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Fatherly Advice: Should You Share Your Confession With a Spouse?

A listener asks Father Dave for advice about sharing details of his experience during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Dave shares, “Lately, when I go to Confession, [my wife] demands to know what I confessed. I said, ‘I don’t think it works that way,’ and she would respond, ‘We’re married, we should have no secrets between us’…It is a major thorn, because she’s very serious that I should tell her.”

Before giving advice, Father Dave first clarifies Church teaching regarding the Seal of Confession. “There is the priest who is hearing the confession, and the penitent who is the person confessing. Of those two people, one of them is absolutely, positively bound to never share with anyone what was said; That person is the priest.” He continues that while the penitent normally does not share their sins with others, one would be free to. If a priest breaks the Seal of Confession, he would be excommunicated.

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Father Dave considers why we don’t usually tell others the sins we confess, even those closest to us. “[The Sacrament] is a forum that is designed to be a place where you can be completely open and honest, and realize that it’s a confidential atmosphere where God works on your sin. No matter how much a spouse loves you unconditionally, God is going to love you more unconditionally,” he says. “That’s why that particular forum is so confidential and protected, because if you didn’t trust in that, you maybe would hold back with how honest you are. The Church and God want you to be completely transparent.”

Father Dave acknowledges that, as a priest, it is hard for him to give a married man relationship advice. Brett offers his perspective as a newly married man. “It is tricky because that is true, you’re supposed to share everything with your wife or spouse going in either direction,” he says. “If what she’s relying on is trust, then she also has to show some trust that this is a thing that you do. It’s Confession, and it’s supposed to be between the priest, God and you.”

Father Dave underscores that priests represent God during the Sacrament of Confession. “I would maybe offer the example of, ‘If I was quietly praying in my room and you saw me in there, after I came out would you insist that I tell you everything that I was praying to God about?’ I think probably she would say no, because it is an intimate one-on-one personal relationship that we have with God.”

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The guys also turn to Krista for her opinion as a married woman. She echoes Brett’s thoughts and says, “It’s a matter of that trust between yourself and your wife, and that’s going to look different for every couple…You know your wife better than any of us in this discussion. So how can you help ease her fears or whatever is nagging at her about this? How can you both get to the root of what is really bothering her?”

Father Dave says, “If you’re sitting before me as a priest in marital or spiritual counseling, I might objectively ask your wife, ‘Is there something that’s causing you not to trust him that would make you want to ask that question?’ For instance, it would be appropriate if there’s already a history where somebody has either been unfaithful or somebody has a problem with alcohol. It would be appropriate for us to set boundaries…We negotiate what those lines are with one another based on our trust, but also based on if there is something there [to worry about.]”