Forgiving Your Partner’s Past: The Perspective
I was 19 and had just been kicked out of Bible college when I met Cait. It started because she was someone to talk to, and at the time, I didn’t really have many options. I was 1,500 miles away from home, and going back after getting expelled wasn’t an option. As things evolved from friendship to dating, it didn’t take long for me to realize she was different than other girls. Before I knew it, I became a gross, sappy, lovesick puppy. I really hadn’t dated much in high school, partially because I felt awkward and partially because I felt the options were few and far between. You can imagine how surprised I was when things with Caitlin progressed much faster than I had ever experienced with anyone else. I knew within a month that I loved her. I still remember the first time I told her. We were sitting in her red Jeep at the back of a parking lot. I had never used those words with anyone before, and I felt the significance of the moment as they left my mouth.
With all of the things I loved about her, there was just one area that seemed too big for me to get over: her past. She began to be sexually active in middle school. During those years she had oral sex more times than she could count. Though she never had intercourse, the thoughts of her in back seats, movie theatres, or at parties giving some guy oral sex began to haunt me.
I had grown up a bit differently… You see, I was “Mr. Purity,” at least in my own mind. I had never been with a girl, looked at porn, been drunk, etc. My personal story created a self-righteousness, making me feel entitled to have a girl who was also “pure.”
We had come to the point in our relationship that I couldn’t keep moving forward without addressing this. It consumed my mind. I was beginning to talk about it with people close to me, and I was coming to the conclusion that I couldn’t marry her. I couldn’t get the images I had created of her with these guys out of my head.
Finally, I decided there was only one way to feel better: I told her that I had to know everything she had done. I wanted to know who, how, and what happened. She was apprehensive and said, “I don’t feel like the same person I was back then. When I think back, it feels like someone else’s memories. I’m willing to tell you, but it will be painful to relive.”
We didn’t talk through it right away, and over the next couple days, God spoke to me. When I was praying with him about Caitlin and her past, He had an opinion and told me, “If you can’t forgive her, then you can’t be a pastor. I can’t use a person who preaches about my grace but doesn’t understand it. If you understood it, you would never make her walk through this and hold it over her.”
Instantly, a download of what grace and forgiveness really were flooded my mind and heart. I realized what I was asking her, the pain it would cause her, and how self-righteous it was of me to demand it. Most of all, I realized I had misunderstood grace. All of a sudden, the words in Matthew 6:14-15 became clearer to me:
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
This verse wasn’t an ultimatum, but rather a window into my soul. If I forgave freely without making her pay a price or make amends, then it was proof that I understood the grace of God. However, if I required more of her than Jesus Himself was requiring of mankind, then I was agreeing with a spirit of religion.
From this, God began to teach my heart what grace was. We weren’t even talking about Caitlin anymore; the Holy Spirit was teaching me about the cross. In Psalm 51:4, David is asking God for forgiveness of his sin with Bathsheba and then murdering her husband to cover it up. In David’s prayer, he says this to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned…” At first glance one could think, David didn’t just sin against God, He sinned against Bathsheba, her husband Uriah, and even Joab for commanding him to play a part in murdering Uriah. This verse begins to make more sense when we are looking at it through the right filter. We as humans tend to make everything about us. God spoke to me and essentially said, “Oh no, it’s much worse than if she had sinned against you. She sinned against me. If I can forgive her, then you don't have the right to hold it against her.”
God chose to forget Caitlin’s past (Hebrews 10:17).
How dare I hold on to something that not even our Creator was holding onto?
How dare I exercise a right that God Himself was choosing not to exercise?
Asking her to recite her past would have actually contradicted the work that God was doing in her. The problem wasn’t her past but my inability to understand the power of grace. By asking her to tell me everything she had done, I was making her relive the pain. I was essentially demanding that she make penance for sins that not even God was asking her to make.
I chose to let it go and not ask her to tell all. I forgave her and truly released it in my heart. In the process, I realized that God was using me to be a part of His healing agenda in her. By forgiving her and seeing her as Jesus did, I joined in her healing process. It brought me into God’s plan for her healing rather than being counterproductive to it.
For those in my position, before you demand to know things about your partner's past, spend some time with the Lord. God may have a different idea for what your next step should be. His guidance and wisdom allowed me to forgive Caitlin’s past and go on to marry the girl I fell in love with all those years ago.