Handling sexual sin in a marriage

One of the most prominent and common sins in today’s culture is sexual sin. This can take many forms: pornography use, infidelity, lust, sex before marriage, and more. These sexual sins certainly occur before marriage, but unfortunately, they are also common within marriage.

Many couples come into counseling in order to deal with sexual sin. While God does give permission for divorce in the case of adultery, He does not require it. And when a couple attempts to stay together and move forward, there are a number of things that a marriage must conquer in order to recover.

Repentance. A marriage will have a very difficult time moving forward if the offending party is not genuinely repentant of their sin. This does not mean feeling bad for the consequence of the sin, but a heart change that recognizes sin as sin. Even if they struggle to stop the sin (perhaps dealing with ongoing lust or pornography addiction), a heart of repentance is the key to getting right with God, and then right with each other. 

Feelings of anger, sadness, and betrayal. It in incredibly hurtful to realize to deal with your spouse’s sexual sin. Sexual sin has a unique and powerful impact on our most intimate selves (see 1 Corinthians 6). A marriage cannot move forward without acknowledging and dealing with these emotions. 

Rebuilding trust. This takes time. Usually, a long period of time. It takes action on both parts – to identify what is needed to rebuild trust, to actively work to accomplish those things, and to be willing and able to deal with setbacks for both parties. It will be hard to trust, even when everything is going “perfectly.”

Forgiveness. God does not require divorce, but He does require forgiveness. If we are called to forgive our enemies, we are certainly called to forgive our spouses. Whether couples get divorced or not, forgiveness is central to moving forward in life. 

Changed habits, routines, and relationship dynamics. If nothing changes behaviorally, it is unlikely that the sin will remain in the past. This often means looking back to identify anything that created an avenue for the sin to occur. Typically, the offending spouse has habits to break, in order to change the availability of sinful action. And usually, the couple has to work together to change their dynamics, perhaps increasing emotional intimacy, scheduling date nights, or being more transparent with social media or phone use. 

This is not an exhaustive list. But these elements can be conquered by the couple willing to work hard to save their marriage. Of course, through all of this, the most powerful tool the Christian has is prayer. Cover your marriage in prayer today – hopefully, before sexual sin has taken root and must be dealt with. Trust the Holy Spirit to lead you and your spouse. And know that iHope is available if marriage counseling is needed.

Written by Jessica Hayes
iHope Communications Director