Rebuilding Trust Again—Picking up the Pieces When You’ve Been Discovered – Part 1
With the recent news of the Ashley Madison hack, and the exposé of a number of Christian men who either had signed up for the service or, worse, actually used it, Bob Heywood, who lived through his own journey of needing to rebuild trust with his wife after years of secretive pornography usage, gives his thoughts on what some of the first steps need to be on the part of the offender. This 3-part series does not answer the legitimate question of whether the offended spouse should stay or leave, but if the marriage is to survive and grow, these first few steps will be critical.
You’ve been found out. You’ve messed up and you’ve messed up big time. You have violated the boundary lines of sexual activity that God has put in place, and you have crushed your wife. You think you know how bad it is. But chances are good you still aren’t thinking clearly right now. You haven’t a clue how deep sexual betrayal runs. You can feel the pain you caused, but you still don’t know all the ins and outs of your sin.
The worst first step you can make is to say, “I’m sorry” and plead that you won’t ever do it again. Sorry is not going to be enough this time, if you think it will ease the pain. But whose pain are you trying to heal at this point? If your goal is to get rid of the pain, and move on, then you are just doing what your sexual sin was trying to accomplish in the first place: rid yourself of pain.
As much as you might want to put your marriage back together, I believe the real issue is not: how do we move forward again, how are we going to pick up the pieces?
The real issue right now for you is: will you honestly look at the damage you have done to your wife, and to your marriage? Will you name it and own it?
You have to own up to the fact that your behavior has crossed lines that bring death to a relationship. We can speculate about what Adam and Eve were thinking about before they ate the fruit. But it was when they ate the fruit that death occurred. They crossed the line, and everything changed.
By doing what you did, you crossed the line; you’ve eaten the forbidden fruit. Everything has changed now. The fallout is deeper than you think. Maybe Adam and Eve wouldn’t have eaten the fruit if they could have seen the possibility that their one action would eventually lead, through uncountable years of human history, to a world overrun with violence and suffering. But that doesn’t really matter right now. We are living in a world that they created, and we keep sustaining. So you must face your own self- made catastrophe because you didn’t consider the consequences.
No matter how your wife found out about your sexual sin (whether you got caught or you confessed) she now needs to process the fact that she doesn’t really know who you are. A whole chunk of your life has been lived in secret—from her. Now she feels like she has been living with a stranger all these years. You may think this isn’t so big a deal, but it is. Can you imagine what the wife of Dennis Rader felt after finding out that she was married to a serial killer for 30 years—and for three decades she related to a man that lied to her every minute of every day? I know that sounds like an over-the-top example, but do you get the point? How can your wife easily trust you again, when for (how long? how many years?) you presented a part of yourself to her, every minute of every day, that was a lie?
You shouldn’t be surprised that she is now asking herself questions like, “Does this mean that every time he walked out the door and said he was just going to the store he was really going somewhere else?” She feels like she has to turn into some sort of private investigator or detective. This wasn’t her calling when God asked her to be your wife. She is wondering what these women on the Internet have that she doesn’t have. She struggles with wondering what is wrong with her, even when she isn’t to blame at all for what you did. She wonders if her husband ever really loved her at all, or was that just another lie.
I know I’ve been very negative up to this point. But one thing I’ve learned in my own journey is that God works in real-time. He does his work in reality. It does us no good to paint the picture different than it really is. The corner we’ve painted ourselves into looks bleak.
But there is hope! And it can only start when we get real with what our behavior has done—how it has deeply hurt—our spouse, and honestly face up to the damage we have inflicted. It can’t start any other place. Start naming the damage—to God and to her.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17).