Saturday, October 28, 2017

Dismaying Story #149: Insecurity over Past Partners

Dear Andrew,

Traditionally my family goes to a resort every summer. I've been going there for 13 years and I had a tryst with a staff member there when I was about 17 or 18. Totally sexual, never saw or talked to this guy ever again. He doesn't work there anymore.

My husband and I are newlyweds. Recently we went to this resort to meet some of my family. Right before we got there the two of us stopped to eat at a restaurant. While we were there, my husband asked me right out of nowhere, "So, have you ever had a fling at this resort?!" My head went down and I tried to hide my face. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I hadn't told my husband about it because, had I told him about this in advance he probably would not have wanted to go.

Of course I told him the truth though. Then he got mad because I was "sneaky" in not telling him. He also said in so many words, I wonder how many sexual partners you've really had?! As if I lied when we talked about it before.

He then got up to go to the restroom. While he was gone I began having a panic attack, (as I have a history of anxiety.) When he got back, I went into full-fledged panic, couldn't breathe, began crying and shaking. This all happened right in the middle of the restaurant and I couldn't control it. He told me to wait in the car and he got our food to go.

Why oh why did he even feel the need to ask that stupid question!? Any type of question about my sexual escapades in the past is totally uncalled for. I don't understand why an intelligent man like my husband would ask any kind of question about this.

Signed, Anxious Newlywed

Dear Anxious,

Let's play "What if?" for a moment. What if your husband asked you that question but the two of you had a completely different reaction? Instead of shame, suppose the question amused you and, when you answered truthfully, you and hubby had a quiet and comfortable chuckle about it before dismissing it and moving on to other topics of dinner conversation. In my view, the problem is not about asking the question but rather how the two of you reacted to it.

Newlyweds go through many types of transitions as you begin to adjust to married life. One such transition is the loss of what I'll call the dating mentality, replacing it with the comfort of a lifelong partnership. Like many other changes in life, this one takes time. It is clear to me that the two of you are still in the midst of this journey.

To me, the dating mentality is the feeling of the chase. Since single people are relatively free to switch partners, there is often a perceived (and sometimes very real) danger that you might lose your boyfriend or girlfriend to a different partner. You are constantly in a competition. Any hint that your partner might have an interest in another can be threatening. Sexual involvement with a former boyfriend can be construed as one indication that you were very strongly attracted to that person, even if only for a short period of time. For a young man who has yet to shed the dating mentality, learning about such strong attractions can make him feel insecure. It sounds like this might be the case with your husband.

More than that, society teaches a young man to have conflicting expectations of the young women in his life. When dating, Mother Nature supplies the hormones that turn teenage boys into hunters. Hungry to gain sexual experience, guys will often put considerable pressure on their dates to go as far as possible. When it comes to getting married though, we want to feel secure, unchallenged. The Hollywood image of the perfect bride is one of virginal innocence. She dated but "saved herself for marriage." Like it or not, your husband has been taught that you are not supposed to be like all those other girlfriends he had. You are supposed to be special, above the rest. Is it any wonder he feels stress when he learns you are (gasp!) ... NORMAL?!

Girls also face a host of conflicting pressures. Premarital sex brings with it the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Mothers preach about the importance of protecting yourself. Girls who are known to "give it up" easily may be labeled in undesirable ways. These factors combine to associate with sex a powerful negative stigma in many young girls' minds. Mother Nature, however, would be perfectly happy if all girls started having babies as soon as they are able. In fact, Mother Nature wants this so badly that we all come equipped with a sex drive. When out on a date with an attractive young man, your body can wake up and say, "I bet some sex would feel GOOD right now!"

Many (heck, probably all) young women struggle to maintain self-esteem. They know the guys want sex. It can be easy to think of this as one way to be popular; make him happy and he will like you. Add to this the natural tendency to be curious about the unknown, as well as peer pressure from all the other girls who swear they are doing it ... well, you get the idea. Young women are pulled in ten different directions when it comes to premarital sex. Then, to top it all off, when you get married you are expected to magically shed all those inhibitions and become completely comfortable with marital relations. Is it any wonder that you, too, feel stress over this sort of issue?

While it is understandable for you to feel that way, you have no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed for having a sexual history with former boyfriends. Whether anyone likes it or not, premarital sex is widespread and is considered by many to be normal behavior. I understand that some cultural groups may differ in these types of expectations, but I am speaking of the North American norm. Ask your girlfriends; how many of them were virgins on their wedding nights? Not many, I bet.

Parents must try to balance how we treat these opposing forces when it comes to our children. We all want to protect our children, to keep them safe from guys who just want a thrill, from STDs and unwanted pregnancy, and from the emotional pain that often comes when sex is introduced into relationships that are not mature enough to handle it. Knowing our children will have Mother Nature and peer pressure urging them on, the natural tendency is to resent all those messages that casual sex is okay, to teach our children to protect themselves. The hope is that these opposing influences will result in a healthy balance in our children's lives.

This healthy balance is key. Finding out that your wife has a deviant sexual history is likely to cause legitimate concern for a young husband. This is not the case with you, though; you simply had a few relationships that included normal sexual behavior. Why should you be ashamed of being normal?

The answer lies in all those expectations I discussed earlier. You and your husband have not yet shed that dating mentality. In your mind, sex still has that negative stigma attached to it. You also sense that your husband is threatened by the thought of you with another, even if it was in the past. Who could blame you for being hesitant to discuss this with him? I certainly don't. It is completely understandable and I urge you to forgive yourself.

I don't believe your husband was trying to attack you when he asked that question. That was likely his insecurity peeking out. His behavior might seem judgmental but I suspect he was only reacting to the social programming he has received all his life. I urge you to forgive him as well. He is human and has frailties like all the rest of us.

The normal course of events would be for you and your husband to become more and more comfortable with these sorts of issues as time goes on, and I suspect that is exactly what will happen. You might even speed up the process by reassuring your husband that his insecurities, while understandable, are completely unnecessary. Tell him you are his forever and your past boyfriends mean nothing to you. They are part of an ancient history that simply doesn't matter anymore.

Finally, I have to wonder if you have ever sought help for your "history of anxiety." Having difficulty drawing a breath because of such a conflict seems extreme. You might consider consulting with a physician to assess the severity of the issue and to determine what help might be possible.

I wish you and your husband all the best,


  1. I have two suggestions:

    A heavy dose of Clonazepan followed by repeating 'don't ask, don't tell'!

    If it had been me sitting there with your husband I would most likely have said that I'd slept my way through the whole place at one time or another.

    That way if he got mad and we didn't talk throughout the rest of the vacation, it would at least give him something to do via trying to figure out what your type is, and you would be left alone to relax and enjoy the resort.

    You should remind Mr. Insecurity that if you don't really want to know the answer--don't ask the question.

  2. Andrew... I promise to think about those other things you want questions about, if you will promise to go visit this gal's "Reminders" post - right now! I think this would make a great topic for you!!! Sure to be wrought with controversy! Go here...

  3. Anonymous1:28 PM

    I am surprised at your anwer on this one. There is no reason to tell your mate something that will hurt him and make him feel uncomfortable if it has no direct impact on your life together. In my opinion she should not have mentioned it and spared HIM the anxiety.

  4. Anonymous1:34 PM

    I don't understand why she felt the need to tell him. There are some things that should be left in the past unless it has a direct impact on your life together.
    She should have kept the information to herself and spared BOTH of them the anxiety.

  5. JBWriterGirl: I doubt he could hold back the question, and even if he did, it would still be bugging him to know the answer. On the other hand, there is some truth in what you say.

    Melli: I had a look and will give that question a shot.

    Anonymous squared: Are you both the same person? I appreciate the input and I can sympathize with your view that some hurtful things might be best left unmentioned, but in this case she was asked a direct question. She had an immediate physical reaction. Even if she had said "no" he probably would have been able to tell that he had struck a nerve, which might have impacted his ability to trust her. Lying is a slippery slope. Suppose she lies and says "no." Now she feels the original shame and embarrassment, PLUS the shame of lying to her husband. Now it is tougher to ever admit to it later because it will mean admitting to the lie as well. She has to remember the lie and lies are harder to keep straight than the truth. And suppose they get to the resort and someone in her family starts teasing her about the fling she once had there? NOW how bad are things between her and her husband? There is a lot of truth to the old saw, "honesty is the best policy." Incidentally, some of your fellow readers advised the same thing (tell the truth, even if it hurts a bit at first) in response to last week's "Ask the Faithful Readers" question.

  6. I feel that if he is bold enough to ask her the question, then he should be man enough to hear the answer. And my motto, always tell the truth...gently, in this case.

  7. another informative helpful post.

    i have to wonder about the underlying history that caused such anxiety, guilt, shame or fear?

    this sounds like old stuff--the equivalent of a young child responding to the question, not the present adult.

    this might be a good opportunity for counseling/therapy that can free up the past. then, if mr. husband has his own past history problems, they will be his to deal with.

    just my 2 cents.

  8. I don't think marrying a person entitles us to immediate full disclosure of all of their past relationships. Does being married mean we can keep nothing private?

    Why are images of Patrick Swayze and Dirty Dancing going through my head when I read this letter?


  9. As for me.. I would have said " its none of your business." Its ridiculous for him to make her feel that way over something that happened before she ever met him. And having a summer fling does not make her a slut. Men want to sleep with everything in a skirt then when they marry they want someone who is untouched, and then they expect her to be a good sex partner. Just my opinion.

  10. wow, a PhD over at my blog. and i realize i mispelled "babbling"... :-)
    thanks for stopping by. i found your blog idea rather creative, so i'll come back and read more of it. (maybe even submit a question or two...)

  11. Anonymous2:16 AM

    My two cents:
    It bothers me a bit about my husbands past with so many women, but like I told him, his past has shaped who he is today and THAT'S what I fell in love with. Him now, not him then. His past has nothing to do with me and and mine had nothing to do with him.
    He asked me one day what I would say to his ex-girlfriend (we were still dating) and I said I would tell her "Thank You". He didn't expect that answer. She helped him through a lot of problems that I would not have and we wouldn't be happily married right now.
    So, to us, honesty is the key and if I don't want to hear the answer, I'm not gonna ask. I the answer does not directly affect the present, is it worth asking in the first place??

  12. I am assuming that he noticed she wasn’t a virgin when they first had sex so I don’t see what his problem is.
    I think it was more of a head-trip he was doing on her.
    You don't want to hear the answer don't ask the question.
    She is not to blame for what she did in the past and if he wants to be that way then it’s his fault for not meeting her earlier.
    A new relationship starts the moment the two people decide the want to be together and yesterday is gone and only tomorrow should exist.
    They are both virgins at that moment in this new relationship.
    BUT, for health reasons sharing ones sexual history is a good thing.

  13. I think you hit it right ont he head to say it's insecurity stemming from being in 'dating mode'- I had this problem but to the extreme-- It could have ruined my marriage. When my husband and I became serious, even before we had, yes, premarital sex, he told me about his past. There was one big detail and he gave me an out, saying he would understand if what he told me changed the way I thought about him. He continued that night to tell me about his first love who became pregnant when he was barely 20 and she 19. He told her he would not marry her because she was pregnant and she had an abortion. He took her to the clinic, even though he was against the decision. They split up soon after, obviously because he realized she wasn't going to be 'the one', and they couldn't get past the abortion. I was completely understanding of all this at the time, even through our year of engagement. The problem is, I was 19 and he 25 when we married, and 4 months into our marriage I found out I was pregnant and had a miscarriage at 8 weeks. I was young and angry- angry at God and angry at James because he took this girl to a clinic and she had a choice and I didn't. You wanna talk messed up? For the better part of a year I hated my husband on a level I could not explain. Our daily lives went on and I harbored resentment. I think about a year into that, exhausted from constantly being very internally angry, I asked God for His help. I began reading relationship books, I tried to look at it from his shoes- he'd lost two children against his will. I could feel myself beginning to heal, to mature, and one day I woke up and was okay again- literally. Much like the last commenter, I know his past made him who he is- he didn't want to have kids when we met, but now he is the father of a handsome young man and a beautiful princess and he is the BEST dad in the world. Now, eleven years into our relationship and married for nine- he tells me his very first girlfriend, one he did not sleep with, did, uh, 'go down on him' in a movie theater. Although I was appalled, its funny how time and maturity can secure your relationship so even new information about the past is just meaningless. We laughed about it and I gave him a hard time for a few days about things I would never do in a movie theater. He's got nothing on me though, and he knows it. I was sixteen once, and WAY hormonal.

  14. Anonymous7:29 AM

    As a therapist, I can tell you that the issue of ones pre-marriage sexual past is very real. The tact of not exploring in as much detail as your partner needs to the issue of your sexual past will often times lead to later resentment and mistrust. My seasoned advice is that couples should be forthright in detail their previous sexual experiences. Secrecy and half-truths will never lead to intimacy and trust. -not politically correct therapist

  15. Anonymous6:58 PM

    Know exactly how this poor girl feels. My husband asked persistent questions about my prior sex life, and then criticized me for telling him the truth. Five years later everytime we have an argument he brings up my ex-lovers and throws them back in my face, especially the abusive ones. I'm getting to the point where I think the only way to forget the past is to divorce him.

  16. Anonymous3:28 PM

    I think a lot of you posters are missing the point. As someone posted "honesty is the best Policy". You can’t build an intimate relationship on lies. Not even one. It would have been dishonest for him to even hide his feelings. He couldn’t avoid how he felt in the moment no more than she could. We all go through the same thing when our illusions of reality are shattered. Especially in a relationship where we tend to put our partners on pedestals.

    Perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was conquering his own fears of wanting to know his wife more intimately. Perhaps the situation, timing and the new marriage gave him the strength and courage to ask I think he should be given more credit for asking the scary question. After all he new by doing so made him vulnerable to having bad feelings.

    It is unfortunate that the answer to the question involved a 2 person train wreck. If it hadn’t impacted her it would have been only a one person struggling with reality event. It is hard to help another when you are injured and picking yourself off the floor. Couples need to take turns when these dual wrecks occur.


  17. its normal for newlyweds to talk about past relationships and affairs but having a sexual affair before it really bothers to newlyweds for this can be the cause of conflicts. girlfriend's sexual past bothers me this can be a help for both of you for not to bother with your previous sexual affairs. this site helps me when i am like you before.