Written by Paul J. Bucknell on February, 12, 2022
Should Couples Reveal Troubles From the Past? Growing in Intimacy
“Would you agree, suggest, or advise married couples to discuss their past lives in their present relationship?”
The Timing Question
This question should be unnecessary; the real question is whether those considering engagement should discuss their past lives with those they hope to marry. This discussion on sharing the past should precede the wedding, not follow! But I understand, not everyone does this.
Behind this question lies the powerful foundational marriage principle at work: “They shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). How can the marriage couple be one if secrets and fears are kept from each other? I will first share thoughts for those considering marriage and then address those already married.
(1) Sharing Before Marriage is Preferred
The biggest reason to share before marriage is to keep from defrauding the spouse to-be. Misrepresentation is a form of deception and is often linked with manipulation, even in marriage relationships. We ought not misrepresent ourselves, making us look better than we are.
“3…Since you yourselves also are in the body. 4Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb 13:3-4).
Sexual purity, in and out of marriage, is the norm. Each one guards themselves for, not from, his or her spouse. When there is a violation of God’s standard, this should be revealed before marriage—even better, before the formal engagement (2 Cor 11:2).
“31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband” (Eph 5:31-33).
Start the conversation by saying, “I’m honored that you love me, but you need to know about who I really am. If I hide things from you, then it will not be fair to you. I’ve done things in the past that I am ashamed of; I’ve repented from them, but they are still part of my past. Beautiful marriages are built on strong trust levels; we can never build the beautiful marriage we aspire to unless we are transparent. At some point, I’d like to share some of my past mistakes.”
By divulging certain areas of concern, the spouse-to-be can slow down, ask for more information, or walk away from the relationship, hopefully with a kind remark. If we haven’t confessed our sins before God, we should do that first. This enables us to present a holy and repentant attitude toward the “better half”: “I want you to know that I have confessed these things and turned away from them.”
Our Past Sins
Improper sexual affairs and involvement, including pornography, and other haunting memories, need to be brought up. Full details, including names, do not need to be mentioned, but only the categories of sins and consequences. I’ve counseled engaged couples where one had a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Even if healed or controlled, honesty about these diseases is necessary. They can affect relationships and fertility.
Secrets to be divulged include our sexual sins, controlling parents, debt, anger issues, etc. Anything that threatens a happy marriage should be mentioned, not necessarily all at the same time, but surely, before the relationship gets too serious.
This is also the time to set standards, where you want to be, and what God wants for your life. “I failed when I…, but I have since learned that….” Instead of dwelling on the past too long, you as a couple can properly discuss your dreams.
“For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries” (1 Pet 4:3).
Frank conversations can stir up questions about whether or not you should marry a particular individual. We need to be ready to lose our hoped-for marriage. He or she might walk away with some rude remark, but don’t take it too heavily. If that person cannot work it through now, then it will only be worse once married; he or she will feel trapped, making it harder to handle. Your girl or boyfriend might need some time to process it. Give them time.
If people cannot temporarily love us despite our sinful past decisions, there is little hope for a future together. Let it go. It’s better to break up before marriage than after. Marriages face tremendous pressures already and don’t need to be slammed with this. Besides, if your friend finds you hiding one thing, how do they not suspect other things. On the other hand, if you voluntarily tell your dark past, you are setting the foundation for reconciliation and a life where the two are one.
(2) Sharing After Marriage
Let’s return to the original question, “Should married couples discuss past affairs, etc.?” What do you think? Why wouldn’t they share? These are interesting questions.
Before going on, let me share again that such revelations should occur before marriage! Marriage is a trust-building relationship and is only as good as the trust level can develop. Intimacy, sharing body and heart, can only go as deep as one’s trust level.
After marriage, sharing dark secrets becomes increasingly complex and challenging. The absence of speaking about it before marriage, even briefly, conveys sinful behavior, cover-up, and awkward past decisions along with possible consequences.
The most basic question is whether we should bring up these dark issues of one’s past; the other is how. Let’s first discuss whether one should share the dark secrets.
Should I Share Dark Secrets with My Spouse?
As already discussed, marriage is a relationship of trust. Intimacy grows as our trust deepens. Secrets undermine the development of trust and oneness. But it is a process; there is a time to share and a time not to share.
“A time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecc 3:7).
We must focus on what we want to accomplish by bringing up such issues. An associated question helps us understand its importance, “Why wouldn’t I share this secret with him/her?”
There are risks. Don’t fear honesty but be prayerfully cautious as your approach can threaten the marriage; the spouse might even threaten to file for a divorce. Don’t be rash. Instead, discuss these matters with the Lord. Prayerfully consider where you want your marriage to go.
If you want your marriage to get deeper, you will eventually need to reveal more of your past life to your spouse. Even though you might harbor fears, don’t let them control you, but give them over to God’s Spirit. You deserve the worst for deceiving your spouse, but this does not mean it needs to be shared immediately.
Prayerfully ask yourself if there is an urgency about sharing it. If not, then prayerfully entrust this to the Lord and wait for the right time. If your relationship has been unstable for a long time and such sharing would rock the boat unnecessarily, hold off sharing for the time being. First, stabilize your marriage, so there is some measure of trust between you.
If your goal is to build trust, then wait to reveal the dark secret until you are in a better situation where your confidence in each other is growing. This might be—though not definitely—the time to share. The reasoning is if you want to succeed in intimacy, then you must be more authentic and transparent with each other by eliminating all past deceptions. But this mutual trust and the conversation that leads there takes time.
Generally, then, we want to strengthen our marriage before exposing the dark secrets unless the situation warrants it. If they directly ask you, then it might be the time to share.
If your spouse asks you a question about your dark past, be ready to share, but not too quickly. Make sure that the spouse is not trying to get ammunition against you because he or she is angry. That would be the wrong time. Instead, work on the issue at hand.
“Did I somehow hurt you?”
But if your spouse does want to know, move forward slowly.
The How to Share Dark Secrets
Answering how one shares is not straightforward because it depends on the circumstances—some things, no doubt, we cannot foresee.
One standard primary preparation tool is regular times with God in prayer and His Word. We would be foolish to walk into a spiritual battle causally. The enemy is real!
Daily fellowship with the Lord helps guide and protect your marriage. Advice gained from Ephesians 6:10, ff. cannot be underestimated. Otherwise, we can fall into Satan’s trickery. Our closeness with the Lord is the only thing that can help, but things might take a hard turn.
When spending time with the Lord, seek His help. Is it worth it? Absolutely. You need this relationship with God so He can make you transparent before Him; otherwise, you cannot correctly approach your spouse with these problematic words. The words I write might not incorporate issues relevant to your actual situation, but the Living God has His Spirit working in you. He knows what you can and cannot do.
Our goal is not to share as you might have before marriage. You are guilty of defrauding your spouse. Your goal now is to make peace and reconcile. “I know I don’t deserve you; you have become so important to me over these years, but I’m ashamed of something I never told you—but should have.”
“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
“Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).
It might be another ten years before you get to the point where the Lord, the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6), leads you to share. He needs to be your counselor. Be careful; both of you might be going through a rough time. Don’t, in a fit of anger or spite, pour out your past. Never!
Instead, look for a time when you see that God can use it to build trust, rather than destroy it. Remember, your goal is unity, not hurtful statements.
As a side point, make sure there are no ways to manipulate your spouse. If your spouse sees you as manipulative—true or not, then sharing such dark secrets can easily be misconstrued as another attempt to use him or her.
Also, step away from any guilt raging within. First, clear up this guilt by confessing your sins to God. Yes, we are not good, not worthy of love, but repentance leads to God’s forgiveness. Only when things are clear with God can we rightly discern the best time to share with our spouse.
If God is working deeply in your heart and through your past, your spouse probably already can see these significant changes taking place in your life. Perhaps there are two to three things that God is doing in your life. Share one at a time but leave these dark secrets for last, first seeing their response to you. Again, sharing is only necessary if you are stepping into a deeper trust relationship with your spouse. If you two are not there, prayerfully wait upon the Lord.
It’s in this positive, mutual time of edification that you can safely share. I suggest preempting negative responses by positively presenting where you want to go and give warning. “I want our marriage to grow but realize there are some things that I have not been honest about in the past. I want to grow our marriage further. I should have talked to you about them earlier, but I did not. Do you think this is a good time to share them?”
One Last Thought
How do you respond if your spouse does share things that he or she ought to have shared before marriage? What is the ideal way to respond? After all, when you share, it might prompt your spouse to share too! Are you ready?
We must extend mercy and grace to our spouses. Sometimes, it is deliberately withheld, knowing he or she would not marry if they knew. Sometimes different standards, ignorance, or fears at work hide your duty.
“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8).
“You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” (1 Pet 3:7).
Divorce is not an option; don’t keep that door open. Work together to build the house even from rubble. Don’t blame anyone else for lying but confess your own lies. “Yes, you did wrong; this greatly hurts me. But, I haven’t been completely honest with you either….”
Marriage is designed for intimacy, not just physical intimacy but also the closeness of the heart. There are many hidden things in our lives; deal with them as they come to mind. Share those that you think can hurt the other before engagement. This will build up your trust level—if the other can accept them in God’s grace. But after marriage, pick a good time to share so that the evil one doesn’t sneak in and cause harm. God’s grace at the cross abounds for all our past evils, but be prayerful, follow the Spirit’s leading. Confess and be honest with each other.
Discussion Questions on Sharing Secrets
- What are a secretive matter that you would or could share?
- Which ones have you shared? Which have you not?
- Why does the author suggest that sharing secrets is a timing question?
- What does having a solid trust relationship have to do with sharing such matters?
- Explain why it’s important to share these dark secrets before engagement and marriage.
- Why is it important not to share details?
- Why is it important to apologize when confessing your sin?
- Read Ephesians 6:10-20 and list two important principles in this spiritual struggle.
- What is your goal for sharing such secrets with your spouse?
- Why is it sometimes okay to put off sharing your secrets with your spouse?
- Why is it essential that you first draw close to God and become transparent with Him regarding your dark secrets?
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