Adultery is devastating. In the aftermath of an adulterous affair, the offending spouse must first turn away from sin through repentance before God. But after such repentance takes place, there’s another question that has to be answered: Should you confess the adultery to your spouse?
Sometimes the act of confessing to a wife or husband seems like it would do more harm than good. I once got a letter from a man who said he committed adultery years ago, but the affair had lasted only a week and he had repented to God and others. The reason he was unsure about confessing to his wife was that the marriage was already going through difficulty, and he was deeply concerned that a bombshell like this would end the marriage and harm the children.
This is indeed an agonizing situation. But I still believe that confessing adultery to your spouse is absolutely necessary. Here are five reasons:
1) You have to repent to your spouse.
Biblically speaking, each spouse has an exclusive right to the others’ sexuality. “Ownership” might seem like a radical word but it’s exactly the word that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 7:4. This isn’t a license for abuse, but it does mean that neither the husband nor the wife has autonomous control over their bodies. So, because your body belongs to your spouse, your sin affects them, even if they don’t know about it. The marital union is a spiritual, mysterious thing, as Paul teaches (1 Cor. 6:16-17). That means to join yourself to another is to sin against your wife or husband.
2) You have to remove the lie in your marriage.
Concealing the adultery, even if its been repented of, is deceiving your spouse about something that lies at the very core of your marriage. Your spouse deserves to know, so that means you haven’t completed repentance until you confess it to her or him and ask for forgiveness. Until you do this, you’re going to feel a weight of guilt and shame about the affair that won’t heal—or, even worse, you’ll eventually make a friend of sin and cease to feel shame because, through secrecy, you’ve developed a numb heart. The way to prevent this is through confession.
3) You have to take ownership of your sin.
One of the most important reasons to confess your adultery to your spouse is this: You have to decide that your husband or wife is more important to you than the risks you’re taking by confessing. You need to own your sin. You need to communicate this to them as a sin. Do not give any indication that you blame your spouse for your sin. When you confess, don’t bring up any of the other issues in your marriage or any old hurts. That’s not the time to talk about these things. You have to take full ownership of your immorality.
4) You have to accept the consequences of your sin.
Your spouse will feel betrayed and outraged. He or she is going to feel as though they don’t even understand what her world means right now. That is all completely natural because you have broken the covenant. You have sinned against your spouse, and you have broken a trust. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t give excuses or reasons. Let your spouse express the grief and the anger that comes out of this.
5) You have to take the first step in reconciliation.
You can’t expect your spouse to just be sad for a few moments and then forgive you. It may feel to you as you confess that a great burden is being lifted, but this is the first time that they are hearing about this. There has to be a grieving and an expressing of the righteous anger that your spouse has. Let them do that, and then wait patiently for them to forgive you. Don’t think that you’re owed some sort of immediate reconciliation. You are going to have to spend in many ways the rest of your life in your marriage rebuilding the trust that is there, even when your spouse does forgive you. The reconciliation process has to start with confession, and that means it has to start with you.