marriage bed symbol

marriage bed symbol

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Response to Reader Comment on "Secrets"

My response to this reader was too long to post in the comments section, so I'm posting the comment and the response as a blog.

An anonymous reader recently wrote:

I know that there are two schools of thought, regarding the issue of "full disclosure of past sins" to our fiance or spouse.

I happen to agree with Brent Barlow's opinion, that past sins should be left in the past. Unless the past sin is something that might affect your future spouse (i.e. STD's), or if they insist upon knowing your full past, then it is better to not divulge past sins.

One of the main reasonings that Bro. Barlow pointed out, was that it is better that your spouse not have to deal with the thoughts of your past sexual history, wondering how they might compare, wondering if your mind wanders to past sexual encounters when you are having sex with them, etc...

As a former Bishop, when asked this question, I usually told them that the past is wiped clean. If their fiance asks about their past, they can say something like, "I was not perfect, but I am clean and worthy to take you to the temple." If they insist upon knowing the particulars, then that is a possible sign that they are too immature to handle the truth anyway, and when the truth is shared with them it will likely result in a break up.

I have a close friend whose Bishop made his wife (at the time, his fiance) disclose to him her past sins, prior to them marrying. My friend wishes that the Bishop would have left it up to them to decicde what should be disclosed, rather than that information being forced on him. It has been something that he has struggled with, on and off, over their 20+ years of marriage (the thought of his wife being intimate with another guy, even though it was years before they met).

My advice... the past is in the past.

Your statement: "Such sins, even if they happened before we met our spouse, are sins against our spouse". I need to repectfully disagree with this statement. Before we met, there were no covenants made to eachother, our covenants were with God. Once we married, our covenant was with God and our spouse. Such a statement could cause a spouse to hold past sins over their spouses head, reminding them about their past mistakes, and not letting them put them behind them.

God has told us that when we repent of our sins, He will remember them no more. We need to strive for this type of love and mercy in our lives and leave past sins in the past.

Unfortunately, there are probably way too many people who are not emotionally mature enough to handle some secrets (from past mistakes). I say leave it in the past.

Dear Anonymous June 23:

Thank you for your comment and thank you for reading my blog. You brought up some very interesting points.

I may be wrong, but I came away from your comments with the feeling that you actually endorsed keeping secrets from our spouse or future spouse. The attitude of "Heaven forbid I should tell my fiance about my past, because they’re too immature to handle it" is not a responsible way to begin an eternal relationship.Where did Brent Barlow say this? What are your sources? I'm not aware of him ever suggesting anything like this.

According to Howard W. Hunter, withholding information from our spouse - not allowing them full knowledge to make fully informed decisions in the partnership, is to exercise unrighteous dominion. (“Being a Righteous Husband and Father”, Ensign, Nov 1994)

I am aware that there are two sides to this issue in the Church. With all due respect to you and (possibly) Brent Barlow, I am very firmly on the side of full disclosure.

The reason for this is that life is unpredictable. There is no way of telling whether or not past sins will come back to bite us, but they very often do, and in ways we don’t expect. I believe we should enter into relationships completely prepared to disclose anything and everything to our fiancee, before the wedding. 

Sometimes our fiancĂ© may not care to know our past. I do agree with you that the bishop had no business forcing disclosure from the couple you mentioned, but since I don’t know the full particulars of that circumstance, I can’t make a truly informed judgment in that case. In general, I believe these issues should be kept between the couple and the Lord.

But would we really want to marry someone who is not willing to support us in dealing with the consequences of our past transgressions? Would we really want to find that out after we’re married, or before? Which would be less painful? 

I say, give the fiancĂ©e an opportunity to forgive those sins before the wedding. At least that way, you’ll know that your spouse will be willing to work with you, and not feel that you trapped them into marriage by deception.

Our future spouse is preparing to spend eternity with us. There is nothing immature about them wanting to know about our past. To me, it’s the definition of maturity to want to know the whole story, warts and all.

I also believe no one can know everything in advance – no one can know how our lives will progress or the consequences of everything – but what is known should be ready to be disclosed at any time. The consequences of whatever sins we have committed - sexual or otherwise, seen or unseen - affect our future spouse.

Perhaps it would have been clearer if I had said “affects our future spouse” instead of “sin against our future spouse”. The loss of our virginity to whatever degree before marriage carries a psychological effect on our relationship with our spouse. It has to be dealt with and healed within the marriage relationship.

If we think it doesn’t, we’re fooling ourselves. If we think that we can cavalierly “sow our wild oats”, then repent and take someone to the temple, and think the whole matter never existed, we’re in for a huge shock.

As I mentioned in my blog, secrets do not stay secret forever. If a sexual sin has been committed, just because you’ve forgiven yourself and tried to forget…and the bishop has forgotten it…and the Lord has forgiven and forgotten it…doesn’t mean that the consequences no longer exist. The unknown love child that shows up on your doorstep twenty years later…the photographs that show up on the Internet…the lie detector test during a job interview for a security pass that forces you to reveal your past sins…the surprise STD discovered during a blood donation…the past has its ways of affecting the future.

Yes, the Lord forgives and forgets our repented transgressions, but he cannot nor will not take away the consequences of our choices (Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, pg. 143-145). There is no statutory law on sins. Part of those consequences (and actually part of the repentance process) is making reconciliation with all those whom you have wronged, no matter whom it is or how long it takes. That can include our future spouses, who could potentially be affected by our past transgressions.

All that we may have to disclose is that “I have committed transgressions, and I would prefer to forget them. However, if you would like me to disclose them, I will at any time.” Some people may prefer not to know, but some would like to know. Our spouse or future spouse absolutely has the right to know.

Marriage is, by itself, a vehicle for growth and maturity. If our spouse knows our sins and we know theirs, we can help each other to move forward, and we know that we are loved regardless of what we’ve done. This is the kind of love God shows us. God forgets our sins on purpose, and so should our spouses, but our spouses also have the responsibility to help us deal with the fallout from our past transgressions, and we with theirs.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Four Marriage Killers: Secrets

We believe in being honest….”[1]

I recently read a sociological experiment[2] that was done on a popular marital affair membership website. I was intrigued to learn that the website boasted over 100 million members.  

The researcher showed that the married men were mostly looking for sex while the women, on the other hand, were looking for emotional validation, romance and intimacy. 

While there were some women who would meet in person, he found that most of the women only wanted to talk. They wanted to be intimate online or over the phone and would avoid direct contact.

He learned from these women (both in person and otherwise) that the reason they were looking for affairs was that their husband was gone a lot, or had stopped romancing them, or just plain wouldn’t talk to them. 

To me this demonstrated that intimacy is so essential to our marital well-being that 100 million married people (an amount equal to 1/3 of the entire United States population[3]) were willing to risk their marriages to get it. 

But rather than talk to their spouse about what they needed in their relationship, they signed up for an online site to have a marital affair – and tried to keep it a secret.

Secrets: The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Evil

Aren’t secrets a good thing sometimes?  

In the American English vocabulary, there are lots of terms for information that is not freely shared.  To help give clarity, here are the most comprehensive types that relate to this topic: 

Confidential: A bank withholding your personal information from unauthorized users is protecting you from potential theft or fraud. A bishop or stake president would receive information in interviews with individuals in his congregation, and this information is not to be shared with others, including the bishop’s spouse. 

If confidential information is revealed too soon, security is compromised. Good people could get hurt or perhaps killed. People could be humiliated needlessly. Trust in the one holding the confidence (and perhaps trust in others like him or her) is undermined. The person entrusted with the confidence is reduced to nothing more than a hypocrite and a gossip.

Sacred: This includes traditions or ordinances, persons, places or things that are only meant for worthy persons in good standing to learn and know about and share amongst each other. Often this knowledge is shared in dedicated places. The LDS Temple is a good example of this, although there are other examples from other religions and traditions as well. 

Sacred is not the same as secret, because it is intended to be shared with those who can be trusted not to mock it or make it ordinary. Married people are usually not inclined to openly share all the details of their intimate life for fear of their beloved spouse or children being mocked. That information would then be sacred.

If the sacred gets out, it tends to be mocked and ridiculed. Something special becomes cheap and degraded instead of holy and ennobling.

Secret: A “secret” in the context of this article is information held by one person and is usually hidden away from others, most notably that person’s spouse. This information is generally toxic to the relationship because the person is ashamed of sharing this secret or fears the outcome of sharing it. 

A secret then is something where a person’s trustworthiness is already in jeopardy and   the information is withheld to protect the guilty and harms the innocent by not being shared. If not checked, such secrets can become a gateway to more serious sins. 

Informal Secret Combination: Secrets can lead to other sins in order to protect the secret, such as lies, neglect and even murder. Another, more toxic kind of secret is what we in the LDS Church call a “secret combination”. 

An informal secret combination happens when others are involved in order to keep a secret from the innocent so the offender can keep sinning. Even so, it could be accidentally or purposefully exposed by any involved. This could hide such activities as adultery, fornication, theft or an addiction.

Formal Secret Combination: This kind of secret is shown in the stories of Cain and Lamech in Genesis[4], but is more clearly mentioned in the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price.[5] This is when oaths, covenants and tokens are exchanged by those entrusted with the secret, for the purpose of gaining power over others or hiding serious sins. 

In our context, it could be a spouse plotting their divorce to cover up an affair, or the husband’s mistress plotting to murder the wife. This level of secret combination is the lowest level of evil a person could go into in order to keep a secret. 

If a secret combination is pulled into the glaring light of day, those persons involved are exposed for their wrongdoing and hypocrisy, and innocent people tend to be protected from further wrongdoing in the future.

Secrets that Sabotage a Marriage

  • Do you hide resentments and hurts, and pretend everything’s fine?
  • Do you have a spouse who dislikes sex or some aspect of sex, for whatever reason?  
  • Do you indulge in fantasies, or porn, to keep from bothering your spouse with your intimacy needs; to “keep the peace”?
  • Do you have transgressions in your past that you have not shared with your spouse, whether you have repented or not?
  • Are you making significant decisions about financial matters or employment decisions without consulting your spouse?
  • Are you addicted to any substance or activity that makes demands on your resources or time?
  • Are you experiencing a personal struggle, such as problems with flirting or strong attraction to others which you won’t share because it’s ‘my problem, not my spouse’s’? Perhaps you feel your spouse won’t understand and will feel betrayed and reject you?
If you’re married, you and your spouse are an eternal team. If one spouse is not allowed to help meet the needs of the other, trying to meet your needs alone may sabotage the relationship. In each of these scenarios, we find one spouse trying to carry a secret burden alone; a burden no one can successfully carry without harming the marriage. 

The key (that many couples overlook as an option) to overcome the burdens mentioned above is for the couple to work together as a team in addressing the problem. 

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”[6]

If you want to maintain an optimum sex life with your spouse, and achieve a relationship you would want for eternity – you must confide your personal secrets to them.

This can seem frightening in the extreme, especially when we carry particularly dark secrets, or when we feel like our spouse is hiding things from us. It can get ugly, and no one would blame us for not wanting to share such dark aspects of ourselves with the person we love.

The good news is, once you confide your secrets to your spouse, your relationship has the potential of coming to life in a beautiful way as you and your spouse shares the burden together. It ends the cycle of dysfunction, and opens the road to healing in every way, including the sexual aspect. It does this by magnifying the “trust” factor in your relationship.

Can’t we just forget the past?
 “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”[7]

Secrets, especially sinful secrets, have a tendency to grow and develop a power of their own when not shared.

Such sins, even if they happened before we met our spouse, are sins against our spouse. What affects us automatically affects them through the requirement of becoming “one”.  These sins cannot be swept under the rug – we will have to share them and hope for forgiveness. If we do not volunteer the information, chances are it will come out eventually anyway and if it’s not from you, it could affect their trust in you. 

Ever tried to keep a toxic secret silent? We see too many examples of such things in the media today to think we can die with our secrets in us. Especially with today’s technology, sooner or later…. 

“… the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed.”[8]
The Lord knows all our secrets…and loves us anyway. He encourages us to repent, always to repent[9]…and part of that repentance includes going to those who we have wronged. If we have wronged our spouse, forgiveness will come with confession – to the Lord, and to our spouse. Perhaps ecclesiastical leaders will need to be involved as well, but not before the spouse.

But what if they won’t forgive me?

They may not. There is always that chance. You can’t force others to forgive you.

However, you may not be giving your spouse credit.  Remember – your spouse needs to share all with you as well. Would you forgive them such an admission? Would you not be willing to help them with their challenge?

You may hurt your spouse’s feelings with your admission. You may force them to face hard realities that your relationship was not really what they thought it was. Out of that painful soul-searching, a new reality can be found where love may bloom again and a stronger bond of trust can be created.

We work so hard to impress each other before we marry – to put our best selves forward. After the wedding has ended, we can’t keep up any pretense for long.  Our spouse will eventually see all of our warts and wrinkles, love handles and temper tantrums…and hopefully continue to love us and accept us for who we truly are.  

Confiding Robs Secrets of Their Power

I suggest confiding in your spouse your anger, your pride, and your secrets. It gets easier the more often you do it. Tell your spouse when you find other people attractive, or when you want something you shouldn’t have; especially if those feelings are strong. When shared with your helpmeet, those feelings lose their power. When kept a secret, they fester and grow. 

Let them tell you when they’re tempted. Laugh about it. Wonder about it. Let them help you overcome an addiction, or share with them when you’re scared. 

If you are the spouse being confided to, remember that you are receiving sacred and confidential information; a vulnerable part of themselves. This is not the time for jokes or mockery. Remember the consequences for disregarding confidences or sacred information…loss of trust, or the cheapening of sacred things. Don’t kick your spouse when they’re down, even if you warned them….even if you saw this coming. 

Keep confidences between you and your spouse. I don’t recommend sharing personal details with others unless both spouses give their consent.  I do believe that confiding in a parent or grandparent, a bishop, or a qualified mental health professional can bring wisdom that can benefit your marriage.

Share with the Lord your challenges and your secrets, and he will grant you the strength to share them with your spouse.  If your spouse is weak and refuses to share, confide your fears and vulnerabilities to the Lord and pray for your spouse. Also, try to do all you can to be worthy of their trust so they can feel safe confiding in you.

 Remember that the Lord is a third party to your marriage, and has enough strength for both of you. Whatever secrets your spouse may be hiding will come out eventually. Build up your own strength for that moment by grasping onto the Lord and His atonement. His sacrifice is also for just such circumstances in our lives.

You can resurrect and give unseen power to your marital sex life through your commitment to air out your secrets with each other, and by always confiding in the person you loved enough to marry for eternity.

[1]  Pearl of Great Price, The Thirteenth Article of Faith
[2] Orlando, Charles. “Why Women Cheat: A Married Man Goes Undercover On Ashley Madison”. YouTango. <>
[3] Rosenberg, Matt. ”Current USA Population”. About.Com. New York Times Company. 2 Mar 2011.  <>
[4] Genesis 4:1-24 (greater detail is found in Moses 5:18-55)
[5] Many examples can be found, particularly of the Gadianton Robbers, in the Book of Mormon, and the Nicolaitane Band in the Doctrine and Covenants (see Topical Guide, Secret Combinations)
[6] 2 Corinthians 6:14
[7] Matthew 5:23-24
[8] Doctrine and Covenants 1:3 (emphasis added)
[9] Doctrine and Covenants 19