Before We Met: Dealing With a Spouse's Imperfect Past
"Couples who've had sex before marriage will inevitably have sexual difficulties in marriage."
That's what Joe Beam, marriage expert and president of Family Dynamics Institute, said to a large audience of married couples. Through Family Dynamics Institute's work with thousands of couples, we've learned that the emotional results of premarital sex, in most cases, negatively affect many aspects of a marriage.
More than half of those who marry today bring sexual histories into their marriage, and wringing our hands over the issue isn't going to help those struggling with the consequences in their relationships today.
So what can be done about marriage difficulties that result from premarital sex? I have some suggestions that have helped others who've approached me about the issue.
1. Confess. It's good for the soul, they say. It's also good for your marriage. If he doesn't know you had sex with someone before you married him, he needs to know. He especially needs to know if it is responsible for struggles in the bedroom. He can't fight an enemy he doesn't even know exists and if you want true intimacy with him then you need to share everything about yourself.
Your spouse will probably be hurt by the news. I didn't say it would be easy, but if you want to overcome the guilt and intimacy issues that often come with having a sexual past, you have to eliminate secrets (except of course, what you're getting him or her for Valentine's day). I don't mean you flood your spouse with all the details of your past encounters. Usually telling the basics will suffice, but tell as much as he or she wants to know. That way he knows you aren't keeping secrets from him, and so do you.
An intimate marriage with no secrets can overcome most of life's obstacles. So the first step to overcoming a sexual past is to strengthen your relationship by bringing your past out in the open. Obviously, this is a two-way street.
2. Differentiate. Sometimes each spouse enters marriage with a sexual past. Even if you are guilty of having a sexual past, it's hard to fight the feeling of betrayal if you also discover your spouse committed sexual sins before marriage.
The reason it hurts to learn of the sexual past of our spouse is due to something I believe God put inside each one of us--the desire for privileged rights with another person. We want to share the most personal parts of ourselves with another person and to experience the same from that person. We want to share something with our spouse that is different and separate from any experience he or she has ever had with anyone else.
When we learn that another person has experienced the deepest, most hidden parts of our spouse, we feel cheated. We feel as though we've been robbed of something that should only belong to us. We actually feel violated by sharing our spouse with another person, even if it happened a long time ago.
Therefore, it is essential that we are able to reclaim that privileged right to our spouse. We've got to have something together that no one else has (or can have) with him or her.
Think and pray long and hard on this: Determine why you chose your spouse over anyone else. Determine what makes your marriage special and unique. Find something that the two of you can cling to as sacred and shared only by the two of you. Use that as a focal point and a continual source of security when you or your spouse experience the guilt, regret, or pain that results from your sexual pasts.
3. Pay attention to the link between your sex life and your emotional health. Many times your sex life reflects the overall health of your relationship. If you have feelings of comfort and happiness at the thought of sex with your spouse, usually your relationship is in good shape. But when you have negative thoughts about sex with your spouse, with the exception of periodic physical complications, many times it means that you and your spouse are emotionally distant.
When your relationship is in good shape, sex should be a natural result. It's the outcome of a good relationship where each spouse feels secure, appreciated, understood and loved. And, after a certain level of emotional health is reached, sex makes vital contributions to the emotional health of a marriage. Make sure you understand the importance of your sexual and emotional relationship with your spouse and act accordingly.
Though these suggestions are not a quick fix, I believe they are effective in addressing the problems that arise from having a less-than-perfect past. Other couples have put these suggestions into practice, and it has worked. I'm convinced they will work in your marriage as well.
Lee Wilson is a ministry consultant at Family Dynamics Institute, a marriage and family ministry that works with churches and concerned Christians to build strong, healthy marriages. You can visit their Web site at www.familydynamics.net or call them at 1-800-650-9995.