Forgiving Your Partner's Past: The Questions
Q: A pastor and marriage counselor told me that when the woman is sexually experienced and the man is not, it can happen that she is not sexually satisfied with her husband and eventually finds her way back to her past partners when things go bad. What practical ways can I communicate with her in the future to know where she is at without creating an awkward or tense situation?
A: This is a common fear for couples. I definitely struggled with that during a season in my own process. I want to preface that I am not a counselor, but I can share what helped me. I had to choose to trust. Trust can be a challenging thing to give. Most often it is earned and is more subconscious than we realize. It might be helpful for you to reflect on if you truly trust him/her. If the answer is no, then you have an important conversation to have. Lacking trust leads to jealousy, anger, malice... I think you see where I am going. None of those things are fruit of the spirit or qualities of love. Lack of trust robs our ability to love and be loved. It may be important for you to uncover that.
I can’t directly speak to how common it is for someone to cheat that is sexually experienced, but I would encourage you to focus on trusting God’s hand in your marriage more than you do other people’s situations. Create a healthy stream of communication between the two of you. You have to be able to ask each other questions that may feel offensive. The more open you can be about your feelings throughout your marriage, the more freedom you will both live in. Find a way to express your insecurities to each other and talk in your relationship without it being offensive. Your goal is for your marriage to be the safest place for you to talk about your thoughts and feelings.
Q: I am getting married soon. Both of us are born again and on fire for Jesus. We are mutually madly in love. I have one difficulty. I have saved myself 100% but my fiancé hasn't. He/she regrets it immensely and we are healing together. How do I go to our honeymoon night when in my head I am insecure about being naked and vulnerable with someone "experienced"? How do I get past feeling like I am just another option/fix when he/she starts becoming sensual (kissing)? Especially if he/she still struggles once in a while with addiction relapses?
A: My personal belief is that sex within God’s design for marriage and love is very different than the experience outside of His design. I have no scientific or even experiential proof of this, but we all need to be able to trust our spouse. The situation that concerns me is that you said they still struggle once in a while. That means there is still internal work that needs to be done in them. Current sin and struggles can be very damaging and marriage DOES NOT fix these things, nor does it fix sexual addiction.
A friend of mine says, “In relationships, two halves don’t make a whole.” I would encourage you guys to seek complete healing from the current struggles. As for you, it’s important for you to be able to trust your spouse. You need to have as many conversations as you can so that your heart knows they will be faithful. Living in fear of failure does not align us with who we are called to be. God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, of love and of a sound mind.
Q: For almost 3 years now, I am not able to get over my partner's past, even though his/her past isn’t that ‘bad’ at all...I have tried almost everything, spoken to a counselor, gone to seminars about emotional healing... Do you think the point is reached where I just need to break up with him/her? It feels like I missed something in my own past and want to have other partners now as well or be sexually active...
A: First of all, I can’t tell you what you should do with your relationships, you need to hear the Holy Spirit on that one. I would say it’s important that you ask yourself if you feel he/she has been fully honest with you. I don’t encourage people to brush over things. If you believe they have been honest and you still can’t forgive him/her then yes, I would say you need to seek God and ask Him to give you a revelation of how He sees him/her.
In regards to you wanting to become sexually active, I can’t speak to the pain it causes because I haven’t experienced that, but I can speak to the freedom it secures. Our marriage has had its fair share of ups and downs, many of them in regards to sex, but the hardest thing has been watching my wife go through pain as she seeks healing from past experiences. Make no mistake, “casually” engaging in sexuality has consequences. My wife has experienced powerful healing but not without significant intentionality. She often says, “What took me moments to get into took me years to get out of.”
On the other side of the coin, my lack of sexual experience before marriage has given me the freedom to give her the space to find her own freedom. I have never once wished I was more sexually active before marriage. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. We both often find ourselves thankful that God covered me the way He did because it has been a gift to us both. Be careful not to allow broken thinking to begin to define your beliefs. Rely on the Bible and what you know to be true. Be the best, healthiest version of yourself so you can give your spouse the strength they need to find freedom.
Q: How do I NOT compare myself to his exes?
A: First of all, this is a common challenge for people regardless of their belief system. When you are marrying someone with a sexual past, it is pretty common to wonder if they compare you to past relationships or even compare ourselves to the other people. I have been guilty of doing this from time to time. I will just give you what worked for me and hopefully it will be helpful. I made the choice to trust what I see and experience. What I mean by this is, I am not going to project problems onto our relationship. It’s so easy to just let our minds run with doubt, fear, comparison and so many other negative thinking patterns.
In our relationship, if I sense or experience something with my wife, I talk about it with her. Then I take her answer at face value. I don’t let my mind add other meanings to things, unless the Holy Spirit highlights something to dig into deeper. This can be a challenging thing to do, but it builds trust.
In regards to you not comparing yourself to their ex, you need to trust you are enough. I would give you this advice in general and it especially applies to your relationship. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you your value, talk with your partner about the value you bring to the relationship, try to understand it’s not a competition of who was the better boyfriend or girlfriend. Living your life striving to be better than someone else will crush you because you will lose sight of who you are.
Q: I've been struggling with the hurt. I assume that women and men deal differently with this, but I’ve been challenged with haunting images that drive me to tears on a weekly basis. Would you say that I still need some processing to do if that is the case? What would you say is a healthy way of dealing with it and a healthy perspective on what happened? How do we reconcile that this person's body was supposed to belong to us with everything being made new in Christ and His restoration in our lives?
A: I completely understand where you are coming from. I want to be clear on this: it is totally normal for it to hurt. I fully believe 1 Corinthians 7:4: when we become married, our bodies are not our own but given to each other which is why we feel pain when our spouse didn’t wait. These feelings are valid and need to be addressed, but the conversations need to lead to forgiveness.
Forgiveness doesn’t say, “This doesn’t hurt, or it’s okay.” Forgiveness says, “that hurt but I forgive you and choose not to hold it against you.” Take time to process what you are feeling. Don’t brush over how their past makes you feel because then it will come back like a volcano later. Rather, take it to the Lord and your partner. The main key here is to make sure you come to a place of resolution. It’s human nature to experience pain, but I don’t believe we were meant to live in pain for extended periods of time. Talk about it, go to counseling, talk to a pastor, whatever you need to do for as long as it takes but make sure you come to a place of resolution and don’t pick the pain back up again.
Q: I myself had a similar background to you, growing up a Christian and saving myself for marriage. I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye and always thought I would marry a pure virgin like myself. In some ways, I feel the emphasis on purity in Christian culture created virginity to be an idol for me. So much so that I also considered if I wanted to marry my wife when I learned during dating that she had been sexually active with multiple people before finding Jesus at 17. I guess my question for you is whether you also linked your struggle with forgiving your spouse to what you were taught growing up as a Christian around pure = virgin?
A: I agree in theory with what you are saying. I think that the way the church teaches purity can turn it into an idol (btw I love the way you put that, I'm going to steal it!) However, the church can never stop teaching the truth, and I believe this truth to be a godly goal. Where we fail is thinking that virginity is purity rather than a fruit of purity. Purity is given by God, not earned. Virginity is a fruit of it, just as not looking at porn is fruit, or taking thoughts captive, etc. I wouldn't change what was taught to me, but every lesson must be filtered through the Holy Spirit.
Here is the much bigger question you should ask yourself: do you trust your wife? I trust my wife. She has always been open with me. She doesn't hide her feelings and didn't try to cover up her past. I chose not to make her relive it. We Christians really struggle with our view of "fairness."
If you do, in fact, trust your wife because she has been honest with you, then you have to ask yourself if you view yourself as more holy than she is because of your choices. Many Christians might not consciously realize it, but we take too much pride in our personal accomplishments rather than boasting in Christ. Matt 20:1-16 might be of some help to you. You and I are the workers that started in the morning. Our wives are workers that started at lunchtime. We all get paid the same wage: forgiveness, wholeness, purity, joy and ultimately heaven. Our problem as lifelong Christians can be the feeling that we should get paid more even though it's only by the cross that we even have access to God.
In conclusion, I think you are right as to where the struggle comes from. I would encourage you to ask Jesus to help you really understand the cross because I believe that will help you see your righteousness from the right perspective.
Q: I'm currently in a relationship with someone who has been married before. He married young and his wife left him just a couple of years later. We got together almost 1.5 years ago and I believe we are a great match and we love each other very much. However, sometimes his past just bugs me. The part that is still difficult for me is that he was married to someone else. It was a conscious choice, a promise to another woman. When did you know you truly forgave her (and could move forward)? Do you have extra tips for a situation when your partner has been married before?
A: God's design for marriage is that it lasts forever, so there are a lot of very real things to process and work through as a result of divorce. I would say that it's completely normal to need to process through your partner's past relationship, considering the level of intimacy he has shared with another person. I think it's important that you not move forward towards marriage until his intimate past (sexual, emotional & spiritual) doesn't feel threatening, scary, or regrettable to you.
That said, I'd try to keep in mind that inside of marriage, sexual intimacy is not only permissible, it is healthy! The fact that he had a sexual relationship with his first wife is actually good and right because it was in the context of marriage. It might be helpful to keep in mind that neither he nor his ex-wife ever did anything wrong by having sex inside of their marriage, and therefore I don't think there's anything to forgive. While it can be painful to think about your partner sharing that level of intimacy with another woman, I do not think that forgiveness is the key to breakthrough. I think the keys to breakthrough here include the following: ensuring that your identity is firmly established in Christ and ensuring that your relationship is firmly established in a foundation of trust.
Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of trust, and over time trust is built through repeated success. As you're dating someone and considering marriage, you do not want to move the intimacy or commitment beyond your level of shared trust with one another. So it would be great for you to evaluate how much you trust that your boyfriend's healing journey is complete! If you trust that he has walked through healing with accountability and vulnerability, if you trust that his heart is to love you and choose you above all others, and if you trust that his desire is for you alone, then he's probably in a good place to consider marriage. If, despite trusting him in all those areas, you still have pain or fear surrounding the fact that he's been sexually intimate before, I'd be willing to say that the issue is probably on your end and might have something to do with insecurity and fear... both are issues of identity.
Second marriages can be tough because of the intricate dynamics that you seem well aware of! My biggest piece of advice to people navigating the possibility of marriage after divorce is to invite wise counsel into your relationship and get lots of good input from people you trust to help you make great decisions out of love!