I’ve learned to never judge a woman who stays with an abuser, for we never know the pressure or fears she carries deep inside her heart; we also don’t know if she is in the process of leaving slowly, or if she has laid down boundaries for her husband to work on things and show progress while she evaluates whether to stay. I’ve also learned to never judge a woman who bravely leaves a relationship, knowing it is her only way to move forward.

There is always so much more to every story that outsiders can see or experience. Just as there was so much more to my own story, I can only imagine there is much more to the pain Anna Duggar is navigating. May the Duggar story be a reminder to everyone of the very real challenges of sex addiction as well as the reasons not to blame betrayed partners for the wrongdoing of their spouses.