“I try not to think about what might have been… ‘Cause that was then and we have taken different roads. We can’t go back again. There’s no use giving in… and there’s no way to know…..what might have been.” – Little Texas, country music band
I used to love this song as a kid. As an adult, I have found it to lead my mind down a dangerous road. I still like the song, but I have discovered that dwelling on words like these can tempt me to daydream about “simpler” days. Once you commit to being with someone for life, it is not wise to spend time contemplating what life might have been like if you had taken a different road… chosen a different college… married that guy or girl from back home.
What Might Have Been…
Before you officially decide to get married, you should decide to let go of the “what might have been”s in your life. Once you are married, it no longer matters what might have been with someone else. Like my high school history professor said, “When you get married, he or she becomes the right person.”
When I was newly married, I allowed myself to get lost in the quicksand of “what if” thinking. By nature, I am a sentimental person who struggles to let go of the past, so I spent more than an appropriate amount of time thinking about how my life used to be before the stresses of adult life and marriage. But, instead of being comforted by my memories, I found myself listless and discontent about my current situation. “If I could only be seventeen again…” Memories are great and we should treasure the good ones; however, we cannot be happy and effective in the present if we are spending our time wallowing and wishing for the past.
Letting Go of Your Past…
Not only do we need to refrain from dwelling on the good times we left behind, but we need to let go of our regrets too. Not one perfect person has ever entered into matrimony. We all have fallen short. We all have issues. We will all stumble along the way. Nothing you have done in former relationships (or your current one) is too bad that God cannot forgive it.
Recently, I heard a lady on the radio say that so many Christians are wandering around covered in shame and guilt as if Christ never died. That really resonated with me. So often I dwell on the past mistakes I made instead of declaring “God gave me the grace to repent of those sins! I am forgiven! Christ took my place! He paid the price. I have been made clean by the power of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross!”
Talking About Your Past…
Before getting engaged, it is important to disclose your pasts to each other. I cannot stress the following enough: Do not open up to a boyfriend or girlfriend about your past relational mistakes (e.g., sexual sins, etc.) unless you are seriously considering marrying him or her. No matter how close you may feel to the person you are dating, you should keep the inner most parts of your heart tucked away until you believe that he or she loves you and has your best interest at heart. Some mysteries should be saved for that special someone. ~smile~
When your sweetie has proven that he or she can be trusted with your heart, and you think it is probable that you two will marry, you should have a talk about your pasts. The point of this is not to drudge up old feelings or to cover you in the shame of past mistakes. The point is to clear the air and to begin your engagement process with complete and open honesty.
Choosing a mate is a big deal and, before you do, you should know all you can about him or her and vice versa. You may find out some things that you cannot get past. That does not make you a horrible person. “Will my sweetie’s past continue to haunt us? Will it affect our kids? Can I handle it if it does? Do I have peace about continuing in the relationships knowing what I know now?” If you cannot move past certain portions of your sweetie’s past, then those mistakes will always be in the back of your mind if you get married anyway. It is better to decide to part ways now than to pretend everything is okay.
A Decision Process
Just as God has extended grace to you, your future spouse will need grace from you. If you marry someone who had a wildly experimental sexual past and it is eating you alive on the inside, do not keep that concern hidden. If you do, it will come up later in your marriage… probably repeatedly. He or she will never be able to take his or her past back. Since it is not fair – or healthy – to continually throw someone’s past in his or her face, you will need to either fully move past previous sins or decide before engagement that you cannot. (And it is okay if that is the case.) A good question to ask is, “Does my sweetie seem truly repentant of his or her mistakes, or does he or she have an ‘it is what it is’ attitude?”
It may take some time alone to pray and reflect before you can make a decision to forgive the other person of his or her past. It could be that you need someone who has a less colorful past and he or she may need someone who has walked a similar road (we often are much more willing to extend grace to others who have struggled with similar issues).
No matter what has happened before you both got together, it needs to be forgiven and buried and left out of your marriage. If after prayer and time away you are still deeply bothered by your sweetie’s past, it is best to let go of the relationship… or at least take some significant time away. Pre-engagement counseling can also help you process through your feelings and concerns.
There are couples everywhere with differing pasts and that is just fine as long as both parties are able to honestly talk and freely forgive. When Eric and I talked about our pasts, we did not go into vivid detail (as that is not helpful); however, we did share our mistakes and tried to leave no stone unturned.
I will never forget what Eric said to me after I shared my life story with him. He said, “I am not going to just quickly say ‘I forgive you’ because that sounds too easy. But I will forgive you and I will never bring up what you have told me in the future.” And, he has been true to his word.
Forgiveness is not instantaneous. We may decide instantly that we want to forgive, but true forgiveness comes after God has worked in our hearts and given us the ability to forgive someone. I don’t know how long it took Eric to fully forgive my past mistakes, but he has never held it against me. It is so important to marry someone who is willing and determined to forgive. Like Ruth Bell Graham said, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”
To sum up, before getting engaged, take some time to process through your past and let go of regrets, have a “past talk” with each other if you are sure you are heading towards engagement, and forgive each other before getting engaged. If you are struggling with something your boyfriend or girlfriend did in a past relationship, or in general, take some time away to pray, reflect, and possibly seek counseling. An open, honest relationship is a blessing. Never marry someone who is not willing to be honest with you, to forgive you, or to work out problems with you. Go forward with eyes wide open… and no secrets.
Have you and your sweetie forgiven each other’s pasts?