Should I Confess to My Spouse? How? When?

“We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” I firmly believe Step 5 cannot be ignored. This is true because confession is biblically mandated. It proceeds divine forgiveness and cleansing. Confession frees us. It breaks the power of secrecy and allows healing to begin. The act of confession, as difficult, risky, and courageous as it seems, generally feels good—that is, to the addict, and only when its over. It never gives good feelings to the spouse or others betrayed by the addict’s actions.

After you confess, you feel like you’re on cloud 9—a load’s been lifted, the burden’s rolled away. Your spouse likely feels like she’s been hit by a Mack truck. She’s wounded, deeply wounded. She’s angry,  justifiably angry. You deserve that wrath. You have sinned against this precious daughter of God who was created in His own image. She’s the one you vowed to love and cherish “till death do you part.” You made these vows to God, and in His grace, He will forgive you. You also made these vows to your beloved. She can and will forgive only as God enables her to. If she more or less shrugs off your infidelity, she’s an either a classic enabler or is bound in your relationship by a much weaker seal than the fiery, vehement, jealous, death-strong love described in Song of Solomon 8:6.

When we addicts confess to our spouses “the exact nature of our wrongs,” it’s called a “disclosure.” Most addicts would rather not do this, especially not completely and without the rationalizations, justifications, and excuses we hide behind like fig leaves. Sometimes our justifications involve shifting blame to parents, lovers, other family members, and sadly, even the spouse. This type of confession slams the semi into reverse, once again crushing our broken and bleeding beloved sprawled unconscious across the highway of destruction.

Marty Simpson Revell, an addiction specialist at the Sexual Recovery Institute, says “disclosure is an important part of the healing process,” but he cautions that if not handled with the help of therapeutic professionals and at the correct time, it can actually make matters worse. Read “The Anatomy of Disclosure” here.

Now more of my story: My first confession to my wife almost 13 years ago was prompted by guilt under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Was it complete? No. Was it without excuses? Not hardly. Did it wound her? Immensely. Did she have a support structure in place to help her heal? Not for a long time. In spite of my ignorant, self-justified, awfully timed confession, did God show up and help us both deal with the aftermath? He certainly has!

My last confession to my wife—a full disclosure of my sexual history aided by both a skilled sex addiction therapist and a highly competent polygraph technician—was thorough and complete, without excuse or rationalization. It was extremely painful—for both of us. I can’t speak for my wife, but for me, it was absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done. But this time, we both had tools in place to help with healing. After disclosure, we began again with a clean slate in our relationship, well-defined sobriety for me, and a growing network of healing resources for her. Yes, after all, confession is the best thing I ever did to conquer my addiction, restore our marriage, and preserve my ministry.