We all have a past. Some people’s pasts are more colorful than others though. Yet for most of us there are usually at least a couple of things that might make our current partner squirm a bit. Dealing with your partner’s past can be difficult, but in most cases it doesn’t need to be a deal-breaker for the relationship. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to get over. In fact, for some, feeling they can’t get over a partner’s past can cause significant problems within the relationship.
At Guy Stuff we counsel couples facing many different types of challenges. One of the most difficult, however, can be dealing with the romantic details of a partner’s past. Below you’ll see a question from Lauren who’s boyfriend is struggling with her sexual history. My response to her follows.
Getting Over The Past Can Be Difficult
I made a big mistake and had sex before I was married. I have now met the man I want to marry. . . .but he can't get over my past. We have been together for a year and a half and are still struggling with it. Is there anything we can do?" -Lauren G.
Lauren’s situation isn’t unique. Although it goes both ways, it’s usually men who struggle with their girlfriend or wife’s sexual past more than the reverse. The idea of the person they love being intimate with someone else can be very uncomfortable and even threatening to some men. It can be overcome, however.
A lot of times things aren't what they seem and this may be such a case. It's hard for me to say precisely, but I suspect that there's more to this and that it may not really be about your having had sex before him or marriage.
It's not that uncommon for men to have a tough time getting over things from the past. A guy wrote me a couple of weeks ago and said,
I love my girlfriend. I want to find a way to stop thinking about her past boyfriends."
I hear something similar to this pretty regularly from guys.
Here are some of the things that could be driving his inability to let this go -- he struggles with trust, his thoughts get obsessive at times, or it could be a way for him to have power and control in the relationship. Sometimes these things are subconscious and he may not even be intending to do them. There also may be dynamics of how your relationship functions that brings this out as well.
Yes, there is something you can do and should do. If the reason this is a problem for the both of you isn't fixed before you get married it will most likely only get worse and expand into real troubles in your marriage . You should have him speak with a professional counselor who works with men . An expert in men and their relationships can help him drill down to what's really going on and give you both the tools to fix it.
He's probably a great guy, so don't lose what could be a great future for both of you because you guys didn't fix this.
How To Handle The Past
A partner’s romantic past can be uncomfortable to hear about for sure. Neither partner really needs to know all of the specific details of what went on within past relationships unless it’s somehow pertinent to the current one. By that I mean if one partner was in an abusive relationship or suffered in other ways that impact the current romance. Be careful here – it’s easy to allow curiosity to turn into learning too much information.
There are, however, reasons to be thankful that your partner has a romantic past. We all learn through experiences as we age. We learn from our mistakes, what we like and don’t like, what we want from others, and we refine ourselves as a person. Romantic relationships in our younger years are part of that learning.
Although there can be complications that come from past romantic relationships, most help people grow and mature in ways that make them a better partner when it comes to marriage or a long-term relationship. These relationships can provide insight for what works and doesn’t when it comes to resolving conflict, and learning how to appreciate and love another person. Of course, there are some who don’t learn and repeat the same mistakes time and again. That, however, is a different problem.
The bottom line is that your partner’s past doesn’t have to be a stumbling block and is actually part of what has made them the person you love now. So, if you’re stuck worrying about your partner’s past, stop and think about what it is that’s really bothering you. And if your partner is telling you he, “Can’t get over your past,” ask him to do the same. If you can’t figure it out, or don’t know what to do next, then get help from an experienced counselor to give you more insight.
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Editor’s note: This post was originally published January 14, 2010 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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