Thoughts on leadership and caring from a real shepherd, part 1
How can I forgive my fiance's sexual past?
Sexual relationships are complicated, as we all know. But what happens when someone’s sexual past complicates a current relationship? We found one person who clearly remembers struggling with this question a few years ago. She openly shares her journey toward deeper intimacy and forgiveness.
The real issue
Your question seems to touch on an overly simplified and deeply misunderstood subject: forgiveness. Many times I have heard pastors encourage me to forgive and move on, as if nothing has happened. While those words sound nice in theory, the reality of what forgiveness means in the face of deep betrayal is significant. I vividly remember sitting across from my soon-to-be fiancé after listening to his confessions of past sexual failures. I knew that the course of our future was in my court. I could walk away — some might say I had the right to. I could use his past as a tool of manipulation. I could wallow in self-pity and detach myself from the situation. Or I could choose to work through the intricacies of forgiveness.
Since we are now married, I obviously chose to stay and forgive. But I’ve learned a lot about forgiving my significant other’s past that I hope might be of help. My husband is contributing his ideas as well.
Mourn what was lost
Let yourself mourn what was lost. When it comes to forgiveness, there is often pressure to move on and put up a front that everything is okay. But, in reality, there is a significant loss that should be recognized. God’s plan for a man and woman to save themselves for marriage is a sacred call that many easily discard. It’s important to recognize the loss that both you and your fiancé face regarding sexual intimacy. If your fiancé is clearly remorseful and honest with you about his past, he may have already worked through these issues and is ready to move on. The tricky part is that you may still need time to mourn. It’s important to recognize you are in different places of healing and must allow each other adequate space and time.
In order to take the time you need, you may want to consider postponing your wedding date so you can deal with these issues before marriage. This might be a difficult decision for family and friends to understand. You might tell them, “My fiancé and I want to start our marriage off in the best way possible, and postponing our wedding date will allow us to do so.” The people who really love you and want the best for you will understand.
Confide in a wise friend
Confide in someone who can counsel you. I had so many emotions when I was working through my husband’s past experiences, but the strongest was a feeling of being trapped. Yes, I told my husband I had forgiven him. Yet months later, I was still struggling with the hurt and uncertainty of what all of this meant for our future. Because I was deeply involved in a Christian community, I felt that I couldn’t tell anyone for fear of compromising my husband’s trust. Furthermore, I believed that since I had said the words “I forgive you,” I had to move on, and I couldn’t bring up my emotions. If I did, I thought I’d somehow retract my forgiveness. I felt stuck.
Now I realize how wrong I was. Forgiveness is a process that often takes time and the help of others to become complete. I reached a point when I realized that if I didn’t confide in someone, I’d explode. I asked my husband for his permission to talk with a friend that we both new and trusted. This was a key part in my healing process, and I felt so much better just knowing someone else knew my hurt and could pray for me. When confiding in someone, remember to focus on your own loss and hurt. Strive to heal your own heart rather than using it as a bashing session on your fiancé.
It’s important that the person you choose to confide in is not your fiancé. He will be in a very different place than you regarding his past failures. If he has worked through much of the pain and brokenness of his past, it may not be good for him to revisit and reopen wounds that have been already been healed. These wounds are still fresh for you and need healing. Therefore it is beneficial to have someone else walk along side you.
Remember your worth
Know that you have a great worth. The issues surrounding forgiving my husband raised some big self-esteem questions I had to work through: Do I still have worth? Or will I become something that is second-hand? Or, even worse: Will he always be comparing me to the other women? And will I even come close to measuring up to his expectations?
First and foremost, you need to know that the only worth you will ever have comes from God and God alone. You cannot find your worth in your boyfriend, fiancé or husband. I found that this issue of my husband’s past caused many of my own insecurities to surface about who I am, my worth, my beauty, etc. Because I am a woman, I naturally tend to compare myself to other women, and I usually come to the conclusion that I fall short. I feared my husband would compare me to other women and would come to the same conclusions as we became more intimate in marriage. What I came to realize was that my husband did not compare me in that way. More importantly, I learned that God’s opinion of me was worth far more than my husband’s. I had to wrestle with God about my own insecurities about myself and learn to trust that I was really a beautiful child of God worth more than anything else.
Redeeming sexual loss
Sexual loss can be redeemed, and sexual intimacy is redeemable. After a year of marriage, I praise God that he’s allowed me to be a part of my husband’s redemption story. Furthermore, I’ve learned that sexual intimacy is something that is learned and needs to be developed regardless of a person’s past experiences. Sure, a person’s past may mean that a bit more work goes into the art of being intimate but, on the other hand, just because two people remained sexually pure doesn’t mean they have sexual intimacy. But the great thing is that if you both believe in God, he is the one that brings true intimacy into a marriage, and you count on him to do that.
There are a lot of great reading resources available that might help you work through forgiveness. The book that was most helpful for me is Living with Your Husband’s Secret Wars by Marsha Means. While the book focuses mainly on what to do with the betrayal that occurs when a wife discovers her husband’s involvement in pornography, infidelity, or lust, I found it dealt with many of the same issues of forgiveness and trust I faced with the man I was considering marrying.
Any close relationship, like marriage, gives us countless opportunities to forgive and be forgiven, as God in Christ has forgiven us. We can lean on these wise words from Scripture: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7 TNIV).