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My wife and I were both raised in the Church. We met and married within a year. It was only after we became engaged that my wife told me that she had been sexually active from her early teens right up until just before we started dating. I was horrified and my gut instinct was to break off the engagement. However, I felt that the Christian thing to do would be to forgive and move on. I had struggled with pornography before and knew what it was to need the Atonement. We were married not long afterwards, and immediately my wife’s past caused issues in our relationship, both physically and emotionally. We are overcoming these and I feel we have a good relationship, but I am still haunted by thoughts of her past. I know her experiences must affect how she views me. I fear that if I ever fail to satisfy her sexually she will soon seek out satisfaction from other people. What can I do to overcome these issues? I do not want these thoughts to ruin our marriage. We do not have children yet, but when we do, I want to be able to bring them up well and teach them to keep the law of chastity. I want to forgive and forget. How can I make sure my wife’s past experiences (and my thoughts regarding them) do not impact our future family?
The key issue here is that you are anxious about your own inadequacy compared to her previous lovers. Unless you wife lied to you about her past when you were dating, your wife has not betrayed you or given you a reason to doubt her commitment to you or her faithfulness to your marriage. Your wife has owned her story. Now, it’s time for you to own your story about how insecure you feel.
It’s normal to have questions about our partner’s stories and wonder why they made certain choices. Learn as much as you can about her and let her learn about you and your past. This will deepen your appreciation of each other as flawed individuals who are choosing to build a close bond with one another. The more familiar and free you are with each other, the closer you’ll feel to each other.
It’s been my observation that men are anxious about their “performance” in the bedroom instead of focusing on the complete experience of the sexual and emotional relationship. Because you have reduced the sexual act down to the performance of a set of techniques, you will imagine in your mind that you are doing it worse than these other performers. You will be constantly tied up in your own inadequacy and self-judgment.
You have no competition. You have a loving, willing, and committed wife right in front of you who wants to build an intimate bond with you. These other experiences are no comparison to what you can offer your wife. She didn’t ultimately commit to spend the rest of her life with them. She offered that to you.
My guess is that your wife isn’t interested in you performing for her. She wants you to be present with her instead of obsessing in your brain about how you’re not measuring up. Don’t leave her alone while you’re judging yourself harshly against some unattainable standard.
Instead of focusing on technique and performance, slow down and focus on how she’s right there with you in every moment. Talk to her, make eye contact, and spend less time focusing on erogenous zones. Make sure you spend adequate time with nonsexual touch to let your body and heart know without doubt that she is there with you.
Your anxiety will lie to you and tell you that she would rather be with someone else doing something else. It’s your job to keep looking for evidence that she wants to be with you. You run the risk of pushing her away out of your own shame when she is, in fact, trying to get closer to you.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught that the ability to love our spouse the way we need to requires “an endowment from heaven” in the form of true charity.[i] I would also add that your ability to feel secure with yourself and trust your wife’s love for you requires the same endowment from on high.
You have a chance to build real intimacy with your wife. This is an opportunity for both of you to claim your sexual and emotional intimacy as your own. There are several excellent LDS resources on sexual intimacy that can help you both discover how you want to create your own intimate life.[ii]
Don’t reduce intimacy down to a performance in the bedroom and live beneath the privilege that is right in front of you. You are both imperfect people who found each other and can build something more beautiful than either of you could create on your own. Don’t bring these other guys along with you. She left them behind to choose you. Now, it’s your chance to leave them behind as well.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[ii] Some highly recommended LDS intimacy books are: “And They Were Not Ashamed” by Laura Brotherson, “Real Intimacy” by Kristin Hodson, and “What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You About Sex” by Dr. Anthony Hughes.