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.