Tips for Not Getting Caught in the Past*
Ron L. Deal & David H. Olson
When asked about the previous sexual relationships of their partner, 90% of healthy couples agree in our national study of stepcouples reported that there is nothing to be worried about. However, in 42% of the lowest quality couples at least one partner showed concern about their partner’s previous sexual experiences. When we looked more closely, the differences between strong and unhealthy couples regarding this aspect of sex were even more apparent. Unhappy couples were twice as likely as couples with an average marriage (19% of all 50,575 couples) and four times as likely as happy couples to report feeling concerned about the previous sexual experiences of their partner. What seems to be in question is how previous experiences compare to the current couple’s sexual relationship or how they might be limiting their sexual fulfillment.
It’s vitally important that couples move through this concern so that it doesn’t hide below the surface like a malignant cancer eroding a partner’s perceived significance in the relationship or their ability to fully enjoy sex within the marriage. Couples would do well to carefully discuss their concerns being careful not to compare the current sexual relationship with the past, but to express their desires for how they would like to see the relationship or their confidence in their partner’s satisfaction improve. Don’t let your fears related to the past go unaddressed or they will limit your intimacy today.
Tips for Reducing Problems:
1. Don’t make comparisons in your mind...or out loud! “Why can’t you touch me the way John did,” isn’t going to breed confidence in your partner. Keep your comparisons to yourself! Nor should you linger on comparisons in your own mind. Doing so keeps you looking back instead of connecting to the moment at hand.
2. Stay open to new preferences. Your new spouse’s sexual preferences may vary from a previous partner. Don’t think that what “worked” with a previous partner will work again. Listen to verbal and nonverbal messages telling you your partner’s preferences.
3. Calm your insecurities. If you were sexually rejected or traumatized in the past, be careful not to let your insecurities or anxiety run ahead of you.
4. Give yourself time to develop a couple groove. Learning how to read one another, when to respond with a specific touch, or your couple sexual style will take time. Learn as you go; share what you learn.
5. Confront your sexual ghosts. Don’t be quick to make negative assumptions about your partner’s motivations or behavior. When fearful, try to take small risks to increase your willingness to trust.
6. Don’t ignore sexual problems and don’t overreact. It’s normal for couples to have a sexual complaint of some kind. Don’t panic if you encounter difficulty, especially if you are aware that your spouse had a good sex life with their former partner. Remember, it’s only a comparison if you make it one. Talk it through and if necessary, find a sex therapist that can help.
7. If you are stuck worrying about your spouse’s former sexual experiences, strive to accept being “second”. In my experience, people who get stuck really are struggling with not being their mates “first and only” sexual partner. Accepting that they have had other sexual experiences does not mean your sex life can’t be wonderful. If you are “exclusive in their heart” now, then strive to rest in that assurance.
Ron L. Deal is President of Smart Stepfamilies, author of a series of books including the bestselling book The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family, and a licensed marriage and family therapist. He and David Olson have conducted the largest study on remarital relationships ever conducted and have coauthored The Smart Stepfamily Marriage. David H. Olson is President of Life Innovations and developer of the internationally recognized Couple Checkup relationship profile.
* Taken from The Remarriage Checkup by Ron L. Deal and David H. Olson, Bethany House, 2010.