I have been reading your book The Sacred Search and I am almost done with it.
I was wondering if you could just clarify something for me. In chapter 15, you talk about knowing whether a person is healed from his or her sexual past, and not proceed to marriage until you feel like they have pursued good healing. My question to you is, how do you determine if a person is healed from their sexual past and that they have dealt with it in a healthy way?
I agree with you that this question is a critical one in the pursuit of marriage, but I am trying to figure out how to best discern this and I hope you can help.
Ah, the limitation of books. I can see how my generalities in this chapter are confusing. The challenge in answering this question is that sexual healing, in this regard, is sort of like describing “physical fitness.” There are different levels of fitness: you can be generally fit, but not capable of bench pressing 200 pounds; you can be generally in shape and not really capable of completing a marathon under 4 and a half hours. “Fitness” is a continuum, and so is sexual “healing,” particularly in a fallen world.
I look at marriage as an intense relationship that, at its best, to reach its best, will require a high level of relational fitness and soundness. It will require a certain level of maturity, spiritual strength, relational ability, and emotional soundness. If the person you are contemplating marrying lacks any of these qualities, your marriage will pay a certain price until (or unless) they are addressed.
Immediately you could challenge me: “But no one’s perfect.” You’re right. No one is completely healthy emotionally, sexually, spiritually, physically, and relationally. But I could look at a group of people and say, “In general, this group is more likely to complete a half-marathon, and this group is more likely to do one hundred pushups.” And I can meet with couples and suggest, “This couple is likely to have a high-functioning marriage and this couple is likely to make each other miserable.”
Even so, because each person is different and each relationship is different, I have to stay a little general in this blog post. If someone has had considerable promiscuity in their past or certainly a sexual addiction and has never sought some professional help, I doubt very much they are “healed” enough to function in a healthy way, long-term, in marriage. Early on, when the sexual chemistry is high and intense, they may seem to function very well. But my amateur guess is that the relationship is living on borrowed time. The human brain and soul is such that a price is eventually paid for such a past, and while the “price” can be delayed, it is rarely permanently avoided.
The same thing is true if there has been severe sexual abuse. I hate writing this, because these people have already been harmed and now it seems like I am re-assaulting them by implying they are damaged goods when it wasn’t their fault. I’m not. I’m just saying, they’ve been hurt, and they need to see a “doctor”—a trained counselor who can help them work through the hurt and the shame and anything that might keep them from a Song of Songs sexual relationship with their spouse.
Immediately you might ask me, quite fairly, “what do you mean by ‘considerable promiscuity’ or ‘severe’ sexual abuse?” Let me put it this way: if there is any doubt, if you have any questions, you’d be wise to go to an experienced counselor (this will be above the pay grade for most of us pastors) who can poke around a little bit and let you know.
If I was single, would I consider marrying someone with a “sexual past”? Yes; my wife married me, for which I am profoundly grateful. Would I consider marrying someone with a complicated sexual past who had never talked about it with a trained counselor? Absolutely not. If someone had a heart condition and refused to see a medical doctor, saying they’ve “claimed God’s healing,” I’d run for the hills and say, “As much as I like this person, I can’t trust that they’re going to live long enough to hitch my future to them.” And if someone thinks a solo, personal prayer will get them past serious abuse, a promiscuous past, or a sexual addiction, I don’t think they’re in touch with reality enough to enter responsibly into marriage.
I hate that people have been hurt and abused. I hate that people have made some bad choices. I hate that some have made so many related bad choices that they’ve gotten caught in the rut of an addiction. As a pastor, I want to pray healing over you, not to condemn you. I want you to walk in healing and grace. I don’t want you to hold on to an ounce of shame—Christ died to rid you of that shame. I will not condemn you—God will show you the same grace He has shown me and countless others.
But if you think a solo, personal prayer is sufficient ammunition against a deep hurt, that’s not faith. That’s delusion. And I just don’t think it’s wise to marry a person who’s delusional.
This might sound extreme to some people but consider this: most of us wouldn’t think of buying a used car without having a mechanic check it out. Marriage is a much more consequential choice, and yet we often rush into it not really knowing a partner’s past or their true spiritual/psychological/mental health, and that’s flat out dangerous.
Some people think it’s bizarre that Dr. Steve and Rebecca Wilke and I talk about doing a personal credit check and a sexual history form (in our book for pre-marital couples called The Sacred Search Couple’s Conversation Guide), but it’s because we have such a high view of the covenant of marriage—that we will fight to keep the marriage together after the wedding—that we want couples to be sober-minded and wise about who they marry, and the condition of the person they marry.
Wanting to know if someone is capable of sustaining long-term sexual intimacy, without shame and without addictive patterns getting in the way, is a noble and good and wise question, one well worth taking seriously and even consulting professional help. (If the marriage already exists, it’s never too late to deal with the past by seeking counseling today.)