I have recently started dating a wonderful, godly Christian woman. The relationship is still fairly new, but it is serious, and we both think it could lead to marriage.
The issue is that my girlfriend has a lot of sexual sin in her past. I have some, too, but from what we have talked about, hers is different and more.
I really care about this woman, but I am struggling to deal with my feelings about her past. I'm not mad at her, but when I think about things she has done with other guys, I get this sad, sick feeling in my stomach.
She suffers from terrible guilt and shame about her past sins, and I don't want to make her feel worse, but I'm wondering how to get past my own feelings. Do I ask for details? Do we not talk about it at all? Am I stuck with these feelings forever if I marry her? What's the biblical way for me to deal with this as a boyfriend and maybe husband?
These are important questions, and (sadly) the issue comes up a lot. Unfortunately, there's not a magic answer to dealing with the feelings you describe. It's a matter of prayer; preaching to yourself the truths of Scripture about sin (hers and yours), forgiveness and our position in Christ; growing in affection for your wife; enjoying the relationship God gives the two of you; and embracing the biblical version of servant leadership. I know that sounds like a lot, and the feelings you describe can feel like a lot to get past. The truth is most marriages these days involve one or two people who have sinned sexually in the past with a person other than their spouse. Many people get past their feelings about their spouse's past sexual sin and go on to have godly, Christ-centered, intimate marriages. If, apart from these feelings, you believe marriage to this woman might be the right thing, I would encourage you to try to do the same. Let me offer some biblical principles and general advice that I hope will help.
Fundamentally, this is an issue of forgiveness. Assuming your girlfriend becomes your wife, the sexual sin in her past was against you (as her husband) as well as God. Your feelings of hurt and sadness are entirely understandable. But if she is in Christ now, she is "a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). If she has confessed her past sins to God as a child of His, then He has not only forgiven them but has "cleansed [her] from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:19) and has thrown those sins into the sea to remember them no more. God doesn't just forgive; He forgets. When He looks at His children, He delights in us because He sees His perfect Son. He calls us to view our brothers and sisters in Christ in the same way — and Jesus himself has harsh words and a stark warning for those who are forgiven but cannot forgive (Matthew 18:21-35).
Keep in mind as well that, as your question makes clear ("I have some, too"), we are all not just sinners (Romans 3:23), but sexual sinners. Even if you have not sinned sexually with another person, masturbation, pornography, even lustful thoughts all count. We are all fallen sexually, but there is grace and healing for all of us in the Gospel. We should show the grace to our spouses that Christ has shown to us.
In addition to this general principle of forgiveness — which applies to all of us and is found in a number of passages — Ephesians 5 particularly calls us as husbands to loving sacrifice and grace: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her ... so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Husbands are particularly called to love our wives sacrificially for their spiritual good, just as Christ loved the church sacrificially so that we could be saved. Christ loved the church even though He knew how horribly sinful it was — and He was perfect! How much more should husbands (and potential husbands), as fellow sinners, be able to show grace to our wives.
So how might these principles play out practically? First, a little encouragement: The emotional, spiritual and sexual intimacy that grows in the context of a loving, godly marriage often goes a long way in itself toward healing past hurts and crowding out feelings connected to past sin. Your feelings will change, especially as you pray for the Lord to change your heart and deliberately fill your mind with the truths of Scripture.
Having said that, you will have to step up to the husbandly plate, as it were, to love your wife well through this. If you decide to marry her, it sounds like her issues with guilt and shame will mean not only that you need to get past these feelings of hurt in your own heart and mind, but also that you will need to be consistently, actively, visibly gracious to your wife on these issues. You will need to get to a place, with the Lord's help, where you are genuinely at peace with these issues, because it sounds as though you will need to remind your wife pretty regularly that God has forgiven those sins, remembers them no more, and delights in her — and that the same goes for your own feelings and view of her.
Along those lines, I would suggest that you not talk details about your girlfriend's past. If you know general categories (i.e., she has had sex with other men or somehow has been sexually involved with other men), it will not be good for your soul to hear a lot more or for hers to revisit all the details. And you don't need details to decide whether to marry her. In fact, the most gracious (albeit difficult) response you could have would be to tell her that the details don't matter because that's not her anymore and those sins are forgiven — by God and by you. What a wonderful way to set a grace-filled, Gospel-centered tone for your new life together!
Finally, be sure to remain physically pure in your dating relationship with your girlfriend. Remember, her past involves sin by her, but she was also grievously sinned against by the guys involved. Begin now to build trust and separate yourself from those guys by obeying Scripture in this (1 Timothy 5:2) and showing her what unselfish, godly care of a sister in Christ looks like in a dating context.
I'm sure all this is a lot to think about. Seek counsel from Christians you trust, and do your best to approach this decision and your feelings biblically. Whether the two of you end up married or not, I will pray for wisdom, healing and grace for you both.
For His glory,
Copyright 2014 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.