I have been reflecting on the value of confessing certain recurrent temptations to your spouse – specifically the temptation to be unfaithful to your spouse. I have noted that not every thought should be confessed, nor should ever detail of a temptation be confessed. Yet, there is value in making some form of confession for those types of recurrent temptations that pose a serious threat to your obedience to Christ and your faithfulness to your spouse. How we confess, however, matters. The following 8 principles can serve to safeguard a wise confession to your spouse.
It’s important to start with the reminder that we are talking about confessing temptations. Anyone who is actually unfaithful to their spouse should certainly confess that sin, and there are good guidelines for doing that as well. In this case, however, we are focusing on the confession of temptations. This means that while our confession should be humble and honest, it should not be overstated. If you have not actually sinned, but only entertained thoughts then don’t blow it out of proportion and create a panic in your spouse and tension in your relationship. The goal of confession is purely for accountability. It is to help you be honest and vulnerable, and to be proactive in fighting temptations. Be careful then about suggesting more than is actually happening. You don’t want to create in your spouse suspicion that you actually have sinned when such is not the case.
The way we confess is important, for it can either help a marriage or harm a marriage. Following these guidelines may serve you well:
- Ask permission to share a specific temptation- Not every spouse is in a position where they are ready to receive this kind of confession. We are going to discuss how to receive this type of confession in another post, but we should start with a recognition that our spouse should have the freedom to acknowledge their vulnerability to such a temptation. A temptation like this may serve to cause a brother or sister to stumble, and so we must be on guard for them (Rom. 14:13). Furthermore, we should consider the interests of others as more significant than our own – and that means acknowledging that while we may want to share this burden with them, it may harm them to do so (Phil. 2:3).
- Confess with humility – Your temptation is not anyone else’s fault. James tells us that each person is lured and enticed by the desires in their own heart (James 1:14). Your struggle with lust is not the responsibility of that other woman, or that other man. It is not the responsibility of your spouse. The desires in your heart make it enticing and so you must be humble and honest about that. Don’t lay responsibility of blame at anyone else’s feet, least of all your spouse. Any confession of temptation that suggests your spouse is responsible for how you respond to temptation is a failure of confession.
- Share the intent of your confession – Why are you telling your spouse? What is it that you are expecting from them? They cannot control your response to triggers or temptations, but you do want them to be involved in helping you remain faithful to Jesus. Express your intent to make them aware so that they can pray for you, ask you how things are going, or help safeguard electronic devices. Give a specific reason for your confession. Express concern about your own potential for sin, and your earnest desire not to go down that trail.
- Share the specific nature of your temptation, but not the details – I’ve written more on this already, but it is a worthy reminder to state again that while we want to confess the specific sin (thoughts of adultery, thoughts about pornography, interest in another person), we do not need to go into detail. Mentioning names, acts, or fantasies will serve to do more harm than good.
- Share how you are fighting this temptation and what you plan to continue to do – Demonstrate that you are serious about sin and that you are acting responsibly. If you are truly desiring to fight against temptation then come to confession with a plan that demonstrates your seriousness. Give evidence that you are not expecting your spouse to carry the weight of your struggles. Be open to their suggestions for other strategies to fight temptation.
- Stress that your temptations are not about them – Your spouse has done nothing wrong and your experience of temptation is not about their attractiveness, performance, frequency of sex, etc. Reiterate that it is out of love for them and Christ that you are sharing this confession. Your struggle is not a reflection on your spouse. While it may be hard for them to accept this concept at first, you want to keep reiterating it.
- Give your spouse time to process – This will likely be awkward and difficult for your spouse to hear. They need time to think bout what you have said. Even if they are initially accepting of the confession you will want to be patient with them and invite them to reflect and ask questions of you. If they do not follow up with you later you will want to initiate conversation again. Do not leave this confession hanging in the air between you. Resolve to discuss it as they are ready and willing.
- Accept accountability and boundaries – As your spouse offers accountability or requests that you comply with certain boundaries demonstrate your humility by complying willingly. Don’t make a confession that you aren’t willing to receive accountability for – to do so will only increase suspicion on the part of your spouse. Accept their input and concern, allow them the freedom to ask you how things are going, and follow through on plans to set up boundaries to sin. If you aren’t willing to do this, or if doing so will become a begrudging chore, then don’t confess!
These are obviously just guidelines, not mandates. They represent, however, what I believe to be wise matters regarding the nature of confessing sin to others, specifically spouses. Even in confessions we should be thinking about the other person. All our words should be designed to give grace to the hearer (Eph. 4:29), even confessions. So, as you confess think about how to serve your spouse not just yourself.