Breaking the Silence: Should a Wife Keep Her Husband’s Sexual Sin a Secret?


Bewildered Bride

photo credit: Suus Wansink

Consider this predicament.  Your boss, the company CEO, has given you a high-level project.  After a few months on the job you discover that your new responsibilities involve falsifying records.  Not only that, but it appears your boss has been trying to cover up questionable accounting practices.  When you confront the CEO, he makes it clear that your career will be over if you share his secret.  He makes a strong argument that you have much more to lose than gain by going public. Then he demands your silence, asserting his authority as your supervisor to ensure you will comply.

Out of respect for his position of authority do you keep his secret? Even if means you are putting yourself at risk, now that you are knowledgeable of a crime but choosing not to report.

Now read this scenario.  Mary’s husband Jim hasn’t been himself for months – moody, short-tempered, abrupt.  One night, Mary wakes up and Jim is not there.  When she walks downstairs, the reflection of the computer screen in the dining room mirror tells the story.  Jim says he is sorry and it won’t happen again.  But the computer history tells a different story – he is binging on porn and it’s only getting worse. When Mary suggests counseling – Jim refuses.  Asserting his position as leader of the home, Jim also forbids her from telling anyone.  Ever. Period.

Out of respect for his position of authority, should Mary keep his secret? Even if it means postponing her own healing and subjecting her family to the devastating effects of her husband’s escalating sexual sin?

Why is it that the corporate whistle-blower is applauded for standing up for what is right, but the wife who wants to sound the alarm is often silenced by the very community that should be offering her the most support.  Unfortunately, the not-so-subtle message being communicated by some in the church to these hurting women is honor your husband by keeping silent, even at the expense of your own healing.

Who is communicating this destructive message? It’s the elder who tells a wife that she is over-reacting .  It’s the Sunday School teacher who whispers that maybe she should first try heating things up in the bedroom. It is the pastor who suggests the wife spend some more time praying for her husband to come around before meeting with a counselor.  It’s anyone who even thinks, “That is just how God wired men.”

I’m not advocating a wife take to Facebook to share her pain or make a phone call to activate the prayer chain.  There is no healing to be found there.  But she should be free to get the help she needs in the light of this devastating revelation and it’s time the church came alongside her with their full support.

Yes , she should be cautious who she shares with and, certainly, it would be considerate of her to share  her intentions with her husband to get outside help.  But if a husband attempts to use his authority as the spiritual head of the household to discourage his wife from getting help, then someone needs to call that out for what it is – spiritual manipulation, misuse of authority and unloving, self-centered sin.

There is nothing that strikes at our own core more deeply than our spouse’s sexual sin. Marriage, by its very nature – the becoming of one flesh – means the husband’s struggle is now the wife’s struggle.  So if a wife wants to talk to someone about his struggle (now her struggle) she should be encouraged to do so, regardless of her husband’s discomfort.

A husband might wonder why his wife would even want to share their painful story with anyone anyway.  It is something most husbands have tried so hard to hide. They don’t like to acknowledge its ugly existence, much less have conversations about it. Here is what husbands need to realize:

  • We don’t like talking about it, we need to talk about it.  When we get the thoughts out of our head and express them and hear feedback, it helps us grieve.  It is like a valve releasing some of the pressure that has built up.
  • Talking about it helps us feel less isolated and alone.
  • Talking about it helps us organize our thoughts and emotions which feel out of control.  Any sense of control is calming in the midst of this storm.

I believe there are thousands of wives sitting in our church pews each Sunday, suffering alone in silence.  What can churches do to release wives from being their husband’s secret-keeper?

  • Become a congregation where people are real, suffering in this world is understood to be  inevitable and the body is involved in helping broken-people heal. This example will give courage to couples who are afraid to share their brokenness.
  • Give wives a safe and confidential place to share.
  • Hold husbands accountable to their positions as spiritual leaders Sunday through Saturday – do this from the pulpit, on the golf course, one-on-one, and in small groups.
  • Don’t support a theology of secret-keeping.

Think about it this – Who do we partner with when we help hide sin?  In 2 Thessalonians 2:7 the Bible says the secret power of lawlessness is already at work and will remain at work until the man of lawlessness is completely removed.  Church, we partner with our very Enemy when we encourage sin to remain hidden.  To do so under the cloak of “respect for spiritual authority” is a joke.  And the Enemy is laughing while our marriages are dying.

Leaders of the church, free these wives. Encourage them to get the help they need. If that means exposing their husband’s secret sin, against their husband’s will, then so be it.  It is the most loving and respectful thing they can do on behalf of their marriage.

Marsha Fisher and her husband Jeff are the creators of Inside Out Ministries and Porn to Purity.  They are using their marriage recovery story as a platform to shed light on the growing problem of pornography addiction within the church and the gospel-centered resources available for those who want to find freedom.

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  • wanthelp

    What if the spouse continues to deny any problems and refuses to get help or divorces the spouse for confronting the issue?

  • Atheoryoftime

    This is a very dangerous topic and you cannot over emphasize the need for confidentiality. I have known two men, one a married adult who committed suicide and another a teen who left the church and entered the drug culture and has disappeared and whose whereabouts is unknown. Perhaps these outcomes were inevitable, but we will never know. The teen was encouraged by the youth leader to give a public confession. This not only was disclosed at church but quickly spread around the public school. The husband was exposed when his wife shared in a small women’s group and the confidentiality was violated.

  • Marilyn Harding

    Well said! The problem of sexual sin in the church is growing at an alarming rate and the message of hope, freedom and healing has to be communicated to those caught in this web of deception. A partner whose spouse is dealing with sexual sin needs to find that delicate balance of grace and accountability. Quite often this calls for another trusted believer to come alongside the hurting partner to provide godly counsel and support. So glad this message is being delivered to the church. When truth is spoken, the potential for healing begins!

  • Mark Barnard

    Wow. At Blessing Point Ministries we’ve seen situations like this one. If the wife does not say anything and her husband’s behavior continues and even spreads in the congregation, she may blame herself later for not having said anything. For a pastor to actively engage in this kind of behavior may also mean that he is no longer accountable to lay leadership or that the lay leadership serves to protect the pastor. The longer the situation goes unaddressed the more dysfunctional the body, as a whole, becomes. When this happens in a church, there are larger questions that need to be addressed that have bearings on the entire congregation. Transparency, accountability and healing need to start somewhere. It usually begins with courageous individuals who risk the pain of disclosing sin. They may face the disapproval of some, but like those individuals in the church at Sardis who did not stain their clothes they will be rewarded for their faithfulness.

  • Pastor Ron

    I think the idea of the article is correct. I think that a wife should be able to seek help if something like this is happening and they are dealing with the pain of it. However, they can go to a trusted counselor that understands confidentiallity. They can find ways to cope, during the process, and maybe then find a way to get the husband the help he needs as well. If he sees the changes in her then it might help him desire change. None of what I am saying approves of this bahavior nor intends to tell a wife to not get the help needed for dealing with this. The assumption is that she loves the husband and wants to be with him. In the process to get the help, she would not want to so injure the relationship that there is no way for healing. However, that does not mean not gtting needed help for herself. My prayers are with the many who are dealing with this issue.

    On another note, the use of pornography among women is on the rise in great proportions. So, there must be information available for a husband that finds that his wife has this issue in her life as well.

    • Lori

      Pastor Ron, You, as many others, are assuming, the wife needs to change somehow. “If he sees the changes in her then it might help him desire change” You are still believing the lie that somehow the wife made him to this. Sin is sin. We make choices individually.

      • P

        Hello i cant believe i’m actually going to say this. But i am a wife whos husband is addicted to pornography. He has been for some time. However he ended up committing adultery and there is now a child in question.

        Brokenhearted of course, to say the least. If not for God and the people he has put around our family i would have gone ballistic, and walked away. But God has allowed this for his purpose, which is what he has revealed, as well as allowing me to keep my composer. I am determined to follow his instruction in order to get the end result he has promised, and be the example he wants.(Hebrews 10:36)

        Before this came out though he did start me on a path (Pastor Ron) you were right with what you said. No i hadn’t done anything wrong, however when i started counseling my husband saw changes in me that ultimately got him thinking and eventually came to sessions.

        (Lori) It isn’t that the wife has done anything but in these situations the pain of these situations can cause the wife to shut down and maybe act out of character, due to the extent of the pain and rejection. But God still requires us to love our husbands, still. Therefore for her own growth, sanity and children sake i think it’s best. As long as they think that person is confidential enough.

        All in love and anyone that may read this, going through something similar be encouraged and continue to renew your faith everyday(easier said than done i know). I haven’t reached yet and i cry everyday but before my fathers feet. Declaring that it is finished and breaking it so it does not even shadow over my children or their children. As hard as it may seem, (it was for me) continue to love your husband, affectionately. There is a higher purpose, it is well and God will have the glory Amen

  • Vic Christian

    I pretty much agree with the direction of this article. One question – what sins should the spouse share with others and which should they not share? I do not believe that the hurt spouse’s “healing” is the answer.

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