This post is an excerpt from Step 2 of the False Love seminar manual. If you read the content and feel like this is a very weighty step, you are right. But it is a vital step in marital restoration. It is advised that you and your spouse have a counselor or mentoring relationship to support you in this process.
- Note: This post is best read in tandem with accompanying post “Responding to a Full Disclosure: Marital Restoral After Sexual Addiction or Adultery.”
Understanding the history and development of a behavior, even a sinful behavior, can be an important part of changing it. Often we forget, or never noticed in the first place, when and why we began to do something. When this happens that action feels completely “natural” and, therefore, its continuation is reinforced through our ignorance of ourselves.
“Recognizing how my pattern of sexual obsessions first developed its particular shape helped the tumblers fall into place for me in terms of understanding myself (p. 16).” Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’s Pornography: Slaying the Dragon.
There is another reason for this kind of examination in our day. Where do most people today learn about sex? Movies and internet. Or, conversations with friends who learned about sex from movies and internet. Romance movies/novels and pornography are defining our sexual expectations. Because this is “all we know” for so many people (enhanced further by how little we talk about sex in church or family), the deceitful and destructive messages of these media forms stay in place to fuel our sexual sin.
“The sexuality of a whole generation of children is being formed not by talks with their parents, not by reading the kind of book I was given as a young man, but by professional pornographers who will do anything—anything!—to fuel an increased desire for increased depravity (p. 13).” Tim Challies in Sexual Detox
As you go through this section, your goal is not just to identify when you began “doing” bad but when you began in “believing wrongly” about sex. As we will explore more in chapter three, sinful behavior is rooted in deceitful beliefs or expectations. We believe that other things (in this case relationships, marriage, sex, or sexual fantasy) can give us what only God can give. It is easier to surrender these beliefs (biblically called “dying to self” Luke 9:23) when we understand when they began and how they have been reinforced throughout our life.
Before engaging the primary exercise for this section, there is a caution that needs to be given. While overcoming sexual sin, it is easy to begin to view your sexuality as evil or as your enemy. As you examine the history of your sexual sin, this is likely correlated with but not the same as your history of sexual development. We become sexually aware and enter puberty before there is a holy expression for our sexuality. In recent decades with the advance of nutrition causing an earlier onset of puberty and our cultural age of marriage getting older, this gap is increasing. This means that the window of temptation is larger, but should not be used to mean that sexual sin is inevitable (I Cor 10:13).
“That’s why it’s so critical to understand that sexual drive isn’t the same as lust. For example: (1) It’s not lust to be attracted to someone or notice he or she is good-looking; (2) It’s not lust to have a strong desire to have sex; (3) It’s not lust to anticipate and be excited about having sex within marriage; (4) It’s not lust when a man or woman becomes turned-on without any conscious decision to do so; (5) It’s not lust to experience sexual temptation. The crucial issue in each of these examples is how we respond to the urges and desires of our sexual drive (p. 35)… Misplaced shame can be dangerous because it saps our strength for fighting our real enemy. A person who is wrongly ashamed of being a sexual creature with sexual desires will quickly feel overwhelmed and helpless because he’s trying to overcome more than just lust—he’s trying to stop being human (p. 37).” Joshua Harris in Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is)
Exercise: Preparing a Full Disclosure
Using the outline and questions below create a chronological history of your battle with sexual sin. The outline will be built around the categories from the evaluation tool in chapter one.
Write out your answers on separate pieces of paper and leave room for questions raised by your counselor, accountability partner, or spouse. Be honest. Retreating back to lies or “partial truths” at this point destroys everything you are working towards.
If you are married, this exercise should be used as the basis for your “full disclosure” to your spouse. This full disclosure is not the same thing as the confession you will be asked to do in chapter five. But it is appropriate to ask your spouse’s forgiveness for the things you share and to let him/her know that you will be returning to them to further seek his/her forgiveness as you come to understand the spiritual and relational significance of your actions in the coming chapters.
Don’t try to convince yourself or your spouse that you fully “get it” at this time.
“An issue most people struggle with is the advisability of confessing undiscovered affairs, both past and present. Confession is vital in restoring honesty and rebuilding trust… Treating your mate as fragile or fearing conflict are inadequate reasons for not confessing (p. 349).” Doug Rosenau in A Celebration of Sex
Read Proverbs 12:13-28. Before you begin writing your full disclosure take time to consider this passage that portrays the difference between a life of honesty and a life of deceit. The honesty and transparency of your words will be the difference between peace and despair, joy and misery, life and death. You will likely be tempted to think that further deception and concealment is the only way you will know peace, joy, and life; but be wise and hear this advice – that is a lie (12:15). If you want to build enduring relationships, speak truth; if you want your world to continue to crumble, hide the truth (12:18). The Lord will delight in you if you are honest, even if that honesty is the confession of sin (12:22). Continued deceit will weigh you down with anxiety, but confession is the first step to joy (12:25). You have been headed towards death, but honesty is the path to life (12:28). Remind yourself of these things frequently as you work on your disclosure.
- Objectifying People: When did you first notice that you classified people by favorable-disfavorable physical features, had a strong pull towards certain relational qualities, or began to fear people who had certain “strengths” you desired? How did you begin to arrange your life to pursue, be liked by, or avoid these “better” people? How did these changes in your social life result in isolation, social fakeness, over dependent relationships, or serial relationships? How has sin led to shame then secrecy and ultimately isolation?
- Public Visual Lust: What features are you most prone to notice and linger upon? What locations or activities are (present sin) or have been (development of sin) the most frequent or concentrated sources of visual temptation? How have you (past or present) arranged your schedule to feed your appetite for public visual lust?
- Private Narrative Lust: What romantic or erotic themes repeat themselves most in your private narrative lust? What insecurities are calmed or desires met through these themes? What movies or books best capture the themes of your private narrative lusts? How much time do you spend consuming these kinds of romantic books or movies? How much time do you spend in private fantasy about these themes?
- Soft Porn: What was your first exposure to soft porn (catalog, magazine, commercial, fuzzy TV channels, lewd conversations with friends, etc…)? What current exposure to soft porn do you have? What parts of common life experience or conversation do you sexualize to the point of becoming soft porn?
“Sexual addiction seems unmanageable because acting out seems to just ‘happen.’ Sex addicts must learn that this is not true (p. 62)… Stopping rituals is key to stopping sexual acting out. Rituals are all the thoughts and actions that lead to sexual acting out (p. 153).” Mark Laaser in Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction
What rituals do you go through as you prepare to participate in soft porn (these questions on rituals apply to all types of sexual sin behavior)? How do you slowly move towards your sin, even if you are telling yourself you’re not going to indulge this time? What lust triggers do you continue to expose yourself? What habits frequently precede your sexual sin? How do you use sexual sin as a “reward” for completing a task or doing good?
- Hard Porn: What was your first exposure to pornography with full naked bodies or sexually explicit scenes? How much time do you spend looking at pornography per week? How much money have you spent on pornography? Do you have any active subscriptions to pornography? In the last three years what is the longest period of time you’ve gone without viewing pornography? Do you have pornography hidden anywhere (physically or electronically)? Do you have any secret e-mail accounts?
- Interacting with Real Anonymous Person: What website, phone numbers, or other services do you use to connect with these people? Do you use a chat room, social networking sites, or match-making services to connect with people? How much time do you spend “fishing” for a “conversation” partner? Have you put your real name and contact information on any websites? Have you sent real pictures of yourself (nude or non-nude) or communicated with a webcam (casual or erotic)? As you get to know someone does the relationship become more or less appealing? Have you ever scheduled to meet someone? How many steps did you take towards meeting?
- Emotional Affair without Touch: [For single men or women these questions may not be relevant unless your dating partner is married or in a committed relationship with someone else.] How did the relationship begin and when did the conversations become more trusting and or self-disclosing? What negative statements have you made about your spouse, your marriage, or your family? Have the two of you told each other that you are attracted to one another? What means of hidden communication do you have? When and where do you talk? What steps have you made to hide this communication from your spouse? What life circumstances have made it easy to hide this relationship? Does your interaction include date-like activities? Could any actions you have taken jeopardize your employment? Was the relationship fueled by dissatisfaction with your spouse or attraction to the other person?
“We suggest that one of the first steps in extracting yourself out of an emotional affair is to come home and confess to your spouse. Some might think, Wait a minute; this one I don’t need to confess because nothing really happened. It’ll only upset my spouse and cause even more problems… This confession will accomplish three things. First… it diffuses the power of secrecy… Second, it helps prevent the escalation of the relationship… Third, it is a great motivator to immediately end the relationship and begin working to rebuild your marriage with your spouse (p. 238-239).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful
- Sexual Touch without Sex: How much physical touch was involved: holding hands, massage, hug, kiss, removing articles of clothing, fondling sensitive areas, or oral sex? With how many people have these touches occurred? With each person, how many occurrences of sexual touch have there been? With each person, over what length of time did these touches occur? Who or what stopped the sexual touching from becoming more intimate?
- One Time Sexual Encounter: How many people have you had “casual” sex with? When and how have you been the pursuer in these sexual encounters? When and how have you intentionally placed yourself in compromising situations for these encounters to occur? Has there been reason to fear pregnancy resulting from these sexual encounters? Have you paid for sex? Have alcohol or drugs been involved in your sexual activities?
- Affair in a Committed Relationship: [For single men or women these questions would address fornication (pre-marital sex) rather than adultery (extra-marital sex).] Answer all questions pertaining to an emotional affair. When did the sex begin? What percentage of your interaction with your adultery partner was sexual? What expressions of love and commitment were exchanged (verbal, gifts, risks, trips, etc…)? Was the relationship considered romantic or merely “friends with benefits”? Who knew about, condoned, or encouraged the relationship?
- Affair as a Pseudo-Spouse: [For single men or women these questions would apply to situations of co-habitation.] What plans were made to leave your respective spouses? What research or other action steps were put into these plans? What family, friends, or children were introduced to your adultery partner? What actions have you taken to emotionally, financially, or otherwise protect your adultery partner at the expense of your spouse and family? What lies have you told yourself or others about your spouse in order to validate your choices?