Enduring relationships are built on the principles of trust and honesty. However, many Latter-day Saints struggle to disclose and discuss past sins and transgressions with their future spouse, especially as it relates to the Law of Chastity. Some even wonder if they need to broach the subject at all if one has fully repented.
The decision of how and when to share such personal information is ultimately up to you and must be guided by the inspiration and revelation of the Holy Ghost. Still, marriage experts and Church leaders agree honesty is the policy.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said of honest communication, “Opening the windows of the soul helps us to build healthy relationships. But if those windows are always closed or the blinds are drawn, it is difficult to help; one simply does not know what is needed.”
Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D. and author of the best-selling book His Needs, Her Needs: Building An Affair-proof Marriage, believes in the policy of radical honesty.
“Reveal to your spouse as much information about yourself as you know; your thoughts, feelings, habits, likes, dislikes, personal history, daily activities, and plans for the future,” Harley invites. “Honesty is the only way that you and your spouse will ever come to understand each other.”
If you want to open up to your future spouse about your past history but don’t know where to begin, these principles can help guide you to an honest, spirit-filled conversation.
Find Peace Yourself
First and foremost, it is essential you have a mature and spirit-filled understanding of your past. Ideally, you will have fully repented of your sins and felt the peace of forgiveness in your heart. You want to confidently tell your future spouse that you are worthy of taking them to the temple and your past experiences have refined you to become more like the Savior.
If you currently struggle to put off sin, actively work to overcome them. Visit with your priesthood leader. Pray diligently. Come to the conversation with ample evidence of your desire to change. Do not fall into the trap that marriage will fix your problems. No other person is responsible for your change of heart.
The Sin Itself
I can be difficult for some to present their sins honestly, either because they want to lessen the seriousness or are so ashamed they blow it way out of proportion. Be honest with yourself and “do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins” while still allowing the mercy and long-suffering of God to have “full sway in your heart” (Alma 42:30).
For example, a young woman who feels tremendous guilt about a heavy kissing session with a boyfriend may likely say she has broken the Law of Chastity and is unworthy of feeling loved. On the other hand, many partners who have committed adultery seek ways to excuse themselves, providing long lists of why their actions were inevitable or justifiable.
Have a prayerful examination with God about your past. Allow Him to bring clarity to what you feel you’ve done and the impact it’s had on your life. Consider getting a priesthood blessing. You will then be able to have God’s opinion on the table when you discuss things with your future spouse.
Talk With a Trusted Leader
If there is something in your life you still feel unsettled about, talk with a trusted priesthood leader. If your actions do not need to be addressed through the Church (or already have been), consider talking with a parent, therapist, or friend. When we are vulnerable, we take a risk. When talking about past sins with a future spouse, there is a risk we may be rejected because of it. Talking with others first can help build confidence and prepare you for the conversation.
Wait Until You’re Engaged
While dating is the time specifically designed to discover more about a person, wait until you’re engaged or seriously talking about marriage to disclose past sins. Your journey is sacred, especially as it relates to repentance and your relationships with Jesus Christ. Such information should be shared with someone you trust intimately. It should be an in-depth conversation, approached prayerfully. Seeking to have this sort of conversation with someone you’ve only been on a few dates with rushes the process of trust if it isn’t established.
Take risks and be vulnerable as you date, but, unless otherwise prompted by the Spirit, don’t expose the deepest parts of your soul until you’re in a committed, trusting relationship that is moving towards eternity. If someone asks you about things you don’t feel ready to discuss, be honest and say so. You might say, “I have things in my past I want to discuss someday, but I don’t feel ready in our relationship right now to do that.”
Do not blindside your partner with such a serious talk, especially on a date designed to be fun or romantic. Tell your partner you’d like to talk with them more about the things of your heart and what your future will be. Let them know if there are things they’d like to talk about, you’d love to listen as well. Go to a quiet place and, if appropriate, say a prayer together. Share what you’ve done in a concise, but forthcoming manner. Give your partner time to digest and respond. Listen to how they’re feeling and don’t seek to control the conversation.
Be confident in your repentance and clear in how you plan to act in your future marriage. Discuss safeguards you’ve put in place and the steps you continue to take to remain temple worthy and close to the Lord.
Counsel With a Professional
After you’ve talked with your future spouse and you feel more discussion is necessary, visit a marriage counselor. They can help mediate between the two of you and get to the heart of the issues you’d like addressed. Learning to communicate early will help start your marriage on the right foot.
With the Spirit as your guide, even the hardest conversations can deepen the eternal nature of your love and forge an indestructible bond of trust.