What Not to Confess to Your Spouse

Last week I wrote about the importance of confessing certain temptations to your spouse as a safeguard for your marriage and to hep you avoid giving in to sin. Confessing to our spouse is, of course, not quite the same as confessing to others. The intimacy and closeness of the marital relationship means that our temptations do impact those we love (even when they aren’t directly about them). Being sensitive to our spouses, then, means considering carefully both how we confess and what we confess. I maintain that we should confess the temptation towards adultery to our spouse, but that is not the same as saying we should confess every thought and every lust to our spouse. We should confess temptations carefully and to our spouses.

Temptations do often have a relation to the desires of our heart. So James writes that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14). So, temptation, while not itself sinful, does reflect something going on in our hearts that may be disordered. This is true of all of us, without exception. Yet, hearing of the disordered desires of our closest loved ones can be hard to handle. To hear repeated and in detail about their disordered desires becomes deflating and can harm relationships. It is because of the closeness of the relationship, the “one flesh” (Mark 10:8) reality of marriage, that confession to a spouse can be so hard to receive. So, what should you not share with your spouse? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Every lustful thought you have – lust is sinful (Matt. 5:28), but because of its commonness and frequency it does not require you to share with your spouse every time you have an inappropriate thought about another man or another woman. The amount of times you would need to confess would not merely be wearisome to your spouse, but it would begin to raise unnecessary doubt in their mind about your fidelity and love. Should you have regular lustful thoughts about a specific person, or specific temptations to cheat then you should confess that information, but not the general problem of lust. Work on it between you and the Lord, work on it with an accountability partner (who is not your spouse), but don’t confess every thought.
  2. The names of specific people you’ve thought about – If you have struggled with the temptation to pursue an affair, don’t divulge the names of the specific person/people you have thought about. It does not add anything to the confession to share that detail, and it may unnecessarily embitter your spouse towards an innocent person. Furthermore, it will tempt your spouse to compare themselves to that specific person and increase their insecurity in specific ways. Confess the struggle, which really only involves you, but not the names of others you’ve thought about.
  3. The details of sexual immorality that you have fantasized about – Everyone thinks that the more detail the better the confession. There is some truth to that, in the sense that ambiguity and vagueness don’t serve to demonstrate honesty. A general confession like, “I have had inappropriate thoughts,” don’t really specify what that means. “I was thinking about things I shouldn’t have been,” doesn’t give much credibility to a confession. But overly specific descriptions of sexual fantasies, positions, or acts will not be helpful. It will not only serve to discourage and disgust your spouse, but it may actually undercut a confession. Instead of sounding like a humble honest admission of temptation, it will sound more indulgent.

What we confess matters. Not all confessions are helpful and/or necessary. Not all confessions that must be shared should be shared with our spouse. But confessing temptations is helpful for our spiritual fight, so think carefully about the need to confess. Is a temptation very specific? Is it a recurrent temptation? Is it a habitual turn in your thoughts? Then confess it. Is this a temptation that your spouse will be the most equipped to help you fight? Then confess it to your spouse. But know what not to confess, for not all confessions are helpful for you or those to whom you confess.

In coming posts I plan to address how to confess, and how to receive a spouse’s confession, but it’s important that we establish this principle too: not everything should be confessed to your spouse. The closeness of that relationship should be preserved. That means sometimes confession is a specific way to preserve the closeness of that relationship. At other times, preservation will require us to guard what and how we confess temptations. I am hopeful that this series will help us all think about the nuance needed to navigate this terrain.

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