I have been struggling with some problems recently. I was baptized into Christ three years ago, and have been married for several years. My wife was baptized into Christ while in high school, but sadly did not maintain an attitude of repentance, and was involved in inappropriate relationships with two of her boyfriends before we began dating. Shortly after we began to date, we also began an inappropriate sexual relationship, which was my first.
I find myself in a unique position, as a man who has had only one sexual partner, married to a woman who has had two others aside from me. This situation has wreaked havoc on my self-esteem, and my ability to connect with my wife. I have continued to maintain a loving attitude towards her, continue to respect and treat her well, but often feel as though I am just going through the motions during our lovemaking. I have tried hard to consent to her desires for sexual relations, but must admit that I have acted as though I was either too tired or not feeling well when the weight of the situation has been particularly difficult to bear. I have a difficult time seeing my wife as totally mine, and often feel as though there are two other people with us when we are intimate.
I realize that our sexual relationship began on unscriptural terms, but thankfully I found Christ, and now we both work diligently to serve God. Even though I was not a Christian before we married, I realize that I was still expected by God to adhere to Christian values and standards. I am in no way attempting to justify my past indiscretions with my wife, as they were totally wrong and damaging to me. I am having a difficult time as viewing my wife as pure and totally mine. I often wonder what goes through her mind when we have sex, to whom I am being compared if I am able to satisfy her desires as well as the others and if she is being totally honest with me.
She was candid with me about her past encounters and shared the details of their intimate times with me in an attempt to quell my doubts. I thought I needed these details at the time but now would prefer that they not be running through my head, giving credence to the feelings of uncertainty I have.
The matter is complicated because we live in a small town, and I frequently run into one of these men while shopping, at school functions or other events. These encounters are dreadfully wearing upon me, and often consume my mind for days after they occur. I had reluctant feelings concerning this matter before we married, but assumed that they would fade when I achieved personal success, or had children, or had been married for a certain period of time, or any "if" conditions of a thousand other scenarios were met. Nothing has caused my feelings to fade.
Before we married, I convinced myself that I did not really deserve true happiness and that I would likely never find anyone else who would accept me, so I had just as well accepted my circumstances, and I married her. I was sexually abused as a small child, and think that my feelings of self-loathing and fear of acceptance were a product of my abusive past. I do not understand the exact cause of my feelings, and most importantly, how they can be alleviated. Are my feelings of doubt concerning her rational? Or, am I experiencing doubt because of my troubled sexual past?
I've tried to tell myself to suck it up and get over it, but formulating a plan and instituting it are two different matters. I've tried to keep my eye on the prize of heaven, and have tried to remember that the pain and suffering I endure while on earth will be forgotten, but honestly still have a difficult time with this situation. I am prepared to face this situation as it currently exists, and endure the pain I feel, but I truly hope that there is something potentially helpful that I am missing.
I appreciate your listening to my problems. I have not discussed this matter with anyone in the congregation with which I assemble as I do not want to cause anyone to think less of my wife. She is a remarkable person, and she is responsible for leading me to God. I also have a difficult time discussing my past. Your prayers and insight would be greatly appreciated.
"But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God"" (Luke 9:62).
I used to think that Jesus was warning us not to long for our past life with its worldly pleasures. But I've come to realize that it is this and more. I've run across so many Christians who remain haunted by their past sins. They allow the past to define who they are and how they see themselves. They dwell on the past so often that they can't move forward.
Yes, the fornication that you and your wife had committed before your marriage was wrong. But both of you changed. If you had not, you would have been destined for hell. "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10). There were members at Corinth who had these sins in their past. There have been hundreds of thousands of members sin that time who can say the same thing. But Paul's point isn't that those sins keep a person out of heaven, he used this fact to point out that they had changed. "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:11).
When you were baptized and put on Christ, all the sins of your past were washed away. "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). You became a new person. "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:4-7). The problem is that you are allowing yourself to remain a captive to your past sins.
I'm not a fan of the modern philosophy of "self-esteem." It is a thinly disguised promotion of pride. John Rosemond just recently wrote a column on this that appeared in our local paper.
"In the 1960's American parents stopped going to their elders for advice and began going instead to mental health professionals -- people like me. To create a devoted client base, we had to come up with something new. So we cut from whole cloth a nouveau philosophy that was 180 degrees removed from the philosophy that had successfully guided every previous generation of parents.
"The centerpiece of this new point of view was the notion that high self-esteem is a good thing and that parents should do all in their power to make sure their children acquire it.
"Mind you, we made this up. Absolutely no empirical evidence, obtained by scientific means, existed to support this claim. It just sounded good; therefore, it was easy to market. ...
"The supposed merits of high self-esteem were sold on the basis of rhetoric, not evidence. The evidence, however belated, is now in, and the evidence says high self-esteem isn't the Holy Grail it was promoted as being.
"People with high self-regard, says the evidence, possess low regard for others. Instead of seeking opportunities to serve others, they seek to manipulate others. Furthermore, people with high self-regard tend to antisocial behavior. People incarcerated in maximum security prisons have very high self-regard, for example"
[John Rosemond, "Living with Children", 4/7/2009].
The problem you are facing isn't because you lack enough pride. The problem is that you are not seeing yourself accurately. "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3).
You mentioned that you were sexually abused as a child. I'm really sorry to hear that some creep spoiled your childhood. But think soberly about it for a moment. That was something done to a child who did not understand good and evil fully. You, as a child, were not in the position to make the appropriate moral choices. You were innocent even as evil was being done to you. The creep did not make you evil, no one can make another person evil, he was being evil.
And think how silly you are being about your sexual life. Who got dumped? The other two guys. Who is married to this wonderful woman? You are. Who does she want to be with? You! Yet you have decided that you are in competition with imaginary foes and that you deserve to lose. You can't win against your imagination. You can always imagine that someone else is better. But we are not in an imaginary world. In reality, you have a wife who loves you and a home. Yes, meeting past boyfriends (or girlfriends) of your spouse is always awkward. It is awkward for them as well as for you. But it doesn't define your life.
So quit sabotaging your marriage. "He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the LORD" (Proverbs 18:22). You are like a pouty child who breaks the gifts others give him. You're not being rational, you are being unappreciative. Start being appreciative of everything God has given you and show appreciation. "Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 9:9).
The solution is not found in what is happening around you. It lies in how you choose to be despite what the world throws your way. It is as simple and as difficult as changing your attitude and the way you look at the world.
"Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love" (I Corinthians 16:13-14).