The Past: How Much Do I Share?

SSU Special Edition: Preparing For Marriage

By David Boehi, Brent Nelson, Jeff Schulte, et al., from the book “Preparing for Marriage: Discover God’s Plan for a Lifetime of Love”, Marriage Missions International

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image source: The Huffington Post

This is not an easy question to answer for several reasons:

Sharing your past mistakes and sins may lead to shame-filled, painful moments between you as a couple.
It may mean confessing a previously told lie to your fiancé.
It may mean reliving incidents you’d rather not remember.
It may result in a broken engagement.

You may be tempted to avoid sharing anything from your past; after all, as a Christian your sins are forgiven at the Cross, and the Bible says there is “no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus”(Romans 8:1).

While these things are true spiritually in our relationship with God, there are consequences of past sins that need to be honestly dealt with as a couple moves toward marriage. While you do not need to share every detail (as will be explained later), you cannot avoid the fact that your life has been shaped by your choices. If you and your fiancé desire to make a solid decision about marriage, you need to be honest with each other and deal with your pasts. It is better to speak the truth prior to your marriage than to live with the fear, deceit and shame that comes from hiding the truth from your mate.

There is one other benefit to sharing your past. True healing can occur when you confess your sins to one another. God can use marriage to heal individuals from past hurts that have haunted them for years. This is especially true when dealing with sexual immorality in the past. Many men and women have found forgiveness, grace and liberty by confessing these scaring circumstances to their would-be spouses.

These are not easy issues to discuss. And there are no cookie-cutter solutions to what you may be struggling with. In an effort to guide those who are struggling with knowing what to do and how to go about it, here are a few principles and perspectives:

FOR THE PERSON WHO IS BURDENED WITH SOMETHING THAT SHOULD BE SHARED:

1. Write out a list of all that you are feeling a need to share with your fiancé. This might include events, choices or hurts you’ve experienced. While you don’t need to go into great detail, be sure to mention anything that you know will affect your relationship today (specific problems such as physical/emotional abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.).

2. Once you’ve completed your list, make sure you’ve experienced God’s forgiveness and cleansing for everything you’ve written. If you haven’t, spend some time in prayer, repenting and confessing your sin. You will experience God’s forgiveness on the basis of 1 John 1:9 that tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

3. Determine which items on your list you should discuss with your fiancé, and why. If you have doubts about any items, make sure you seek wise and godly counsel before talking with your fiancé. Another person’s compassionate listening ear and prayerful concern can guide you before and after you marry.

4. Set a time and place to share with your fiancé. Choose a private setting where you’re both free to express your emotions.

5. Before you meet, pray that your fiancé will have the strength and grace to respond in a loving manner. But don’t go into the meeting expecting immediate forgiveness; your fiancé may need time to work through emotions and think about what he or she has heard from you.

6. As you talk with your fiancé, explain why you think it’s important to share these choices from your past, but avoid sharing more than is necessary. Be careful about sharing too many explicit details, as this can become a problem later in your marriage. By going into too much detail, you may give the one you love too much of the picture. Avoid morbid curiosity.

7. Give your fiancé the time he or she needs to process this new information. This process may include hurt, anger or withdrawal.

8. If it becomes apparent that either of you cannot get beyond the hurt from what has been shared, seek wise counsel together or individually. If forgiveness and reconciliation cannot occur at this point, then we suggest delaying the wedding or breaking the engagement. If God is calling you to marriage, then His perfect love will be manifested in your hearts for one another. And His Word tells us, “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

FOR THE ONE HEARING THE CONFESSION:

If you find yourself in the situation where your fiancé is confessing something from the past to you, be encouraged by three things:

1. Listen carefully to what your fiancé is sharing. Ask yourself, “Why did he/she come to me with this? Look beyond the past and its ugliness to the broken heart that is sharing.

2. Consider your own condition before God-a sinner saved by grace. There is another reason why sharing the past is so difficult: We are all flawed as humans. Because we don’t love perfectly and we pridefully believe that we deserve perfection, we can be tempted to condemn another for a past failure, whereas God calls us to forgive one another. Remember how much He has forgiven you! For example: If you have maintained your virginity, you may find yourself engaged to someone who has not. Often the one who is a virgin finds it very difficult to forgive and move beyond the fiancé’s failure. Interestingly, young men who have kept their virginity have a much more difficult time forgiving.

3. While you may legitimately decide that, given this new information about your fiancé, marriage is not wise, don’t let pride prevent you from responding with love and forgiveness when your fiancé is willing to share the mistakes from the past.

A Final Note: After you marry, it will be very important that neither of you use the things you learn here as ammunition in an argument. Forgiveness is an essential part of marriage and when we forgive, we give up the right to punish.

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