How does my sexual past affect my relationship?
I’m a single guy, never married but in the past I have a history of sexual immorality and a lifestyle that was in open rebellion against the Lord. I am dating a young lady who is struggling with my sexual past.
As we have come to know each other moving from friendship to dating, I have felt the need to let her know about my past. This has caused her pain, confusion, and loss. Here’s an example of something she expressed to me in a message:
“…I’ve always viewed sex as something profoundly SPECIAL for a husband and wife to explore together. And now sex in this context just feels pointless. If you’ve already explored all that already, what’s the beauty in that? There’s nothing left to explore together.”
What should I do?
Thank you for writing such a candid and concise letter. I feel the weight of your circumstances and am grieved for you and your girlfriend. It is common this side of the fall to find the effects of sexual sin marring dating relationships. Often one of the parties involved feels cheated by something the other did before they started dating. In our sexually promiscuous culture, it seems rare to find two sexually faithful (not perfect, but diligent) believers coming together in marriage. But the fact that it is rare does not remove the standard God has set for us in Scripture (Ephesians 5:3). And the fact that so few couples are unmarred by at least one of the partner’s sexual sin does not make it any less painful when revelations of past sin occur.
What then should you do?
Pray. Confess your sin to the Lord. If you’ve already done that, ask Him to break your heart for the pain you’ve caused this woman who is precious to you, but even more, to Him. But don’t stop there. Thank Him for the provision he has made in Christ for you to be restored to Him. Then ask Him, the God of reconciliation, to restore you to each other. If she is a believer, He is able to give her the grace to extend the forgiveness to you that she has been shown by Him.
Repent. Don’t just tell her you’re sorry about your past; repent to her for sinning against her. Even if all your sin happened before you were a believer and before you ever knew her, it still deeply affects her personally. You must ask for her forgiveness if you are to be reconciled to each other.
Talk to your pastor. If you haven’t already, come clean with your spiritual authority. Talk to your pastor about your past and ask for his wisdom and counsel. Tell him about the difficulty this revelation is causing in your relationship and ask him to pray with you and for you about how to proceed.
Seek counsel together. Offer to talk with an older, godly married couple about this impasse in your relationship. The prayer and accountability of brothers and sisters in Christ is invaluable.
Let her grieve. Show empathy. Let her know that you understand why this is so difficult and that you are willing to wait while she processes all that she has just learned. Be patient and long-suffering. Be merciful and gentle toward her.
Trust Christ. After the tears and frustration and anguish, the time for making decisions will come. You will need to walk humbly, in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. This is a powerful opportunity to trust in the love of the Lord (Colossians 1:10). The truth is that we are all sexually broken people who are affected in every part of our being by sin. None of us are good (Psalm 14:3, Matthew 19:17). Though we don’t all stumble in the same ways, we all stumble in many ways (James 3:2).
What does the Bible reveal about God’s attitude toward sin? He is full of righteous wrath (Romans 2:5-9, Nahum 1:2). But it’s not just the sexually immoral who are deserving of his punishment. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote,
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Talk to her about the Gospel. Talk about the forgiveness that sets prisoners free (Colossians 1:13-14). Read together what the Bible says about the unfaithful bride that Christ died to redeem. He paid the penalty for our sin at the cross, receiving in his body the full weight of God’s wrath that we deserve. When we trust in Him alone for forgiveness, we are declared righteous. In that moment, God cancels our debt and washes us clean, white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Psalm 103:11-12 says,
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Does your life look different now than it did in your rebellious past? Have you obeyed Jesus’ admonition, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)? She will understandably be observing your behavior and character, trying to discern if you have integrity — if she can trust you. If this is what she is doing, rejoice that she is exhibiting wise behavior.
This is a very difficult time and likely she will be less than charitable in her words. When that happens, show her the forgiveness you have received in Christ — and the forgiveness you hope she will give you. Pray that she will be able to do the same.
Give her the freedom to leave. Know that in the end, she must decide. It is true that in Christ, all our sins are forgiven. But it is also true that some sins leave trails of consequences that are more painful and longer lasting than others. Not every Christian woman will have the strength, desire, or ability to marry a man with a deeply rebellious sexual past (and vice versa). Nor is every Christian woman obligated to do so. If you repent, God calls her to forgive. But she is not required to marry you. Give her the freedom to decide. And place your trust in God alone.
I pray the Lord will equip you and embolden you to do it.
By grace alone,
Copyright Candice Watters 2016. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Candice Watters is a wife, mom, and Bible teacher. She is the author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen, co-founder with her husband, Steve, of Boundless.org and co-author of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. They have four children and blog at FamilyMaking.com.