Honest Dating: Considering the Past

Here’s a familiar scenario: a woman is dating a guy and thinks, “Ok, so he has A-B-C-D going on and he’s a bum, but I love him.”  Then she marries him and in the not-too-distant future she becomes… well, miserable.  She’ll then come to someone like me for counseling.  I often ask, “You didn’t see this before you were married?”  Then she’ll tell me, “Yes, but I thought I could change him.”

I think a lot of people are not being totally honest during the dating process. Or many feel obligated to follow through with a relationship just because they have been dating for a while, even though they may have some strong reservations.  But if you are struggling with any aspect of who a person is, you probably need to look at that as a red flag.  Ultimately, that is what the dating process is for – to decide, based on what you have learned, whether or not to marry that person.

As people of the Christian faith – a faith the stresses hope for our future, despite the failings of our past – we oftentimes deliberately ignore a person’s past when deciding on a mate.  And while everyone makes mistakes, some mistakes have consequences and ramifications that can follow us for the rest of our lives. Granted, God doesn’t hold our past mistakes against us if we come to him in true repentance, but those mistakes can still have consequences that may negatively affect our future relationships, particularly in our marriage.

The dating process should be a time of discovery and analysis as to whether or not a certain person would make a good lifetime mate.  And make no mistake about it – a person’s history can be a major factor in determining how they will handle their future relationships.   But because of our belief in forgiveness of the sins of the past, many Christian couples fail to factor history into their mating decisions.  The wise seeker of a mate, however, would do well to look into the history of their potential spouse.  And doing so is not unfair, nor is it un-Christian.

I counsel people all the time who struggle with issues that go back to their past. For example: situations where a woman feels like her husband is using her for sex now because of all the other guys in her past who did.  That is something he should have learned about during the dating process.  If you can’t talk those kinds of things out when you are dating a person, if you can’t carry that heavy load, then let them go so they can find someone who can. There are very wonderful, compassionate and kind people who have been gifted by God to do just that.  People who can say, “I will love you, cherish you, and take care of you no matter what.” God can give people great gifts of compassion or encouragement or mercy. It doesn’t mean that those who don’t have those gifts are bad people. It just makes you honest when you realize that you aren’t comfortable in dealing with the baggage of someone’s past.

Let’s say you learn the person you are dating has a past record of shoplifting. You may wonder what values that person grew up with that allowed them to make a decision like that.  Knowing the choices they’ve made in the past, you may not want to continue on in the relationship – and that, in my opinion, is fair.  The dating process is about finding out about someone, the choices they’ve made and who they are.

You may say, “But what about forgiveness?!”  It’s not about refusing to forgive a person’s shortcomings or judging someone harshly for their mistakes.  You can forgive them (God certainly does), but it doesn’t mean you have to marry them.  Remember, the dating process is really about looking at the person as a whole and thinking-yes, I am very comfortable with who this person is, or no, I’m not.

Let’s say your girlfriend tells you that she had an abortion three or four years ago. If you truly believe this is something you can deal with and you are able to love and cherish this woman and help her with the emotional and physical effects of this, then great!  If, on the other hand, you struggle with some things in her character that allowed her to make that decision or you are concerned about the emotional and possible physical issues that may result, you have every right to move on. That doesn’t make you a bad person. It just makes you honest. It’s better to decide now, before you are married, than to have great difficulty with it afterwards. Once you say, “I do”, it’s a whole different ball game – you’re in for life.  But it is OK to move on in the dating process.  Remember: that is what the dating process is for.  Besides, it would be better for her to find someone whom God has gifted to be able to handle her past.

Maybe your special “someone” tells you that they have a sexually transmitted disease – one that you too will get once you marry them.  Now’s the time to walk away if that is something you don’t want to live with.

It could be simpler things like… his family is gross.  Maybe her father drives you crazy. You might see a problem in how her mother treats her father-which could be an indicator of how their daughter will treat you.  Now is the time to walk away.

Some could be more difficult issues like sexual abuse, addictions to alcohol or pornography.  These kinds of issues are all fair game during the discovery process of dating – again, that’s part of what dating is about. You get to analyze the situation and view the person as a whole and see if you can handle all that goes with taking this person as your spouse.

It is imperative that men and women are totally honest with each other during the dating process. These types of things should be revealed at the front end. It’s not fair to be 18 months, two years, or five years into a marriage and for your spouse to be struggling with issues they didn’t even know existed in you. You must be honest with each other during the dating process.  If someone does not feel they can handle certain baggage, best that they move on.

What they should not do is drag that person along for months or even years if they have some serious reservations.  It’s not fair to the other person. You have to be willing to let him/her go so they can find someone who can deal with who they are – past and all.  People will say, “I really love her/him. How can I just walk away?”  But if you have serious reservations about the marriage, the most loving thing you can do is let them go. It’s not fair to keep stringing another person along, wondering if you can or can’t handle all of their issues.

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14 Responses to “Honest Dating: Considering the Past”

  1. alyssa says:

    HI Pastor Mark!
    I love what you shared in this blog. I actually am going through this right now on an extreme level and am not sure how to handle it. I am 30 years old and recently had a boyfriend from my past (highschool) track me down on the internet. He grew up in an abusive home I grew up in a Christian home. His father beat him when he was young and we ended up breaking up due to his emotionally abusive behavior back in highschool. Well, now we are both grown up. I was able to forgive him and move on and he says he has grown up too. He sounds like he is doing better but I am not sure what to do. I do believe that we could be ok if we had the right group of people around us to help us. I told him I would only date and marry a christian and helped him find a church in his area. So now he is going to church. He did his flag page. He is Control/Perfect and I am Peace/Perfect. I want to be there for him but since he is a guy I am not sure how he will deal with abuse from his past. What do you suggest I do to encourage him to get help. I dont want to change him but I do believe God can. Any thoughts on how to carefully talk to him without making it sound like I want to control him would be great.
    You are amazing!!!!!!
    God Bless

  2. Carla says:

    I enjoyed reading this because it describes me & my husband.

    We actually started the REAL dating only AFTER we married. 2 months after marriage I became pregnant.
    The truth? No more than 30 days after saying “I do”, he started changing for the worse. I looked into annulments and found enough information to do it cheap.
    At the same time I was researching….the Lord allowed me to become pregnant (we had been practicing safe sex). The Lord spoke to my heart and let me know that He was with me always, and would be my strength to get through.

    Many difficult years followed.
    My husband was an alcoholic, and used drugs occasionally. We had 2 sons together, I had my son from a previous relationship, plus his son had come to live with us due to his Mother finding suicide notes in his drawer.
    It got to the point that I could barely function because of all the dysfunction.

    We were separated for over 1.5 years, and during that time, my husband lost everything (including himself). He fell straight into the arms of Jesus. He quit the lifestyle of drinking & all that went with it, and moved in with his Dad.
    He quit harrassing me (daily) on the phone, and started showing some respect towards me.

    6 months later, the Lord spoke to my heart and told me it was time to reconcile the marriage, and that (again) He would be my strength, and I needed to do nothing but trust Him.

    In the 2.5 years we’ve been back together as a family, we have bought a house and have made a home.
    We’ve had many nights/days of disagreements and arguments and I’ve allowed fear to come back on several occasions.
    But each time, the Lord gently takes my face in His hands and turns my face back towards His face. Each time He does this, He shows me His infinite love and holiness.

    We are truly blessed. Not with a perfect life, but with a perfect God.

    Thanks for your show & merchandise!

    • Beauty says:

      Dear Carla,

      Thanks for sharing your story. The God we serve is an awesome God who promised not to leave us alone nor forsake us. I would like to congratulate you for taking your husband back. Our God does not make a mistake just trust in Him all the times even when there is no hope. He knows and He answers at His time. May God continue be a blessing to your family.

  3. Cindy Wright says:

    What should people do now, if you didn’t look honestly during the dating process and did marry only to have your eyes opened?

    We have been married for 2 1/2 yrs with our 1st child on the way. In the past 15 months we have only lived under the same roof for 4 months. Pride and selfishness get in the way. I don’t feel that he has truly committed to the marriage. Everything in his mind is yours or mine, I can’t get him to think or act as one. What can I do besides, just praying?

  4. Cathy Lawfer-Hower says:

    RE: Message from Cindy Wright on March 5, 2009 and her reply from Diane Brierley for Mark Gungor;

    I also have a problem closely related to hers, though i have been married for 22 years! We have 4 children, who are not children anymore, and it seems that was the only thing we ever had in common that we actually both spent time together for. But what happens if your husband has no interest in counseling, or goes just to appease you but dosent participate? After 22 years, I would hate to have to start all over, because your marriage is actually despressing you so much it physically is making you sick! I love him, but I am so frustrated at not having any communication with him, because we have no babies in the house. He has just gone and found his own personal pleasures in hobbies and has an addication to working, (i think just to get out of the house and avoid these problems) Of course I could always do the same, but that would most certainly just alianate us even further. I feel our marriage is more like a relationship you would just have with your brother or sister. I do feel that I could have done something sooner when I first noticed that our lack of communication was getting extremely obvious, but I turned to my children and commited all my time and energy to them, as that what was the only thing that brought me any happiness! But that also failed, because as they grew and didnt need a “mommy” anymore, I then turned to the only other thing that took my mind off my depression and ended up with an addication to drugs. I have conquered that, (not an easy thing), but then I was right back to where I started. Being alone, and depressed. What would you suggest?

  5. Susan says:

    Someone’s past, is Just that, NOT their identity now, unless as says in Bible, been with a prostitute, you won’t be the same again. When born-again, NEW creation. I suggest people from perfect heritages, try reading the BIBLE, Truth is reality, not your own mind! If people choose to be hpercritical and controlling, which is satanic, according to the book at the Toronto Missionfest before, then they are argumentative and must think they are God, judging, which the def. is, calling someone a name. Try praying for someone. Because someone was a victime for 5 min. or in an alcoholic home, social alcoholic home, for eg., doesn’t make them spiritually inferior and can’t marry a regular person. No one comes from a perfect, sinless home. From, The Social Advocate.

  6. Jordan says:

    I was very intrigued with this article, thank you! My question to you is concerning my level of physical attraction to the girl that I have been long distance dating. We have been friends for years, but I was never really physically attracted to her, but always found her very intriguing and amazing personality wise. Then, our interest in one another changed and now we are “dating” through long distance correspondence. But I still find myself questioning my attraction to her and I feel really shallow about it and it upsets me that it is an issue for me. I am working really hard and praying for me to get past this and look at her the same way God does and see her beauty for what it really is and not what is on the surface. What are your thoughts on this and as a man, who as you well know, we are all (mostly) visual creatures, would you suggest that I get past this and/or work it out in such a way that I don’t hurt her in the process??

  7. Amanda says:

    What can you do now if you find yourself in that situation. Yes you saw the signs during dating & it is now more that 10 years and you can see the problem, tried to live with it but you are just tired of making excuses for him now and you feel used & stuck up.You are both Christians and you do not expect the spouse to be continuing with this behaviour now!

  8. Donna says:

    I totally agree with the “Honest Dating” article. So important to find out while dating if you can handle the baggage of other person before you would marry and go through LOTS of struggles for years! This needs to be read by anyone who is dating.

  9. Carol Sherrill says:

    Mark I love your ministry, and your radio broadcast. Honest dating is hard, but my husband and I agreed to talk about everything before we got married and certainly after. Knowing what was in our past certainly helped us deal with our future. We will celebrate 25 years in June, and our marriage has been a happy place because of honesty in communicating.

  10. Sheri says:

    Yet another great article. Thank you Mark!

    It convinces me that asking the right questions while dating is the key. People could have a short dating period and a very successful marriage if they chose to purposefully ask the right questions upfront (and received honest answers). I agree with you wholeheartedly that we need to be honest with ourselves about what we can truly live with versus what we think me might possibly eventually be okay with… some day. It’s also our responsibility to be forthright about our own history.

    Being open and honest is essential for both people.

  11. LV says:

    I knew all of my husband’s baggage before we were married. There were times when I wondered whether or not I could really deal with some of it. There are things that have caused lasting pain, but no surprises. I obviously decided it was worth it, and don’t at all regret it!

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