When Nehemiah set out to rebuild Jerusalem, he began by taking a close look at the damage done to her walls. (Nehemiah 2: 11-16) It couldn’t have been easy. Knowing the walls were decayed was one thing; closely inspecting them to see just how decayed was another. But how else could he rebuild? To make things right, he had to first see how wrong they really were.
“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
-Matthew 6: 23-24
It’s not enough to confess your sin. You’re also required to do whatever is possible to relieve the effect it’s had on others.
This especially applies if you’re married, because you’ve betrayed your wife at such a primary level, so you now have a two-fold responsibility: Restitution and Rebuilding.
To make restitution, you need to restore what you took from another person or, in some cases, what you caused another person to lose. So if your wife discovered your sin, you’ve caused her to lose something. A few “somethings,” in fact, and looking at these losses is a painful but necessary part of your process. A few losses she may have experienced:
- She may have lost her assumptions about you.
- She may have lost confidence in her attractiveness.
- She may have lost confidence in her intelligence
- She may have even lost confidence in God.
One of the saddest remarks I’ve ever heard in my office came from a wife who found out her husband was in an adulterous relationship.
“If my Daddy knew that the man who wanted to marry me would hurt me someday”, she said through her tears, “he’d have shot that guy before he’d let him marry me! But my Heavenly Father, who knows everything, allowed me to marry a man who wound up shattering my heart! Why would God give me to this man, when He knew this man would crush me? I guess I don’t even matter to God anymore.”
Please take a moment to read that last sentence again. Twice.
When you broke your wife’s heart, there’s a good chance she remembered that God gave her to you. And she wondered, as any child would, why her Daddy handed her over to someone so hurtful.
If that matters to you (and I know it does) then you can begin rebuilding with three simple actions: Acknowledge, Express and Clarify.
Tell her you acknowledge the nature of your sin. It’s not enough to say “I committed adultery”, or “I used pornography.” That only a partial confession, because it acknowledges the action, but not the nature of the action.
Tell her you acknowledge the consequences of your behavior. Make sure she knows you’re aware of the impact your sin has had. Acknowledge to her that you’ve shattered her trust, and that she may be unable to believe anything you say for some time. Acknowledge how difficult it must be for her to be civil to you, and how crushing it must be to wonder if she’ll ever feel safe with you again.
Finally, acknowledge your limited ability to understand the pain you’ve caused. Tell her that you can’t fully understand the hurt because (and this is vital) you did it to her; she didn’t do it to you.
Then tell her you want to know what she’s going through, and that you’d like to understand it better. Promise that you’ll simply listen, without interrupting or defending yourself, as she tells you what it was like learning about your sin – the shock, the fear, the disbelief – and what it’s like dealing with the aftermath of it. Listen carefully while she tells you this, and make sure she knows you’re listening.
Then never, never forget what you heard. And see that you’ll never have to hear it again.
But don’t stop there. Clarify your intention and recovery plan. Because, after all, what good are tears if they’re not followed by action?
Your intention is to stay clean and do what’s necessary to restore your marriage. That’s simple enough; clarify it. But remember, you have a credibility problem. So give her more than an intention. Clarify your recovery plan as well. In other words, don’t just tell her you intend to stay clean. Tell her how. And the best way to tell is to show her.
Because trust is only rebuilt through a combination of time and consistency. She can decide to forgive you, certainly, but no one can decide to trust. If someone’s betrayed you, you stop trusting him. And once that happens, you can’t turn the trust back on. It can only grow when the person who broke your trust shows consistency over a period of time.
So you, as a husband who broke his wife’s trust, have your work cut out for you. Patiently and consistently follow through with a servant’s heart and an eye towards restoring peace in your home, and in due time, you’ll reap the rewards.
(If you’re wanting to read more about this topic, check my book The Game Plan, available here)