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Question

I grew up in the Church and never imagined myself doing anything sexual before marriage. About three years before getting married, someone I thought I could trust sexually assaulted me. After this had happened, I felt ashamed and believed it was my fault. My counselor warned me that it’s common after being sexually assaulted that I could potentially be sexually active in hopes of changing my “mental experience” of the event.

I started to feel comfortable again with men and myself, and soon, I had a non-member boyfriend. After months of dating we began having a sexual relationship. I felt horrible, broke up with him, and went through the repentance process. I promised I would never do this again. Unfortunately, I found another boyfriend and did the exact same thing again. I went through the repentance process a second time and was forgiven.

When I began dating my husband, I told him about the sexual assault and what I had done with the first boyfriend. However, I didn’t tell him about anything about the second boyfriend. He really struggled with the information about the first boyfriend and it haunted him for a while. We had a lot of problems come up because he kept asking me about it. To this day, he still doesn’t know about this second boyfriend. I repented and told my bishop everything in the process, but I still feel awful that my husband doesn’t know this. Is it wrong that I didn’t tell him? I guess you can say, I haven’t fully forgiven myself. It’s one thing to make one mistake, but it feels pathetic to make the same mistake twice. I hope you have some advice for me.

Answer

I’m terribly sorry this sexual assault happened to you. The abuse is not your fault. And, even though you’ve worked to be accountable for your own behaviors in the months and years following the assault, please know that abuse can make personal accountability confusing. The trauma of sexual assault creates confusion, self-blame, and other reactions that can last for years. I will work to help you sort out what to do with your current confusion around disclosing to your husband and working toward self-forgiveness.

Unfortunately, it’s common for abuse victims to blame themselves, feel a strong push to take control over their bodies, and engage in behaviors that leave them feeling more powerless. I hope you will have compassion for yourself as you work to heal from the effects of abuse, including the ways you’ve coped.

You’ve done the right thing by working with your priesthood leaders to openly confess your mistakes and work toward complete healing. Your willingness to take personal responsibility for your own behaviors will help you stay out of a passive and powerless mindset as you continue to heal. Remember that the Atonement of Jesus Christ heals what you’ve done and what’s been done to you. Elder Richard G. Scott taught:

“As you conscientiously study the Atonement and exercise your faith that Jesus Christ has the power to heal, you can receive [relief]. During your journey of recovery, accept His invitation to let Him share your burden until you have sufficient time and strength to be healed.”[i]

My guess is that you didn’t share the second boyfriend experience with your husband because you felt humiliated for your past mistakes and worried how he might view you. And, obviously, he had a tough time with you sharing your story about the first boyfriend. Even though you received forgiveness and healing for those mistakes and this relationship happened before you met your husband, it still feels like you owe your husband a disclosure of your past. My opinion is that you’ll feel much better once you are open with him about the full story.

Yes, he will be shocked and feel hurt by your choice to hide this from him. At the same time, you can’t fully heal while you hold onto shame, secrecy, and fear. Even though you owe your husband an apology about lying about your past, you don’t owe your husband an apology for what you did with this second boyfriend. This wasn’t a betrayal against him, but a time in your life when you were trying to regain your emotional and spiritual balance. If you truly worked through the repentance process in the past, then your current work is to heal from the self-blame and shame you feel for those past mistakes.

You don’t need to go through every single detail of that previous relationship with your husband. You can let him know that you didn’t tell him the truth about your relationship history and you don’t want to live in shame and fear any longer. Tell him that you don’t want any secrets between the two of you any longer. Allow him time to feel hurt and sad with this new information. You don’t need to make excuses or blame anyone. The strength you feel from being forgiven can give you the courage and strength to let your husband know the truth of your history. You have nothing to hide from him and nothing to be ashamed of anymore. Yes, you made some mistakes that have been resolved and do not define who you are now. Keeping this hidden from your husband only keeps you afraid of your husband and feeling more shame for something that has been resolved.

I recommend you work closely with a professional therapist who can help you and your husband sort through the delicate details from a disclosure like this. You’ll want support from a therapist who can help educate your husband on the nature of abuse and trauma. Your husband will also need support as he works to reconcile what he was told in the past and what he has learned about you. If he struggles to accept your story, then a therapist can work to help him resolve his own personal challenges with these things.

You don’t have to be held hostage by your past any longer. When you share your entire story with your husband and both of you begin healing together, then you will truly know what it’s like to be of “one heart and one mind.”[ii]

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:

Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Notes: 

[i] https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/to-heal-the-shattering-consequences-of-abuse?lang=eng

[ii] Moses 7:18