I Can’t Forgive Their Sexual Past

Written by Barbara Wilson

I recently heard from a man struggling with the sexual past of a new love in his life. As a widower, his only sexual partner had been his wife. But his new friend had many, including a couple husbands and several boyfriends. According to him everything about her was perfect except this one thing. He wanted to move the relationship forward, but didn’t know how he could live tormented by the images of her with other men. “My own problem,” he said “which breaks my heart because I genuinely like her and care for her, is that unless I can get past this aspect of her life, we are destined to remain ‘just friends’.”

Before you start judging him for his unforgiving attitude, let me tell you that he’s not alone.  I hear frequently from men and women whose sexual pasts don’t mirror their partner’s and they are filled with pain not only for them, but because of the mental images of them with another.  And they ask the same question. “I want to forgive, I want to forget, but how? I don’t know how. Please help me forgive.”

Forgiveness is not our gift to offer

I understand how difficult it is to work through the sexual past of someone we love. I can assure you that when your partner has a more extensive sexual history than you do, he or she feels the weight of this guilt and shame even more than you do.  Men and women in this position often struggle with feelings of unworthiness as well.

Forgiveness is not our gift to offer.  It’s God’s gift to us and through us. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, then you already know all the verses on forgiveness, and Jesus’ command that we forgive each other. In other words, you know you should, but knowing it and doing it are two very different things.

I believe forgiveness is so hard because we’re really not capable of it, at least, not on our own. In fact, the only reason we can forgive is because God first forgives us. In Isaiah 43:25 He says, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” This is really amazing when you think of it. The one the bible says we actually sin against, the only one who has the right to hold our sins against us says He blots them out, eliminates them, and then going a step further says, He forgets them forever. You can choose not to forgive your friend, but in reality he or she didn’t sin against you, but rather against God. God has chosen to forgive them and forget their sins. So it leaves you with no other choice.

On your own, you can’t forgive, but through you, God can and does. Every day we choose to forgive, God uses us to be His forgiveness to others on earth. Married couples have the privilege of being the one God uses to offer love and forgiveness to each other every day for the rest of their lives. So how can you forgive and be God’s vessel of forgiveness to this one He’s brought into your life?

Here are six steps in the forgiveness process

  1. Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. We make the choice to forgive and trust God with the feelings. Whenever those thoughts come, simply say (out loud if that helps), Lord I choose to forgive_____ for _____. I’ll trust you with the feelings of forgiveness.God is faithful, before long, you’ll find the thoughts don’t come as often, and your feelings will be grace-filled and no longer painful. Eventually, you’ll find you’re not having those images of her with others so much, and even if you do, it won’t be associated with the same emotions as before.
  2. God is really serious about forgiveness. In fact He says that if we want forgiveness from Him for our sins, we must forgive others their sins. Scary, right? The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 links receiving and offering forgiveness together: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Then just two verses down Jesus says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” In other words, when we come to God for forgiveness, He’ll say, “First things first…forgive __________ for _________, and then I will forgive you.”
  3. Ask God to help you see your friend as He does. I can assure you that God does not see her as a sinner. If she’s accepted Jesus as her Savior, than all God sees is someone righteous, holy, without blame or stain. The bible says God clothes us in righteousness because of Jesus. When He looks at us, He doesn’t see us as we see ourselves, sinful, dirty, and stained. He sees what Jesus’ blood has done for us…made us righteous and pure, acceptable to Him. If you can’t see her that way, ask God to give you His eyes to see here this way.
  4. God is more concerned about what’s going on now with your friend than what happened in the past. Is she in a growing, loving relationship with Jesus now? Is she walking with God in obedience in her life now? God cares about where her heart is now, He’s already forgotten the past.
  5. Healing is different than forgiveness. Although God forgives us for past sin, when it comes to sexual sin we still need healing. We still live with the pain, shame and wounds of the past that God wants to heal so that we can be free. I would encourage your friend to find healing for her past and to break the sexual bonds she created with past husbands and boyfriends, not only for herself, but for every present and future relationship she has.

God will help you forgive her because He’s already forgiven her. Unconditional love and forgiveness are the very definition of who God is. It’s something He’s asked us to do for each other. Now it’s your CHOICE. You just need to say “Yes, God I’ll forgive,” and let God take care of the rest. I know it sounds too simple. “There’s got to be something more,” you may protest. But that’s the best part of trusting God. He does make it simple. His power is real. It’s us who try to complicate things by doing it our own way.   

We can’t forgive in our own strength. It truly is a supernatural, divine action that requires God’s strength in and through us. That’s why choosing to forgive is the first step, because then God can take over and make it real in our lives.  Before long you will discover for yourself that your negative feelings are gone, that you have grace today where yesterday you had anger and resentment. That’s not to say that something won’t happen that will bring it up again, but that’s when you pick up your weapon again and say, “Lord I choose to forgive___ for ___. “

Remember this is a process and it takes time for the emotions to catch up with the decision.  When Jesus talked about forgiving seventy-times-seven I think this is what He meant.  Every time that old emotion of anger/un-forgiveness crops up, we just forgive again.  This way we don’t actually dwell on the un-forgiveness or negative emotion, rather we focus on the forgiveness part instead.   That will lead to freedom for you and in your relationship.  In the beginning it may need to happen daily or multiple times a day, but will eventually take hold and be permanent.

I promise, you can trust Him with this. Once you choose to forgive and say the words, God will take over and pour His forgiveness through you to her. It’s really that simple. Forgiveness is not our gift to offer.  It’s God’s gift to us and through us.

Take the next step:

Does forgiveness cancel out consequences?
Take a lesson: Find freedom in forgiveness
How to deal with emotional baggage

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55 Responses to “I Can’t Forgive Their Sexual Past”

  • Kate Kate says:

    Hamlet,

    Sounds like you have been processing this very carefully. You have put together a thoughtful, introspective review of what you’ve been going through. From this it would seem to me that you are perhaps on the verge of a breakthrough… I have this vision of you taking the carefully composed words, like the carefully constructed rationale and setting them aflame. I can see it turning from ash to dust.

    God’s answer to prayer usually does not come in the way we think, hope, expect or plan. He usually answers in a way we weren’t anticipating. What could that way be for you? Try to see something new, something different, try to pay attention to what’s going on around you, with the people in your life, something outside this dilemma…. I wonder if there might be something there, a scene, a transaction, that is about to bring peace to your heart.

    You said there seemed to be no shepherd looking for you… but I have never been to this webpage before.. here I am today…. ready to pray for you:

    Father God, thank you for this brother in Christ. Thank You for Your mercy and grace, for Your patience and faithfulness to bring us through the desert, through the dry place, through the wilderness. You are awesome in Your goodness. Help Hamlet to see what You are doing, where You are moving, what Your hand is touching, how You are leading him forward to deliver him. I trust You with all my heart and thank You for Your great power to save and set free. I bless Your name Lord Jesus and pray all these things to You Father. Amen

    Sadness is a stage… you will emerge on the other side.

    Blessings,
    Kate

  • Hamlet says:

    Dear Kate–
    I am both humbled and grateful for your kind words. You are thoughtful and wise as your words clearly show. To use the analogy you used so well, I find that regardless of how many matches I strike, this burden I bear does not seem to want to burn. I should be far less involved with issues from so long ago and be grateful for so many blessings I have today. I find it remarkable that you’ve never been to this page and, up until I jotted my note, I hadn’t been here either. I hope that you are correct regarding my being “on the verge of a breakthrough.” I will try to be patient and listen more carefully for “the message” in my effort to find my heart’s peace.
    My prayers of thanks will have your name in them for awhile…

  • Alfred Alfred says:

    As a mentor, I hardly know what to say to Hamlet or to Kate. I need to thank Barbara for this article, and I need to thank God having led me to read it! You see, I have been dragging guilt feelings from the past for some time; and it is overdue for me to let go of them. I need to let them go, and feel the freedom of living in the present. Yes, God has forgiven me, and now I am really a new creation in Christ Jesus, so I want to live like that. Can you see the smile on my face? I can feel it! Like Barbara said, “the feelings will follow.” Blessings, and Thanks again, Jesus.

  • jason says:

    Let me start this out by saying I’m with an amazing and sweet woman who I love very much and I look forward to marrying. We get along really well and have few problems but one of our biggest problems is me struggling with her past. This has gone on for quite some time now and it makes her feel absolutely horrible to the point of hating herself and crying which I do not like to see.

    I want to keep this anonymous so I won’t go too deep into detail. My fiance is a christian woman who is and always has been involved in the church. She has good morals and tries to live right the best she can. When she was younger she tried some sexual things with a boyfriend of hers out of curiosity and didn’t like it but he was a very abusive person and started forcing her and threatening her to get her to keep doing these things. this went on for years and somehow she kept on ending up back with this person who treated her like crap. According to her it was because she didn’t see a way out but she hated all of it, she hated the sexual things and being treated like crap but he just kept forcing her and she was terrified of him.

    Later I came along and she had just decided to finally leave this person. Whenever I asked about the past or it came up, she made it sound like it was completely normal and she was happy with him but later she came out and told me everything and I can’t help but feel like I don’t know if she is being honest about things or just pretending like she already did with me. I can understand that it is hard to talk about but it still bothers me. The other thing is I can’t seem to stop thinking about all the sexual things she has done with this guy and how it went on for years. I often wonder how can a person so strong in her faith live this way? How can a youth leader and sunday school teacher keep living that way? I see her and sometimes this is the only thing I can think of but it’s even worse that it hurts her and brings up painful memories of her past. Is there something wrong with her to stay with an abusive guy for so long and how can I let this go?

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    Jason,
    Have you tried working through the steps that Barbara Wilson recommends in this article? As she says so well, ‘On your own, you can’t forgive, but through you, God can and does. Every day we choose to forgive, God uses us to be His forgiveness to others on earth. Married couples have the privilege of being the one God uses to offer love and forgiveness to each other every day for the rest of their lives. ‘

    As to your question of how could she stay with an abusive guy so long? It happens every single day. Most often it’s because the woman’s self esteem is so low or there is so much fear involved. It is very hard for someone outside of the situation to understand because we think…just get out. But relationships are so complicated and it isn’t that easy.

    She has already suffered enough….it’s time for you to forgive her and move on. If you are still having problems with it, then perhaps you need to talk to someone about it because otherwise it will impact your marriage.

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