‘There it was, staring me in the face. ‘Traits of a sociopath.’ I was not crazy.’: After years of lies, sex-addiction, cheating, woman leaves abusive husband, done pretending to be ‘a perfect family’ to the ‘outside world’

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“I was told over and over that I was crazy… but was I? I clearly remember the exact moment I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was not crazy. It was like the sky opened up, the rain poured down and it flooded my soul with so much information I couldn’t move. That probably sounds really dramatic, but it is truly how I felt the moment I entered these words: ‘rage, cheating, manipulation and lack of emotions’ into a Google search bar. BOOM! There it was, staring me right in the face. ‘Traits of a sociopath.’ A warm wash came over me. I was finally validated; I wasn’t crazy, and most of all, I wasn’t alone. From this day forward my life started to change.

Courtesy of Tiffany Denny

But let me take you back to the beginning of my story. I was born to great parents who provided me with all I ever needed both emotionally and physically. My childhood was relatively normal and happy. At the age of 12, I met my now ex-husband who was 18 at the time. My dad hired him to help put in his sprinkler system. When the sprinkler system was complete, my dad asked him to help with a few other things which ended up employing him for that entire summer. Little did I know, but he had started to groom me the first day I met him. He spent a lot of time with my family going on trips, doing small jobs around the house and just hanging out with us. At the time it did not seem strange but looking back his intentions were very clear and calculated. My 12 year-old-self thought he was the best thing next to sliced bread. He was charming, fun and full of adventure. He had a girlfriend whom I loved and looked up to and I secretly thought how great it would be to have a boyfriend just like him.

Eventually that secret I thought to my 12-year-old self actually came true. Not only did I get a boyfriend just like him… I got him. The relationship was both physically and psychologically abusive from the start. By the time I was 18 I found out I was pregnant and we were married shortly after. Although looking back I can see all of the red flags, at the time I did not see them, or perhaps I chose to ignore them.

We drove to California for our honeymoon and as we passed through Nevada we stopped at a Jack-in-the-Box for lunch. He ordered our food, brought it to the table, sat down and looked me in the eye. He told me he had to go grab something, but he would be right back. He didn’t come back. I waited for hours and there was no sign of him. There I was, 18 years old and 5 months pregnant, sitting in the Jack-in-the-box praying he would come back. Cell phones did not exist yet, so I sat there until I was offered a ride to a payphone to call my mom. I graciously accepted but was horrified that I would have to call home. As I walked out of the restaurant, I looked up right as he was coming around the corner. He stopped his truck and told me to get in. I begged for him to tell me where he went and for the reason he left me there. He wouldn’t say where he went or what he was doing, and to this day he has kept it a secret. This was the first major red flag. The reason I share this incident is because two very significant things happened that day and they set the rules for the rest of the marriage. 1. It was the beginning of all of the covering, hiding and accepting his behavior I did for him.  2. It re-assured him that he had complete control over me.

In the fall of that year our first son was born and 22 months later, our second son was born. His first affair happened during this time period, the first of many. (Throughout our marriage he hired himself out as an escort and joined many dating websites. He told one woman whom he was having an affair with that I had died, and he was raising our 5 children alone. I could go on and on about his sexual addition, but you get my point). I felt deeply that something was wrong and I suspected that he was having an affair but I couldn’t prove it. He was very good at twisting and turning things to make me feel crazy. The clinical term for this is ‘gaslighting.’ Eventually he confessed the first affair and pleaded for my forgiveness. We went to therapy together and for a period of time things seemed like they were finally getting back to normal, or what I thought was ‘normal.’

Courtesy of Tiffany Denny

Five years later our 3rd son was born and 18 months later our 4th son was born. 3 years following that we adopted our daughter. The abuse continued over the next several years, sometimes subtle and sometimes severe. This is a common tactic of a sociopathic abuser. The psychological abuse was far worse than the physical abuse. The physical abuse ranged from throwing objects, breaking and destroying everything in sight, to attempting to drown me in the bathtub, pinning me against the wall or the ground, choking and sexually assaulting me. The psychological abuse was his way of keeping me in a trauma bond and it was also his insurance policy that I would never leave him.

These tactics worked for many years, but things started shifting in 2008 (hence the Google search). I began to educate myself on what I was dealing with.

In 2009 in one of his fits of rage he physically attacked our son. As women, when we are suffering from abuse we learn to justify the abuse or we start to feel like we deserve it. But when abuse is inflicted on our children, we generally won’t stand for it. I knew in that moment I needed to get out. I also knew it was going to be very hard to get out safely and it would be extremely dangerous.

Courtesy of Tiffany Denny

As I debated and pondered how I was going to leave my marriage, I asked myself who was going to believe me when I told them I was in a terrible situation and needed to get out? The answer to that would turn out to be not many, at least at first. To the outside world we looked like we were a perfect family. I did an excellent job of making sure of it. We did a lot of really fun things, we were active in our church and community. It became an obsession and a full-time job to keep the outside world (including my family) from knowing what was happening within the walls of our home. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and frightened by what the repercussions would be if I told anyone our secret or asked for help.

It is really easy to place judgement on a woman for staying in an abusive relationship. It is hard for those who only know what healthy relationships are to fully understand. I get asked these questions frequently…’If it was so bad why did you stay for so long?’ Or ‘If your children meant so much to you why did you keep them in an abusive situation?’ Or ‘Why didn’t you just call the police?’ There is one simple answer to all three questions… Fear. Those who know abuse will need no further explanation and those who don’t know abuse I would not expect them to fully understand. And that is ok. I did eventually get out but there were horrible consequences that came along with it for both myself and my children. There are many more incidences of abuse, too many to share inside this article. However, I believe this statement to be TRUE to my core. ‘Life happens for you, not to you.’

Courtesy of Tiffany Denny

I was extremely fortunate to get some really intense therapy to deal with my C-PTSD and Co-dependency but I spent the next several years in a constant state of anxiety. My ex-husband stalked me for many months and kept me in stuck in the loop of fear he created. It was his way of controlling me even though we were divorced.

I was (am) extremely blessed to have the support of my family and friends who helped me up and helped me get through. I will be forever grateful to them. But it was up to me to take my POWER back. I started to speak my truth. No more hiding, lying, or trying to make things look better than they were. I learned how to be vulnerable really quickly. I dug in, did a lot of soul searching and I did the work. I learned how to be alone. And most importantly, I learned to forgive myself and I gave myself grace. I slowly transformed from victim to victor.

Courtesy of Tiffany Denny

In 2012 I met the love of my life. I met a man that has shown me love, empathy, patience, and most importantly how a man of integrity treats a woman. He has been a great example to my children and each and every one of them has deep love and respect for him. He supports me, loves me, protects me, and keeps me safe.

Courtesy of Tiffany Denny

In 2016 my business partner Kierstyn and I started The Relationship Recovery. We started this movement and community in hopes we could provide good information, lift people up, and help them take their power back! We both felt we were lacking this type of support during and after our own divorces. The Relationship Recovery is a safe community with resources available for women who are leaving an abusive relationship, women who are getting divorced, or women who are trying to find themselves again after a life trial. We provide as many free resources as possible.

Courtesy of Tiffany Denny

I am currently a trained domestic violence advocate for the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. Which means I can create safety plans and assist in making sure a woman and her children have the resources they need to keep safe during an abusive situation. Both Kierstyn and I are certified life coaches and we relish in seeing the women that we help find themselves and start to thrive and live a whole and healthy life again. We put on live events and workshops for women and with the monies that are generated from sponsors and ticket sales we are able to give that back to local women and children’s shelters. We also work closely with FADV (Fight Against Domestic Violence). This is our love and our purpose. For me it has been the best way to turn a tragic experience into healing and hope for others in similar situations.”

@kelsiewolfleyphotography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tiffany Denny, Co-Founder of The Relationship Recovery. You can follow her journey on Instagram here and here. 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 infidelity:

‘Did you tell her about the drama at work?’ I noticed my husband get uncomfortable. ‘There is a rumor your husband is sleeping with a girl who works with us.’ He laughed.’

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