Kathy Irwin was clueless about who she was marrying in January 1980. This naïve 19-year-old girl did not realize that I had a long history of being a womanizer and that I was terribly addicted to pornography. She had no idea that I maintained a secret lifestyle of illicit sex that nobody knew about. Marriage did not alter any of this. I continued living my double life without one pang of guilt or concern. Even the day before our wedding I was with a prostitute.
It quickly became obvious to her that I was an angry and miserable person. I alienated Kathy and was content for us to live separate lives in the same house. She knew something was terribly wrong in our marriage but could not understand what it was. She only knew that our marriage shared no resemblance to the loving union of her parents.
A year after we were married, I decided to become a cop in Los Angeles. Our move there made things even more difficult for her as she lost the security of having her family nearby. Not long after the move, I decided to tell her the truth about my secret life: I was addicted to pornography and I was regularly committing adultery with prostitutes and other women. She was shocked. I convinced her that if we watched porn movies together that it would end my “need” to go out on her. She was confused and had nobody to discuss it with. She reluctantly agreed. It was a monumental mistake.
Coming out in the open about my obsession with women only made matters worse. In some sick way, it gave me license to openly lust after and flirt with other women. Kathy finally left me, repented of her sin and got her life right with the Lord.
My Wife’s Selflessness
Several weeks later, I had an encounter with the Lord that changed my life. I still struggled with sexual sin, but at least now I was committed to living the Christian life. I told Kathy about this and asked her to return to me. I was clueless to the amount of damage I had done to her. She had been terribly hurt by my actions and had lost her respect for me. In short, she wanted nothing to do with Steve Gallagher.
However, God intervened and made it clear to her that He wanted her to return to me. She sat down and wept at the thought of it. She knew she must obey Him no matter what it might cost her. It wasn’t easy, though. In fact, during those first few months she would often cry herself to sleep at night. She cringed every time I touched her. She hid all of this from me because she didn’t want to do anything that would discourage my newfound faith in Christ. It still remains one of the clearest examples of selflessness I have ever witnessed.
It took over two years for me to get totally free of habitual sexual sin. This was in the early 80’s and sexual addiction was a term unheard of in those days. Kathy knew that I sincerely wanted freedom and this helped her to stick it out with me.
It needs to be said that the real secret to her unselfish attitude was her relationship with the Lord. God became very big to her during those difficult years. Instead of becoming increasingly fixated on herself and what she wanted (a happy marriage and an adoring husband), she made knowing Him the passion of her life. As she did this, the Holy Spirit upheld her through her trials, comforted her in times of pain and poured His love through her to me and others.
During that crucial two year period, her love for me matured from being a “needy” love that was looking for something in return, to a godly love that put the needs of the other person first. Instead of seeing my failures as being a personal attack upon her womanhood, she was able to view the situation from God’s perspective. Rather than laying unrealistic expectations upon me to meet her emotional needs, she learned to find her fulfillment from the Lord.
The Holy Spirit’s power at work within her also helped her to become a source of strength for me. Rather than enabling me in my sin, she let me know that she expected me to change. She now had the spiritual and emotional wherewithal to help me to accomplish that change.
Since Christ was truly the center of her life, she could fight for our marriage in His strength and in His love. She saw us as one flesh and sexual addiction as a battle that must be fought together. Rather than demoralizing me with criticism and anger over my failures, she became my greatest cheerleader. Only her connection to the Lord could supply her with the courage to live this way.
My Wife’s Humility
I think one of the things that helped Kathy keep such a good attitude through this painful process was the fact that she always saw herself as a sinner in her own right. So many wives we deal with view themselves as being far godlier than their husbands and are blind to their own shortcomings. They may have nothing more than a superficial walk with the Lord, but the lack of obvious, outward sin in their lives (such as illicit sex) makes it is easy for them to hold an exaggerated perspective of their own spirituality. They have only positive things to say about themselves but only criticism for their husbands. By contrast, Kathy saw herself in just as much need of God’s grace as her husband. We were going to the Cross of Calvary hand-in-hand in equal need of His mercy.
Another huge thing I am grateful for is my wife’s willingness to pray for me. It requires no effort to find fault with or complain about others, but is so difficult to bear them to God. Kathy spent many hours interceding for me. Every morning she would bombard heaven on my behalf: asking, seeking and knocking. She knew that I was in the struggle of my life and that I would not make it without God’s power. She did not approach the Lord with the haughty attitude, “fix this jerk.” Her prayers were full of love and compassion. Her prayer life not only helped me get free, but also helped to sustain her own walk with the Lord.
Over time, Kathy and I became a team. We learned to fight together for the common good of our marriage and our spiritual lives. Rather than being two separate entities looking out for “Number One,” we were headed in the same direction together. My final foray into sexual sin occurred in 1985. I never again went back.
But this newfound victory was not the end or the goal; it was just the beginning. As our life in God grew, so too did our love for each other.
Eventually, God began using me in ministry. I tended to be in the “limelight” while Kathy was happy to remain behind the scenes. I have always been very forthright about my love for my wife. There have been times that women have told Kathy how fortunate she is to have a husband who loves her like I do. They have no idea of what they are saying. While it is true that I love my wife, the real story is that I love her because she first loved me. In fact, it was through her unselfish example that I learned how to love.
I thank God for my wife. I can only imagine where I would be today if I didn’t have a woman like Kathy Gallagher by my side when I was in the greatest battle of my life.
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
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