Simon still struggles with a secret he has kept for over 15 years. One night after an office party, he had sex with a female co-worker. Now he still wonders if he would need to tell his wife about the affair.
“Surely it would just wound her,” reasons Simon. “It’s probably better to just leave the past in the past. Why stir up trouble and risk ruining my marriage?”
But maintaining the secrecy of past or current sexual infidelity will only intensify the damage to yourself and your spouse. This is equally true for everything from adultery to pornography. Being open and honest with your spouse may be painful and difficult, but it is essential for restoring intimacy.
In every healing journey, it will become necessary to fully disclose all that you’ve looked at or participated in. This step is never easy, and if not done appropriately can send an individual backwards in their recovery while being exceptionally damaging to the spouse. Above everything, honesty must be a priority.
Remember, it isn’t the disclosure that causes the pain. It is the misbehavior that you’ve already committed, and the lies you have used to cover it up.
Brad Hambrick, the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, said,
“To prolong your pleasure at the expense of your wife’s emotional pain is the epitome of selfishness, and to delay a disclosure that would allow your marriage to be marked by honor because of fear is cowardly.”
MT Wilson, a certified sex therapist, noted, “Telling your spouse the truth about your pornography use is a sensitive and complicated choice for multiple reasons. But counselors have seen that the major, long-term benefits of truth-telling are worth enduring the challenges. In fact, stable and sustainable sobriety requires it.”
Reasons To Tell Your Wife
There are two main reasons to tell your spouse about your porn viewing. First, you will only be able to become completely free from porn by confessing your sin to the person you have hurt most deeply. You vowed to honor, love, and respect your wife. Living a secret sinful life shatters all three of those vows.
Secondly, revealing your pornography addiction is a major step in the healing process of your marriage and your road to recovery.
Confession will also begin to restore your relationship with God and allow Him to bring the spiritual and emotional healing you need. Proverbs 28:13 says,
“He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”
Wilson explained, “A full confession to your spouse is part of your release from the shame that shackles you. For those still living in bondage, the power of this freedom is hard to grasp. But those who have experienced this freedom are witnesses to this truth. Moving from the darkness of shame to the light of God’s love and forgiveness (1 Thessalonians 5:4-10) will set you free to become the person God planned you to be from the beginning (Ephesians 2:10).”
As you prepare to make a full disclosure, it is important that you’ve found a level of sobriety. In most cases, it is encouraged to be sober for six months before approaching your wife with this confession.
Trying to tell your wife while you know that you’re continually acting out is only going to increase the level of trauma experienced over a period of time. Understand that this may come as a shock to your wife, and she may be instantaneously forced to deal with an array of emotions. If you are not prepared, and do not have a strong support system in place for yourself, this can lead you to relapse – once again in an attempt to medicate the pain that you feel.
You’re going to need to realize that you are the result of the agony she is facing. However, you have to be positioned in strength to avoid the attacks of the enemy that will result from your honesty. Keep in mind, Satan prefers to keep people in bondage to sexual sin. So he will deploy every lie and accusation to make you feel like you’re a complete failure.
How To Tell Her
Josh Buck of Strength of Light wrote,
“You need to be prepared for this and accept it. You, sir, are hurting. Porn has harmed you. But don’t play the victim. You need to be able to accept that you are the one that made your own decisions, and though you likely were responding to your own pain, your own wounds, your own insecurities that drove you to porn use, none of that is her fault. Decide ahead of time that you will not make excuses, or put any of the blame on her.”
Before you talk with your wife, be sure that you have already confessed and repented to God. Knowing that He has forgiven you and never stopped loving you will give you the strength and courage you will need throughout this difficult process.
Then talk with a godly man you trust and can depend on to walk with you on your journey to sobriety. If you are in an accountability group, the men will constantly encourage you and keep you on track.
Brad Hambrick stressed, “Do not dump your burden on your wife. You know the weight of this information; don’t transfer it from your back to hers. When you disclose your pornography usage you are starting a conversation, not making a one-time statement. She will need time to assimilate this new information into her understanding of the marriage. Your struggle is part of her story, as your wife, too.”
What Do I Tell Her?
Do you need to tell her everything? Yes! But you should be ‘specific’ without being ‘graphic’.
Caleb Simonyi-Gindele, the co-founder of OnlyYouForever, explained,
“Guys often think they can soften the blow by spreading out the disclosure. It actually has the opposite effect. A staggered disclosure (telling her small pieces over time) leads to greater trauma. Think about it this way: if you had one major car accident you’d be a little hesitant about climbing back in the vehicle after you recovered, but you’d know you need to get on with life.“
“However, if you were rear-ended once every 5-15 days for 8 times — you’d probably be much more likely to swear off driving and just take a bus. Each time you were hit again it would exacerbate the previous physical injuries and also increase your level of jumpiness and fear around driving. That’s trauma — a staggered disclosure is a great way to amplify trauma. So you do need to disclose fully in one sitting.”
This is why it is important that you first get into a group, get accountable, start working a process of healing, and have some recovery under your belt before you go through full disclosure. This disclosure should take place in consultation with your group leader, your pastor, and your counselor.
Steps For The Conversation With Your Wife
You can use these basic guidelines when you are ready to sit down with your wife. Be sure you will be in a private setting where there will not be any interruptions or distractions.
1. Start by telling her the general problem
Tell her you have been struggling with pornography and have been unable to break your addiction on your own. Let her know any steps you have already taken (participating in an accountability group, receiving counseling, etc.).
2. Take ownership of your actions
Whatever was at the root of your porn usage, don’t make excuses. There is nothing that she did to cause or prolong your addiction.
3. Resist trying to have a prolonged conversation
Get right to the point and stick to the topic. Be aware that as soon as you tell her, her mind will begin trying to process what she has heard and that she may hear very little of what you say after the initial shock.
4. Accept full responsibility
Do not try to justify any of your actions in any way. Also, don’t try to minimize how greatly you have betrayed her.
5. Invite her to ask questions
Be patient and give her time to absorb and process the information you shared. If she asks a question, answer directly and honestly, respecting her need to get more details.
6. Offer a plan for both of you
Show her you are serious about restoring your marriage and overcoming your addiction by suggesting a plan of action you both can begin immediately. Maybe you can install porn blockers or accountability software right away. Also, think of actions she might like to take to help her process the information you have told her. And certainly consider steps you can take together, such as therapy or counseling.
Just as you have to be in a process for your recovery, she is going to need a process, a group, and additional support as she recovers from the pain you have caused her.
KingdomWorks Studios is currently working on a film series to help wives begin to heal. Be sure to sign up to receive updates. In the meantime, you may want to encourage your wife to pick up a copy of the Betrayal & Beyond workbook study created by Pure Desire Ministries. This will help her begin to work through her pain, while gaining understanding of your journey.
But Here’s A Word Of Caution
Although you should tell your wife everything about your pornography usage and any other sexual sins you may have committed, it is best if you do so after spending some time working on your recovery for a while. This should not come at the cost of honesty.
You should be practicing honesty and openness with your wife throughout this entire process. The aim is that you have a framework and support network in place to help you as a couple as you work through this disclosure.
The Conquer Series, a 12-DVD resource that has helped over a million men in over 80 countries start their journey to freedom from pornography, recommends that you disclose your struggle with pornography to your wife only after a minimum of six months of sobriety.
During those six months, you should be participating in a Conquer Series small group where you can interact with other men who have struggled with porn who can help you on your path to a porn-free life.
Paul Easton of Sydney, Australia said,
“I, like many men, was addicted to porn. I was desperate to find healing. This ministry has changed my life.”
“God’s grace and love have just given me such freedom. I have been searching for healing for many years. Confessed to my wife years ago, yet still kept going back – the usual story. I have found such deep healing and figured out over the last seven months that this is a journey of a lifetime with our Lord, together with my accountability partners.”
The Conquer Series is a powerful cinematic 12-disc DVD series which is helping over 1 million men conquer porn and walk in freedom.
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