What Should I Do if My Spouse is Deep in Sin?
Is your spouse struggling with sin?
I mean, we all struggle with sin, but perhaps your spouse is deeply entangled in a particular one, with no real desire to get out. Seemingly powerless against it.
Not only is it affecting your spouse, but it has begun to affect you, your marriage, even your children, friends, and family.
Do not despair.
There is hope.
So, what should you do if your spouse is deep in sin?
The quick response:
Don’t ignore it
Forgive and ask for forgiveness (if needed)
LOVE them through it
I know- it’s MUCH easier said than done.
Because sin is painful. The effects of it are extensive, wounding our already tender hearts over and over again. Whether it’s a husband entrenched in pornography, a wife who’s heart is hardened with bitterness, a spouse whose words cut deep, or (fill in the blank), sin is going to affect your marriage.
So, what’s the good news?
The good news is two-fold when it comes to loving your spouse through their sin:
God specifically and intentionally placed you with your spouse to help both of you grow to look more like Him (Proverbs 27:17)
God has equipped you with the tools you need to navigate through even the roughest waters (Philippians 4:19, 2 Corinthians 9:8)
God isn’t surprised by your spouse’s sin.
He actually anticipated it, and guess what? He’s already covered it with the blood of His own Son, Jesus (1 John 1:7).
God isn’t surprised by your reaction to your spouse’s sin.
He gives us exactly what we need (His Word and His Holy Spirit) to trudge through the sin sickness and come out victorious.
But we must trust Him; press into Him. Otherwise, sin will do what it does best, which is isolate us from one another.
Is your spouse distancing themself from you? Maybe they feel judged for- or convicted/ashamed of- their sin. Perhaps you’re pulling away because you don’t want to get entangled in their downfall?
Either way, sin isolates us from one another; we mustn’t allow it to. Rather than pulling away, move toward your spouse in powerful, loving pursuit. (For help with pursuing your spouse, read How Powerfully Pursuing Your Spouse Can Change Your Marriage.)
what should we do when our spouse is deep in sin?
Let God be our example; after all, He is the perfect One!
God shows us all throughout the Bible how He handles His people, who constantly stumble in their sin. (Here is a LIST of just 10 of them... there are many more!)
First, some things He does NOT do. God doesn’t:
Ignore our sin and pretend it isn’t there
Hope it will go away on its own
Complain about our sin
Slander us by putting us down
Can we honestly say the same when it comes to how we react to our spouse’s sin? We are all guilty of some (if not all) of the reactions listed above when we cave to the pain and frustration we feel from the affects of our spouse’s sin.
But GOD… I’m so thankful He loves us better than that.
We have not earned God’s favor. (Ephesians 2:8)
We have pushed Him away, and yet, He loves us.
Then He loves us some more.
And when we think He’s done, He loves us yet again.
He is constantly drawing us to Himself, over and over.
The kind of love Jesus models for us and commands is radical, but possible with HIS guidance and strength. We must take our mustard seed faith and put it in action by loving our spouse like He loves us.
We must love how HE has called us to love; with a covenant love, not conditional contract love. (This concept is vital to understand if we want our marriage to withstand the trials it will face and be a reflection of God’s love. For a deep dive on covenant love, read our most popular blog post: The 1 Decision That Will Bring REVIVAL to Your Marriage or listen to the podcast HERE).
Covenant love is proven and refined in the crucible of marriage where difficult sin is present and pervasive.
Love like Him
Remember how I said loving like Jesus is radical?
Let’s look at an example of that radical love in Luke 15:3-7: The parable of the lost sheep.
Jesus said, If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Loving like Jesus means leaving the 99 and going after the 1 that wandered away with passionate pursuit and abundant grace. That is radical love.
This is a passage about the Shepherd and His sheep; those who’ve already been brought into the fold. We’re already believers, yet- just like the sheep- we tend to wander away from the safety of our shepherd’s watchful care. Enticed by “greener pastures,” we grab hold of empty promises that tell us something else will fulfill and satisfy.
Think about it: how many times have you stumbled away from God’s commands because you think your plan is in some way better? Trust me, I’m not pointing fingers… (Except all 10 of them and more if I had ‘em! at myself.)
As many times as we slip the sheep pen in search of something better, that’s how many times our Savior chases us down to bring us back to Him.
Again and again and again.
In total, Jesus uses 3 word pictures in Luke 15 to help us understand the lengths to which He would go to get us back. For more information on all three, click the links below:
When your spouse is entrenched in sin, don’t try to shame them, beg them, ignore them, coerce them, or drag them out of their sin. Instead, drop your 99 other quests, distractions, hindrances, and reasons to avoid them, and GO AFTER THEM! Pursue them with reckless abandon and radical love.
(For more on the power of pursuit and how it can transform your marriage, listen to PART 1 of our Powerful Pursuit series, or read How to Get Out of Survival Mode in Your Marriage- Part 1 and Part 2).
Sow and Reap
God knows loving like Him may feel like an uphill battle at times, so He reminds us in Galatians 6:9 to not grow tired of doing good, because at just the right time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Don’t miss the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping. More on that in a moment…
First, back up a few verses and read: 1 Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path, restoring that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself.
God has put you in your spouse’s life for such a time as this. To sow a good seed and reap a bountiful harvest in the future.
Are you sowing a good crop in your spouse’s sin? Be gentle. Be humble (because we are ALL sinners, right? [Romans 3:23]). Bear their burdens and help them back onto the path of God’s Word.
Or, are you sowing a seed in your own heart of bitterness toward their sin, keeping score of all they’ve taken from you and your relationship?
(If you struggle with bitterness toward your spouse, check out How Do I Stop Resenting My Spouse? PART 1 and PART 2. If your marriage scoreboard is always counting, take a moment and listen to THIS).
Whether you recognize it or not, God’s principle of reaping and sowing is happening in your marriage right now. It might be time to check the label on your seed packet and see how often you are cultivating your patch of ground.
Look back for a moment at Galatians 6:1 (above). It warns us to watch ourselves or we may also be tempted.
You may not be tempted by the same sin as your spouse; in fact, their sin may repulse you (you could never imagine yourself doing that).
BUT… you may need to check your self-righteousness; is it making you believe you’ve got it all together? Are you thinking your spouse better shape up and meet your standards… or else?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I must be blunt. If we’re being self-righteous, waiting for our spouse to meet our standard or get their act together...we are in sin, too.
This is a dangerous sin because it’s harder to recognize. It takes a greater amount of humility to admit, confess and seek forgiveness for it.
God does not make provisional allowances for our sin based on the difficult time our spouse’s sin is creating.
We don’t get to say, “Well if YOU would stop __________, then I could stop ________.” We need to stop making excuses for our own sin.
God says, Be holy as I am holy (Leviticus 11:45, 1 Peter 1:16). Being holy might just mean facing your own sin as you love your spouse through theirs.
Vow to Change: An Encouraging Call to Action
Have you ever said these words to your spouse:
I’m mad at you for doing this
I’m right and you’re wrong
I’ve just been waiting for you to apologize and make it right (sitting in judgment)
Maybe not, but you probably communicate those thoughts with your actions, non-verbal cues, responses, and tones.
Your spouse knows.
Now imagine what could happen if, in gentle humility over your own sin of judgment, bitterness, perhaps even hatred, you went to your spouse and asked for forgiveness?
What do you think your spouse’s reaction will be?
That is your challenge today:
Seek forgiveness first- even if you’re only responsible for 5% of the problem. (Is giving and seeking forgiveness difficult for you? Read Help! My Marriage is “Stuck!” and listen to How to Help a Hurting Marriage: Forgiveness- Part 5).
Remember: God’s Holy Spirit is enough to sustain you. You are NEVER ALONE. He will help you to: 1) Come alongside your spouse, not as a judge, but as a loving partner and friend. 2) Love them enough to help them onto the right path. 3) Be faithful even when being faithful comes at a cost.
God knows that staying holy in grace and humility, lovingly walking alongside your spouse in the face of being wronged is NOT natural; it is supernatural.
And so, He calls us to Himself, so that in HIS strength, we love our spouse despite their sin.
Because it is a powerful testimony of God’s grace and love; a testimony your spouse is experiencing and others are observing.
So, will you give your spouse- and the world- a glimpse of God’s powerful, pursuing, overwhelming, life-changing, merciful, all-encompassing love?
What a perfect love it is.
To go deeper, listen to this post's corresponding podcast:
Q & A: Praying Together & How to Handle Your Spouse's Sin (Part 2) :: [Ep. 156]
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