When inappropriate sexual behavior is discovered, it’s natural for men to attempt damage control by minimizing, rationalizing, excusing, or denying their behavior. We fear our wife will leave if the full extent of our behavior is known. Or, we may just want to spare our wife more pain. We want an easy way out, but there is no such way.
Some writers suggest caution against husbands disclosing too quickly or too much and recommend talking with group members first. But those writers are predominantly males who are deciding what is best for their wives without consulting them.
When wives are asked what they want, they overwhelmingly say they want to be in charge of how much is disclosed and to have their feelings of violation and betrayal validated by their husband. So, our disclosure is best guided by our wife’s desire to know, rather than by our desire to get out of it.
Wives often describe their reactions to the disclosure in terms of despair, devastation, and hopelessness. Although they may initially consider ending the relationship, most choose to stay and work through it. But, for trust to be restored in our marriage, we have to be honest and vulnerable.
There are several things we need to be aware of.
- First, it’s important that we be reasonable in accepting our wife’s emotions. Allow and accept her rage, confusion, and depression. Begin by accepting her anger and demands. These are common signs that she is hurting because of your behavior.
- Second, keep in mind that this is not the time to preach and demand forgiveness. What is called for is genuine humility and ‘godly sorrow’ (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).
- Third, it is important that we seek to educate our wife about our recovery process.
- Let her know what you’re dealing with – masturbation, pornography, illicit contact.
- Explain your recovery plan so she knows what you’re actually doing to establish and maintain sobriety.
- Reassure her that she is still the primary focus of your love.
Once you’ve disclosed, your wife will likely make demands and set boundaries. It’s similar to losing your credit rating with the bank – they have to set up new terms, including higher monthly payments. See her demands as requests she needs to rebuild trust. Being truly authentic about the healing and restoration process means forbearing her pain, taking the emotional blow and hanging in there even when it’s uncomfortable.
Some wives want a policy of on-going disclosure, usually to protect themselves from any further pain. Honor this desire, and show your willingness to do whatever it takes. Meanwhile, be sure to find an accountability partner to actively take this responsibility off your wife.
Instead of total disclosure it is better that we commit to ‘some disclosure.’ This pertains to any significant difficulty or struggle with lust. If you set up a policy of ‘no disclosure‘ (except if you act out), be sure you accompany it with accountability elsewhere. Some of us have to face the fall out of our wife’s broadcast to our kids, family, and friends. This can become very poisonous to the family. If this happens, go to each person and talk to them individually, offering appropriate repentance. Share your plans for dealing with the problem. Bringing it ‘to the light‘ allows for the possibility of restored relationship and forgiveness (1 John 1:7).
Finally, there are a few possible exceptions to full disclosure:
- First, you may want to remain silent about affairs from a long time ago in order to protect your wife from additional hurt for something that no longer poses any threat to your marriage. But, be honest with yourself and with any desire you may have to continue it in the future. Revealing this may disarm it from having any importance to you.
- Second, there are some rare cases where disclosure may be different. For example, if your wife is terminally ill, mentally ill, or emotionally unstable to extent that her life is at risk. In these cases, loving your wife means disclosing and working wholeheartedly with an accountability partner, a band of brothers, and your pastor.