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How do I minister to my former wife after sexual addiction?
Throughout my entire marriage, I struggled with sexual addiction (including numerous one-night stands). After confessing my sins to my wife, she understandably divorced me. I have been free from the addiction for almost two years, but I would also love another chance to love my wife and perhaps reconcile our marriage. From your perspective, how can I best minister to her knowing how I’ve abused her trust?
First of all, congratulations on the progress you've made in recovery! I'm very encouraged by your heart of love and compassion towards your former wife. In my mind, the fact that she hasn't remarried means that there is hope (even if it seems the size of a mustard seed). To answer your question, I can only speak from what it took for me to trust Dave again and what I've seen with couples that we've worked with. Here are a few suggestions of where you might start:
Continue in recovery — One of the reasons that women end marriages when there’s been serial adultery (numerous one-night stands or affairs) is that they believe that there is absolutely no possibility that they could ever trust their husband again. In their minds, simply too much damage has been done. This is especially magnified when the addiction continued hidden over a long period of time. She may think, “Our whole life together was one big lie. We have nothing to build on.”
By staying in recovery (Patrick Carnes has documented a five-year recovery process that he has found applies to most), you continue to regain the losses sexual addiction brought to you and your family. You also lay the best possible foundation for reconciliation and the possibility of building trust.
Bathe your ex-wife and children in prayer — I believe Dave and I would have never made it if I hadn’t gone to war in prayer for our relationship. Pray for your ex-wife and your children’s continued healing. Pray that God will put a woman in her path who can help her who has also been through sexual addiction. Pray that God will show her the need for her own personal healing. Every time you get the opportunity, ask her simply, “What can I be praying for you about? What can I pray for the children about?” Later, follow-up with her and find out how those areas (that you’ve been praying about) are going.
Look for opportunities to serve — Continually look for ways you can lighten her load and encourage her. Be willing to do these things on her timetable and in ways that she’s comfortable with. Look for ways to lay down your life for your family.
Ask her for an opportunity to talk — Let her know that you’re continuing to seek to change and that you’d like a chance to hear her out, i.e. what she thinks you still need to change, how your sexual addiction hurt her and your children. If she does allow this, then pledge to only listen.
Your only responses would be to reflect back her, “Wow, that must have been devastating,” to take responsibility, “I can see that I’ve caused you great pain,” and/or to apologize, “I can’t tell you how sorry I am for hiding my sin from you,” and most importantly to be thankful, “Thank you so much for being honest with me. Is there anything else you’d like to say?”
Suggest family counseling — If you aren’t currently in counseling, you might talk with a Christian sexual addiction counselor about your desire to reconcile with your wife. Then you could eventually approach your wife and ask for a session with the family. If you haven’t done this yet, this can be a tremendous protection to your children and a place where your wife can safely process some of her own feelings.
Show your changed life — If you haven’t found your way to being friends again, that would be a great place to start. Be willing to listen, especially when what she shares is hurtful. Go to friends outside of her to give you support and strength when her responses are hard to bear. What you are demonstrating to her is that you are no longer the husband who deserted her emotionally, spiritually and sexually. Remember, it’s one thing to have someone who has hurt you deeply tell you that they’ve changed, it’s another to see the changes firsthand.
Most of all, I’d suggest that whatever steps you take to love your ex-wife and help her heal, that you do it with no expectation of anything in return. (Certainly, a good daily prayer would be to surrender her and any hope of reconciliation to God.) One of the hallmarks of sexual addiction is manipulation, and if she feels like you are serving her with an agenda, she may fear that you haven't changed.
I’m guessing the question this might all bring up is, “How would I know if I could broach the topic of reconciliation?” That, I think you can only know through much prayer and advice from those who know you and her well. My thought would be to first demonstrate your desire to be in relationship with her.
Then, I think there could be a time where you say something like, “I want you to know that my heart’s desire and my prayer to God is that at some point, we might explore being together again--starting over. But even more, I want you to be happy. If you decide you’d be happier with someone else, I want you to have that. I want what's best for you. And no matter what happens, I still love you and always will.”
At some point, if she were to show any interest at all, then I'd think you'd start very slowly with going out on a few dates. If those go well, then you might begin courting her, slowly and prayerfully.
I know this is not an easy path, but remember that her path to healing won’t be easy either. For both of you, I believe your best hope is the path of the cross.