Focus on the Family

How to Confess an Affair to Your Spouse

How do I go about telling my wife that I've been unfaithful to her? I recently ended a longtime affair with another woman. After wrestling with my guilt for a long time and confessing my sin before God, I've come to the conclusion that it's best to disclose this information and share the whole story with my spouse. How can I do this in a way that will inflict the least amount of damage?

The first step is to search your own heart. Humble yourself before the Lord and make sure that you’re ready and willing to put the infidelity behind you and make things right once and for all. Demonstrate your good intentions by taking some steps in the direction of repentance and healing before making the disclosure. Get tested for STDs. Seek out the advice of a pastor or licensed Christian counselor. Study 2 Corinthians 7 and be certain that your attitude is one of genuine godly sorrow (verse 10) – the kind of sorrow that leads to repentance – rather than one of debilitating guilt or a selfish desire to save face.

It’s also a good idea to check your motives before telling your wife what has happened. Ask yourself why you want (or need) to make this confession. Do you have your spouse’s and your family’s best interests at heart, or are you thinking primarily of yourself? Is guilt the only driving factor? Is it possible that you’re looking for a way to shame or blame your wife (for example, by dropping hints to the effect that you fell into an affair because she wasn’t there for you sexually)? Are you trying to manipulate her in some way or hoping to find release from a burdened conscience? If so, do you expect to do this by shifting the load onto someone else’s shoulders? It’s vital to get all this straight in your own mind before you open your mouth.

When you’re ready to “come clean,” be sure to lay the groundwork before moving ahead. Don’t blunder into a hasty or careless confession. Don’t just blurt something out at an inappropriate moment. Instead, make a plan with the guidance of your counselor. Pray about what you’re going to say and write it down. Sleep on it and read it over again before telling your wife that you need to talk. Be thoughtful and deliberate in your comments, and be prepared for any reaction. If you feel the situation could become volatile or unsafe in any way, consider inviting a third party to be present or arrange to have the conversation in a safe place where it’s still possible to carry on a private discussion. You will want to give this option special consideration if your spouse suffers from mental or emotional disorders of any kind.

Once you start talking, there are a few things you’ll want to be sure to include in your statement and a couple you should probably avoid at all costs. Do say, “I was wrong” and “I’m sincerely sorry.” Don’t get drawn into explaining the affair within the context of your confession – there may be many factors that explain your actions, but they don’t excuse them. It’s also not a good idea to rush immediately into asking for forgiveness. Your wife will probably need to process the information she’s receiving before she’s ready to think about that. You can indicate that while you know you don’t deserve it, you sincerely hope that in time she will be able to forgive you. Give her the space she requires and make an effort to help her sort through her own feelings. Say something like, “I know how much I’ve hurt you and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to start over and rebuild our relationship.” If you can, use a word picture that conveys to your spouse the hurt you have caused her. Make a real effort to empathize with her emotions – whether you realize it or not, your empathy will be a major factor in her healing. Take special care to say, “I want you to understand that this is not about you, the kind of person you are, or your attractiveness.” The more specific you can be in this regard, the easier she’ll find it to move forward in a positive direction. If appropriate, give her permission to “vent” by sharing this information with a close friend.

We should add that, in most cases, it isn’t a good idea to share graphic information about the sexual aspects of the affair. This kind of information can create persistent and damaging visual images in your wife’s mind. The exception to this rule is when you’re being pressed to provide such information. If your spouse specifically asks you to tell her exactly “what happened” and you refuse – even out of a sincere desire to protect her – you could end up destroying trust and thus undermining the relationship. If you find yourself in this position, be sure to preface your disclosure by warning her that it may be extremely hurtful.

As you move through this process, bear in mind that there’s an important sense in which your affair is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s the final step in a hundred-step journey – a symptom rather than the actual disease. If your marriage is to survive and thrive, you’re going to have to get to the heart of the problem and figure out exactly how and why you reached the point of becoming vulnerable to this kind of temptation. What part of your relationship with your wife had to die in order to make this possible? What were the incremental steps leading to its demise? How can it be revived? The only way to find answers to these questions is to start talking – preferably with the help of a trained marriage therapist – and keep talking until all the relevant issues have been brought out into the light and dealt with effectively.

Once the whole story is out on the table, you and your spouse should pursue counseling as soon as possible. Depending on the dynamics of your circumstances, individual therapy for both of you may be recommended prior to joint sessions. Focus on the Family’s Counseling staff would be happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone and provide referrals to specialists in your area. If you think this might be helpful, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.

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