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

Last Updated: April 20, 2015

Joe Dallas
Joe Dallas

Joe Dallas is the Program Director of Genesis Counseling. He is also the author of several books, including, The Game Plan: The Men's 30-Day Strategy for Attaining Sexual Integrity. He is a pastoral counselor and a popular conference speaker. For more than three years Joe taught and conducted the nationally recognized Every Man’s Battle conference as the originating Program Director, and from 1991 to 1993, he served as the President of Exodus International. Joe and his wife Renee reside in Orange County, California, with their two sons.

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.


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.


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.

  • Comments on: Surveying the Damage: When You’ve Sexually Sinned Against Your Spouse
    1. cerenity

      Im this woman, i can really feel for her im goung through the same thing. I know my husband loves me but it really hurts me when he views porn and ive took every step i can to stop him from doung this but from time to time he still does it and it kills me every time. Ifeel si ugly,and unloved,betraied, heartbroken you name it. I love him so very much i could never do anything that i knew hurt him. Men just doesnt understand how it much it hurts there spouses when the view this trash.

    2. Jeremiah J. Gray

      Praying for you sister.

    3. greta

      I would ad that when you listen, don’t respond in defense or try to explain away your actions. It digs deeper into your partners heart and make you look like an unsympathetic beast. There is no defense when you have taken marriage vow to be with one woman in mind, body, and spirit. If you continue to assert that you are not crazy and she just needs to calm down and tell you what to do, you will loose your marriage.

      If you can’t be sympathic, remove yourself and call an empathic friend comfort your wife because you have effectively isolated her for the world and you hold the power – whether you feel shame or not.

      I am so broken I have taken show after shower trying to wash the filth of my husband’s hands off me. He admitted to looking at porn for days and in that time tried to engage in sex with me without mentioning anything about his betrayal.

      To be clear I was very specific prior to marriage that porn and strip clubs were not allowed and it would be considered betrayal. Women who haven’t done this – today is the day to secure your relationship – clarify!

      • Right on, Greta. Porn is a betrayal of basic wedding vows: When you promise to “forsake all others” it should be clear that “others” means girls your chatting with online who show you videos of them naked and in provokative positions. To see it any other way is delusional.

    4. Hanna

      I am thankful for everything you wrote in this article. I would clarify one thing to both the husband and the wife: Your line “(Husband)But I’m determined to make you feel, once again, that you really do know who and what am,” isn’t entirely helpful. Our (wives) response, after sitting in this betrayal for a few months, will still be “You are NOT the man I met and married!” I’m simply saying that the person we thought you were is not who you have ever been. Now had you in the middle of engagement or dating confessed your sexual sin problem and we decided to marry you in spite of it, then we could eventually ‘see you again as the man we knew you to be’. But when the first time we have ever been informed (or discovered) your sexual sinfulness is after the wedding, then we will never see you as someone we ‘knew’, but have to learn to see you as who you ‘are’ in reality. I’m not saying this new understanding of who you truly are can’t be as God follower who is trying to overcome sexual sin, but we can’t be honest with ourselves if we pretend we knew who you were before and that you are all of a sudden the same person with a new struggle. The truth is you lied to us about who you were in the first place. So now, we will struggle to walk through this with the Lord as you reveal to us who you really are. And we will hope and pray the real you is honest about everything no matter the consequences of confession.

      • Kay Bruner

        Hi Hanna, thanks for joining in the discussion. I really appreciate it when people are bold enough to point out other perspectives. I agree that when the truth has been hidden, you’re really not sure who the other person is any more. It’s incredibly disorienting. I certainly felt that way with my husband. And in many, many ways, as we worked through our issues in the aftermath, it was just what you say here: it was like finding out who my husband was for the first time. Fortunately for us, true vulnerability between us built a bond we’d never had, back when everything looked fine on the surface. Being real was an amazing, healing experience for both of us. Completely terrifying, of course! Because who does know what the outcome is going to be. Keep being real! Blessings, Kay

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