How to Address Unrepentant Sin in a Spouse

It’s heartbreaking to discover that your spouse is struggling with a sin or addiction they are unwilling to confront. Unlike someone who is struggling with sin but continues to repent and guard against it, your spouse seems to show no interest in changing. They might pay lip service to repentance, but you don't see any lasting practical changes to truly cut themselves off from sin. You may feel angry, helpless, lonely, or discouraged. How can you possibly love your spouse well through something like this?

Why is it important to address my spouse’s unrepentant sin?

Anything that’s dishonoring to God, harms someone (you, your spouse, or others), or significantly damages a relationship needs to be lovingly addressed. Ignoring the problem is not helpful to anyone.

Your spouse’s sin negatively affects you. It inhibits oneness between the two of you and likely hurts you personally (if a spouse’s gambling puts your finances in jeopardy, for example). But the most important consequence of your spouse’s sin is that it hurts their relationship with God. Knowing that your spouse cannot experience God’s best while continuing in sin, it is unloving to allow sin to continue unchecked. In fact, the Bible specifically says that if anyone is caught in sin, “you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). Calling sinners to repentance isn’t just a nice thing to do; it’s the loving thing to do.

How do I bring up my spouse’s unrepentant sin?

Before addressing your spouse’s sin, examine yourself first. Have you overlooked something sinful in your own character or behavior? It’s much easier to recognize someone else’s wrongdoing than your own (Matthew 7:3—5). Be humble and open to anything God might reveal. If you do uncover something, own it and apologize for it right away.

It’s also important to try to forgive your spouse before confronting them. Forgiving their sin against you does not mean giving them a free pass or pretending you haven’t been hurt. It simply means entrusting justice to God instead of vengefully trying to get it yourself. Forgiving your spouse first frees you to approach them out of love and concern for their relationship with God rather than out of resentment caused by their sin.

With your own heart in order, you can prayerfully approach your spouse, gently but directly addressing the sin. Remember, your goal is not to get an apology, but to help your spouse recognize their sin and their need to align with God. Remind your spouse of the commitment you made to each other and explain the effects of their sin.

Work together to find a solution. Ask questions and gather information; try not to make assumptions about your spouse’s motivations. Above all, affirm your love and support. It’s the two of you against the sin that seeks to harm and divide you, not you against your spouse. Even when suggesting solutions, talk about “us” more than “you”:

“I want to put protections in place, take steps for us to get healthy, and involve other people to support us. We can’t do this alone. We may even need to go through recovery together. I know that God wants us to deal with this so that together we can experience the marriage and family he designed. I am committed to that. Will you work and pray for this with me?”

What if my spouse isn’t willing to change?

If you and your spouse can’t agree on the best way forward, you may find yourself at an impasse. At this point, it can be helpful to bring in mediators—a few trusted friends who can offer wisdom. Sometimes this outside perspective will be enough to bring about resolution. Other times, you may need to “widen the circle.” This might mean talking to professional counselors, church elders, etc. Remember, involving others does not mean hand-picking people who will “take your side.” Both you and your spouse should be open to constructive feedback.

If your spouse professes to be a Christian, they should recognize the authority of church leaders to speak into your lives (Hebrews 13:17). If they are unwilling to be shepherded, they are effectively separating themselves from the church body. At this point, you must treat them like you would an unbeliever (Matthew 18:15-17).

How do I treat an unbelieving spouse?

The apostle Peter encouraged the wives of unbelieving spouses to win their husbands over not with arguments or challenges, but with purity and reverence. While Paul was addressing wives in this passage, it is true for both husbands and wives that what you live out will make more of an impression than what you say.

A defiant spouse who refuses to come under church authority and is in open rebellion against God will not hear even the most well-reasoned arguments. The best thing you can do for them is to love without an agenda and set clear protective boundaries. Will your spouse be won over? Maybe—and maybe not. But like God’s servant Hosea, who was told to marry a prostitute and remain faithful to her no matter how often she strayed, you will be a picture of God’s grace and enduring forgiveness.

Showing love and faithfulness to someone who has betrayed you is difficult, as is separating your spouse from your spouse’s sin. This can be a lonely road, and you won’t walk it perfectly. Make sure you don’t attempt it alone, surrounding yourself with wise, trustworthy believers who can encourage you when it’s hard. Above all, rest in God’s sovereignty and pray. Ultimately, He is the one who changes hearts. You are responsible only for obedience, not for the outcome of that obedience. Entrust your spouse and marriage to the God who is in the business of reconciling sinners to himself; he is always working, even when you can’t see it.

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