Question: How much should I tell my new spouse about my past? I realize that honesty and transparency are important in any relationship, but there are times when it can be harmful to "let it all hang out." I don’t want to keep secrets, but neither do I want to cause hurt or damage. Where do I draw the line?


Being honest in the sense of telling the truth isn’t the same thing as revealing every thought and feeling you’ve ever had. Couples should be frank and open with each other before making a lifelong commitment to marriage, but once the vows have been said it’s important to examine the intent of the heart in determining how "honest" you should be. In the name of openness, some people give their spouses too much information about past and present sinful actions and thoughts. Detail and timing are always crucial considerations. Silence isn’t necessarily dishonest – in fact, sometimes the loving thing to do is to keep your mouth shut.

Questions for a stronger marriage

What kind of information is really required in order to build and maintain a strong and healthy marriage relationship? Here are nine questions you do need to ask your spouse.

  1. "How were you raised?" There’s no greater influence on your spouse than the way he or she grew up. Ask: "How did you get along with your mother and father? Were your growing-up years pleasant? Hurtful? What did you like about the way you were raised? What didn’t you like? How do you think childhood may have shaped your views of the opposite sex, yourself and intimacy (emotional and physical)? Have you dealt with any pain from the past? If so, how? If not, are you planning to do so?
  2. "How would you describe your relationship with God?" For Christians, marriage is a total commitment of two people to the Lord and to each other. It’s a partnership intended to allow spouses to be themselves fully, to help refine each other and to encourage each other to become the people God created them to be. For this union to be as successful as the Lord designed it to be, you need to understand how much you and your partner have in common when it comes to faith.
  3. "How do you deal with finances?" Money-related issues can be a minefield for unsuspecting young couples. Take time to talk about how the bills will be paid and who will take responsibility for balancing the chequebook. Sit down and decide which one of you has been gifted with the most financial wisdom. Map out a budget and promise one another that before any big purchases are made, you’ll agree on them together.
  4. "How do you see the roles of husband and wife?" It’s important to find out how your spouse thinks husband-wife roles should play out in your household, and how those roles might change during the seasons of your marriage. A little bit of preliminary discussion of this question will serve you well in the long run.
  5. "What roles should in-laws have?" What part does your spouse see both sets of parents playing in your life together? The way you deal with in-laws will depend on the depth and type of relationship you have with them. Make sure you understand your spouse’s view of that relationship and what it means in practical terms.
  6. "What do you expect with regard to our sexual relationship?" Does your spouse believe sex is for procreation, relaxation, pleasure and fun, expressing intimacy or all of the above? Ask: "What kinds of things stimulate you? Who do you want to be the initiator? How would you like me to suggest having sex? How should I tell you I’m not in the mood? How often do you think we should have sex?"
  7. "What are your goals – for yourself and for us?" Ask your spouse what his or her dreams are. Inquire about his or her goals for your marriage, too. Is it closeness? Wealth? To have a family? Career success? To be used as a team in some ministry? Discuss these dreams and set realistic goals with time limits. For example, "In five years we want to be out of debt," or "In one year we want to save enough money to go on a family missions trip."
  8. "How did you communicate and resolve conflict in your family?" Different families have different styles of working out their problems. Some talk loudly, passionately and at great length about their differences. Others are quiet, reflective and low-key in their interactions with one another. The first type isn’t necessarily angry, nor is the second group apathetic. You can avoid a lot of heartache by understanding these differences early on.
  9. "Are there medical issues in your family?" Does heart disease, diabetes or any other medical problem run in your mate’s family? Is your spouse dealing with a chronic condition? It’s important to know his or her medical history so that you can work together to prevent further problems.

Patience and understanding are key

As you ask these nine questions, keep your spouse’s temperament in mind. If he or she seems hesitant to talk, don’t nag. Just explain why you’re looking for information and how it can bring you closer. If you need help arriving at a workable system of communication, don’t hesitate to seek professional counselling. Our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to qualified marriage and family therapists in your area who specialize in this area. You can contact our counselling department Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time, at 1.800.661.9800.

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

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