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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 fiancé 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 fiancée 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.


Anonymous said...

Amen coach Sam. My best friend married a young lady (in the temple-so supposedly she had repented of any past transgressions) He knew that during her teenage years she was not perfect but she had made changes and was now worthy for a temple marriage. A few years into their marriage he found out for other sources (not from his wife) that she had indeed been sexually active with a handful of guys. And when confronted about it she fessed up.
I'm not saying people cant repent and change, but in this case I think she should have told him before the marriage and let him decide if that was something he was ok with rather than have him find out later that his "virgin bride" wasn't really

Anonymous said...

I agree completely! I found out ten years into my marriage that my husband has had a serious problem with pornography, that had led to much more serious transgressions against our marriage. It was something that had been a part of his life long before we ever met. When it came to light, I begged him to tell me the extent of the problem. He told me that "I couldn't handle knowing everything." It took 6 months before he had finally disclosed everything. He thought that he was saving me the pain of finding out that there had been many devestating things that had happened during our relationship. It didn't spare me the pain, it just prolonged it.

The analogy I like to use is this: If there is a flood, it is devestating, but there is a clear point at which it is over and the clean up effort can begin. However, when information trickles in, it's hard to tell when the storm is over and the healing can start.

While I struggle every day to try to rebuild my marriage, and I would not do anything that would change me having my three beautiful children, there are times that I truly resent feeling like I was "tricked" into a marriage by my husband failing to disclose things that have come to have a serious impact on our marriage and on my sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and value as a wife and mother.

CoachSam said...

Thank you both for your comments and for reading.

Anonymous said...

I have to side with NOT telling. It is enough to say things have been repented of, and this is where I stand now. When I was engaged, I told my fiance everything, thinking he would know he could trust me that way. HUGE mistake!! At the age of 19, he was not in any way mature enough to handle it. He was not a virgin when we married, and neither was I, but he would throw it in my face every chance he got for decades. He even agrees with me that he should not have been told until he was more mature.

CoachSam said...

Hi Anon 7/7/11,
Thank you for reading and leaving your comment.
I’m very glad you brought this up, because this can happen, but disclosure should not be something to fear. Your comment actually reinforces to me the importance of disclosure, despite the problems that it created for you. Without your disclosure, you would never have known that additional relationship skills might be required.

That’s the whole point of sharing. Yes, you’ve repented, but the consequences of both your choices (your past and his reaction to your past) are part of the fallout of transgression. The Lord doesn’t take that away those consequences.

Throwing past sins back in your partner’s face is inappropriate, and can cause a lot of pain and force an emotional separation (which I’ll have more to say on in a later blog).

What could also be taken away from his reaction and behavior after your disclosure could have been that some marriage counseling before marriage would have helped you both. You both could have dealt with any negative feelings and developed skills that would have allowed you to be more supportive of each other.

For anyone else reading this, if you’re not sure how your fiancé may react to such a disclosure, give them the option. Don’t just dump it on them uninvited. There may be those who do not want to know, or do not care to know until later in life. That’s totally fine. However, they are still entitled to the option. Honesty is still the best policy no matter what the short term embarrassment or pain may be.

Tell them that you have things that you’ve done and repented for, and if they ever want to know, you will gladly disclose it at any time. If you’re in the middle of the repentance process, and you feel you need to talk to someone about these past transgressions, don’t assume your spouse has to hear it if they don’t want to know. A better course is to ask your bishop to set you up to talk to a counselor who is trained to help with your emotional needs.

If your spouse has thrust their checkered past upon you, and you can’t forget or forgive (throwing the past back in your spouse’s face is a sign that you are not forgiving), then you are the one who needs to seek out some therapeutic help. Not forgiving your spouse their past, or torturing them with it for years, is a form of unrighteous dominion.

A purpose of marriage is to help us learn patience and charity. This is part of how marriage helps us grow and progress. It is my hope that your example will help future couples be more thoughtful about how to disclose their "skeletons" to each other, and to seek counseling if needed before they get married.
If this is still a problem for you in your relationship, please consider seeking a marriage counselor to help you rebuild, and to become a strength to each other. If you would like a suggestion for an LDS counselor in your area, feel free to write to my email, located in my "About Me" section of this blog.

May God bless and keep your marriage.

Anonymous said...

I am undecided if it is best in all cases to disclose all previous transgressions to a future/current spouse. However, I'm unconvinced that the referenced Howard W. Hunter article supports your argument. "A man who holds the priesthood accepts his wife as a partner in the leadership of the home and family with full knowledge of and full participation in all decisions relating thereto." President Hunter does not indicate if the disclosure of previous transgressions is always important as inputs in the decisions made within the marriage, family, and home.

Very interesting blog. I am glad that I found it.

CoachSam said...

Dear Anon July 10th:

Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing your concern. I found a couple of other quotes that tend to lead in the same direction. Let me know if these provide more clarity to your issue:

"The honest sharing of one’s emotions, needs, thoughts, and beliefs is an important dimension in becoming one in marriage.

...Husbands and wives often feel ill at ease in sharing their true feelings about various matters for fear of hurting their mate’s feelings or becoming embroiled in attacks and counterattacks.

However, the Apostle John teaches us that “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” (1 Jn. 4:18.) And Paul counsels us to speak “the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15.) King Benjamin teaches us further that we should not “have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.” (Mosiah 4:13.)"

-Spencer Condie, July 1986 Ensign, “Finding Marital Unity Through the Scriptures”

"Now, when we speak of confession there is always a question of what we need to confess, how we should confess it, and to whom? President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), then an Assistant to the Twelve, provided this clear explanation:

“I would assume that we are to confess all our sins unto the Lord. For transgressions which are wholly personal, affecting none but ourselves and the Lord, such confession would seem to be sufficient.

“For misconduct which offends another, confession should also be made to the offended one, and his forgiveness sought.

“Finally, where one’s transgressions are of such a nature as would, unrepented of, put in jeopardy his right to membership or fellowship in the Church of Jesus Christ, full and effective confession would, in my judgment, require confession by the repentant sinner to his bishop or other proper presiding Church officer” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1955, 125).

- Elder Dennis Neuenschwander, "The Path of Growth", Dec 1999 Ensign

Just because a person is not directly in front of you when the offense is committed doesn’t mean that that person hasn’t been offended (or affected) by said transgression.

It doesn't mean you have to confess every little sin you've every committed in your whole life. Transgressions of a sexual nature, however, offend and affect your current and/or future spouse, whether those sins have been confessed to the bishop or not.

If you're confused about what to share or not share, pray about it. I should again emphasize that it's important HOW you tell your spouse these things as well. Be tactful, and always take into account their feelings and desires. Let THEM choose how and when they learn of these things.

Anonymous said...

I find this discussion very interesting. My husband disclosed past sins of his at the begining of our dating relationship. We had been getting to know eachother and after our first time meeting and really spending time together ( we met on LDS Chat) he called me and told me that there were things he needed to tell me to see if there could be a future between the two of us. I honestly think it was a wise move on his part to share those things with me BEFORE we got to the fiancee stage! He knew he wanted to persue a relationship with me, but if I hadn't accepted his past flaws in the begining then what were the chances I would be ok with it deeper into our relationship?
I think it is up to everyone individually, but I think it drew us closer- we knew and excepted eachother from the beginning instead of keeping those secerets till after marriage where you might feel trapped or tricked because of ommision. Just my take on it.

Anonymous said...

Before my wife and I got married I let her know my past. Yes it was struggle to her however I answered all her questions and we have been happy. I love having a confidant. I love that I can talk freely about my past with my wife without having to worry if i have revealed to much or she might find out something. I understand the idea that the past is the past. In that extent I do think that you should be wise with this disclosure. I think one of the General Authorities once said "go into a marriage with your eyes wide open and when once married close them half way.

Anonymous said...


Love this blog, but I have to ask, are you going to update it anymore? I totally understand if you just want to take a vacation like everyone else, but if you're done for ever, I need to find a new blog to follow!
Thanks for everything so far though.

Anonymous said...

I've only read this posting and already feel I need to comment on this subject.

I can totally understand both sides of the argument. Here's another twist: Instead of sins, what if it was being sexually victimized in your past? This had happened to me at a very young age, and several years afterwards I was able to effectively apply the atonement in my life and forgive the abuser, move on, and literally leave it in my past. I never officially received any counseling, except for the help of a loving bishop who provided wonderful guidance during my teenage years.

Then, even more years later, after I got engaged to my wife, I began to worry whether I was going to behave "normal" when it came to sex, or if the idea of getting intimate might cause memories to resurface. I decided that it would be best to be prepared, and told her that things had happened. She was very understanding about the whole thing at the time.

Later in our marriage, though, as we were struggling to find a balance in our intimacy, it came out that her lack of "initiating things" or even touching me intimately during sex stemmed from a fear she developed that she would be abusing me again or something like that. I think in a way she was trying to protect my feelings or something, but after hearing that I felt as though my telling her was the wrong thing to do, since it now seemed to be getting in the way of our intimacy.

I reiterated to her that my purpose for telling her was to simply make her aware of it and to give her insight into the trials and challenges I faced that made me who I am today.

It took her a little bit of adjusting, but things are much better now and I don't even think it's an issue anymore.

I had always known and desired that my spouse would literally be my best friend and confidant that I could talk about anything with, in addition to being my lover. It is important to be mentally and spiritually intimate and it is just as important to be physically intimate with your spouse. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

I agree with what has been said about the maturity levels in these types of situations either just before the wedding or early in the marriage. Certainly, some people are mature enough to handle it, while others may not be ready for something like that. Each situation is different and this is where guidance from our Heavenly Father must prevail.

CoachSam said...

Hi Anon Aug. 15,

I'm still here. I'm still working on my next article. It requires some additional research. I owe it to my readers to post well thought-out information from reliable sources. I feel it would be a disservice to just throw out any old thing.

If you have not already, I invite you to read my other articles and feel free to comment on them or post questions they may raise, and of course, you are welcome to discontinue visiting this site as well if you wish.

CoachSam said...

Dear Aug. 15th 6:29,

Thank you so much for reading my article and for your comment. It was an excellent follow up example to reinforce what I was trying to share.

I see from the example that you gave that your "sharing" actually strengthened your bond with your spouse and allowed you to work through the challenges (the abuse brought) together. I applaud you both.

Anonymous said...

I think its better to tell your fiancee of past sexual sins and anything else you feel you should tell. That is what I did and I felt it was very important. It also is a test of true character. If your fiancee will not forgive you and realize you have repented/ changed- then they are not worth marrying in my opinion. My fiance did not care and forgave me. We are now married and there are no secrets. No past issues to cause problems.

In regards to 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... I disagree! I do do think about my past or compare it. My spouse has never either. In fact, I can hardly remember the details of my past sexual mistake. I focus my thoughts on my current sexual relationship with my spouse. Even if your spouse worries a little that is a small price compared to knowing the truth. Having someone knowing all your dark secrets and still loving you who for you are now is so special. That is what we all desire, is it not? We all want to be loved despie our failures and faults. We want to be forgiven and do not want the past held against us. We want others to forgive and love us as Christ does. I am lucky to have found a Christ-like person to marry and spend eternity with. I try to be Christ-like too and not judge others, to forgive and love despite all.