Everyone has a past. We’ve all sinned (Romans 3:23), so there are things in our past that we might not be proud about.
So how do you discuss that past when dating someone? As one person put it when we recently asked for dating questions:
How much of my past should I share when starting to date someone? When should I share big things from my past?
It’s kind of a broad question. The “past” could be any time from yesterday to your earliest childhood memory, and the “big things” can cover a big range as well. So, when considering that question, there are some other questions to answer:
Is it really in the past? Is this something that happened to you, or that you did at some point in your life, that is very unlikely to happen again? Or is it a pattern or habit from your past that you haven’t really been able to break? If it’s the latter, then you’re really talking about your present, and I’d encourage you to A) get help and B) seriously consider not dating anyone until you have gotten well. For help, check out re:generation (a Bible-based recovery ministry) if you’re in Dallas or one of these cities.
Are you still in bondage to your past? Even if it’s not an ongoing or a recent thing, sometimes things from your past can still rule over the present. It could be continued guilt and shame about something you’ve done. It could be trust or control (or other) issues because of something that’s been done to you. Either way, the best thing you could do for yourself and your future spouse would be to get help: again, through re:generation, or through other recovery ministries specific to things like past abuse, divorce, abortion, or loss of loved ones.
Are you emotionally dumping on them? There’s a difference between talking about your past and trying to drag someone into it. Don’t look to the person you’re dating to be your therapist, your savior, or to “fix” you. Jesus is the only one qualified to be your Savior. The reason the ministries mentioned above can help is because they do focus on Christ.
Why do you want to tell them, or why do you not want to tell them? This heart check can help you determine whether one of the above situations applies. Are you reluctant because you haven’t really moved past it? Do you want to share because you really need help?
OK, so back to the original question. The really, really short answer would be: share everything your potential future spouse wants to know or needs to know before you get married. Don’t intentionally keep anything from them. In marriage, you become one (Mark 10:7-9), and helping them know who, exactly, they’re choosing to become one with seems the loving thing to do. We are called to live in the light (1 John 1:5-10) and be children of light (Ephesians 5:8-11), and that means we’re not hiding our sins in the dark.
Yes, JP, but when “before you get married”? Well, it makes sense that you wouldn’t wait until the day before the wedding to tell your fiancé some really major thing about your past. It would also be a questionable topic on your first date—certainly you’ll talk about yourself, but getting into emotionally intimate details right from the start doesn’t seem like a great way to guard your heart. But over time, when you get a sense that the relationship is headed toward marriage, you should share everything that person might want to know: past addictions, sexual partners, hurts, crimes, etc.
If you’re in Dallas, Merge can be helpful for this. It’s a class for people who are seriously dating (thinking about getting engaged) or are already engaged. Certainly, if you’re going to Merge, it’s a good sign that you’re serious enough to talk about it.
Don’t share anything in two-hour, late night, emotional phone conversations. Don’t share over text (I’m grieved that instruction might be necessary). Don’t share alone, late at night in your apartment with no one else around. Share in person, in a semi-public place. If it is really heavy, you might consider including your community group.
A New Creation
An important thing to remember in all this: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). If you have trusted your life to Christ, then you are not the same person you once were. You may still have to deal with earthly consequences from some things in your past, but those things don’t define you.
It’s much easier to share something dark about your past when it truly is the past, and no longer holds sway over who you are. And when the person you’re dating (who should also be a believer; 2 Corinthians 6:14) inevitably tells you about big things from their past, you need to remember that they, too, are a new creation. Be gentle, and be willing to forgive them (Ephesians 4:32). It doesn’t mean you have to marry them, but you do need to be able to forgive them.
And if you’re looking to marry someone perfect, I’ll save you a lifetime of searching: they don’t exist. Marriage requires forgiveness, both for past and present mistakes.
(With help from Kevin McConaghy)