Surveying the Damage

DestructionI’m somewhat OK with admitting my sin. It’s clearly not my favorite thing to do, but I will if I have to. Examining its impact is another matter.

I’d much rather just say “I’m sorry” and move on, rather than take a hard look at the damage I’ve done.  But it’s unreasonable to say “I’m sorry I hurt you but I’m not about to look at the ways I’ve hurt you.” That’s really just another way of saying, “I don’t want to face what I’ve done.” And of course, whatever we refuse to face, we refuse to deal with, making us all the more likely to repeat it.

It’s a good thing Nehemiah  didn’t have that problem . When he 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.

If you’re a husband who has sexually sinned against his wife, you could do a lot worse than to follow his lead. Because your sin was never just about you – someone else was damaged as well, sometimes in ways that are pretty horrible to consider. But you can’t move on until you have considered them, assessing them just like Nehemiah assessed the walls: up close and personal. That’s how
rebuilding begins.

The Restitution She Deserves

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 rebuilding a
damaged bond.

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.”

If 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. That means there’s some serious rebuilding to be done, and you can begin it now with three simple actions: Acknowledge, Listen, 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?

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 maybe you have your work cut out for you. Patiently and consistently follow your plan to rebuild with a servant’s heart and an eye towards restoring peace in your home, and in due time, you’ll reap the rewards. When doing so, here’s a sample of what I find husband’s need to say and, more to the point, what wives need to hear:

I know what I’ve done, and I’ve done more than commit a sexual sin. I’ve betrayed you by breaking a sacred promise I made before you and God. That betrayal must have shattered you, and you’ve got every reason to be enraged, heartbroken and suspicious. I made you that way.

I’ve also deceived you. I lied to you with words, and even when I wasn’t lying with my words, I lied with actions. I know that now, as a result, you don’t trust me. You probably don’t even feel you know me, and I don’t blame you. But I’m determined to make you feel, once again, that you really do know who and what am.

I won’t presume to say I know what you’re going through. I know you’re hurt, furious, bewildered and scared, but I don’t really know what all of that feels like, because this is a pain I put on you. You didn’t put it on me. But please help me. Help me understand what you’re going through. Tell me what it’s like, and I promise I won’t run away or defend myself when you tell me. I’ll listen, no matter how hard it is to hear it.

But I know you need more than words. You need to know what I’m going to do about all of this. So here is the recovery plan I’ll be following. You will be able to see whether or not I’m sticking to it.  

I know my credibility is low. So for now, I’m not asking you to trust me. I’m asking you to watch me.

Sow in humility; apply yourself in patience. You’ll reap in due time.


Darla Meeks | Nov 25, 2014

Joe, thank you so much for your ministry to families. I am divorced from a man who was unfaithful to me. Stupid me, I got heartbroken again after that...went right to another abusive boyfriend. At first, I was like the wife in your office, wondering if God put these horrific, abusive relationships in my life because He hated me. But then, the Lord showed me that He was heartbroken along with me. What they had done to me, they had also done to Him. Through all of that, I only got closer to God...He never wanted me to go through that. I just thought I had to be married to be happy. The NT is full of warnings that marrying and giving in marriage in these last days is nothing but trouble...people...even Christian people...are just too doggone selfish most of the time. There is no "right man for me from the Lord"...that is just not Biblical. When I found out I don't HAVE to remarry at all, I became so happy and relieved. Scripture tells us a lot about the joy of the Lord...but the word "happiness" only really applies to the unmarried (Paul described himself as happy being single and said that, while he didn't want to impose his will or suggest that marriage is sinful, he believed unmarried folk would be happier to stay that way). Marriage is a good institution, and folks should marry if they really want to...but I consider myself deeply, deeply unmarriageable. Is that sad? If so, why do I have such a lovely spring in my step?

Jim | Nov 25, 2014

I think my wife has been better at forgiving me than I've been with forgiving myself. Maybe it's hard for me because I was unfaithful to her in casual same sex encounters. We've worked through the acknowledging and listening and clarifying, but I still beat myself up for what I did 40 years ago, partly because I still deal with ssa. There's a lot of guilt that continues to beset me, not just from the infidelity, but from the ongoing struggle with ssa. I'm so tired of living with depression that's connected, in part at least, with the attractions. I pray for eventual relief. Thank you for the reminders.

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