Surveying the Damage: When You’ve Sexually Sinned Against Your Spouse

I’m somewhat OK about admitting my sin. Taking a look at its consequences is another matter.

Yet when Nehemiah set out to rebuild Jerusalem, he began by taking a close look at the damage done to her walls (Nehemiah 2:11-16). It couldn’t have been easy. Knowing the walls were decayed was one thing; closely inspecting them to see just how decayed was another. But how else could he rebuild? To make things right, he had to first see how wrong they really were.

So if as a husband you sexually sinned, someone else was damaged as well–sometimes in ways too horrible to consider. But you can’t move on until you have considered them, assessing them just like Nehemiah assessed the walls: up close and personal. That’s how rebuilding begins.

To make restitution, you need to restore what you took from another person or, in some cases, what you caused another person to lose. So if your wife discovered your sin, you’ve caused her to lose something. A few “somethings,” in fact, and looking at these losses is a painful but necessary part of your process. A few losses she may have experienced:

  • She may have lost her assumptions about you.
  • She may have lost confidence in her attractiveness.
  • She may have lost confidence in her intelligence
  • She may have even lost confidence in God.

One of the saddest remarks I’ve ever heard in my office came from a wife who found out her husband was in an adulterous relationship.

“If my Daddy knew that the man who wanted to marry me would hurt me someday,” she said through her tears, “he’d have shot that guy before he’d let him marry me! But my Heavenly Father, who knows everything, allowed me to marry a man who wound up shattering my heart! Why would God give me to this man when He knew this man would crush me? I guess I don’t even matter to God anymore.”

If you broke your wife’s heart, there’s a good chance she remembered that God gave her to you. And she wondered, as any child would, why her Daddy handed her over to someone so hurtful.

That means there’s some serious rebuilding to be done.

Acknowledge

Tell her you acknowledge the nature of your sin. It’s not enough to say “I committed adultery,” or “I used pornography.” That only a partial confession, because it acknowledges the action, but not the nature of the action.

Tell her you acknowledge the consequences of your behavior. Make sure she knows you’re aware of the impact your sin has had. Acknowledge to her that you’ve shattered her trust, and that she may be unable to believe anything you say for some time. Acknowledge how difficult it must be for her to be civil to you, and how crushing it must be to wonder if she’ll ever feel safe with you again.

Finally, acknowledge your limited ability to understand the pain you’ve caused. Tell her that you can’t fully understand the hurt because (and this is vital) you did it to her; she didn’t do it to you.

Then tell her you want to know what she’s going through, and that you’d like to understand it better. Promise that you’ll simply listen, without interrupting or defending yourself, as she tells you what it was like learning about your sin–the shock, the fear, the disbelief–and what it’s like dealing with the aftermath of it. Listen carefully while she tells you this, and make sure she knows you’re listening.

Then never, never forget what you heard. And see that you’ll never have to hear it again.

Clarify

But don’t stop there. Clarify your intention and recovery plan. Because, after all, what good are tears if they’re not followed by action?

Because trust is only rebuilt through a combination of time and consistency. She can decide to forgive you, certainly, but no one can decide to trust. If someone’s betrayed you, you stop trusting him. And once that happens, you can’t turn the trust back on. It can only grow when the person who broke your trust shows consistency over a period of time.

So, as a husband who broke his wife’s trust, you have your work cut out for you. Patiently and consistently follow your plan to rebuild with a servant’s heart and an eye towards restoring peace in your home, and in due time, you’ll reap the rewards. When doing so, here’s a sample of what I find husbands need to say and, more to the point, wives need to hear:

I know what I’ve done, and I’ve done more than commit a sexual sin. I’ve betrayed you by breaking a sacred promise I made before you and God. That betrayal must have shattered you, and you’ve got every reason to be enraged, heartbroken and suspicious. I made you that way.

I’ve also deceived you. I lied to you with words, and even when I wasn’t lying with my words, I lied with actions. I know that now, as a result, you don’t trust me. You probably don’t even feel you know me, and I don’t blame you. But I’m determined to make you feel, once again, that you really do know who and what am.

I won’t presume to say I know what you’re going through. I know you’re hurt, furious, bewildered and scared, but I don’t really know what all of that feels like, because this is a pain I put on you. You didn’t put it on me. But please help me. Help me understand what you’re going through. Tell me what it’s like, and I promise I won’t run away or defend myself when you tell me. I’ll listen, no matter how hard it is to hear it.

But I know you need more than words, so here’s then plan I’m following. I ran a copy of it off for you. I’m not asking you to trust me. I’m asking you to watch me. And as you watch, see if I can’t, over a period of time, win back the trust from you that I so miss and crave.