How do you go about overcoming jealousy and getting over your spouse’s sexual past–or obsessing over his present?
Dealing with our loved one’s sexual baggage is a huge part of many people’s relationships today. On Mondays I like to take a reader’s question and take a stab at answering it, so let’s start with this woman, who is haunted by her husband’s history of casual sex:
I just got married a few months ago and my husband has had more of a sexual past than me and I’m having a hard time! I can’t understand how people can have casual sex. He is an amazing man and so good to me and my children from a previous marriage. Somehow his past keeps coming up and it makes me sad that he wouldn’t respect himself enough not to sleep with any woman that offered.
We both were married before. He got divorced because his wife cheated with men and women. I got divorced because my ex husband was abusive. We went to premarital counselling. One day there was a couple leaving before us and he was staring at the girl and as soon as we walked in he said, “I don’t know if this is the right time to say anything, but I dated that girl. Nothing serious, only three dates.” I felt really uncomfortable. I asked if he had sex with her. He said he had. I was devastated! I can’t go to that counsellor anymore. How could he go on 3 dates and have sex? I don’t know how to heal I don’t know how to move on! I don’t want to ruin a great marriage over stuff that happened before he knew me. I pray all the time!
I understand how hard it must be to know that your spouse has treated sex this cavalierly.
So let’s look at overcoming jealousy and moving on.
Part of the marriage vow is agreeing that the past is the past.
The revelation about the husband having sex after three dates came out before she married him, and it came out because the husband was trying to be honest. If you’re agreeing to marry someone, then you’re agreeing to accept their past. You can’t marry someone and then hold things over his head that he can no longer do anything about.
If you can’t live with someone’s past, then don’t marry that person. Once you have married them, then the only right thing to do is to offer forgiveness. If you can’t do that, then it is not their past that is ruining the relationship; it is your attitude.
I know that’s harsh, but I see this dynamic where people think, “I’m so good and he’s so bad; how can I live with that?” But at that moment, you’re the one who is being bad. If your husband has repented and is trying to live right, and you can’t forgive him, then you are the one who is in the wrong and you are the one who is acting in an ungodly manner.
Part of the marriage vow is also deciding to be his biggest cheerleader
Maybe it’s not his past that is causing your mind to flip through all kinds of horrible scenarios. Maybe it’s his present. He works with women and you’re worried they’re flirting with him. He gets texts from female coworkers sometimes and you’re worried that he likes them.
And the worry keeps you up at night.
Now, if you have reason to worry, because he’s been secretive, or flirty, or he’s had affairs in the past, then that’s a different story. But I get email after email from women who are desperately jealous because a woman is doing something wrong but her husband is not. And she works herself up and gets mad at him–when he’s been acting appropriately.
She’s sabotaging her own marriage!
But how are you supposed to overcome jealousy, then?
This woman says that she prays. That’s great that she prays. But God doesn’t only ask us to pray. He gives us something specific to do.
When we pray, we ask,
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.”
What is the power that Jesus refers to in the Lord’s Prayer? It’s that the Holy Spirit is living inside of us, transforming us. But this doesn’t happen passively. This happens as we take action. And what action are we supposed to take?
In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul writes this:
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Overcoming jealousy involves taking every thought captive.
This is an active thing. That verse, and what it means in marriage, is the bedrock for my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage.
What's in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage?
In this book I show how taking every thought captive and choosing what to think, rather than letting our thoughts overwhelm us, can change the whole dynamic of our marriage and give us that marriage that we’ve always dreamed about. Sometimes we obsess far too much over our worries and fears, and we fail to take responsibility for our own feelings. But when we learn to see the marriage the way that God sees it, suddenly we’re free! And that’s the recipe for finally growing in marriage.
Thoughts may enter our head, unbidden. We may remember: “he slept with someone he only went on three dates with.” But what we do with that thought is entirely our choice.
And simply praying about “God, please let me let this go!” is not enough. You have to actually decide to let this go.
That means that when the thought enters your head, you choose to reject it. You demolish that pretension that is setting itself up against your marriage. You say,
Yes, he does have that past. But he has turned from it, he has married me, and I made a vow to him, knowing his past. So I will choose not to think of it, but to concentrate instead on how much he loves me today.
And then you consciously think of some specific way that he loves you. And you choose to think about that.
When you pray, it is not to dwell on all the things that your husband did in the past. It is to ask the Lord to bring to your mind all the wonderful things that your husband does now.
There is nothing else to do to overcome jealousy. There is no magic formula.
God will not just wave a wand while you obsess over your husband’s past choices. You must first walk in obedience to God’s direction: take every thought captive and choose to change your thoughts. And as you change your thoughts, you will end up changing your feelings as well.
That is how change works. That is how God made us.
It’s your choice–will you do it, or will you continue to be upset about it?
So now let’s look at the scenario if it’s flipped: What if you’re dating someone who doesn’t seem able to move on?
I personally know that hurt following a breakup but I’ve never really carried it into a next relationship. But I’m wondering what effect the feelings from a past relationship can have on the future of a present relationship, especially when both partners have a long term commitment at heart. One partner hasn’t really sorted out the feelings from a past relationship. Not necessarily that he’s still in love with the ex, but he hasn’t seem to have gotten over the nostalgia of the memories from that relationship. And still he wants to go out of his way to avoid anything that will make him come in contact with her. I think the feelings haven’t fully been processed. How long do you think it would take for complete healing?
I think it takes until the person has made a conscious decision to take every thought captive and to examine it in the light of Christ and His will for our lives. And if it is obvious that the previous relationship was not God’s will, and if he believes that this new relationship is God’s will, then he has to choose to make his thoughts line up to that.
I realize that taking thoughts captive is not an easy thing.
I have had such a hard time getting my thoughts to line up with what I know God wants! I’ve had to battle through grief after my son died. I had to battle through break ups. I had to deal through some periods of major anxiety.
But practising the presence of God and taking every thought captive is a discipline that you simply have to learn. You have to learn not to constantly relive old memories and nurse old loves. You have to learn to put the past behind you. And the only way to learn is through practice!
So I’d say to this woman: be careful of committing to a man who has not worked through feelings for an ex. Go very slowly. Explain the concept to him of taking every thought captive before Christ, which means examining your feelings in light of what you know is God’s truth for your life, and helping your feelings to conform to God’s truth.
That’s it. That’s what overcoming jealousy and getting over past hurts takes. I wish there were an answer which was pain free and which was easy, but there isn’t. And now God is asking us: are we willing to take every thought captive? Until we are, our relationships will really never be whole.
Have you ever had to struggle to put something behind you? How did you do it? Let me know in the comments!