I often get asked by my clients what they can do if their spouse has had other sexual partners. While the reason behind this can vary, it often leaves the spouse who hasn’t had any other partners feeling jealous, insecure, or even resentful. First of all, these feelings are totally natural, but let’s talk about ways to address them and move forward in a healthy way. Join me as I share 7 ways to work through those feelings.
Over the years, many clients and listeners have reached out wanting to know what to do when their spouse (or potential spouse) has had other sexual partners. I want to acknowledge that this situation can indeed be very challenging for some couples. It’s not uncommon for it to bring up feelings of insecurity, jealousy, or even resentment. But remember, these feelings are natural, and today we are going to talk about how to address them and move forward in a healthy way.
There are several scenarios that I have seen this come up:
- If your spouse had previous sexual experience before you were married because they made some choices that are outside of our conservative Christian value system. Teens and young adults often make decisions that don’t align with their values or integrity. With this one, I would want to talk about if they have utilized the Atonement. If they have repented of their choices. Hopefully this is talked about before getting married. But, I think if you truly believe in the Atonement, that it’s really a non-issue. I understand there can be some hard feelings there still, which we will discuss further, but if they have gone through the repentance process, I think it’s important for you to work on getting past it and move on.
- If your spouse wasn’t a member of your same faith and didn’t have the same values you did it makes sense why they might have had other partners. And again, I think baptism and washing away all of their previous sins covers this and you need to move on.
- Infidelity. Now this one is a tough one. If your partner has been unfaithful, there’s a lot to work through. If you haven’t yet, listen to Episode 221 where I talk to my friend and fellow coach, Andrea Giles. She coaches women who want to heal from infidelity and she’s amazing.
- Second marriages. Being in a second marriage myself, I really get this one.
One thing I think is important to remember in all of these scenarios is that your spouse is with you. Hopefully you feel loved and chosen by your spouse. Hopefully all of this is way in the past. And if it’s not, then you might want to think about getting some coaching or therapy to help you get through.
Feeling insecure in your relationship is a big deal. And really looking at how much of that insecurity is coming from yourself versus mapping it in your spouse. So if your spouse has never been unfaithful in any way and you’re constantly worried about it, that’s a you issue and something you need to get help with. Hopefully you’ve heard me talk about how a good sexual relationship starts with a good relationship with yourself, first and foremost. So if you don’t have a good relationship with yourself, come into coaching, so we can work on that.
If you are feeling jealous in your relationship, check out Episode 261 where I address all sorts of reasons why we are jealous and how to deal with it.
I’ve seen jealousy in this kind of situation show up in 2 different ways. One, that you are jealous of these former partners and that they know your spouse in the same way you do. Maybe you’re feeling angry or sad that you are not their “one and only.” Maybe you’re feeling afraid that they are thinking of these other partners when they are with you. So again, we have to evaluate if this is an actual thing or if this is an insecurity issue in yourself.
But the second scenario is an interesting one, which also leads us to resentment. I’ve seen how some partners are jealous that their partner has more experience, had more “fun,” they weren’t so strict, etc. before they got married. That they got to experience multiple partners and what sex is like with different people. When Brené Brown talks about resentment in her book Atlas of the Heart she was surprised to learn that resentment is not about anger, it’s about envy. I have resentment because I stayed true to my values and you didn’t and I’m envious that I didn’t do more. Interesting right?
So now that we’ve talked about different scenarios of how this comes up and why we have the feelings we have, let’s talk about how to work through it.
1 Open and Honest Communication
Open and honest communication is the cornerstone of addressing any issue in a marriage, including this one. It’s essential to create a safe and non-judgmental space where both partners can express their feelings freely. If you’re the partner who hasn’t had previous sexual experiences, it’s crucial to let your spouse know how you’re feeling and why.
But too many times when a spouse brings up something that is hard for them, it is our natural reaction to react defensively. When we react defensively, this shuts down communication because it is no longer safe for the other person and they will be less likely to bring up issues again. Which might sound good for the one who feels like they are being attacked and are defensive but this doesn’t foster good communication, or intimacy and connection. It also creates a situation where one partner (or both partners) feel they have to manage the other person; either their emotions or their reactions, which also shuts down communication.
Dr. John Gottman talks about defensiveness as one of the biggest issues that causes problems in a marriage. He teaches that the antidote to defensiveness is to take responsibility for your part.
For example, if your spouse says “It’s really hard for me that you’ve had other sexual partners,” rather than “well, you do this, and this, and this that is really hard for me” or “well I wasn’t a member of the church and didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to.” Those are both really defensive. The response instead could be, “Yeah, I did, and I’m sorry that’s really hard for you.” When you respond that way, you aren’t being defensive, you are taking ownership over your part, you’re expressing empathy for what they are feeling without taking responsibility for their emotions.
2 Avoid Blame and Judgment
Blame and judgment are counterproductive in these discussions. It’s vital to remember that your partner chose to be with you, here and now. Their past experiences have shaped who they are today, just as yours have shaped you. Instead of dwelling on the past, focus on the present and the future you want to build together.
3 Understand Your Feelings
Taking the time to understand your feelings is key. As the partner who hasn’t had previous experiences, you might be grappling with feelings of inadequacy or fear. Identifying the root causes of these emotions is the first step toward addressing them effectively. This is a lot of what we do in coaching, understanding the emotions we have and why we have them. Once we have this awareness, then we can decide if we want to change them or not.
If you are the partner who has had previous experiences, it’s important for you to understand your feelings as well. Do you feel ashamed? Acceptance? Fear that your spouse won’t understand? Really working to understand your own emotions about it is important too.
4 Boosting Self-Esteem
Building self-esteem plays a pivotal role in addressing these emotions. Both partners can contribute to this process. If you’re the partner with previous experiences, provide emotional support and reassurance to your spouse. Encourage them to embark on a journey of self-discovery and self-love to boost their confidence. I know that this has been a key element for myself. I have noticed that when I am feeling insecure or inadequate in my relationship, it often goes back to my relationship with myself and so I have to intentionally work on that part of myself again and again.
5 Seek Professional Help
Sometimes, the best way forward is seeking professional help. Coaching can provide invaluable guidance and tools to navigate these complex emotions and dynamics. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you feel stuck or overwhelmed. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
I have loved helping couples work through some really tough issues, including this one in my couples coaching and couples retreats.
6 Building Trust
Trust is the bedrock of any healthy relationship. Focus on building and maintaining trust in your marriage. This involves being reliable, transparent, and supportive of each other’s needs and insecurities. Trust is a journey, and it grows stronger as you nurture it over time. And trust isn’t earned, it’s a choice.
7 Celebrate Your Unique Connection
Remember that your relationship is unique and special. Instead of dwelling on comparisons or past experiences, celebrate the bond you share with your partner. Explore new experiences together and create your own intimate memories that are uniquely yours. Embrace the fact that you are creating a story together, and it’s unlike any other.
One last thing I wanted to touch on before we end today is what to do if your spouse is comparing you to past partners. So if you find yourself in that situation, here’s what you can do (and you’ll see that many of these are the same things I mentioned earlier):
1 Communicate Openly
The first step is to have an open and honest conversation with your partner. Express how these comparisons make you feel and why they are hurtful. Use “I” statements to convey your feelings and avoid blaming or accusing your partner.
2 Seek Understanding
Try to understand why your partner is making these comparisons. Are they seeking validation, dealing with their own insecurities, or simply unaware of the impact of their words? Gaining insight into their motivations can help both of you address the issue more effectively.
3 Set Boundaries
Clearly communicate your boundaries. Let your partner know that comparing you to past partners is not acceptable behavior in your relationship. Setting boundaries is a way to protect your emotional well-being.
4 Ask for Specific Feedback
If your partner has legitimate concerns or preferences, encourage them to provide specific feedback on what they desire in your sexual relationship. This can help you both work together to improve your intimacy without dwelling on the past.
5 Focus on the Present
Emphasize that your relationship is about the present and the future, not the past. Remind your partner that they chose to be with you for a reason, and you want to build a fulfilling and satisfying sexual connection together.
6 Boost Self-Esteem
Encourage your partner to work on their own self-esteem and insecurities. Offer support and reassurance, and remind them of the qualities that attracted you to each other in the first place.
7 Consider Professional Help
If the issue persists and is causing significant strain in your relationship, consider seeking the help of coach or therapist. A professional can provide guidance and strategies for addressing these issues in a healthy way.
Take care of your own emotional well-being. Engage in self-care activities, maintain a strong support network of friends and family, and focus on your personal growth and self-esteem.
Remember, it’s essential to address this issue in a constructive and empathetic manner. Both partners should be committed to working together to overcome challenges and improve the intimacy and communication in the relationship. Ultimately, the goal is to build a loving and fulfilling connection that is rooted in the present and future, not haunted by comparisons to the past.