I once came across a wedding party while walking on the beach in Australia. The bridesmaids had their dress hems lifted high and were making an elaborate design in the sand with their bare feet by walking around in a huge spiral.
The following day I walked past the same area and looked for evidence of their sand art, but it had been erased by the high tide. No traces of it remained—only memories.
At that point, I wished every wife who struggles with something from her husband's past could be there with me—women like Kelly, whose husband was president of his college fraternity and hosted many a wild party before accepting Christ . . . Laura, who married a man that had previously turned to the single bar scene for comfort after his father died unexpectedly . . . or Maryann, whose husband had asked his high school girlfriend to abort the baby they accidentally conceived. Oh, if I had a dime for every man in the world with a past sexual mistake, and a nickel for every woman who'd fallen in love with such a man, I'd be a very wealthy woman!
If you can relate, let me say the same thing to you that I wanted to say that day on the beach:
"Whatever we've done in the past—whatever our spouse has done in the past—it's been washed away! The tides of time and God's forgiveness have erased the past, so why do we pretend it's still following us around like our own shadow?"
When Jesus died on the cross, he did not say, "Forgive them for their sins—except for the sexual ones. Those are too big, so I'm not dying for those today!" It sounds ridiculous to even consider Jesus saying such a thing. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the blood Jesus shed is more than sufficient to cleanse me of every sin I've ever committed—and every sin you or your husband have committed as well!
If you're still obsessing over your husband's sexual experiences prior to marriage, do yourself a favor and remember that by God's grace and mercy, it's gone! His past sin has been washed away, just as yours has, so don't let memories of the past haunt you like a ghost. Don't let yesterday's regrets rob you of today's relational connection.
Regardless of what kind of colorful past your husband may have had prior to marriage, I urge you, buck up and be the rock he needs you to be! Don't take your spouse's sexual mistakes personally. It was likely never about you, especially if you weren't even in his life at the time. Be "Jesus with skin on" to him. Let your commitment paint a vivid picture of God's unconditional love and mercy, revealing that self-worth is not based on a sexual scorecard, but on who we are in Christ.
Some guidelines to consider
Although I feel it's important for a couple to be honest to a degree with one another about their sexual history (particularly a history that involves sexual abuse, addictions, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancies, and/or abortions—simply because there may continue to be physical and emotional fallout as a result of these painful experiences), I also wholeheartedly believe that certain boundary lines need to be drawn so that "new trauma" isn't created during these conversations.
For example, a friend recently shared with me how she regretted pressuring her husband to share more and more details of his sordid past. The confession she coerced out of him included what hotel chain he'd typically frequented, and where he preferred to eat breakfast with his partner the next morning. "Do you have any idea how many Hilton Hotels and IHOP restaurants there are in Seattle?" she bitterly inquired of me one day. I had no idea, but my guess is that she knew exactly how many because that scab was ripped off her wound every time she drove by one of those establishments.
If confessions still need to be made (not just to satisfy morbid curiosities or to quell insecurities, but to truly bring healing), the conversation should stick to the nature of the sin, but refrain from giving the gory details of the sin. Such unnecessary details include: 1) the personal identity of previous sexual partners; 2) specific sexual acts previously engaged in, and 3) Specific places where those acts took place.
None of these tidbits of information serve any purpose other than to create painful reminders of a spouse's sexual misconduct each time that person, place, or thing is encountered or engaged with.
Rather than focusing on the who, what, and where of a person's sexual history, focus on the lessons learned during those seasons, what the healing process has looked like since, and how you as a spouse can support him in his continued growth.
Focus on the positive, not the negative
Instead of focusing on a past you simply cannot change, focus on what you can impact—the present and future. There is power in remaining positive. Choose to win your spouse's heart day after day. Choose to walk in forgiveness. Choose to let things go and and never throw his past up in his face. Choose to be his passionate lover, and I guarantee that all previous lovers will pale in comparison.
No matter how many sexual partners are in your spouse's past, take comfort and pride in the fact that although you weren't his first, you can certainly be his last. No one else can love him as completely and unconditionally as his wife can.
Put security into practice
Before you let your own personal insecurities ooze out and ruin the fibers of your relational rug, consider taking a more mature, confident approach. See if you're able to make the following declarations to your spouse:
- I believe in you 100 percent and I trust the Holy Spirit is operating in you.
- Although you're a fallible human being, I know your conscience will be your guide.
- I don't feel the need to go behind your back to check up on you or micromanage your life's activities, and that feels really good.
- If I have any concerns about your marital faithfulness, I will ask you with complete confidence that you will be honest with me, regardless of what the answer may be.
- As we continue "putting all of our emotional eggs in each other's baskets" from day to day, I have no doubt you'll treat my heart as carefully as I'll treat yours.
Simply stated, your best strategy is to set the standard high as to what you expect from both yourself and your husband (sexual and emotional exclusivity), then live up to that standard and believe your spouse will do the same. That way, insecurities won't have a chance to develop or fester.
Also remember that a person is innocent until proven guilty, so keep your personal insecurities in check as your own issues to deal with until you know more, rather than attempting to prosecute him prematurely, which can certainly poison the relationship.
Faithfulness can't be required, but it can certainly be inspired. Displaying security in a marital relationship says, "I have a high enough self-esteem to expect my spouse to be fully committed to me." On the other hand, relational insecurities declare, "I have such low self-esteem that I assume no one–not even you—will ever be faithful to me!" This is certainly not the image any woman wants to project!
Of course, there will be times when memories of past relationships will come up, both for you and for your spouse. But that doesn't have to pose a threat to your mental sanity or emotional sobriety. Simply let those past memories serve as spiritual markers of how far your spouse has come in the journey toward sexual integrity, and celebrate the progress he has made. Become his biggest cheerleader and assume the best of him, and see if he doesn't rise to become the man of integrity you believe him to be!
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Shannon Ethridge, M.A., is an AACC-certified life coach and author of the bestselling Every Woman's Battle and the recent release The Passion Principles. Visit her at www.shannonethridge.com and follow her @ShannonEthridge.