Wife of religious leader recounts her family's private battle

Published: Saturday, Sept. 18 2010 11:00 p.m. MDT

Anderson speaks publicly about her husband's porn addiction because she knows there are many other women like her.

Sarah A. Miller, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — If you can picture the shock, the pain and the lingering internal damage of being hit hard in the stomach with a baseball bat, then having to keep quiet about it, that's what it's like to find out your husband is addicted to porn.

You're horrified, you're feeling betrayed and you're terrified someone will find out — especially when he's a prominent religious leader.

That's how Christina Anderson remembers feeling when she found images her husband had forgotten to erase on the family's computer a few years back. A nationally known leader in his denomination, Pastor Bernie Anderson now shepherds the Wasatch Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church, sans the double life and the constant fear he held tightly to back then.

They've held their marriage together, though Christina says she'll never forget the hyper-vigilance she felt about keeping his secret in the beginning, even though it was eating her alive.

"I just figured that was the end of his career. In our denomination, appearances are very important and we don't talk about our stuff. He was our only source of income. I was very nervous about what would happen if it ever leaked out, but privately, I had no clue what it even was. ... It was something I'd never been exposed to, and I didn't know you could be addicted to it."

'There were signs'

Like so many other women, she had watched her adoring husband pull further and further away from her and their daughters during the first seven years of their marriage, not understanding why his time at the church or in his private office in the backyard was always so much more enticing than they were. "There were signs along the way, but I didn't see them. ... Even when he was with us, he wasn't with us. He wasn't fully engaged in what we were doing."

There were always plenty of reasons for Bernie to be at the church or in the office early in the morning, late into the night and on weekends, too, she says. He spent most of his time alone, isolated with a computer, including the laptop he used at church but could pick up and take with him.

As she felt more isolated, distance wasn't the only issue.

"There is a pruning process some men use by taking the focus off themselves and putting it on you," when questions are raised about the lack of family and couple time together. She remembers feeling guilty for bringing it up, because he would turn the tables with a comment like, "Oh, you're just kind of the jealous type," which made her out to be the one with the problem. "Looking back, I can see the behavior pattern, taking the focus off of him and putting it on me."

Her requests for more time together were also met with an appeal to logic – she came from a close-knit family with parents who were happily married, while his parents divorced. "He would say 'I came from a different background,' or 'I haven't seen this type of love or relationship.' He used it to excuse the distance from me and the girls."

Even at church or in the mall, as she tried to converse with him, his mind would wander and she found him unable to stay on track. "He would look at women and be physically undressing them in his mind. I had no idea." When she confronted him about his lack of attention, he'd accuse her of being jealous all over again. "After a while I stopped even saying anything. I didn't want to be the nagging, jealous wife."

To this day, "I don't know that he ever acknowledged that," she says. "I just remember that I would feel bad. It created a self-doubt inside me. I never thought of myself as the jealous type."

Same as an affair

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