It is never easy to hear that your spouse has been tempted to be unfaithful. The temptation, though plenty common, feels like it is a reflection on us, on our worth, on our attractiveness, on our performance. It’s hard to hear, then, because of how it makes us feel about ourselves. Yet, if we can work through our own insecurity, there is a way to receive this confession that promotes marital health. There are eight key elements to receiving well our spouse’s confession of temptation.
First, we ought to receive this confession with humility. It’s important to remember that this is a common struggle. In fact it is so common to struggle with lustful thoughts, or the idea of being with someone else, that we too have probably thought it. Before we rush to judgment of our spouse we should take a hard look at our own heart and our own thoughts (Matt. 7:3). But, even if we have not struggled with these specific thoughts and temptations, we know that we have our own set of temptations with which we battle. Neither our marriage, nor our spouse, is beyond this struggle and we should be humble enough to accept that reality. Humility will allow us to start strong as we receive their confession of temptation.
Second, we should guard our thoughts. Insecurity will tempt us to run wild with our thoughts. We may be tempted to assume more than has been confessed, or turn a confession of temptation into an act of adultery. Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), and do not allow yourself to wander into the realms of what if. Hear what is actually said, and respond to the temptation confessed.
Third, we should express gratitude. It may seem strange to be grateful for your spouse’s confession of temptation, but recognize this confession as an earnest desire to safeguard a marriage. Your spouse values you and this relationship enough to be honest about an embarrassing temptation. They value this marriage enough to do everything necessary to make sure it is not jeopardized. They are confessing a temptation because they don’t want that temptation to become an actual sin; they want to fight against it. Thank God that He has brought this temptation to light before it became more serious. Thank your spouse, for trusting you and loving you enough to share this burden.
Fourth, we should ask good questions. It is likely inevitable that your mind will wander to many different possible scenarios. You will have questions about what this temptation means and what may lie behind it. One way to guard your thoughts from going down dangerous trails is to simply ask your spouse good questions. They have opened the door by sharing with you, and you are free to inquire about more that may be going on. Avoid asking questions about the specific thoughts, ask questions about what this means for them personally. Ask questions like:
How long have you had this temptation?
Have you ever done anything to act on these thoughts?
Have you ever been unfaithful?
What have you done to guard against giving in to sin?
Why do you think you are thinking about these things?
How can I be a help to you?
Fifth, we should pray. We need God if we are going to process these confession well. Asking for His strength and grace to do and say the right things is important. Asking for His help to strengthen your marriage and to protect your spouse will be important. Pray alone; pray together; pray often.
Sixth, we should refuse to accept responsibility. Your spouse’s temptation is not your fault and it is not your responsibility! Do not accept any blame for their lust or their thoughts of adultery. The Bible tells us that temptation is a result of each person’s own desires (James 1:14). Taking responsibility for either their temptations or their obedience will unnecessarily burden you and will absolve them in ways that are not Biblical or spiritually/morally healthy. We can sometimes throw this blame on ourselves, and our spouses can sometimes throw this blame on us. Don’t accept it!
Seventh, we should expect accountability. If your spouse has shared a temptation then you have every right, and should expect, that they will also be open to accountability. While you should feel the freedom to ask them questions and check in on them, and should expect honesty and transparency, you should also invite them to get a same gender accountability partner who will ask them about these issues. You want the freedom to ask, but not the sole responsibility for check up on them. If this is a serious enough temptation to confess then it is a serious enough temptation to require accountability. Work together to come up with a plan for accountability in your spouse’s life.
Eight, we should encourage spiritual growth. Thoughts of adultery have far less to do with the quality of our marriage than we might think. They are far more deeply connected to our relationship with God. We want to encourage then a renewed vigor in our spiritual disciplines, a vital spiritual life. Encourage your spouse to be in the Word and in prayer. You be in the Word and in prayer. Discuss spiritual things together; talk about what God is doing in your lives. Focus on Christ, the gospel, and the glory of God. Direct your thoughts away from sin, from temptations, and from discouragements. Focus on Jesus, and focus on Him together.
How we receive our spouse’s confession of temptation can help us to grow as a couple. If we respond with anger, accusation, distrust, or coldness then we will likely breed conflict and isolation in our marriage. If we respond with humility, conversation, and grace then we can strengthen our marriage. How we respond matters.