For most, confessing a personal issue is difficult. Here are some steps to guide you through the process.by Rob Jackson, MS, LPC, LMHC, NCC
For most of us, confessing a personal issue is difficult. We have concerns for how others will respond – especially if our confessions pertain to some type of sexual sin committed against our spouses.
Perhaps the term "sex addict" doesn't seem to apply to you or maybe the term is just simply too difficult to handle for the moment. Whichever the case may be, your confession of sexual sin is an important first step. After your disclosure, the severity of your sexual sin will need to be professionally evaluated and treated.
As you consider how to break the news of your sexual sin to your spouse, here are some important considerations:
1. Examine your motivation. A healthy motivation is that you want a closer relationship with God, and that even if you were not married, you would continue to pursue sexual health and greater personal integrity. An unhealthy motivation is that you are angry at your spouse and use your sin with the intention of hurting him/her.
2. Resolve to tell the truth. The nature of sexual sin involves deception of self and others. Telling the truth from this point forward is critical. Since trust is the most damaged aspect of your relationship, you will need to work extremely hard to gain it back. Even small lies at this point can derail any future healing and reconciliation.
3. Your confession may include disclosing childhood sexual abuse that may have created a vulnerability to acting out sexually. Understandably, your disclosure is not a time to shift blame, but statistically most sex addicts have sexual abuse in their pasts.
4. Look for tendencies in yourself towards secrecy, entitlement, and retaliation. These negative traits often coexist with sex addiction, and need to be owned and dealt with in prayer and counsel with others. Recognizing how you have done this in the past will help you to confess with greater openness and honesty.
5. Commit yourself to answering your spouse's questions honestly. He or she will most likely need to know more once your initial disclosure has been offered. Your willingness to answer questions is one type of amends where your respect for his or her injuries is apparent.
6. Gather your facts by category. Greater compassion will guide you so that your disclosure is not too specific. Most spouses don't want the salacious details, but they actually need the specific categories of your involvement, e.g. magazines, videos, Internet, strip clubs, prostitutes, affairs, etc. If an affair has occurred with a friend or relative of your spouse, be sure to include this important fact.
7. Identify the resources that you and your spouse will need for healing and reconciliation. Prepare beforehand some specific solutions that you can explain at the end of your confession. Resources may include books, tapes, support groups, and a pre-arranged appointment with a professional therapist. It is extremely important that you have already begun taking steps to address and correct the problem before telling your spouse.
8. Willfully acknowledge the gravity of your adultery and your spouse's Biblical right to seek separation or divorce. Even virtual adultery committed online has the power to alter your spouse's life. Meditate on the words of Christ where He equates lust with adultery, and confess accordingly.
9. Throughout your confession, stop and give your spouse time to take in your confession. Accept his or her emotions as a largely involuntary reaction.
10. Freely initiate your specific apology. For example, "I feel badly for having hurt you with my sexual sin. I realize I can never fully know how badly I've hurt you by _______. I hope you can forgive me as I seek to rebuild your trust in time."
11. Admit that it is your responsibility to rebuild the trust, and that it will take considerable time.
12. Avoid minimizing the nature of your sin. For example, don't say, "Well it could be worse, at least I didn't do ________." It is essential to not shift blame at this point by hinting that your spouse could have been more amorous, attentive, etc. You will likely need to resolve numerous communication issues between you in time, but now is the time for humility and repentance.
13. Don't compare yourself to others. One of the more difficult things for wives to hear is the distorted belief that "all men do it".
14. Be sure to avoid telling your spouse how he or she is suppose to feel or what he or she is suppose to do with the information.
15. It may take considerable restraint, but encourage your spouse to talk to whomever he or she needs to, as healing gets underway. Sadly, your right to privacy was forfeited with sexual sin. Speak openly, however, to your desire that he or she will be discreet and discerning.
16. Avoid over-spiritualizing things by declaring that the sin is "in the past," "under the blood (of Christ)," or that it's time for he or she to "forgive and forget." It will be important to remember that the disclosure will most likely take your spouse by surprise, and greater love will allow the injured party considerable leeway in the early days of recovery.
17. Encourage your spouse by disclosing your willingness to participant in an ongoing dialogue.
18. Share with your spouse that you will intentionally avoid anything that would cause additional pain or reason for mistrust. At this point, you might describe the triggers or temptations you face and outline your specific plans to avoid them. You might also ask for your spouse's help to achieve this plan.
19. Don't expect your spouse to ask the specific question that requires you to tell "the rest of the story". Your confession needs to be comprehensive in one setting. Piecemealed confessions will often reinjure your spouse.
20. Above all, don't blame your spouse for your sexual sins. He or she will need assurances that your choices to act out were not prompted by personal deficiencies.
Unfortunately, most men and women snared by sexual sin don't volunteer their confessions. More often their spouses, children, or colleagues find evidence of their double lives and confront them because they care. Because confrontation occurs instead of confession, tensions are often high and relationships suffer deeper injuries.
Voluntary confessions are a strong indicator for a better prognosis where the addict and family can be cautiously optimistic for their future recovery. Ongoing secrets are a strong indicator that the addiction to sexual sin will be stubborn and treatment resistant. In these cases, marriages and efforts to parent cooperatively will be compromised until the addict accepts help.
If you are having trouble preparing yourself for the confession, confide in a mature understanding friend, preferably a mature Christian who can help bear your burden and pray for and with you. It may be helpful to walk through these steps with a close friend before talking to your spouse. This friend should be someone who will stick with you through the entire process of healing.
The good news remains, however, that Christ is relevant – even to sex addiction. It is possible to reverse sex addiction. Of course, addictions take time to develop, and so does recovery. For those who love Christ, recovery is not about perfection, but direction. Your voluntary confession can be that important first step.
Copyright © 2004 Rob Jackson. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.