The Challenge and Importance of Disclosure – Part 2

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.

Both the White Book of Sexaholics Anonymous, and SAA’s similar book, Hope and Recovery caution against disclosing too quickly or too much, and to talk to their group members first. But the writers were predominantly males who were deciding what was 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 it through. 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.

Though total disclosure is not healthy because she’ll become your accountability partner instead of your wife, it may be necessary in the beginning. 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 this case loving your wife means disclosing and working wholeheartedly with an accountability partner, a band of brothers, and your pastor.

You desire honesty from the heart, so you can teach me to be wise in my inmost being. (Psalm 51:6)

If your marriage has been affected by a lack of sexual integrity, we recommend two healing options.
Every Man’s Battle for men and for couples The New Life Weekend.

The Challenge and Importance of Disclosure – Part 1

One of the most difficult issues a man has to face is disclosing his sexual sin to his wife. The issue is loaded with both honest and resistant questions:

Why bring up something that is only going to hurt my wife? What good is there in bringing up the past? Where does the Bible say I have to disclose this to my wife?

While there is no clear biblical mandate, and no two situations are alike, there are some principles that apply.

1) Your sexual sin has broken your marital covenant. Hiding it from your wife continues to break the covenant, while bringing it to the light gives opportunity for true repentance, healing, and restoration.

2) Your wife is entitled to know that the covenant has been broken. In almost every case a wife would want to know, so you should not be making this decision for her.

3) What you don’t disclose you give yourself permission to do again. Be honest with yourself here. Not telling your wife makes it easier to continue in your behavior.

4) Disclosure is an essential step towards restoring a trustworthy relationship with God and, therefore, your wife. See 1 John 1:5-7.

5) There are real advantages in disclosing. First, it is usually better than having your wife find out another way. Second, it increases your chances of becoming sexually pure because it puts her on guard to any further cheating. Third, it re-establishes the primacy of your marriage by ending the conspiracy of silence that created distance between you and her. In doing this you realign yourself more closely with your wife and your right to control critical information that matters greatly to her. And fourth, your disclosure may awaken your wife to issues that need to be addressed in order to achieve true intimacy with her.

6) There is also a disadvantage or dangerous reality in disclosing your sexual sin to your wife. In some cases the wife will leave the marriage. This is true in a great minority of the cases.

Once you are ready and willing to disclose to your wife, how do you do it? Here are some things to consider.

1) Prepare yourself by doing an inventory of your past sexual behaviors. You can’t be totally honest with your wife if you’re not being honest with yourself.

2) Check your motive. First of all, it is important that you be fully convinced in your own mind about the importance of disclosing (Romans 14:5). Second, what is your real motive – to respect your wife and her right to know how you have broken your covenant with her, or for you to be absolved from guilt so you can move on?

3) Make provision for your wife before disclosing. Take her into the structured safety of being with a counselor or pastor. Be ready to pay for her to see a counselor on her own afterwards. Set time aside to stay with her if she wants you to. Have a place to go if she wants you to leave the house for awhile. And allow and encourage her to discuss this with a close friend.
4) Decide what you will disclose. Begin by sharing your rationale for disclosure ‘ e.g., I want our marriage to be based on honesty and truth. Then share the nature of the transgression (pornography, affair, strip club, cybersex). If was adultery, tell her who other person is and for how long. Do not give her the graphic details because this usually causes more harm than good. If she demands details, try to connect with her and find out what she needs to feel safe. Tell her if she needs to be tested for STDs. Also, give all the details about your m.o. ‘ your excuses and lies, the times and places you are most vulnerable, and what you did to orchestrate your behaviors.

5) Make it a full disclosure. Women want to know the truth, so don’t qualify it. Believe in the truth as the only path to healing.

There are several other important issues to consider in disclosure that we will consider in Part 2 of this article, such as, possible exceptions to full disclosure, dealing with your wife’s emotional roller coaster, responding to her anger, demands and boundaries, on-going disclosure with her, and minimizing the damage of your wife’s broadcast to kids, family, and friends.

For help in the battle for sexual integrity see Every Man’s Battle.

Lost in the Wake of Lust

I remember, as a boy, constructing a model boat and setting it sail in a bay lagoon. I was thrilled that it remained afloat and was so hopeful that it would reach the other shore. But its journey was cut short when a ski boat, more concerned about staying on plane then obeying the posted no wake zone, sped through and capsized the model. My anger turned to sadness as hope was dashed on the rocks of selfishness that summer afternoon.

Few things can turn a marriage and family upside down more quickly than adultery. The Lord Jesus, in the fifth chapter of Matthew, makes it very clear that adultery is more than jumping into bed with another person. It begins with the imaginations and intentions of the heart. The apostle James affords us a word picture of a fisherman luring his prey from its place of safety when he writes, ‘But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.’ (James 1:14) He continues to record the results of this self-centered pursuit: ‘Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.’ (James 1:15)

Sexual sin causes significant hurt in the lives of wives and children. Laurie Hall honestly expressed her pain in a letter to her husband, who was addicted to pornography. In An Affair of the Mind she writes, ‘Later you called ‘ and you wanted to talk with the kids. Why? You never had time for them before. Sandy collapsed. Talking with you brought all her angers and fears to the fore. She was crying so hard, she couldn’t catch her breath, and I had to catch her as she fell. Ian spent three hours on the phone (with someone else) ‘ he couldn’t tell me how he was feeling ‘ Dear God, it’s already started. My babies are dying, and I can’t do anything to save them. I don’t even have the strength to save myself.’ (p. 46)

Exhaustion, confusion, embarrassment, disgust, anxiety, depression, shame, shock, anger, loneliness–all these and more represent the thoughts and emotions of those lost in the wake of lust. Coming to grips with the separations that one’s sexual acting out has perpetrated is a necessary and healthy aspect of the healing journey.
Let me suggest an action item if you are tracking with these thoughts. If you’re ready, this exercise will shift your sobriety into a higher gear of recovery.

  1. List the names of the people you hurt with your behaviors and words.
  2. Think of how you hurt each one.
  3. Reflect on how each person must have felt.
  4. Write each one a letter (you may want to write only one or two a week) expressing their feelings and hurts, along with anything else you may want to say. Do not, at this point, mail the letters or share their content with those you have offended.
  5. Read the letters out loud, one at a time, imagining you are talking with each individual.
  6. Share the import of this exercise with your therapist, sponsor and/or accountability partners.
  7. Make appropriate amends, when ready.

This process could take some time depending on the number of people affected, but it will give you an open and honest platform for building relational health. However, let me share a word of caution: DO NOT CONTACT THE PEOPLE ON YOUR LIST UNTIL YOU HAVE EITHER WORKED THROUGH STEPS 8 & 9 OF AN APPROPRIATE 12-STEP PROGRAM WITH A SPONSOR, OR YOUR THERAPIST GIVES YOU THE OK.

That summer day long ago I determined to rescue my sinking boat. So, fully dressed, I jumped into the lagoon and swam hard before it was too late. I retrieved the model and rebuilt it, but I always looked in all directions before letting it set sail again. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to restore your marriage and family? I encourage you to take unusual measures to protect them, care for them, nurture them, and reorient your heart toward them. Chart your new course today.

To get some help, please join us at Every Man’s Battle or New Life Weekend.