A third mark of real repentance is that a spouse will welcome, without resentment, increased accountability. If you say you’re not looking at porn or contacting a previous flirtation (or worse), then you shouldn’t have any problem letting your spouse pick up your phone or IPad and scrolling through the messages or history. There is no good reason I would care if my wife looks at every app on my phone. If she finds out I ordered her a surprise birthday present, that’s on her. There is no good reason I should be afraid if she checks out where I’ve been on Amazon or Netflix or surfing the web. Why would I care unless there was something I didn’t want her to see? And why wouldn’t I want her to see it unless I shouldn’t have been doing it to begin with?
Secrecy is hiding and by definition the opposite of intimacy. Some people think they can have their “sin on the side” and their spouse’s intimate affections, but that’s a lie. Repentance is, at root, a choice: “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” You’re calling your spouse to make up his or her mind: Do they want to be married, or not? You’re not interested in a quasi-marriage where they are half-single and half-spouse. You will be all-in with them, responding with grace, forgiveness and generosity, but they have to accept the main course of marriage before they get to enjoy the desserts.
One husband sinned greatly with several extramarital affairs. The wife had full biblical “permission” to leave him; no pastor I know would have objected. But she thought she saw a real change for the first time so they went to a place that specializes in sexual addiction. The counselor set out the conditions: “Your wife is going to write down 30 questions that she has always wanted to ask you. You’re going to be hooked up to a lie detector and a detective is going to monitor every answer. She’s finally going to get all her answers, and you’ll submit to this lie detector test every four months for the next two years. And by the way—one more act of unfaithfulness and she is going to divorce you.”
The husband agreed and through much counseling and confession their marriage was restored. At the end of two years the marriage had become so sweet that the wife told her husband, “You don’t have to take the lie detector tests anymore” but the husband said, “Yes, I do.”
You see, that’s real repentance. That’s a man who realizes the harm he has done and the harm he is capable of doing again so he welcomes accountability. His desire to stop hurting his wife is greater than his desire to “enjoy” the sin that wounds her. He knows the latter desire is not yet nonexistent so he takes concrete steps to guard himself and ultimately protect his wife from further pain.
Contrast this with a husband who had “dabbled” in meth. He and his wife have two small children. When his wife said it wasn’t safe for her and the children to share the same house with a meth addict, but she was willing to work with him if he would enter recovery, he said he was done with meth, recovery wasn’t necessary, and he refused to consider any drug tests. That’s not repentance. Lying and addiction are virtual synonyms. A repentant addict knows this and admits it and sees the tests as necessary steps for healing.
One husband who got it had displayed controlling behavior over his wife until a separation woke him up. I told him he had to be more concerned for his wife’s welfare than he was over her return. “If you truly love her, you shouldn’t want her to return until you know she won’t be hurt by this behavior anymore.” He later told me that sentence hit him like a sledgehammer and he kept repeating it to himself until it was true. He really didn’t want his wife to agree to live together anymore until he was certain there had been a heart change sufficient enough to protect her from his former behavior. Today they are back together and enjoying the best season of their marriage to date. Why? Real repentance ushered in grace, mercy and healing.
If you are the offending spouse and your spouse is willing to hang with you, you owe him/her real repentance. Not a minor change that keeps them silent for a few more months, but an admission of guilt, a major overhaul of behavior, concrete accountability to maintain the change and a heart transformation so complete that you don’t even want to get back together until you are relatively certain that, under the grace of God, your behavior won’t make your spouse miserable any more. Anything less is not real repentance.
If your spouse is on the treadmill of saying-I’m-sorry-but-never-changing you can say, with some integrity, “Being sorry isn’t about what you say or even about how you feel. Biblically, it’s ultimately about what you do.”
This article originally appeared here.