This is a difficult question. Unfortunately, it is also a common question. It is a question that, even when pressing, most try to avoid. But when we avoid the question, the person who gets hurt most is the person who has been betrayed.
We must not buy the lie that we can “protect someone from the truth.” The absence of truth is bondage (John 8:31-38). When we couch our silence as “protecting our spouse,” we make a virtue out of the cover up of our sin.
Take a moment to listen to this brief (5 minute) video by David Powlison.
I would encourage you to read the biblical passages referenced from II Samuel 11-12 as you go through this post. What follows is attempt to outline key elements of confessing sexual sin (lust, pornography, infidelity, etc…) from the account of David and Bathsheba. Remember, we have this account primarily because David volunteered it after being confronted by Nathan (see Psalm 51:13-14).
11:1 – You should confess the actions that left you vulnerable to this sin. This is important as the two of you develop a “how do protect against this happening again” plan.
11:2-3 – You should confess the steps that you took as entered into the sin. Rarely does sin “just happen.” You need to see where you chose to be blind. Confessing this helps your spouse to know you are taking the sin seriously.
11:4 – You should confess sin to the full extent to which it reached. Little is more damaging than the severity of sexual sin to slowly leak out. Trust begins to build and then is broken time after time. Learn from David – the truth always comes out.
11:5 – You should confess all consequences of your sin that occurred before your spouse learned of your sin. Did you lose your job, get demoted, contract an STD, take out an unknown credit card, etc…? Unconfessed consequences will be painful reminders for both of you later on.
11:6-27 – You should confess your methods of deception, others involved in the cover up of your sin, other sins you committed in tandem with the sexual sin, and the impact the sin has had on your overall character. Notice this section is the longest part of the narrative. Sin maintains its life and mutates into other expressions when we hide our methods of lying and resist reflecting upon its impact.
12:1-15 – You should confess how you were brought to repentance. As you confess this, remember it is God’s grace (although painful) that you were brought to repentance. If your spouse “found out,” you can still share how you came to the conviction to be completely truthful.
12:7-15 – You should accept the consequences that emerge after your confession. Being forgiven should not be confused with the removal of consequences. See the blog post “The Forgiveness Trap” (click here) for more on this.
12:16-23 – You should be willing to walk through the emotional ups and downs with your spouse as they learn of your sin, forgive, and work to restore the relationship. Don’t vomit your sin on your spouse and walk away from them to clean up the mess alone. This is a key part of loving your spouse well. It will not feel loving to either of you, but choosing to comfort your spouse over your own comfort is love (Philippians 2:4-5).
“Is Pornography Biblical Grounds for Divorce?” by Brad Hambrick (click here)
After Adultery: Healing After Adultery by Robert Jones
Help! My Spouse Committed Adultery: First Steps to Dealing with Betrayal by Winston Smith