Confrontation is never easy – especially when the one you love is involved in sexual sin. Like a sponge filled with water, your heart can become saturated with unanswered questions. One question leads to another, time passes, and still you hardly know where to begin. Over time, two problems develop in your family: your partner "acts out" sexually and you "act in" by obsessing privately over what to do.

Most of us desire peace at any price. Unfortunately, this peacekeeping mission is more often motivated by fear than virtue. Fears become like companions to us. Doubts hound us. What has my spouse done? Won’t s/he leave if confronted? Is s/he thinking of someone else during sex with me? Has s/he already become physically involved with someone else? What else has s/he done that remains a secret? And, paradoxically, Why won’t s/he have sex with me?

The potential answers to any of these questions are often perceived as overwhelming. With personal emotions bouncing from denial to minimization to exaggeration, spouses can become as erratic as those who are acting out sexually.

Despite our fears, however, we must push ahead with confronting our spouse. Confrontation, while painful and intimidating, is the necessary first step toward reconciling your marriage and bringing about personal healing for yourself and your spouse.

What’s your motivation?

You confront because you care. Armed with knowledge that your spouse is acting out sexually, you have no other responsible option. Your information may be incomplete, but any verifiable evidence of illicit sex is enough. This could include, but is not limited to, viewing pornographic materials, visiting sexually explicit chat rooms, browsing adult bookstores or going to strip clubs, frequenting prostitutes, engaging in voyeurism, exhibitionism, or sexual behaviour with others. Indecisiveness won’t do – not if you hope to save your marriage.

When done correctly and motivated by love, confrontation becomes an act of profound compassion. Frankly, it’s easier in the short run to look the other way. If you intend, however, for your marriage to overcome adultery of any type, you must confront if your spouse fails to confess. To quote Dr. Dobson, "love must be tough" – and consistent.

As you gather the facts and your feelings, build your confrontation around a body-mind-spirit approach. Hopefully, you know intuitively that it won’t be enough for your spouse to simply quit looking at pornography. In reality, the aberrant sexual behaviour is merely "the tip of the iceberg." Buried beneath the self-defeating behaviours lie distorted thoughts, damaged emotions and a wounded spirit. With this tri-part approach in mind, you will need to prepare your key points thoughtfully, and even in writing, if only for your review.

The body. Sexuality is powerful because it alters the brain’s chemistry and function, which influences both the will and the physical health of the body. Sex has the undeniable power to be either physically beneficial or as addictive as crack cocaine. For both men and women, the brain remains the most important sex organ. Virtual adultery committed online, with a magazine, or in any other form, can become as addictive as literal sex with another human being. In fact, because a wider variety of pornography can be used more frequently and with greater anonymity than sex with an actual partner, the potential hazards to your marriage may be even greater.

Because illicit sexuality can be addictive, a progressive degeneration can increase the risks for acting out physically. Once physical sex with others begins, your spouse’s body – and yours – is at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

The mind. Like the stacks in a large university library, the mind stores whatever the brain takes in through the five senses. This archive becomes a mix of thoughts and feelings that affects one’s belief systems. With the influence of illicit sex, a person’s value system undergoes a radical change that often includes a double life, the hiding of pornography, a horrid fantasy life, or other sexual behaviours like habitual masturbation.

Over time, illicit sex will further damage a person’s beliefs about men, women, marriage, children and sexuality. Risks escalate in an effort to increase the addictive high, while trying to satisfy an unidentified soul hunger. Sadly, there will never be enough sex for the sex addict not in recovery. Your confrontation, however angry you feel, can be a loving gesture that may help to arrest the runaway train of addiction.

The spirit. Sexuality is inherently a spiritual endeavour to find a deeper sense of personal worth. The sexual bonding that occurs with another person, whether in body or mind, has the power to restore or enslave the spirit. In every case, sex affects the human spirit with the precision of a laser beam – the direction of the laser beam depends upon the context of the sexual experience itself.

Our spirits seek moments of transcendence that defy our pain and despair. In an unhealthy and imperfect way, people who act out sexually are seeking such transcendence. While this behaviour often results in a physical release that comes through orgasm, thus substituting for spiritual release, the act further ensnares the person in a cycle of guilt, degradation and eventual destruction. Anesthetizing their discomfort, spouses who act out sexually have no real appreciation for the damage they are committing against themselves, their partners, their children – and their Creator.

Concern for your spouse’s spirit should be even greater than that for his or her body and mind, for the spirit contains the mysterious, yet sacred opportunity to link the deepest parts of human beings. Knowing that illicit sex is a trap, your bold love can move you to a far greater act of service than you ever imagined.

The bottom line

In addition to love, confrontation must be centred on principle. The dialogue should never degenerate into who is right, but should focus on what is right. You can expect your spouse’s reaction to be problematic initially. He or she may be angry or may issue an outright denial. Your partner may be anxious or prone to cover up the sexual sin. Most likely, you can expect a debate to ensue – if you’re willing to enter this irrational dance.

Being principle-centred, you can remain grounded in what you know about your spouse’s issues and what you know to be right. Sexual sin never truly benefits anyone, and your confrontation may be the catalyst that prompts your spouse’s transformation, as well as your own. As is sometimes the case, your spouse may have wanted to stop this behaviour for some time, but has felt trapped in the addictive cycle. Your confrontation could be the lifeline he or she is more than ready to grab to be pulled to safety. Time and hard work will determine if this repentance is sincere or not.

There’s always the trap of believing that, if your partner would simply stop the behaviour, you could live happily ever after. Even before you confront your spouse, it’s more realistic and advisable to think in terms of a three-way cry for help. You, your spouse and your mutual relationship need a comprehensive recovery that plumbs the depths of what it means to be married. At the conclusion of your confrontation, you need to be prepared to state your non-negotiable expectations and the therapeutic resources you have identified.

Without a doubt, one of the greatest gifts you can offer to your partner is the timely confrontation of any inappropriate sexual behaviour. No other single behaviour has the power to harmonize the bodies, minds and spirits of a husband and wife like the prayer of sexual intimacy.

Rob Jackson is a licensed counsellor with Focus on the Family in the U.S. where he specializes in calls related to sexuality, marriage and parenting. Jackson has provided counselling services through his private practice since 1991 with an emphasis on helping individuals recover from sex addiction through integrated care that helps people mature and heal spiritually, psychologically and behaviourally.

Yolanda Brown is a licensed counsellor with Focus on the Family in the U.S., specializing in calls related to sexuality, marriage and parenting.

© 2004 Rob Jackson. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

Our recommended resources

Join our newsletter

Advice for every stage of life delivered straight to your inbox