How to Handle Your Spouse’s Sexual Past
Three Sins to Fight
Long before I was even considering marriage, a Titus 2 woman shared with me the pain of confessing her sexual history to her future husband. “It was hard,” she told me. “We both cried. We both repented. It made us a stronger couple.”
I remember being grateful for her openness with me, but also feeling that her story didn’t really apply to me. My romantic history can be shared in about sixty seconds, and the physical aspects of those relationships would make it an even minute and a half. And, as for the history of whomever I was going to marry? That was easy: I would just forgive him. What was done was done. Case closed.
After I got married, my naivety didn’t strike me like a bolt from the blue — it dawned on me slowly, after a series of hard conversations, mixed emotions, and hesitant confessions. I have become so grateful for that woman’s honesty, and for the example of her strong, decades-long marriage. I’ve learned that there are several sins I need to fight on my quest to nurture a healthy relationship with my husband.
As a teenager, I often heard the same illustration about guarding my heart. I was warned that forming too many romantic attachments before marriage was like giving away little pieces of my heart. “If you’re not careful, when it comes to your husband, you won’t have any pieces left to give.”
Although well meaning and wise, this warning from Proverbs (Proverbs 4:23) beckoned me to place my assurance in a whole-hearted future with my husband. However, I also needed to be instructed to root my heart’s affections in the only one who can ultimately satisfy (Matthew 22:37).
Sexual immorality is an enemy of an upright heart (Galatians 5:19), but pride also ranks high on the list (Mark 7:22). In running from the former, I was often guilty of the latter. It is easy to put our sexual purity on a pedestal and forget the state of our hearts. Ultimately, our satisfaction comes, not from being history-free virgins when we are married, but in resting in the righteousness of our Savior and spurring one another on to live in light of that truth.
If the blood of Christ was enough to cover my sin of arrogance, couldn’t my Savior renew a heart that had been broken into pieces? I knew that the answer was yes. And in light of Christ’s forgiveness of my own sins, I was ready to forgive whatever sins my husband would have to confess to me (Ephesians 4:32). It was finished. No need to dwell on it. Let’s just move on.
While your spouse’s past may be quickly forgiven, the apathetic glossing over of a confession may do your relationship more harm than good. There is a time to grieve over sin (2 Corinthians 7:10), and to discuss how that sin may impact your relationship going forward. Whether you need to discuss interacting with an ex, how to keep pornography out of your home, or how to disciple your children in relationships in the future, it’s important to realize that the conversation may not stop at, “I forgive you. Case closed.”
The root of pride can also strike another fleshly chord: envy. So you guarded your heart. You kept the marriage bed sacred. You saved everything for your husband. You even had your first kiss at the altar! But what if your spouse didn’t do the same? There may be anger and bitterness to deal with, but the sneakiest emotional fallout might be envy.
A greater comfort exists for us than knowing our spouses have no sexual past.
I didn’t understand this before I got married. I was in such a heady love haze with my future husband that it never occurred to me to wonder who else had held his hand, heard “I love you,” or even just gone weak in the knees over the looks he gives. It wasn’t until after the intimacy of married life that I began to feel tiny ripples of anxiety and comparison.
Envy can be difficult to pinpoint for a newlywed, because, in a sense, we have a right to be jealous for our husbands. They are ours. We are one flesh. We are not called to share them with other women. In fact, the command not to covet is leveled against the other women (Exodus 20:17). We are to guard our marriages from sexual impurity (Proverbs 7). However, finding that line between zealous protection of the marriage bed and petty jealousy over a past the Lord has forgiven is often easier said than done.
No One Is Blameless
Oftentimes it’s easier to say, “I’m a sinner, too,” and “Jesus forgives you, and so do I” than to live in that reality. The thing about marriage, though, is that it reveals all too clearly whether we are offering trite spiritual band aids or truly wrestling against our flesh. We can plaster a smile on for the watching world and pretend that everything’s fine, but, more often than not, our spouses know the truth.
Fighting against the wreckage of our spouse’s past sins involves fighting against the present manifestations of our own sinful hearts. No one is blameless in this quest for the love that heralds the truth of the gospel (Ephesians 5:22). Thankfully, you’re covered in the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7), who has not only called us to this sacrificial love (John 15:13), but has given us an example of it, and has equipped us for it by his grace (Hebrews 13:21).