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Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

I Messed Up: Confessing Sin to Your Boyfriend or Girlfriend Before You Get Engaged

I Messed Up - Confessing Sin to Your Boyfriend or Girlfriend Before You Get Engaged

Jonathan wanted to get engaged to Julie. They had been dating for about a year, and things seemed to be going really well. They had grown very fond of one another. They were encouraged by each other’s faith. They had lots of family and friends investing in them individually and as a couple. They had met the parents. With each passing day, they were getting closer and closer to engagement. What was left?

Just a few days ago, Jonathan sat on my couch and with a look of dread written all over his face, he told me, “I don’t want to tell her about my past. I scared she won’t forgive me for the stupid things I did prior to meeting her.”

There is a strong temptation at moments like these to not say anything. Why? Because hiding is fundamental to the way sin works. We cower in the darkness, and hate to be exposed to light. Picture Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit. They covered themselves with fig leaves and hid behind a tree. Because of their guilt and shame, they didn’t want to expose themselves. As the old adage goes, “What they don’t know can’t hurt them, right?”

If you are dating someone right now, are you scared to tell him or her about your sinful past? Whether you’ve struggled with difficult sins from the past, or you are still struggling with significant sins right now, it’s important to talk to your future spouse about these things.

Why should a boyfriend or girlfriend say something before they get engaged? Because it is important that the other person actually knows who he or she is marrying. No secrets. Don’t hide your sin. Mold grows in the darkness, not in the light. Honesty and bringing things out into the light is (usually) always the more redemptive way to handle anyrelationship (Ephesians 5:1-14). How much moreso should you do this in a dating relationship, especially when you are considering making it a permanent relationship by getting married.

Too many couples hide sin in the midst of marriage, and that sadly inhibits their ability to build genuine intimacy. Your goal in marriage is to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24)—to be unified—and you can’t do that if you let sin get in the way. Hiding sin in your dating relationship or engagement is a poor precedent for a potential marriage.

There are usually two types of sin that need to be confessed in a dating relationship (or in engagement) prior to marriage—current foolishness or past foolishness.

Current Foolishness

Foolishness that is current and on-going needs to be discussed between a boyfriend and girlfriend in some detail because it has huge implications for the immediate relationship. Wisdom is needed as to how much detail to discuss, so it is good to seek counsel from an older, wiser married person before you to talk to your boyfriend or girlfriend.

The boyfriend or girlfriend needs to hear enough to know: (1) how to be an ally with you against your on-going sin; and (2) if he or she wants to marry into this problem. Every husband and wife has problems (because everyone is a sinner!), but one of the choices you make in picking a spouse is which set of problems you choose to get married to.

Past Foolishness

Past foolishness describes sins from a previous season of your life. As you take this big step of getting engaged, you want to feel confident that you really do know the person you are marrying. Sharing past sins is an important part of revealing who you are and what you’ve struggled with.

Sexual sins are the most common sins people need to share about their past, but a wide variety of other sins could also fit in this category (bad financial debt, drug or alcohol addiction, eating disorders, etc.). Most folks are scared to share because they fear rejection. But if we are honest, and if God has already forgiven us, we hope that with time (or hopefully immediately) your future spouse will forgive you for your sins.

Consider the parable of the wicked servant in Matthew 18. Notice how God’s forgiveness of our enormous debt of sin should motivate us to forgive the much smaller relational “debts” that have come between us and another person. Compare the difference between the wicked servant’s debt in verse 24 and the fellow servant’s debt in verse 28. Notice how much greater the debt is between the wicked servant and the king; and consequently, how foolish the wicked servant is because he is unwilling to forgive the much smaller (by comparison) debt of the other person.   The principle is simple: Those who have been forgiven much will more keenly see the mercy of God; so it is no surprise that they will in turn be willing to forgive others. The fact that God has first forgiven us (Eph 4:32) overflows to our forgiving others.

When you share with your boyfriend or girlfriend, a general rule of thumb is to be more general and not specific about your past sin. There is no need to go into detail about it (with one exception, see below). If your boyfriend or girlfriend demands more detail then be careful about how much more you say because: (1) He or she might have a false notion that more knowledge will somehow give more control over your problems, and that is just not true; (2) Your sin has already been paid for once by Christ and you have received God’s forgiveness for that sin. You don’t need to re-crucify your sin through your future spouse’s cross examination. Give him or her enough detail to understand the nature of the sin—what it was, and when it happened in your life.  After that, seek their forgiveness and move on with your life.

In regards to sexual sin from the past, we break it down into three categories: (1) Pornography – “hard” porn (magazines) or more commonly “soft” (internet) porn; (2) Premarital sex; (3) Scandalous sins – sleeping with prostitutes, going to strip clubs or massage parlors, etc. For pornography and premarital sex, be more general about your past sins. For the more scandalous sexual sins, you need to give the other person more details (be specific, not general) and let them ask any questions they want. But just because your sins were scandalous doesn’t mean the other person gets to be highly critical of you. Once you have revealed your sins and talked about them, the same Christian response is required as of other sins—forgiveness in Christ (Ephesians 4:32).

Being this vulnerable with your darkest sins is a very hard thing to do. Please realize, your future spouse would much more prefer honesty instead of lying. Hiding your past is basically lying to them. When you get married, you have an expectation that you know your spouse. Many boyfriends or girlfriends will be very willing to walk alongside of you and help you battle your sin, but would be very angry and disappointed if they found out you’ve been hiding things about your past.

Being vulnerable about past sins sets a good pattern for openness and honesty in the relationship.  It also serves to protect your future marriage. If your past struggles return, a spouse equipped with knowledge about your past problems can more readily help you fight them. A spouse ignorant of the problem can’t do much to help.

When you are dating, look for someone who has a good sense of their own sins and weaknesses, and who is quick to admit his own faults. Confession and honesty is good for the soul (Proverbs 28:13-14), and builds endurance in the marriage.

As your boyfriend or girlfriend confesses his/her past sins, one question to consider is: Does he live now in way that realistically takes into account his past sins and faults? For example, consider a young man who struggled with pornography in his past, but doesn’t have any protective software on his computer or accountability with friends? Does he show himself to be foolish and ignorant about the power of sin? His girlfriend should be troubled by his superficial treatment of sin and his downplaying of past problems.She shouldn’t stay in the relationship if his disposition towards his own sin doesn’t change.

A Hard Conversation

Back to my friend Jonathan. He went ahead and had the difficult conversation with Julie. I wish I could say that Julie was quick to forgive. She wasn’t. Initially she took the news very hard. She prayed, searched the Scriptures, and (with Jonathan’s permission) talked with a pastor, her parents, and one or two close friends. After a few days, she came back to him, and said she wanted to move forward. Because God had forgiven him, she wanted to forgive him also. Now that she knew about Jonathan’s difficult past, she planned to leave it behind (1 Corinthians 13:6) as they built a future together.

What if Julie decided to break it off? Jonathan could give in to the lie that he was foolish for being honest. Even if Julie had decided to not move forward, as hard as that would be, that would not have made God any less faithful. For Christians, living in the light—a life of honesty, vulnerability, and transparency—is the higher calling that we are called to live as we follow in the ways of our Savior.

Join the Conversation

What is your biblical counsel for dating/engaged couples regarding confessing current and/or past sins?

This entry was posted in Adultery, Forgiveness, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Pornography, Premarital, Sexual Purity, Sin and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
 
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  • Tim Goerz

    I would concur in sharing of past sinful issues IF there is still weakness in that area and a possible chance of recidivism and/or it might be relevant with something within the relationship…..such as your beloved struggling with a related issue. I would NOT counsel the airing of past sins for the sake “just being honest” and don’t see the need for asking forgiveness of past sins if those sins have been rightly dealt with before the Lord. I say this with a caveat….any issue of criminality/public scandel certainly needs to be discussed. Also, if one has any pangs of conscience on any issue, even if it is long in the past and not a current relevant issue in their life….bring it up.

  • http://twitter.com/wellbywednesday David Ramos

    I couldn’t imagine what Jon must have felt during that time when Julie was figuring things out. But I have to agree, vulnerability is the key to any growing relationship – especially ones of the intimate nature. Having that forgiveness from Christ and sharing it are two different things. I’d like to think I would be forgiving/accepting because I want to be treated that way – but honestly the situation may be tougher than I imagine.

  • Gail

    You include eating disorders with sins? I think you are amazingly uninformed. Yes, a life challenge to be shared prior to engagement, but a sin?

    • Sudhir

      Absolutely Gail!! If you can look at the Savior on the cross and overeat anytime, every time, then there is a serious issue not with the eating, but with the heart

    • Marie

      Gail,

      I am a biblical counselor who specializes in eating disorders. Any self-destructive behavior is indeed a sin, and is outside of God’s will for an individual’s life. Bulimia, for example, is sinful for several reasons: gluttony is a lack of self-control (fruit of the Spirit); purging is physically destructive to the body (which is created in God’s image and is the temple of the Holy Spirit); and wanting to be thin so badly one is willing to engage in self-destructive behavior is idolatry. Please check out my website and book, “Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders”. BTW, I did not tell my husband about my then-life dominating sin of bulimia until years after God granted me repentance….a huge mistake. He was more upset about my lying to him than about the eating disorder itself. I caution other women against concealing this from their husbands.

  • KC

    If eating disorders should be discussed, should masturbation also be discussed since it is sexual sin? Or does it depend on whether it is current or past foolishness during the dating period?

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  • Steph

    I could be misreading here, but are you saying that Julie’s taking the time to figure out if Jonathan’s sin was a deal-breaker shows that she wasn’t forgiving? Let’s assume it was a sexual sin. Is it really wrong for her to ‘take it hard’? And the only way she’d show her true forgiveness would be to go ahead and get engaged? Sometimes I think “forgive and forget” is nonsense–we can forgive, but that doesn’t mean that some worse (in the temporal sense) sins change things and break people and relationships. We don’t have to pretend that nothing happened just because a sin is forgiven. And just because a relationship is changed or broken doesn’t mean the offended party refused to forgive.

    I understand not resenting and being bitter, which would be wrong, but let’s be realistic–sometimes you can forgive someone and still not want to continue a relationship with them. Which is generally what this post is saying, so I don’t get the section, “A Hard Conversation”.

    • Kyle

      I think the take home message was that 1) ideally the partner forgives quickly and 2) forgiveness is always the right choice, but it may not come immediately and there may be consequences because of the sin (i.e., ended relationship.

  • Logan

    This has REALLY helped me. I’m a young adult and two years ago my virginity was peer pressured out of me. I now have a WONDERFUL girlfriend you sees me as a pure guy. Tonight I sit here with tears in my eyes, dreading the moment I tell her the truth. Shes been my girlfriend for almost 2 years now. Please pray for me. I’m so scared. Please pray. I honestly cant imagine living life without her. She brings out the best in me and helps me in my walk with God. I just really need prayer.

  • LN

    what do you do when someone cannot take you back after being honest with them?

  • notamused

    I personally don’t agree calling a person’s past (good or bad) a sin when used in this context. The reason being we are talking about a relationship between two people who have NO power to judge or lay down moral law on events that were not done to them directly. What your partner can do is accept your past or present or decide that it simply doesn’t work for them. The reveal should be for the purposes of 1. strengthening intimacy, 2. fully informing your partner what is in store for the relationship, 3. avoiding any blind sides. There is a huge spiritual disservice when we approach these kind of talks as “unveiling our sins.” Love is greater than that or at least it should be. It becomes a transgression only when it is done to the partner otherwise, it should be viewed differently. Concealing our personal struggles from our future spouse should only be upsetting because you didn’t trust them enough to let them know or help you through it. I just really think Spiritual Counselors should really think about what it is they say and how they interpret the words of Christ.

  • notamused

    I’m probably late with this but my friend bearhugs, your first step and only concern at this point should be to FORGIVE yourself for the choices you’ve made in your life. Second is to evaluate the situations you’ve allowed yourself to be in. Your story comes across as though you’re a victim in each situation and I don’t believe that to be true. It’s perfectly ok as long as you acknowledge it for what it is. Third, seek counseling (outside the church) regarding your self worth. Revealing your past to anyone who may render an opinion that may hurt you, will require to you have a higher level of self-esteem than your currently do. Since I don’t know how old you are, consider how you’ve been living since these “almost attempts at your virginity” took place. How long has it been? If there has been many years that past, ask yourself why you still feel as though you’re not pure. Do you not believe in forgiveness, repentance? Once you have managed to feel worthy of a future with ANYONE, then I suggest letting the object of your affection know that you may have a sexual past. Your sexual past (unless you have a deadly disease) should not be this much of a burden on you. Free yourself, if he does not find solace in your confidence, transformation, and honesty then he is not of Christ, he is of man. The end!!

  • DD21

    Can I know the reason for being more specific with scandalous sins as described above? The rest of the article was well explained, I am just wondering about the rationale for this part, thank you.

  • A terrible person

    I am so in love with this person, but it’s unbelievable now. I struggle with sexual addiction even now. I grabbed a woman’s breasts. I got tempted. Being so wrapped up in pornography and sex as a child peaked as soon as i fell in love with someone. Now i feel the ultimate heartbreak. While she is gone for a while i deal with this pain festering inside my soul. Eating away at me soon left for dead. Ugh it hurts. I hate myself even though i need to forgive myself it hurts so bad

  • Natasha

    Thank you so much.
    My boyfriend talked to me about his past a few months ago and, thanks to God, I was immediately able to forgive him. However, I am on this site because the enemy keeps on haunting me with it and every once in a while it pierces my heart again. Near the beginning of the relationship, God began to soften my heart as I suspected that his past may not be as pure as mine. God and I fought off a lot of ugliness in my heart way before my boyfriend sat me down to talk about it. God is so good. We all have been forgiven from so much.
    I am mainly battling insecurity, currently, and fear for the future. What if, when we are married someday down the road, I wake up next to him wondering if I am enough? If she was better in some way? How do I take my thoughts captive now so that in the future my grace and security might remain strong? I am praying a lot and I know God is with me.
    I’ve brought up the subject a few more times since, because he wanted me to be honest with him. Now though, I think it would be unfair to talk about it to him. I’m feeling alone. There’s one woman I feel I can talk to but she has a family which makes it a little hard to meet with her. Any suggestions on battling this loneliness and insecurity?

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The BCC exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.