Last week I wrote about the need to confess your secret temptations. The more a temptation hides in the dark the stronger its pull on us remains. So, we should expose all our temptations to the light through confession to a close friend or accountability partner. But what if our temptations actually involve our spouse? What if you are tempted to betray your spouse? Even the temptation to commit adultery should be shared. In fact, this specific temptation should be shared with your spouse.
What does it mean to be tempted with adultery? We should remind ourselves at the outset of a few key principles about temptation and this temptation in particular. First, temptation is not the same as sin. To have been tempted in a specific way does not mean that you have sinned, nor does it mean that you will inevitably commit a sin. It does expose an area of weakness in your spiritual growth that must be addressed, and it exposes a thought that you must be on guard against. It does not make you automatically guilty of a sin. Second, the tempting thought to commit an act of adultery does not prove that you don’t love your spouse. As hard as it is for us to grasp, lust is not related to love. Sociologist and psychologists have noted that affairs are rarely about a lack of love or a lack of sex. In fact, most often people commit adultery because they are striving to find some “unexplored self” (“Why Happy People Cheat“). In other words, adultery is not about your spouse but about your sense of self. It is possible to have great love for your spouse and yet have a sexual thought about someone else. It is not right, nor healthy, but it is not indicative that you don’t love your spouse. Third, many people (most?) struggle with lustful thoughts. The issue at hand is not whether you ever have a tempting thought about being unfaithful, but how you respond to such a thought. Do you immediately dismiss it, turn your heart towards God and proper boundaries of love and sex, or do you entertain the thought?
Confession of temptation, I have argued, is an important deterrent to indulgence in temptation. Once a tempting sin is shared with someone who can help us it is robed of some of its power. We are more accountable in the moment we confess, and we have a partner in helping us fight against temptation’s lure. In cases of the temptation to cheat on your spouse, who could be more helpful than our mate? As Russell Moore writes:
The power of adultery is in the mystery of it all, the hiddenness. A spouse should learn the sort of vulnerability to confess to the other, at the very beginning of the temptation, when he or she is starting to mentally drift or take notice of someone else. This does not mean, of course, that a spouse should share with her husband every time she has a sexual fantasy about someone else, or every time he finds himself staring at another woman’s neckline. It does mean, though, that a spouse should not be shocked when his or her partner is tempted toward adultery. Every marriage will be. Openness to one another, seeing my body and my sexual script as belonging to the other, can break the power of secretive drama in which adultery thrives. (The Storm-Tossed Family, 145)
If adultery thrives on “mystery,” then confession breaks that powerful lure.
In addition, confession of temptation may also help to strengthen a marriage. While the temptation itself may be painful to share and painful to hear, it has the power to draw a couple closer together. Intimacy is about more than sexual organs, it is about the whole person sharing with another. Confession of our temptations is a level of vulnerability that invites someone deeper. It opens up our own mind, fantasies, and sexual scripts to the care and scrutiny of someone we trust. Sharing at this level has the potential not simply to thwart the lure of temptation but increase actual intimacy with your spouse.
Pride keeps us from thinking that we could never cheat on our spouse, or that our spouse could never cheat on us. Humility recognizes that we are all prone to all sorts of sins and that a happy marriage is not necessarily a deterrent to adultery. What will help us fight the lure of this sin? An open an honest relationship with our spouse where we share temptations, confess desires, and invite accountability is healthy (if not fool-proof) preventative measure. Don’t be afraid to share with your spouse. Don’t be afraid to hear from your spouse. The more honest we are the better our marriages can be.