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February 19, 2018

Tod Williams and his wife, Tammy, sit side by side, ready to talk about what God did in their tumultuous 32-year marriage. They tell their story, finishing each other’s sentences and interrupting one another with laughs and tears. They seem magnetic, sharing light touches on the arm, and looking into each other’s eyes. Upon meeting them, you would never expect their story to be so riddled with darkness and heartbreak. 

“We met at a bar,” Tammy says with a laugh. “When other couples talk about how they met, it’s all sweet, like they met in the church choir, and we’re over here having met at a bar.” Tod instantly knew he liked her, and after dating for a while, they got married. But the “happily ever after” they dreamed of soon seemed like a cruel joke. They found themselves on a roller coaster of intimacy and hiding—they would spend a few years doing well and then plunge into dark periods of detachment and fighting. About 12 years and three babies in, Tammy felt like the gap between her and Tod was just getting wider. “Something was really going on. We were totally disconnected,” Tammy says. “I started to feel really unsure, and in that fear, I tried to clamp down and control more.” But the squeeze had an opposite effect on Tod—she would try to control and he would act out—and Tammy soon learned Tod was having an affair. They had reached what felt like an inevitable point. This whole marriage thing wasn’t working for them, and they separated. 

Tammy began to go to counseling, and Tod ended up coming with her a few times too. “Some people say they brought baggage into their marriage,” Tammy says. “We both brought steamer trunks!” The counseling got Tod and Tammy off the brink of divorce, but there was a lot more to tackle than they realized. “I grew up in a rough environment with some abuse,” Tod says. “When I was seven years old, I was introduced to pornography. And when I was nine, I was molested. I lived a wild life until I gave it to God at 26. But even then, I was in bondage, and it was all brought into our marriage.” 

Through counseling, they got back together and started living what they now know is called “pretend normal.” They acted like everything was good, but there was only a Band-Aid over a deeper wound and there was more to heal. “I would try to do well and follow God, and then the stress of family or work would come up, and I’d act out,” Tod says. “I hadn’t told anyone, even Tammy, about my past or my struggles. I thought if anyone really knew me, they wouldn’t love me. I lived on a wheel of shame, and I couldn’t get off .” Their “pretend normal” lasted about two years, and then they were back to the roller coaster, this time with even more disastrous results. 

“I got a phone call late one night from the police station,” Tammy says. “Tod had been arrested attempting to pick up a prostitute, and I was told I could bail him out in the morning. The police had the whole exchange recorded, and upon arriving at the police station, I read through the report. It was like a punch in the gut.” Tod, with tears in his eyes, shares how he felt like his life was over. Tammy made him move out immediately. “The craziest part was that we were leading what looked like a normal life— in church! I was teaching Sunday school,” Tod says. “But that’s part of addiction, hiding it.”

The separation was especially difficult for their three girls, so about a month later, Tod moved back in. Things were icy, but they remained together for their girls for a few years. Tammy moved into an upstairs bedroom of the house as they waited for their youngest daughter to graduate high school. “I was so done— overdone,” Tammy says. “And the only reason I stayed in the house was to wait for my youngest to graduate. Then we were finished.” 

That’s when Tammy got another phone call—one that would be the catalyst to their healing. During this time, Tod and Tammy had only just started attending Gateway, and a friend Tammy met there invited her to start a 30-Day Praying for Your Husband initiative with a bunch of other ladies. “I thought, Sure, it won’t help anyway—whatever,” Tammy says. “So, every day I received very specific prayer prompts: praying for godly friends for him, praying for God to shield his eyes, etc. And, I prayed them. What’s amazing is that I prayed them half-heartedly, but God took those prayers seriously.” 

One night in particular, she came downstairs and Tod was softer, more vulnerable that night. And he said to her, “If you knew everything, you wouldn’t love me.” Tammy had heard him say something similar before, so she just told him that if he was serious, he should go talk to a counselor friend of theirs. She didn’t think much of the conversation but found out later that Tod had called that friend and told him he needed two hours, not one. “I took time to write down everything I could remember, everything I could ever think of that I did or was done to me. It was a few pages long,” Tod says. “And I took it to our counselor friend who is a strong man of God and told him everything. And at the end, I expected him to tell me to get out. But he didn’t.” All the shame and guilt that had been killing Tod for so long was out, at least with one person, and it was freeing. He went home and told Tammy that it wasn’t the time to tell her everything, but he would at some point. 

The next weekend, Tod and Tammy went to church. Pastor Robert was starting a new series and the first message was titled Believe. “At the very end, he said something that has never left me. He said that the number one thing believers have the hardest time trusting God for is a miracle in their broken marriage,” Tammy says. “My heart just broke. It just never dawned on me that my marriage was important to God. So I said to Him, ‘Take it! Take our marriage and have a shot at it!’ After that, things started changing at sonic speed.” 

“God was doing something in me,” says Tod. “This time it was different. The change wasn’t for her. It wasn’t to make her happy. It was about what God was doing in my life.” Things began to thaw between Tod and Tammy. He was going to counseling, getting mentored, going to Men’s Prayer at 5:30 am once a week, attending a Mending the Soul freedom ministry course, and talking to her. At some point Tammy realized he wasn’t doing this whole thing to win her back, he was doing it for himself. It made all the difference in their marriage, and they began to heal. Then they started telling their story in classes at Gateway and in various marriage ministry settings. 

One day someone asked them about their marriage story and said, “So when did you guys have full disclosure?” Tod and Tammy looked at each other and realized they had come a long way in their healing but still hadn’t gotten to that point yet. “I broke out in a cold sweat!” Tod says. “Someone challenged me to create a timeline and write it all down and tell Tammy. We were in a really good place in our marriage and with God, and I thought, If I tell her, it’ll ruin everything.” But with encouragement from his mentors, he got it all out. One night, he handed Tammy a four-page letter and said he was going to leave the house for a bit while she read it because he had a feeling she wouldn’t really want him around. “As I read, it filled in so many holes,” Tammy says. “There were 25 years of blank spaces that didn’t make sense.” When Tod came home, he asked Tammy how she felt, sure that she would ask him to pack his bags and get out. But instead, she said, “It feels like I got kicked in the chest. I can take that, but I can’t live with a liar. We’ll work it out.” Tod was shocked. 

“For years our marriage felt like the Tower of Terror ride at Disney. I felt like we were bouncing up and down while falling, and I was screaming ‘Make it stop!’” Tammy says. “But after that night, the ride hit the ground hard, and I felt relief. We were finally at a place where we could rebuild instead of just patching things up.” And the last seven years have been just that—healing, changing, and rebuilding what was broken. They eventually told their daughters, all of whom are grown and married, about their journey as well. “Parts of our story answered a lot of questions for them and even freed them,” Tod says. “It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but God was in that too.” 

Two years ago, on their 30th wedding anniversary, Tod and Tammy got remarried. They exchanged new vows and got new matching wedding rings with Isaiah 43:19 inscribed in Hebrew. In the verse, the Lord says, “Look I’m doing a new thing.” And this has never been truer for them—their new life together is just getting started! “I always tell people that it’s not without its struggles,” Tammy says. “There are always potholes along the way—more freedom to experience, more stones to overturn. But there’s a new openness and safety with one another that wasn’t there before.” Tod and Tammy know they can call one another and ask for prayer or talk through their struggles, and they continue to be mentored by other couples and friends to experience more freedom in their marriage. “I don’t have to hide anymore,” Tod says, “For the past few years, we’ve even been teaching at some of Gateway’s Conquer and Rescue classes for those dealing with and affected by sexual addiction. And we tell our whole story. Now, I’m not ashamed of anything. Our marriage is a story of grace.” 

As Tod and Tammy finish their story, Tammy pulls out her phone and shares a picture of her and Tod holding one of their grandchildren. “I look at this picture and see both our hands on our grandbaby and just tear up,” Tammy says. “We were so close to not being able to do this—hold our grandbaby together, enjoy our children and grandchildren together. It felt hopeless, like nothing could save us or change things. But it was like God said, ‘Watch this.’ And now here we are.”