One of the most difficult areas for husbands and wives in recovery is how to navigate the precarious landscape of talking about one’s struggle with sexual sin. We hope the answers below will help. Husbands and wives are also invited to set up a meeting with a Regeneration staff member to help them work out a personalized plan.
How frequently should we talk about this? Every couple is different. In general, we think every day is probably too often and will make this too much of a central focus. In the same way, it should be frequent enough that the offending spouse can recall events accurately and the offended spouse can feel up-to-date enough to feel secure they won’t be surprised by something.
Who should bring it up? In most cases, we think it’s best if the offending spouse brings it up. This way, he or she helps to regain trust by demonstrating they are willing to initiate and to be honest, even if it makes them feel vulnerable.
Where should we discuss it? Have this discussion somewhere private, where the offending spouse can share openly without being overheard and the offended spouse can respond without concern for who is around. We also recommend doing these check-ins where each person can take some space afterwards if needed.
What exactly should an offending spouse share? An offending spouse should disclose every sexual sin they have committed, unless the offended spouse asks them not to. This does not mean sharing every incident in graphic detail, but it does mean sharing enough information that the offended spouse has an accurate assessment of the true state of the offending spouse’s problem and progress.
Is there anything else an offended spouse should hear? Yes, an offended spouse should also hear successes and progress the offending spouse is making, including any good steps they have taken since sinning. And an offending spouse should ask for forgiveness without demanding that the offended spouse extend forgiveness until they are ready.
Is there anything an offending spouse should not share? An offending spouse does not need to share in graphic detail. Also, an offending spouse should listen to their spouse about what is helpful and what is not. Offended spouses should carefully consider the important question, “What is helpful for me to know?” Knowing this can help the offending spouse communicate honestly without hurting their spouse needlessly.
Is there anything an offending spouse can do to prepare for the check-in? Yes, they can pray and ask God to help them and their spouse. Also, they should think back through the last section of time (since the last check-in) and share first with a brother or sister in their recovery/accountability group to see if what they plan to share is accurate from another person’s perspective as well.
How can an offending spouse be helpful to their spouse through a disclosure of sin? By giving them room to ask questions, seeking not to be defensive, and by letting them feel whatever they feel in response. An offending spouse can also help by encouraging them to get support from trustworthy friends in their life, even though it is embarrassing that others would know about the offending spouse’s struggle.
How can an offended spouse be helpful to their spouse as they share? They can accept that this problem hurts the offending spouse, too, and usually causes them shame. A healthy spouse would rather hear a bad report that is true than a good report that is false. “Thank you for being honest,” can mean a lot to an offending spouse who is trying.
Is there any time when an offending spouse should make the unilateral decision not to share something with their spouse that they would otherwise expect him to share? If the offending spouse believes there is reason not to share with their spouse, they would do their best to discuss this openly with their recovery/accountability group, small group leader, and/or Christian therapist. The offending spouse’s willingness to submit this decision to their discernment is also a good indicator that they have good intentions.
What if an offending spouse does not believe their spouse is safe enough for them to share openly with? Again, then they would do well to discuss this openly with trusted and experienced brothers/sisters in his/her recovery community. Couples counseling or mediation may also be helpful in making sure the relationship is safe for both the husband and wife to share openly with the other.
How should an offended spouse respond if their spouse has had a sexual fall? They are free to respond however they need to; however, the offending spouse’s sin does not justify sin on the offended spouse’s part. In other words, the offended spouse will need to find healthy avenues to express their sadness, anger, grief, etc. We recommend every offended spouse has at minimum 2 – 3 trusted friends of the same sex they can go to for godly support and counsel. Trusted friends, especially those who know about the nature of sexual addiction, can help establish appropriate boundaries while the offending spouse works out their recovery.
How can an offended spouse know if their spouse is making progress? They can look for it in the offending spouse’s actions. Are they attending recovery meetings, doing the homework, calling other people in their group, seeing a counselor? Are they open about time and money, and does what they are saying make sense and sound consistent with the life of a person in recovery from sexual addiction?
Check out our “Healing Couples” podcast series for more information on this topic.