Dan Carlson* stares out a window. Susan*, his wife of 26 years, sits beside him—sometimes wiping away tears. She nods her support as their story unfolds—a story of sexual addiction and deception that they would give anything to rewrite.
"My secret life began years before," says Dan, cradling coffee in a Styrofoam cup. "Back in Colombia as a missionary kid, a friend introduced me to detective books. The graphic sexual scenes excited me. I stayed away from Playboy-type magazines, but I began reading these books and fantasizing. My thought life was out of control. And I never asked God for help."
At 17, when his parents threatened to send him back to the States if he didn't end a relationship with an older Colombian girl, Dan began sneaking around with her. "There was nothing sexually inappropriate, but my parents didn't approve of my romance. Once it was forbidden, the danger excited me for a while," he recalls. "I wanted adventure. Something beyond my dull existence."
Though that relationship didn't last long, and he returned home to the States shortly after, Dan's lust for the forbidden remained in him, even after meeting the woman he would marry.
"I remember the night we met," says Dan. "In August 1972 the church put on a hayride. That's when I noticed Susan's pretty smile, the way she talked."
Susan takes his hand. "I liked the way you were shy and quiet," she laughs. "So different from me."
Susan found herself captivated by this soft-spoken 22-year-old. "We couldn't have been more opposite," she says, "but I was impressed with his knowledge of the Bible and his love for God. I wanted to marry someone who would be a spiritual leader. I hoped he'd be the one."
A week after they met, Susan received a letter. "I love you," wrote Dan. "I want to marry you." In the following weeks, they dated often. Soon they were sexually involved.
"I felt guilty," says Susan. "I was this church girl from a Christian family, and I knew it was wrong." By December she was pregnant.
"I always dreamed of a big wedding and a perfect marriage," she says. "Instead we had a quiet ceremony, and the marriage? It was the pits from the start. There was emotional distance."
After the birth of their first child, the Carlsons looked like the ideal church family. Dan and Susan were youth sponsors, and Dan was appointed church secretary. Interested in business administration, he signed up for night school, and every Wednesday left their small town for a two-hour drive to Seattle.