Last June was a breakthrough in my recovery and my marriage. It didn’t come easy. In fact, it was through several extremely difficult conversations.

Let me set the scene. My wife and I were just over a year into our marriage and she was eight and a half months pregnant with our daughter. (note: do not wait until your wife can potentially go into labor to have the tough conversations with her. Bad idea!)

I had just slipped up with porn and was feeling like crap. I had been getting and closer to freedom, going to recovery groups, and finding accountability from other men. My porn use had become less and less frequent (especially as my wife and I were enjoying our new marriage). But still I wanted another level of freedom.  

I knew a hard truth – I probably needed to have a difficult conversation with my wife.

I had told her early in our relationship about my porn struggle and she was very supportive of my recovery journey (and has been since). However, telling her that porn was still part of the equation even after we were married scared the “you know what” out of me.

I confessed to a buddy from church what happened. As we sat at our local Starbucks sipping our overpriced beverages I shared with him about the porn mess up but also mentioned another secret I was keeping from my wife: I had led her to believe I was a virgin when we got married, which was not true.

Then my friend, who also serves as a mentor to me, asked some tough questions about how I had slipped up and what I could do to change things. And then he laid it out. He said I needed to tell my wife the truth about both things.

He acknowledged that it would hurt but told me that honesty would strengthen our marriage in the long run.

I knew he was right. I was dealing with so much shame and fear, that I basically decided I couldn’t tell her about both at once. First, I told her about my slip-up with porn. She wasn’t thrilled about mess-up, which also triggered her to want to know more. Had I messed up with porn other times since we had gotten married? I confessed to her that yes, I had and agreed to be more open with her about my sobriety.

I figured that was enough for one day. So, I waited a few more days to tell her I was not a virgin on our wedding day. I was so anxious I chickened out about five times before I could finally get the words out.

I knew she would be crushed, and she was. That night was the hardest night of our young marriage. She went through a wave of emotions. It hurt her as bad as I feared it would. But being the amazing wife she  is, she didn’t ask me to leave or try to shame me. But she demanded something she deserved in the first place – for honesty from then on.

These two conversations led to a more open dialogue with my wife about porn, my online behavior, and masturbation. The subsequent conversations weren’t always easy for either of us, but I can say they have greatly benefited me in my recovery and strengthened our relationship.

When I asked my wife if I could share our story, she said yes, pointing out that having these difficult conversations has made our marriage stronger. 

I asked her what advice she would give to a guy who was struggling to open up and share his struggles with his wife or significant other. Here were her exact words:

“You think you are protecting her by living in a false reality, but you are actually hurting her more.”

Wow. My wife really hit the nail on the head.

In fact, from my own experience I can think of several reasons why having these difficult conversations with your spouse or significant other are beneficial.

1. It builds trust and intimacy. Rebuilding trust can be a slow process, but consistent communication and honesty will help her to regain trust in you and bring you closer together.

2. It provides accountability. When you know your wife is going to ask you or you have to share a report of your behavior, it can be a major deterrent in helping to change your behavior when it comes to porn and provides you with another layer of accountability.

3. It helps to get you out of the shame cycle. Perhaps most importantly it allows us to come out of the shame we are hiding in. As XXXchurch’s Carl Thomas points out in his book When Shame Gets Real...

“Shame is not about what you did, or what you said, or what you thought, its about who you are,” he says. “It takes the spotlight off your poor decisions and puts it on you. Shame lies to you and says, ‘If people knew what you did, they would never understand, and they will reject you like the worthless piece of crap you are.’ Shame attacks your very nature and identify.”

As Carl points out, shame keeps you stuck in believing that if your spouse or significant other knew what you struggled with, they would completely reject you – that you’ll be sleeping on the couch for months or worse that she’ll leave you for good.

However, I, like my wife, believe you run a greater risk by hiding your behavior and avoiding the tough conversations. That’s where the healing can truly begin. 

I want to caveat all this by sharing that I am not an expert on how, when and what to share with your partner. It takes discernment on your part and may be best shared with the help of a counselor.

One thing I would suggest is to take full responsibility for your actions – don’t try to justify, minimize, or sugar coat what you did. (I struggle with that part).

Also, don’t just let the conversation be a confession of your failures. That may be part of it, but you also need to focus on what you are doing to change and what you are going to do to restore and repair the relationship.

This is going to be a difficult process and she may need a group of women going through similar feelings of betrayal for support such as Live Free Wives or Small Groups Online offers.

Do what it takes.

Don’t continue to put it off until someday in the future. If the, “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy you have with your wife or girlfriend regarding isn’t working, it may be time to have a tough conversation.  And if you need help drumming up the courage to talk to her, ask God, he’ll give it to you.

Take courage. It can and will get better if you put in the work.