Question: I was sexually abused as a child and my spouse was promiscuous during adolescence. Now these issues from the past have come back to haunt us. As a matter of fact, they’ve become major roadblocks to intimacy in our marriage. What can we do to get past these barriers and develop a healthy sexual relationship? 


You’re not alone. Many husbands and wives struggle with guilt from wrong sexual choices they’ve made in the past. Others are bitter about wrong choices made by an abuser. Still others wrestle with anger over wrong choices a spouse has made in having an affair. 

These ghosts from the past can have profound negative effects on a marriage. A husband who won’t take personal responsibility for his actions may unfairly accuse his wife of wrongdoing. A wife who was abused as a child may be too inhibited to be intimate. Spouses who had sexual relations with each other before marriage while publicly professing a commitment to wait may blame each other for the shame they feel. 

What you need to know

If you’re suffering from the fallout of your sexual past, here are some things you should bear in mind.

  1. Unresolved hurt from your sexual past disrupts healthy sexual functioning. Many people have been pressured into a sexual act at some point in their lives. The intense emotions accompanying that event are often too much for a child or adolescent to process. Consensual sex prior to, or outside of, marriage may also influence present sexual functioning. If either of these scenarios describes you, don’t be surprised or alarmed if you’re experiencing sexual difficulties in your marriage. Instead, face the problem honestly and determine to seek a solution.
  2. Problems are opportunities to draw closer to God. A troubled sexual past may look insurmountable, but it isn’t – not if you run toward God instead of away from Him. Only a relationship with Him through Christ can set us free from guilt, shame and anger.
  3. God wants to heal the deep hurts of your sexual past. Healing is available, but it has to be individually applied to each wounding of the human spirit. The first step in sexual healing is gaining the courage to face your pain. This process may be time-consuming and may require the help of others. Because broken trust is always involved at some level, you must deal simultaneously with the two things you fear most: recalling the trauma and becoming vulnerable again.
  4. Core beliefs, thoughts and feelings affect present sexual behaviour. Outward behaviour is really the tip of an iceberg composed of underlying emotions, thoughts and core beliefs. Great freedom comes from understanding these factors and the deeper assumptions that drive them.
  5. Professional help is often needed to resolve past sexual hurts. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and with the help of qualified therapists, many sexually wounded people come to experience profound emotional healing. This includes breaking long-standing destructive behaviour patterns. 

If you need referrals to registered Christian therapists practicing in your local area, don’t hesitate to contact us here at Focus on the Family Canada. Our staff would be happy to provide you with a list of recommended counsellors. They’d also be pleased to discuss your situation with you over the phone. You can contact our counselling team Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time, at 1.800.661.9800. They’d consider it a privilege to assist you in any way they can.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. © 2006 Focus on the Family.

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