I have been in a relationship with a guy for two years who I would like to marry some day. I have been struggling recently though because of his sexual baggage from his past. I don’t know how to go about healing from the sadness it brings me. I sometimes have flashes of him with other women that make my stomach churn. I am worried about marrying him, because I am concerned that it will greatly impact our sexual health in our marriage. His past does not change how much I love him or how I view him, but it does impact me. How do I love him well, but also work through my pain in this area?
– Hoping for Healing
Your voice is just one in the choir of hundreds of young men and women who I meet and counsel who are bogged down by the disappointment in their heart at the unreciprocated sexual purity they face in light of their partner’s sexual history. The topic of sexual history continues to leave deep scars and painful wounds even within a dating culture where virginity may not always be the norm.
Sexual purity is unarguably a very important thing. God would have not mentioned it time and time again throughout Scriptures if that were not so. He knows the pain and devastation that “sex done wrong” can cause in both short-term and long-term relationships. Yet, we as Christians must remember that though it is an important piece to the puzzle of a flourishing marriage, it is by no means the most important factor.
Here are some important things to really consider before you take the next step relationally:
1. Our Sexual Past Is a Symptom of Who We Were, Not Necessarily a Reflection of Who We Are
Though a person’s past may add a lot to the dynamics of who they become, the most important factor to consider is who is standing before you today.
I have seen countless young people pass up potentially solid relationships because of the fact that they could not get over the idea of marrying a “non-virgin.” On the opposite spectrum, I have seen entire relationships founded on the basis of mutual sexual purity, when there were so many other major dysfunctions in the relationship that were overlooked and simply dimmed in comparison to the spotlight of “purity.”
Beyond the scope of sexual past, one must consider who a person is in their present. We serve a God of grace and mercy, a God who uproots us from our old selfish life and plants us into the soil of holiness and righteousness.
For those who are in a true relationship with Jesus, sexual past can no longer be the defining point of their lives. They are now defined by their relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship that should be overflowing from every part of their current being—growing them, sanctifying them, maturing them and equipping them to be the person that God has called them to be.
Look for that Spirit-filled relationship in every single part of your partner’s life and allow that to be the source of decision-making when it comes to laying the foundations for a dating relationship. Purity is a condition of the heart, of the mind, and of the spirit more than a simple definition of what sexual acts someone has or has not done. What kind of a lifestyle is your partner living out here and now?
2. Our Inability to Forgive Our Partner’s Sexual Past May Be a Sign of a Heart Issue That Has Nothing to Do with Sexuality
I once heard it said that someone who cannot forgive themselves for their past is not struggling with the sin of guilt, but with the sin of pride. Pride is the voice that tells us that what has been done is too great of a sin to be covered by God’s grace, as though our sins were more powerful than the blood He shed. Pride is also often at the root of an inability to forgive another for past sins.
If you find yourself stuck on your partner’s sexual past, you may want to ask yourself if you have really accepted and understood God’s grace in your own life. Unlike the unforgiving servant in the book of Matthew chapter 18—who had an enormous debt wiped out yet still could not manage to forgive the debt of his own servant—you have to remember that your past may look different than the past of your partner, but God’s grace has covered you both.
If you cannot learn to love your partner by covering them in grace, then purity of body has taken priority over purity of heart. Jesus always looks at the heart (John 8:1-11).
3. Our Sexual History Will Always Affect Us, But It Doesn’t Always Have to Haunt Us
I don’t want to make it sound like those who have a sexual past will be dismissed of all consequences, because that is simply untrue. Ask any Christ-centered married couple in which one or both partners have dabbled in the world of sexuality outside of marriage and they will be able to point to the consequences of that behavior somewhere in their relationship.
That said, anyone who enters into marriage brings their own list of things to work through, whether it be a sexual past, family problems, past sins, spending habits, communication deficits or anything else. Who of us is perfect when it comes to purity of the mind, body and soul? These things may affect our relationship, but we can work through them together with our partner to build a strong relationship.
When it comes to purity, I think it would do us all good to remind ourselves to look at the big picture. There is no doubt that Jesus calls us to live a life of sexual purity. He loves relationships, and He wants us to go into them with as little baggage and pain as possible, because He knows the difficulties that come when two flawed human beings become one.
However, no matter what we’ve done, Jesus loves us unconditionally, takes us back again and again, and empowers us to live holy and righteous lives in the here and now.
Look for that kind of purity in your pursuit of relationships: a purity that permeates every part of your partners present life—mind, body and soul; a purity that is dictated by who they are in Christ today, not just by where they have come from; a purity that has room for grace, mercy and forgiveness.
Because frankly, those are the qualities that you will desperately need in marriage more than any other trait.
Have a question? Good! Send an email to [email protected]. All identifying information will be kept anonymous.
An earlier version of this article appeared at truelovedates.com.
Debra is a Licensed Professional Counselor, relationship expert, speaker and author of several books, including True Love Dates. Debra is also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog TrueLoveDates.com, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.