Singles and newlyweds alike often assume that, after getting hitched, married sex resolves the issue of lust. Personally, that was my assumption before I was married, but lust doesn’t go away even though marital sex may fulfill desire.
Lustful thoughts and glances for someone other than your spouse can still occur after the wedding night, and lust just doesn’t disappear even if you have a healthy marital sex life (as evidenced by pornography and adultery within marriage). And to state the obvious, it isn’t just men who have this issue within marriage.
After being married for two years, I found myself lustfully daydreaming about other men around the same time I discovered that pornography was an issue for my husband.
Long story short, through anger, tears, prayer, support from our church community and the grace of Jesus Christ, pornography isn’t an issue in our relationship anymore. But honestly, that doesn’t mean that lusting after others outside of marriage doesn’t still happen.
Although every married couple is different, we found a biblical solution that allows us to be honest about the issue of lust in a way that doesn’t cause additional anger, fighting and drama. It also can stop lust in its tracks:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16 ESV
There is an incredible beauty in having a safe space within your marriage to confess sin without judgement or retaliation. This space can take a long time to build, especially if you have experienced past hurts or retaliation from your spouse for being honest, but it’s worth the effort it takes to create that safe space.
Within a loving and healthy relationship, being open about lustful thoughts or desires for those other than your spouse with your spouse can have an amazing affect. Not only do you have an intimate accountability partner, it can open up honest conversation about needs that may be going unfulfilled.
Although it can feel shameful or embarrassing at first to say admit “I’ve had trouble thinking about a coworker lately,” “I keep having these unwanted dreams about our mutual friend,” or “I felt tempted to look at porn today” out loud to your spouse, after many times of practice, it isn’t embarrassing anymore. In fact, it can be freeing—and helpful—especially when your spouse reacts with love and grace.
If your spouse has just confessed having lustful thoughts or actions, what’s the best way to respond? It’s normal to feel hurt, angry or shocked after hearing that. The person receiving the confession may be tempted to respond with anger and harsh words, but I think there might be a better way.
Take the action laid out for us in James 5:16. Pray for your spouse and for the specific issue—whether that’s protection from lustful thoughts or healing from the stronghold of lust. Maybe even hug and thank them for being so vulnerable to talk about the issue with you, rather than hide it or feel shameful.
Have a conversation about intimacy needs. Confession could be a great opener to having that discussion for the first time and help you discover something new about your spouse. Do you need more quality time together? Has it been a while since you went on a romantic date? These conversations can be beneficial, lighthearted and fun.
However, if these types of confessions continue on a regular basis with no change, or if the issue of lust has crossed boundaries into cheating or pornography addiction, seek guidance. A small group leader, trusted pastor or marriage counselor can be a good start. We found that talking one-on-one to a married friend who had been married longer than us was helpful.
Holding a confession of lust against your spouse in order to try to make them “repay” you for any hurt you feel only makes things worse. Not only that, it can make your spouse feel like they do not have a “safe space” within your marriage to confess future sin. Trust me, I have experience in making this exact mistake.
It’s not as simple as “forgive and forget,” but then it is. If lustful temptations haven’t crossed over into lustful actions and your spouse is being honest with you about them, that’s amazing and healthy! What would be the benefit about using past confessions against your spouse for ammo during future arguments?
Noting that one of you experienced lust for something outside of your marriage, addressing it and moving on from it is a gracious thing. There’s no need to bring it up again after it is addressed. There’s no need to punish one another with words or by withholding sex. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:5, “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” The last thing a spouse needs after confessing sexual temptation is for sex to be angrily withheld.
Having trouble forgiving? Feel like you are being reminded of your past sin in every argument? If things are increasingly uncomfortable, seek help from someone you trust or a counselor.
It’s a brave and vulnerable thing to confess the temptation or sin of lust to your marriage partner, and we must respond in a way that we would want someone to respond to us. After putting this into practice in our own marriage, we recognized the benefits. Not only did we feel more known and safe with our spouse for sharing such (sometimes embarrassing) thoughts, we found that as soon as we confessed it to one another, we usually didn’t have those same nagging thoughts anymore.
In my experience, confessing temptations or lustful thoughts actually led to laughter on occasion. After building a safe space for confession, when you feel confident in your love and dedication to one another, it can sometimes feel silly to lust after anyone else.
Please note: I am not advocating that sexual temptation or sin be taken lightly, but that confessing temptations before they become actions within a marriage can be helpful and preventative. If you are trapped in sexual sin or find yourself in a relationship with someone who is, seek help from someone you trust.