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10 Ways to Help Your Spouse Heal after Sexual Betrayal

Last Updated: May 17, 2021

Beth Denison

Beth Denison, CLC, PRC, along with her husband, Mark, founded There’s Still Hope, a national sexual addiction recovery ministry. Beth works with ladies one-on-one and in groups as a trained life coach and an A.A.S.A.T. Certified Partner Recovery Coach. She brings the experience of being married to a sex addict for 35 years. She has been a faithful pastor’s wife, popular speaker, and women’s ministry leader. For help in your own healing journey, visit There’s Still Hope.

If you are the one who has wounded your spouse with your sexual acting out and you’ve read beyond the title of this article, I’ll assume you have at least some level of interest in helping her heal. There is a fast-growing number of women struggling with pornography and sexually compulsive behaviors so the wounded spouse could be the husband. In this piece I’ll refer to the wounded spouse as she, though many of these tips could be beneficial for helping the husband who has been sexually betrayed.

Before I give you a list of ways to help your spouse heal, I must first say that if you have not fully embraced recovery for yourself and you aren’t doing the work that requires, don’t bother with these items. What your wife needs most from you is to see you consistently working a recovery program.

For those of you still on board, there are things you can do to help your wife heal and there are things best avoided to achieve that same goal. Here are ten such things.

1. Do a therapeutic disclosure.

It is not a good idea to dump the truth of all your acting out behaviors on her while she is unprepared and does not have adequate support to help her process the information. It can be even more damaging to trickle out the truth. To her each new revelation will feel like being stabbed again.

Work with a CSAT to do a clinical disclosure. This will give you both the best foundation for solid recovery.

Related: Therapeutic Disclosures–What They Are and How They Can Help You Heal

2. Don’t minimize what you’ve done.

Avoid saying things like, “It was only pornography,” or “At least I didn’t (Fill in the blank).” Your wife is experiencing trauma. When you try to downplay what you’ve done, what she hears is that you don’t think her feelings are valid. She hears you say that what you’ve done is not a big deal. She needs you to recognize the severity of her pain.

3. Don’t try to justify what you have done.

Neither a traumatic childhood, a stressful job, the sickness of a child, an inattentive wife, nor anything else can justify sexual betrayal. While there may be factors that contributed to your susceptibility, you still made the choice. Own it.

4. Don’t bring up her issues.

Now is not the time to address any of her faults or struggles. To bring up her lack of organization, her issue with gossip, her struggle with her weight, her propensity to nag, or anything else, to her sounds like you justifying your actions. Refer back to number three.

5. Take responsibility for your own recovery.

Find a CSAT and make an appointment. Research 12-step groups in your area and attend one. Order recovery materials and read them. Sign up with Covenant Eyes and get an ally for your recovery journey. Don’t wait for her to ask, beg, nag, or demand and don’t expect her to do these things for you. Doing these things demonstrates your commitment to recovery and to the marriage.

6. Volunteer transparency.

Give her free access to your phone, computer, iPad, briefcase, wallet, car, and such. Give her any passcodes you have. Don’t wait for her to ask. Be accountable to her with your time and money.

You forfeited your right to freedom in these areas when you chose to take the sacred sexual relationship outside of your marriage. And let’s be honest, if you don’t have anything to hide, and it will help your wife heal, why wouldn’t you want to do these things?

Related: 3 Ways Deception Is More Damaging Than Porn for Your Wife

7. Give her space.

If she temporarily needs you to find another place to stay, sleep in another room, or refrain from talking to her, do it. Offer to take care of the children so she can go to counseling, attend a support group, get a massage, or anything else she needs for her healing.

Don’t pressure her. For anything. Period.

8. Listen.

When she’s angry, triggered, sad, or just having a bad day and she goes off on you, just listen. Hear her heart. Don’t pick apart her words. Don’t be defensive. Don’t try to correct inaccuracies. Don’t try to fix it. Acknowledge her pain and her right to it. Try a response such as, “I can see you are upset and I know what I’ve done has put you in this position. What do you need from me right now?” If her request is feasible, do it.

9. Don’t expect kind words, gifts, or flowers to fix this.

You didn’t just forget your wedding anniversary or her birthday. In effect, you’ve ripped her heart out and stomped on it and she stands before you with a gaping hole in her chest.

A comment like, “You sure look nice today,” a thoughtful card, or beautiful flowers, no matter how well intentioned, may actually elicit an angry response. From her standpoint, she is hemorrhaging profusely and you just handed her a Band-Aid and expect her to be appreciative. The greatest gift you can give her is your own recovery.

10. Don’t expect her to celebrate your sobriety.

Recovery work will likely be one of the most difficult things you will ever do, especially if you’ve had a long-term porn or sex addiction. When you get a chip for 90 days of sobriety, you may feel like it is the greatest accomplishment you’ve ever achieved. By all means mention it to your wife in your weekly check-in. But don’t be disappointed when she doesn’t share your enthusiasm. She may not say it, but she will likely be thinking something along the lines of, “Great! You’re finally honoring the vows you made fifteen years ago. I have about 5,500 days of sobriety. Where’s my reward?” Call your sponsor or ally in recovery. They will certainly celebrate with you.

This list is by no means exhaustive and each person may have unique things she needs to help her heal. Discuss this list with your wife. Ask her what she needs from you to promote healing in her heart and in the marriage. Follow through on these things and your commitment to recovery. Remember, this is not a quick fix. You are embarking on a lifelong journey of authentic intimacy in a healthy marriage.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Stay at it. Recovery may seem impossible and your marriage may appear irreparable but with God there’s still hope.

  • Comments on: 10 Ways to Help Your Spouse Heal after Sexual Betrayal
    1. Brian Vaughan on

      Wonderful I will share with clients in recovery!

      Reply
      • Beth Denison on

        Thank you, Brian.

    2. Aldo on

      Thank you for these tips. It has been a year now since my sin and we are going thru some tough times so this email came at the perfect time.
      She is struggling and has made comments about moving out our down to the basement. Having an open relationship things that I really don’t understand. She does not want to be co dependent and is struggling with identity.
      I will take these 10 steps and do my best to do what I can to support her.
      Thank you
      Aldo

      Reply
    3. Ron Kaufmann on

      Why are these phrases in the article:
      1) “Work with a CSAT to do a clinical disclosure”
      2) “Find a CSAT and make an appointment”

      The author’s bio states that she is an AASAT Certified Coach.

      It makes sense that you would say to find a qualified therapist or coach but it seems like the references, probably edited in, could/should acknowledge at least the 2 main sex addiction certifications.

      Reply
    4. Heather on

      This is fantastic. I am a spouse of a recovering addict and this is spot on!!!

      Reply
    5. Paul Tarsus on

      Wow this was so spot on. I am doing the exact things here and they are all correct. Several of these need their own article. This is such important information to get out there.

      Reply
    6. Kathy on

      As a betrayed wife whose husband did many of the “don’ts” on this list, I thank you for what you’ve written. It is spot on accurate! I pray these steps help many other betrayed spouses because their husband/wife read and follow them. I will share this article for sure with couples in this painful situation.

      Reply
    7. William on

      Well now it has been 10yrs in recovery after my wife confronted me about my sexual/lust addiction. God has been merciful and loving in the ups and downs of my recovery.
      Yet now it appears my wife and I are growing further apart. I have changed and she has remained the same or has even become worse. The daily drinking, lack of follow through, general refusal to be intimate with me but still masturbates, belittles me in private, in front of my daughter and others.

      I am frankly exhausted with the comments my wife is hurting. It has been 10 years!!!! Not everything in our marriage is my fault. It frankly saddens me she refuses to address her own sins but rather would focus on me and mine.

      Reply
      • Ella Hutchinson on

        William, congratulations on all your hard work in recovery. Without knowing the details of your situation I can only speak in general terms so this may or may not apply to you. As a therapist, CSAT, and Certified Clinical Partner Specialist, who has worked exclusively with partners and couples for 9 years, when I see a partner who is “stuck” for years, in spite of their spouses success in recovery, there are a few things that are almost always occurring. Assuming there aren’t still slips and lying still isn’t occurring, the partner’s feelings often have not been validated by their spouse or they do not feel empathy from their spouse. An addict may think they are doing great at supporting her, but if she hasn’t received at least two years of immense empathy, patience, compassion and understanding (to stand under), while simultaneously seeing a complete dedication to recovery as a daily lifestyle, she likely won’t heal within the marriage. This includes becoming an open book in every way, giving her full access to devices, your whereabouts, and daily schedule. This includes not becoming defensive when she is triggered, but instead allowing her to express her feelings in whatever way she needs. It means not making recovery a “boys club” but instead letting her in to what you are doing in recovery and therapy (in general terms). This may sound extreme and unfair, but when you think about it, do you really want fair? A spouse who receives this will eventually, usually within a year or less, begin to gradually reciprocate the empathy. As the injuring party, the addict has to take the lead in empathy and she’ll be able to heal as your marriage begins to thrive. You most likely have trauma in your life too that contributed to your addiction. You deserve compassion to, but must initially find it in meetings and therapy. Your wife didn’t cause that trauma. You caused hers.

      • M_Collins on

        Why should your wife address her own sins when the church and these anti-porn ministries want to brainwash men into thinking every single problem is their fault because they looked at porn?

        Got off porn 2 years ago and I feel a lot better mentally and physically (Lost 50 pounds which really helped). My testosterone is up since I started low-T therapy and I am primed and ready for a sex life. But my wife can’t let go and holds a grudge. And she feels entitled to hold a grudge since nobody tells her not to. They just reinforce the message that the porn user is always at fault and the victim is never to blame for anything.

        Haven’t had sex for 6 months and probably will have to wait 6 more months or more. “Get counseling” they’ll say and I am willing to go but she would rather just hold it over me and wallow in victimhood. And there is no such thing as accountability groups for sex-refusing, bitter and vengeful wives. Everybody just doubles down on blaming me and coddling her.

        There are those who tell me I’m lucky she doesn’t divorce me and take half my income, the house, the car and the kids. And that kind of cruelty comes from people within the church!

        And then there are the really helpful bloggers who reassure me that it is all okay because one day I’ll die and go to heaven where there won’t be any sex at all. What an encouragement!

      • Mitch on

        “An addict may think they are doing great at supporting her, but if she hasn’t received at least two years of immense empathy, patience, compassion and understanding (to stand under), while simultaneously seeing a complete dedication to recovery as a daily lifestyle, she likely won’t heal within the marriage.”

        Read:
        https://www.patheos.com/blogs/churchformen/2019/06/five-reasons-churches-correct-men-and-coddle-women/

        Ella Hutchinson would have you believe that the former addict is 100 percent responsible for the healing of themselves AND their spouse with 0 percent responsibility belonging to the “victim.”

        This is classic wife-coddling and it is in direct violation of the biblical view of human nature which says that all have sinned, even women (gasp! – did he really say that?). Wife-coddling is a manifestation of third wave feminism within the church that seeks to lay at the feet of men the responsibility for all sin. This is not biblical counseling and it is very dangerous to your marriage.

      • Kay Bruner on

        I don’t think Ella is attempting to lay “all sin at the feet of men.”

        But your personal sin? Yes, that is your responsibility.

        Ella is simply saying that unless you see your own personal sin, own it, and work in the way Ella describes, your wife will not heal.

        But you know what? It kind of sounds like you’re lacking in exactly the kind of empathy required. It sounds like you don’t care about your wife’s healing. It sounds like the most important thing to you is rationalizing ways to avoid taking responsibility for yourself.

      • Mitch on

        Ella is placing sole responsibility on the husband for the wife’s healing: “If she doesn’t see.. she won’t heal.”

        This removes all moral and behavioral agency from the wife and gives her husband sole ownership over his own healing AND his wife’s healing. That’s 100 percent to 0 percent ownership by my count.

        And the proper way to disprove this is not to deflect by accusing me of something but to tell Ella how the wife should use her own moral and behavioral agency to take responsibility for her own healing.

        The level of coddling here is mind boggling. Read the linked article and then come back and lecture me if you still hate what I’m saying.

      • Kay Bruner on

        Wives absolutely need to take responsibility for their own healing. We consistently advise wives to seek therapy for their trauma.

        However, if the husband is not empathetic, if the husband does not take responsibility for the pain he has caused, then she will not heal WITHIN THAT RELATIONSHIP.

        If you are interested in having a healthy relationship, you have to take responsibility for your choices, and have empathy for the trauma your choices have caused.

        While many husbands are eager and willing to take responsibility for themselves and to have empathy for their wives, that seems like a task beyond your ability or interest.

        In that case, it’s wise for your wife to recognize that you don’t have the skills, or any interest in developing those skills, and set the boundaries that are healthy for her. We often share an excellent article called A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce. Hopefully all wives trapped with husbands who have no empathy will find it helpful.

        As for “wife coddling,” I can only assume you think of Jesus as the ultimate wife coddler since he died out of love for us all.

    8. Ella Hutchinson on

      Awesome article! Great job, Beth! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

      Reply
    9. RickyB on

      Have we now as Christians determined that it is fundamentally impossible for a wife to betray her husband? Judging by the complete absence of relevant blog postings here I am concluding that the answer is yes.

      Reply
    10. Ashley Wiggins on

      Thank you so much for this article and these very much needed steps for healing!!! Keep fighting men!! Please don’t give up!!

      Reply
    11. RickyB on

      The title of this should not have been “10 Ways to Help Your Spouse Heal after Sexual Betrayal.” Rather, it should have been “10 Ways to Help Your WIFE Heal after Sexual Betrayal.” You gave it away in the subtitles which spouse you were talking about:

      “Don’t bring up HER issues”
      “Give HER space”
      “Don’t expect kind words, gifts, or flowers to fix this” (Instead of – “Don’t expect kind words, gifts, or Craftsman power tools to fix this”)
      “Don’t expect HER to celebrate your sobriety”

      I wonder if there exists an article on the entire internet that lists things wives shouldn’t say to their husbands after cheating on them, like “If you hadn’t been away working so much I might not have slept with Chad.”

      My wife got abortion recovery from a support group after disclosing to me that before we met she had 2 abortions by 2 different boyfriends. This was after years of threatening ME with divorce because of the financial pressures in our marriage. She never once acknowledged the damage she did to our marriage by not disclosing this before we got married and just sitting on this mountain of guilt and shame and taking it out on me, the guy who married her and was faithful to her. Does somebody need to write my wife an article telling her how she should handle her husband’s “betrayal trauma”? What to say and what not to say? Or is betrayal only something husbands do to wives?

      Reply

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