Forgiving Your Partner’s Past: The Perspective

Cole Zick

Dating, Healing & Restoration, Marriage

I was 19 and had just been kicked out of Bible college when I met Cait. It started because she was someone to talk to, and at the time, I didn’t really have many options. I was 1,500 miles away from home, and going back after getting expelled wasn’t an option. As things evolved from friendship to dating, it didn’t take long for me to realize she was different than other girls. Before I knew it,  I became a gross, sappy, lovesick puppy.

I really hadn’t dated much in high school, partially because I felt awkward and partially because I felt the options were few and far between. You can imagine how surprised I was when things with Caitlin progressed much faster than I had ever experienced with anyone else.  I knew within a month that I loved her. I still remember the first time I told her. We were sitting in her red Jeep at the back of a parking lot. I had never used those words with anyone before, and I felt the significance of the moment as they left my mouth.

With all of the things I loved about her, there was just one area that seemed too big for me to get over: her past. She began to be sexually active in middle school. During those years she had oral sex more times than she could count. Though she never had intercourse, the thoughts of her in back seats, movie theatres, or at parties giving some guy oral sex began to haunt me.  

I had grown up a bit differently… You see, I was “Mr. Purity,” at least in my own mind. I had never been with a girl, looked at porn, been drunk, etc. My personal story created a self-righteousness, making me feel entitled to have a girl who was also “pure.”  

We had come to the point in our relationship that I couldn’t keep moving forward without addressing this. It consumed my mind. I was beginning to talk about it with people close to me, and I was coming to the conclusion that I couldn’t marry her. I couldn’t get the images I had created of her with these guys out of my head.

Finally, I decided there was only one way to feel better: I told her that I had to know everything she had done. I wanted to know who, how, and what happened. She was apprehensive and said, “I don’t feel like the same person I was back then. When I think back, it feels like someone else’s memories. I’m willing to tell you, but it will be painful to relive.”

We didn’t talk through it right away, and over the next couple days, God spoke to me.  When I was praying with him about Caitlin and her past, He had an opinion and told me, “If you can’t forgive her, then you can’t be a pastor. I can’t use a person who preaches about my grace but doesn’t understand it. If you understood it, you would never make her walk through this and hold it over her.”

Instantly, a download of what grace and forgiveness really were flooded my mind and heart. I realized what I was asking her, the pain it would cause her, and how self-righteous it was of me to demand it. Most of all, I realized I had misunderstood grace. All of a sudden, the words in Matthew 6:14-15 became clearer to me:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

This verse wasn’t an ultimatum, but rather a window into my soul. If I forgave freely without making her pay a price or make amends, then it was proof that I understood the grace of God. However, if I required more of her than Jesus Himself was requiring of mankind, then I was agreeing with a spirit of religion.

From this, God began to teach my heart what grace was. We weren’t even talking about Caitlin anymore; the Holy Spirit was teaching me about the cross. In Psalm 51:4, David is asking God for forgiveness of his sin with Bathsheba and then murdering her husband to cover it up. In David’s prayer, he says this to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned…” At first glance one could think, David didn’t just sin against God, He sinned against Bathsheba, her husband Uriah, and even Joab for commanding him to play a part in murdering Uriah. This verse begins to make more sense when we are looking at it through the right filter. We as humans tend to make everything about us. God spoke to me and essentially said, “Oh no, it’s much worse than if she had sinned against you. She sinned against me. If I can forgive her, then you don’t have the right to hold it against her.”

God chose to forget Caitlin’s past (Hebrews 10:17).

How dare I hold on to something that not even our Creator was holding onto?

How dare I exercise a right that God Himself was choosing not to exercise?

Asking her to recite her past would have actually contradicted the work that God was doing in her. The problem wasn’t her past but my inability to understand the power of grace. By asking her to tell me everything she had done, I was making her relive the pain. I was essentially demanding that she make penance for sins that not even God was asking her to make.

I chose to let it go and not ask her to tell all. I forgave her and truly released it in my heart. In the process, I realized that God was using me to be a part of His healing agenda in her. By forgiving her and seeing her as Jesus did, I joined in her healing process. It brought me into God’s plan for her healing rather than being counterproductive to it.

For those in my position, before you demand to know things about your partner’s past, spend some time with the Lord. God may have a different idea for what your next step should be. His guidance and wisdom allowed me to forgive Caitlin’s past and go on to marry the girl I fell in love with all those years ago.

Read about practical steps to take for forgiving your partner’s past. 



27 Responses to “Forgiving Your Partner’s Past: The Perspective”

  1. This is so so good. I’ve had some hard lessons with this in my marriage. It was about me, not them. Thank you thank you for sharing. It encourages me to keep it up going forward.

  2. Wow!
    I am without words right now. I broke up with my boyfriend for this exact reason. I couldn’t and wasn’t going to forgive or forget. Currently I was even praying that God would give me someone just like me, someone who doesn’t have a dirty past like him.
    Thank you. I feel convicted and I praise God for who he is and how great of a father he is to us!

  3. Jasmine

    My boyfriend and I have gone through this very situation and it just makes my heart so happy that you two were taught about God’s grace in just the same way as we were. In the time we had gone through addressing the situation in our own relationship, The Lord used our time seeking counsel apart from each other to teach both of us about His Grace and then as He brought us together to talk again it was beautiful to see that God had taught my boyfriend about grace just as He had taught me about it.
    Praise God for His mercy and grace!!

  4. As one who has been through a similar situation, I agree with the principles in this post. However, I think that one really needs to get wise counsel and ultimately seek the Holy Spirit. Not every person or scenario will be the same. Sadly, not every couple will be able to find restoration. I had to learn the hard way that it is important whether or not the person with the past is whole and is walking in freedom from his/her past (mentally and spiritually). I will be the first person to agree that we need to show grace and forgiveness; however, I think sometimes that can give us an excuse to overlook or even ignore the fact that sin (especially sexual sin) has ugly consequences. I’m not saying that you can never date or marry anyone with a past, in fact, I have seen God’s redeeming work not only in my own parent’s marriage but also in friend’s marriages. I am 100% a byproduct of God’s grace. Yet, as one who has gone through a painful experience with this, I would caution against casually glancing over someone’s past sin under the guise of forgiveness and grace. Communicate in a healthy way. Understand the weight of it. Pray about it. Seek wise counsel. Go in with your eyes wide open. Then move forward whether that means together or apart.

    • Ana, oh how I wish I could talk to you in person. I found out eleven months ago (and not from him) about my husband’s horrific past, all of which would have been dealbreakers. He lied extensively to me & still refuses to be honest. This has destroyed us. This has destroyed me. It is easily the most painful thing I have experienced so far in my 34 years. I wish I could leave & never look back.

      • Kenny

        I can relate that’s why I’m hear. 41 years and I can’t seem to find forgiveness for my partner. So I did not do something correct for I was raised in the ways of the Lord my partner was not but has chosen to do so. For me it seems I need the truth to feel my partners love for me. Maybe that is wrong. It is not to force what some call reliving painful events. They did not seem so painful when they where repeatedly commiing them sorry if that seems uncaring. Then I thought I can’t change be what happened before me. Well I found out after 40 yes after dating 5 months they ran into.each.other they danced one dance and she hid in the bathroom till he left. Then she went home with her sister. Please try to look at the good you have seen in your life what him if after all this time you can say he is a good person and has not cheated on you than you maybe need to think a new approach with God’s help.

    • Actually I loved reading this. And your comment is accurate. Sexual sin does have consequences and the key is to make sure your partner is walking free or at least on a healing journey.

  5. . The trust factor has to be the utmost of sacred compliance. Reading this is rather similar, so if you are 100% committed to God and His kingdom, there will be no worry and no struggle. Forgiveness of the past must lead to ongoing forgiveness.

  6. Kevin N

    How you receive someone after they fail is the true mark of being an authentic follower of Christ.
    Some of the most powerful people I know in the ministry came back from their prodigal journey and how I received them, because I counted, was completely pivotal. It fights against your humanness to love when it is easiest to judge. Will you embrace or become rigid? Will you open your heart or will you put on your judges robe? The struggle is real but I make a pre choice choice to be like the prodigal sons father and do this practice. Really well written Cole.

  7. Jessi K

    This honestly bothers me. I can’t not say something. She should never have had to be forgiven. She did nothing wrong. She was a a young girl exploring her sexuality and probably uninformed. We can’t teach this is wrong. It is natural to explore sexuality. We must learn consent. Girls need to know that they can say yes and they can say no. No matter the circumstances. Sex isn’t wrong when it’s between two consenting adults. How dare someone be so self righteous to say they have to forgive someone for actions taken before they knew their future partner. A moral revolution should involve a discussion of consent. Abstinence only promotes victim shaming and regret for something women should never be faulted for. Or men for that matter. It also will lead to an increased number of STDs and unintended pregnancies. I beg you. Teach safe sex. Teach consent.

    • Moral Revolution

      Hey Jessi,
      Our message is based on the guidelines God set up for sex in the Bible. We believe God loves us and that He designed sex to be within the context of marriage. While it is natural to want to explore our sexuality, we also believe that since God asks us to save it for marriage, then this must be the healthiest, most intimate way to experience sex. It’s not our heart to bring shame to people who haven’t walked this out, but to point them to God’s original design for sexuality since we believe He wouldn’t ask us to do anything that wasn’t possible and wasn’t for our best.

  8. Anonymous

    Thank you for this well written and personal exploration for this topic. For me, personally, as the “inexperienced” party of our relationship I needed to know more details — but not all the details — of my husband’s past. This was not an issue of unforgiveness for me but rather insecurity that I could not get over without knowing more, but not all, of the details. If it matters, this insecurity did not occur until after we were wed and then I began to struggle with giving myself to him because of fear that “they” satisfied him more than I ever could among other fears. I prayed, read the Word, we talked about it (without any discussion of “more details”), etc. Then the nightmares started. It was time for a more in-depth conversation. He was kind, gentle, and merciful with me in my weakness and expressed only enough details to clear away the murkiness that was consuming me. Ultimately, I needed to better understand my role in his life and be reassured about him choosing me as his wife. He realized that I needed something he had not yet given me and asked if I wanted to hear it before sharing. It was a painful but healing time for us and our marriage. The insecurity was dramatically improved that day and I now possessed the truth so it couldn’t consume me in the following days. Before I knew it I was over it and growing by leaps and bounds in my comfort level / confidence around my husband – in and out of the bedroom. We have never revisited the topic and likely never will again for ourselves. (Someday our babies will hear something like, “Daddy didn’t save himself and these were some of the consequences of that choice.” when we counsel them on the Biblical importance of waiting). <3

  9. I’ve read both articles and I just want to thank you for them. It sounds very much like retroactive jealousy, something which I have been struggling with and it just gives me so much hope that I will be be able to overcome these feelings. But most of all, I’ve been struggling with so much guilt because while I preach about God’s grace, I can’t seem to extend it to this guy whom I’ve been seeing. Context: we are both interested in taking our friendship to the next level; I am ‘Ms Purity’ and he’s had a few girlfriends before he came back to the Lord. I am reconsidering if we should take that next step i.e. officially start dating, because I simply cannot bring myself to enter into a relationship with him if I cannot overcome these feelings of hurt, jealousy and guilt towards feeling jealous/hurt about his past. Yet at the same time, I feel so stuck because I feel like if I just walk away like that, there’s clearly an unresolved issue in my heart that I would still have to deal with anyway.

    Thank you for shining light on the truth that it is okay to acknowledge that it hurts that I am not his first. I have been blaming myself so much for having these feelings, and this guilt has been eating me up; which I guess really shows how little I know about God’s grace for me. I’m really asking for God to heal me in this area because it has come to a point where there seems to be this sorrow whenever I am reminded of him or his past. Cries.

    Anyhow, thank you for writing on this. I realised there are very little testimonies online about how God helped people get over their partner’s past (the rest of the stories online aren’t very hopeful because they lack the God element), and I would love to read more on these.

  10. So what happens after 40 years of marriage, 40 years of prayers, and the heart and soul of my partner is damaged because of my past? How can my past ever be put away.

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