Question

This girl and I are very interested in each other. We both have a desire to be married in the temple one day. And we both have strong testimonies. We have also had similar pasts as teens and young adults involving pornography and other immoral things of that nature. However, the way I feel about the repentance process and how she feels about it are very different. I have been working with my bishop for many years to overcome what I truly believe to be wrong. Whereas she feels it is a more personal thing to go about the repentance process and finds it uncomfortable talking to a middle-age man about her sexuality. I’m faced with this girl that I fell in love with and can see a future with her, but I am heartbroken to learn that she hasn’t taken or the repentance process as seriously I have.

Additionally, how can we be appropriately intimate with each other over long distance without compromising our morals? She’s used to sending her significant others seminude photos, and when I told her I can’t act like that anymore because I want to build a healthy premarital relationship without sexual arousal, she took that as rejection. She accused me of not admiring her beauty, which isn’t true. I do find her attractive and I want to connect with her, but given both of our histories, I know that doing these things would not lead to a temple marriage.

Answer

I commend both of you for your desire to grow from your personal struggles and build a strong relationship. It’s clear that you both have different ideas of what’s necessary for emotional, spiritual, and relational healing. You’re wise to slow down and evaluate these personal and relational dynamics so you can have a successful future together.

While it’s not your right to judge her standing before the Church or before God, you do have the responsibility to make what Elder Dallin H. Oaks termed a “righteous intermediate judgement.”[i] We all have to make these types of judgements to determine who we will trust with our lives. Even though we need to make these types of judgements in our relationships, Elder Oaks described specific guidelines we can follow to make sure these intermediate judgements are helpful and not harmful. One of these guidelines invites us to consider the fact that we rarely have all the facts.

It sounds like you’re in a new long-distance relationship, so I’m guessing it’s safe to assume that you’re still learning more about this woman and what she values. When you discover major incongruencies with your beliefs, this is the perfect opportunity to take time to thoroughly understand each of your value systems. Don’t just automatically make assumptions about who she is based on these initial discoveries. Ask better questions to find out why each of you feel the way you do.

For example, what if you discovered that her sexual struggles resulted from years of abuse from a trusted older male? Would this information change how you felt about she’s working her recovery process? In my experience, we all behave in ways that make sense to us. What may seem like rebellion, pride, or stubbornness on the surface is usually just the tip of the iceberg. Our beliefs and values have stories underneath them and the more we understand about other people’s stories, the more we understand their choices.

Now, this doesn’t mean that just because you understand her story that she needs to be your wife. You may decide that you need a different type of relationship and that’s perfectly okay. Again, this is where you get to make a righteous intermediate judgement for your own life. You’ve expressed that you want to start this relationship with a high level of sexual integrity. If that doesn’t ultimately work for her, regardless of her history, then it’s okay for you to move on.

This is one of several areas you’ll evaluate as you’re dating, so give yourself permission to choose the challenges you’re willing to grapple with for the longevity of your marriage. There will be plenty of problems you can’t anticipate before you get married, so the more problem areas you can identify and work through before marriage, the better. Plus, it will give you both a chance to see how you handle differences. Remember that HOW you work through problems is usually more important than the actual problems. Look for someone who is kind and shows concern when you’re working through challenging differences in the relationship.

You can stay open to her story and experiences while still asking her to hear your story about why sexual integrity is so important to you. You seem deeply committed to your personal healing and want a partner who can support you in these efforts. It’s okay for you to want someone who can be a strength and not a hinderance. Continue to speak honestly about your goals and needs. Ask her to continue sharing as well. These conversations will influence the direction of your relationship. Take as much time as you need to work through these differences. Don’t assume that getting married and having a sexual relationship will make everything work out. Confronting and sharing each of your own beliefs and values creates the real intimacy that will build a strong foundation for your future.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

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[i] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1999/08/judge-not-and-judging?lang=eng